Of all the famous whiskies (Scotch, Irish, Canadian and Bourbon), Bourbon is the least popular outside of the U. S. A. There are also Welsh, Japanese, Indian and German whiskies, but few outside of their regions of production know about them, and could not care less to taste them
Whiskey can be produced anywhere, but specific whiskies come only from well defined regions i.e Scotland, Ireland, in Canada Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, and British Columbia, and Bourbon from Kentucky. The reason for this is quite simply the availability of suitable and abundant water, and appropriate climatic condition for aging.
Bourbon whiskey (note the “e” in American and Irish whiskey) comes from Bourbon County in Kentucky. There is layer of limestone that runs underneath the state, and that flavours the water, which contributes to the smooth texture, softness, and vigour of the whiskey.
The limestone-rich water makes the state the largest producer of Bourbon.
American whiskey, by law, must contain a minimum of 51 per cent corn, and be aged in charred American white oak barrels for a minimum of two years. Bourbon must never be filtered. (Jack Daniel’s is a popular brand but may not be called Bourbon. It is filtered). Each barrel may be used once only. American distillers sell their barrels at a discount to Canadian and Scotch whisky distillers, and occasionally to sherry producers in Jerez de la Frontera in Spain. Recently, a few Portuguese distillers started aging their aguardientes (brandies), in second-hand American whiskey barrels.
Bourbon’s roots lie in a sour mash of corn and rye and malted barely. The mixture pending on the distiller, changes. Some use 100 per cent “authentic corn” (as indigenous people used), others may add one or more of the other permitted ingredients.
The grain mixture is ground, mixed with hot water and mixed thoroughly. When the liquid is cool enough yeasts, or a predetermined amount of fermenting liquid from a previous batch is added for the fermentation to start. The vessel may be stainless steel, or a huge upright vat of cypress wood.
Generally, fermentation lasts six to seven days. At this point the mixture contains approximately eight per cent alcohol. Now the liquid must be distilled to concentrate. This is achieved by distillation either in alembic style, or other shapes developed in Scotland by ingenious Scots.
The distillation process is simple. Alcohol evaporates at 78.2 C at sea level, whereas water at 100 C. When the temperature reaches 78.2 C alcohol volatilizes, and if captured and cooled becomes liquid again. During distillation the “foreshots”, the first 1/3 of the batch is collected, and re-channeled to be redistilled. The second 1/3 is called the “heart” and is collected to be aged, and the remainder called “faints” goes to re-distillation.
The whiskey to be aged may be at 70 – 57 per cent ABV. Americans measure strength by proof. In this way measured alcoholic strength one degree of alcohol corresponds to two proof degrees. Hence a Bourbon labeled 150 ovenproof contains 75 per cent ABS. Most Bourbon is marketed at 40 per cent ABV, although exceptions exist.
Once the whiskey is obtained it enters barrels and the aging process starts. The harsh and colourless distillate starts to oxidize and becomes progressively smoother while losing strength at a rate of approximately two per cent of the volume per year. Most of the loss is alcohol. Once the aging which may be anywhere from two to ten years is considered appropriate, the blender decides on the proportions of the blend. Then caramelized sugar up to two per cent by volume is added to compensate for colour variances of different batches.
A few distillers charcoal-filter to remove excessive alcohol smells. Bourbon whiskey by nature has a faint smell of corn and may be pleasant to those familiar with it. American whiskey is somewhat sweet, rich in texture, and smooth pending on the age of the product.
Aged long enough it can be as flavourful as and complex as any other whiskey.
Famous Bourbon brands:
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Tennessee Whisky
Knob Creek Bourbon
Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon
Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon