We recently had the great fortune to visit the Commonwealth of Kentucky and sample the fine liquid gold along the wonderful Bourbon Trail. We thought we knew Bourbon from other spirits, but we're happy to say we learned quite a bit and have an increased appreciation for the stuff.
Men will debate, argue, and swear over the finer points between Scotch, Irish Whiskey, and American Bourbon. For us, there is only once choice- give us the goods made right here. Here are some facts about Bourbon-
-It can be made anywhere in the U.S. of A. It doesn't have to be Kentucky, but most of it is made there.
-It must be made of grain and at least 51% Corn- the remainder is a mix between Wheat, Rye, and Barley dependent upon the distiller's taste. This is fermented into a sweet-smelling mash prior to being distilled. The distillate is clear when it goes into the barrel.
-In order to be Bourbon, this mixture must be aged in charred American Oak barrels. These barrels can only be used once (afterwards, these hand-me-downs go over to be used for barreling Scotch). There is no minimum time required for barreling, but to be labeled Straight Whiskey, it must be at least two years. During the aging process, the whiskey develops the handsome caramel color through interaction with the charred wood.
-Bourbon can be Distilled to no more than 160 Proof, be barreled at no more than 125 Proof, and Bottled at no less than 80 Proof. Water is added during this process to reduce the Proof of the whiskey.
-There is no Bourbon made in Bourbon County anymore.
We had the chance to visit several Distilleries- Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam, Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, Makers Mark and Heaven Hill. Because of the tastings, we didn't get to as many as we would have liked.
There are several trends we noticed during our tour-
1-All the Distilleries try to one-up each other with age, but Maker's Mark wins the prize-
2-Every one shows off their mascots.
3-There are Barrels everywhere
4-The idea of "Angel's Share" is serious stuff. The Bourbon evaporates at the rate of about 5% per year, so it literally disappears. Here's a great view of what's left inside the barrel after 2 years, 5 years, and 10 years.
4-The process is similar at every distillery, but the technology looks different
6-They save the best for last!
How it all ends- the Original Kentucky Mint Julep. One of our new favorite warm-weather drinks.