Monday, December 28, 2009

Talkin Bout Bourbon!

Bourbon is one of my favorite things from Kentucky.

Before I started working behind the bar, I hated bourbon. I thought it was more or less sweet whiskey (which I also hated) that tastes like smoke. However, as a little time passed by, I began to really enjoy it.

How did that happen you ask?
At my current bar, we have about 10 different bourbons. I basically ignored them, except when a guest asked for one. People get really excited about their favorite bourbons and scotches and stuff, so as they are drinking them, they invited me to try out their drink. Of course I obliged and started getting a taste for them sooner than later.

What is bourbon?
Bourbon is American whiskey made from fermented corn. It has to be between 40% (80 proof) and 80% (160 proof) alcohol. It is aged in charred oak barrels, giving it a distinct taste. Another defining characteristic (and my favorite) is that it has to be made in Bourbon County, Kentucky to be technically considered bourbon. Now, there is even debate about whether this is a defining characteristic of bourbon, but I love all the debate that it stirs up. There is also a lot of debate whether Jack Daniel’s is bourbon. The product is very similar, but it is made a few miles away in Tennessee.

Fun thing to do:
Next time you are in a bar, ask the bartenders if Jack is bourbon or not and see what happens- it’s always interesting because we take sides on this much resembling how people act when you ask them about political parties or religious beliefs. The best is if you ask this and there are two bartenders who disagree :)

To learn more about bourbon, check out the article on Wikipedia.

My two favorite bourbons are Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve. Maker’s is cheaper and more common in bars, while Woodford is higher end and a little more expensive.

How do you drink it?
There are a few cocktails that call for bourbon, including Manhattans (also can be make with rye whiskey) and an old fashioned. I highly recommend trying them if you haven’t- they are both great. I like my bourbon on the rocks, especially if it’s a good one. More hardcore people enjoy it neat (no ice).

Next time you are at a bar, give bourbon a shot (haha- great pun and I didn’t even mean to!) Let it grow on you because it’s pretty delicious!


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  1. Go back and take a look at your own link to the wikipedia entry, bourbon does NOT have to Bourbon County or even in Kentucky. A very quick look at most bourbon bottles will tell you the same.

    Jack and Dickel are not bourbon because the additional charcoal filtering they go through before the go into barrel. This "Lincoln County Process" is a step beyond the "Bourbon Process," hence the name 'Tennessee' Whisky.

  2. i hope I never meet a bartender again that thinks Jack Daniels is bourbon. The first and last time was in Barcelona. While I was initially inclined to relax my standards (since I was abroad), I did not want to set the wrong precedent. So, I proceeded to decapitate him with my bare hands and pour makers mark down his neckhole.

  3. Problems with this entry. 1. The proof of a given bourbon is not part of the definition. As a spirit, it is generally at least 40 proof, while barrel strength bourbon can be as strong, or stronger than 130 proof. Check out Booker's for a common barrel-strength bourbon. The bottle we have out in my bar right now is 130.4 proof.
    2. Jack is, technically, a bourbon. The parameters for a spirit to be defined as a bourbon are as follows: 1. Must be distilled from at LEAST 51% corn. 2. Must be aged at least 2 years in new, charred oak barrels. 3. Nothing artificial can be added to change the color, flavor, or sweetness. (Check out Because Jack Daniels is charcoal filtered, and because its producers wanted to differentiate their product from bourbon, it is labelled as Tennesee Whiskey. But it's fundamentally bourbon. 4. Only bourbon made in Kentucky can bear the appellation "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey" on the bottle. But Tuthilltown Distillery in New York is making some awesome bourbons these days. 5. Makers and Woodford are average, middle of the road bourbons: the bourbon drinker's version of Budweiser. Try Four Roses, Sam Houston, Eagle Rare, or at least Bulleit. Or actually, maybe you shouldn't bother.