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Bourbon is a type of American whiskey, distilled from a mash made primarily of corn. Despite it’s popularity, the spirit remains a mystery to many. So how is it defined, and what else does the beginner need to know?
Bourbon Is Made With At Least 51 Percent Corn
What makes it distinct from other whiskeys is the way it is manufactured and aged. All whiskey is spirit made from fermented grain and then aged in barrels. But the kind of grain and the kind of barrels determines the variety of whiskey. Per the American Bourbon Association, a whiskey needs to be distilled from a mixture of grains, or mash, that’s at least 51 percent corn. That corn gives bourbon its distinctive sweet flavor.
It is Always Aged in New Charred Oak Barrels
Bourbon also must be aged in new charred oak barrels, and cannot include any additives or colorings. Other whiskeys can be aged in barrels previously used to age other spirits, and they don’t necessarily need to be whiskey barrels—port, sherry, and rum casks are used in the aging process for non-bourbon whiskeys.
It Has to Hit Certain ABV Marks
it also has to hit a certain proof, or alcohol content in the spirit. The mash must be distilled at 160 proof (or 80 percent alcohol by volume) or less, and aged in barrels until it is no more than 125 proof (62.5 percent alcohol by volume) or less. Before bottling, bourbon is filtered and diluted down to no less than 80 proof (40 percent alcohol by volume). Other whiskeys have different ABV standards for barreling and distilling. The minimum bottling strength for Scotch whiskey, for example, is also 80 proof or 40 percent ABV, but there is no maximum or minimum ABV for the distillate.