So the distinction for Bourbon is that the fermented mash (the mixture of hot water and crushed malted grain, which is used to produce alcohol) is made up of at least 51% corn, the distilled spirit is matured in charred, new, oak barrels, and it is produced in the United States. The name actually came from Bourbon county Kentucky where the majority of the Bourbon is produced.
(1)(i) ``Bourbon whisky'' is whisky produced at not exceeding 160
deg. proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 125 deg. proof in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type...
...(iii) Whiskies conforming to the standards prescribed in paragraph above`, which have been stored in the type of oak containers prescribed, for a period of 2 years or more shall be further designated as ``straight''; for example, ``straight bourbon whisky'', ``straight corn whisky'', and whisky conforming to the standards prescribed in paragraph...
...``bourbon'' shall not be used to describe any whisky or whisky-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States. If whisky of any of these types is composed in part of whisky or whiskies produced in a foreign country there shall be stated, on the brand label, the percentage of such whisky and the country of origin thereof.
Other types of Whisky are made from at least 51% rye, wheat, malt, or rye malt. They may or may not use charred barrels and they can be matured in used or new oak barrels. Blended Whisky is Whisky that that is taken from the oak barrels and combined with freshly distilled spirit. Blended Whisky is cheaper to produce because you don't need as much warehouse space to store as much in barrels. And of course there are the other international whiskies: Scotch, Irish, and Canadian.
One might think that charring the barrel would produce a smoky flavor in the finished product. Charring is done for flavor but not that one. The charring actually draws the caramel flavor from the oak closer to the inside of the barrel. Just under the char is a line of red caramel flavored goodness that gives Bourbon its color and smooth flavor. Using new oak barrels ensure you get as much of that flavor as possible.
One last thing about Bourbon that you dieters may want to know Bourbon has zero carbohydrates and 70 calories per once.
Normally I don't push a specific brand of liquor as everyone has different tastes and just because I like it doesn't someone else will. However, I feel a need to write about Maker's Mark Bourbon.
Maker's Mark would be my Bourbon of choice. I find it to be good for both mixing and sipping straight. Maker's Mark is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which means it is produced in Kentucky (duh), and it is matured for 2 or more years. Maker's Mark is the only bourbon producer still making their product by hand. It is a small batch product, which means they make a small quantity of barrels. In Maker's Mark's case that is about 19 barrels a batch.
Bill Samuels was making Whisky in 1779 and past the recipe down from generation to generation to generation with each generation the recipe got refined until it came into the hands of Bill Samuels, Sr. (4th generation) in 1943. He decided to replace the rye in the recipe with a gentler red winter wheat. This wheat gave the product a soft, mellow taste that is like none other.
The yeast used in Maker's fermentation process has cultures that have been propagated since before the Civil War. Each fermentation batch starts with a little from the last. This old-style process helps keep a consistent product over time.
Single Barrel Whisky is sold at a premium. This is actually silly seeing that it simply means that all the contents of the bottle came from one barrel. There was no mixing from several barrels in a batch to balance the product. This means they skipped a step in the process saving themselves money and you get to pay more. You will notice a bigger variation in taste from one bottle to another in Single Barrel Whiskies.
Maker's goes through the balancing process. They have a panel of Bourbon Masters (cool title, huh) who's job it is to ensure that each bottle of Maker's is consistent and lives up to Bill Samuels' name. They do this by mixing the slight variations from each barrel to get the right finished product.
So, if you have not tried Maker's Mark I would highly recommend it because to me it just tastes the way Bourbon should.
Now, don't let this next part influence your opinion on the Bourbon you drink but Maker's Mark has a very clever marketing campaign. I am Maker's Mark Ambassador #204097. My named barrel is barrel #692299. Maker's Mark developed the Ambassador program to help promote their Bourbon and I think it is a really fun program.
Basically the way it works is that once you become an Ambassador you follow a barrel of Maker's Mark Bourbon through its production. This starts at the choosing of the grains, learning about the spring water, etc... then about 9 months into it your batch gets processed and put into barrels. At this point you get assigned a barrel and your name goes on the side of it. Every year after that you get a DVD from Maker's Mark that talks about how your barrel is maturing and they speak about the coming years batch of Bourbon.
You also get other promotional items along the way and get access to special part of their website. One of the neat things you get is a special invitation to participate in Stillhouse University. This is a special 4 day hands-on learning experience about how Maker's Mark Bourbon is made. You also have cocktails with Bill Samuels (5th generation). I have not done this yet but it should like a lot of fun.
Once your barrel has matured you will get invited up to the distillery to be there when your barrels go into the bottles. Did I mention that all this (minus the university) is free!
There are two ways to become an Ambassador. One is to find a bottle with a hang tag on it. On the hang tag is a form to fill out. Although, I haven't seen too many bottles with hang tags lately. The second way is to get invited from someone who is currently an Ambassador. If you like you can email me at bar.mix.master[at]gmail.com and I will hook you up.
I have not been paid for this article in any way. I wrote it because Maker's Mark produces such a great product.