It Just Ain't Whisky - a Guide to American Bourbon Whiskey.
What is American Bourbon Whiskey?American Whiskey, commonly referred to as Bourbon is a type of distilled spirit, made primarily from corn.
Where Did it Come From?As can probably be guessed, whiskey came over with Irish and Scottish settlers to the American continent. Due to a limited availability of barley and the ease of corn, rye and wheat production, whiskey ingredients inevitably favoured towards what was locally available.
What’s the Big Difference?Despite originating from an Irish-Scotch heritage, many Bourbon lovers will champion that the American Whiskey of today holds very little similarities to Irish or Scotch Whisky.
Firstly, unlike Irish and Scotch production methods, no smoke is used to dry the corn, rye or wheat which is utilised in the making of Bourbon. This difference resonates in the palate, with American Whiskey possessing a fuller, stronger and sweeter taste than its namesake.
Secondly, the ageing process differs greatly between the styles of whiskey. Bourbon is aged in charred oak barrels, during which time the spirit acquires its colour and flavour from the wood. While this is the same story for many European Whiskies, Bourbons differ where there is no distinct ageing requirement and the general rule isn’t ‘the older the better’. As opposed to its Irish and Scotch counterparts, American Whiskey aspires for the aim of ‘maturation’ and not a particular age. In fact, some Bourbon, when aged for too long can become woody and unbalanced.
Categorically SpeakingAmerican Whiskey can be subdivided into six categories; Bourbon, Tennessee, rye, wheat, corn and blended whiskey. The points of difference in the categories are attributed to variances in the percentage and type of grains used during the mashing processes, as well as different storage times.
BourbonA common misconception is that Bourbon must be produced in Kentucky, but this is only because almost all Bourbon is made in that state. The only requirements for Bourbon to be named as such is that it is made in the US, it contains at least 51% corn and that it is stored for a minimum maturation period of two years in new, charred oak barrels.
A few common Bourbon Whiskey brands are:
• Jim Beam
• Maker’s Mark
• Wild Turkey
TennesseeUnlike Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey must be produced within its namesake state. Additionally, Tennessee Whiskey is always filtered through sugar-maple charcoal. This filtration process takes a total of 10 days and is the main contributing factor to Tennessee Whiskey’s distinctive flavour. Tennessee Whiskey was recognised as a discrete American Whiskey style by US government officials in 1941.
There are only two active Tennessee Whiskey brands currently operational, the best recognised and awarded of which is Jack Daniel’s.
Rye and Wheat WhiskeyRye whiskey is slightly more powerful and possesses more of a bitter flavour profile compared with Bourbon. Most rye whiskeys are used as blend components in other whiskies with only a small amount of rye whiskey bottled as ‘straight rye whiskey’. These must possess 51% rye, and be aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years, similar to wheat whiskey which must be made from at least 51% wheat.
The most prevalent and distinguished example of rye whiskey is Wild Turkey Straight Rye Whiskey and Wild Turkey Rare Breed.