National Bourbon Day is June 14 and we're celebrating by trying a few new bourbons and sharing with you some ideas, but we're also sharing a little history of bourbon. After all, you should know what's in your glass.
When did we start making Bourbon in the U.S.?
More than 300 years ago, Scottish and Irish settlers built their homes in the area we now call Virginia and Kentucky and started growing corn, as it is the only grain native to the area. When distilled, corn makes excellent whiskey because of its inherent sweetness.
The other reason that region makes some of the world's best bourbon is geography. They start the process with some of the cleanest and purest water possible being located in the Limestone Shelf region and adjacent to the Kentucky River. The natural limestone shelf filters out impurities and aftertaste.
This region is where all major American whiskeys are still made today; high-calcium, low-iron water is the perfect blend for making whisky.
The Father of Bourbon
Bourbon has been distilled since the 18th century, but it wasn't given the name “bourbon” until the 1850s, and the etymology until somewhere in the 1870s.
Elijah Craig is known as “The Father of Bourbon.” In 1789, Baptist minister Elijah Craig opened a distillery in Georgetown, Kentucky. He initially was storing his distilled spirits in old fishing barrels; spoiler alert: fish-wood-soaked spirits aren't too tasty, so this led Craig to purify the insides of the barrels by charring them. Craig stamped the barrels with their county of origin (Bourbon County) and sent them on a 90-day journey to New Orleans.
Over the course of that 90-day journey, his distilled whiskey absorbed some of that charred oak and combined to create a more smokey, oaky, smooth flavor that the New Orleanians couldn't get enough of. They wanted more of that “whiskey from Bourbon.”
Does Bourbon Have To Be Made In Kentucky to be Called Bourbon?
The technical answer? No, it does not.
Whiskey may be made anywhere, but in 1964, Congress declared Bourbon “America's Native Spirit,” meaning in order to be called Bourbon, it has to be made in the United States. However, since 95 percent of the world's bourbon is made in Kentucky, bourbon drinkers know that really just means Kentucky—and when you hear the word bourbon, most people have a strong association with the American South, and Kentucky in particular.
The other key component is that Bourbon must contain at least 51 percent corn. Kentucky has some of the richest and fertile soil in the country, and it happens to be great for growing corn. In fact, Kentucky has been corn country since the late 1700s.
How to Drink Bourbon
You've probably heard people order bourbon (or any whisky) in a bar and ask for neat, on the rocks, etc., and not really known what it meant. Here are some descriptions to make you sound like a pro if you're new to drinking bourbon. There isn't really a wrong way to drink bourbon, only the way you prefer and a lack of open-mindedness to learning more about what goes in your glass.
Drinking a bourbon (or any beverage) “neat” means that it's served to you at room temperature, straight, no ice, no additives. This style is meant to be sipped. You will be able to appreciate the liquor in its purest form since there is nothing else to alter the aromatic or flavor.
Bourbon “with water”
Unless you are drinking a “cask strength” or “barrel proof” bourbon, your bourbon probably has had some water added to it after aging before bottling. Adding water allows the bottler to reach the specific (and consistent) proof level across all bottlings.
Some whisky tasting rooms may serve you optional water to dilute the bourbon just a touch. Ordering your bourbon “with water” can open up the bourbon's flavor profile making it easier to pick out aromatics and flavor more readily. Some will argue water is a dealbreaker, others will say water is your friend. Essentially, water will take the edge off the heat and spice and allow the sweetness to come through a bit more. A lot of the unfiltered, barrel-strength whiskeys you find these days actually do well with a bit of dilution. Not sure about having your bourbon with water? Start with a bourbon neat, take a few sips, then add a few drops of water and try to observe the differences.
Bourbon “On the Rocks”
“On the rocks” is a great way to try any bourbon if you are a beginner. Simply put, “on the rocks” means over a few ice cubes. Add a finger or two of bourbon to the ice in your glass.
Once you decide if bourbon is for you, if you are going to use ice, I highly recommend one large round ball or cube of ice in lieu of a bunch of smaller pieces. The slower dilution you'll thank me for later. Even better yet, is whiskey stones or frozen stainless steel balls. They neither dilute nor impart the taste of anything in your freezer.
Bourbon “With a Twist”
Bourbon “With a Twist” means your bourbon is served with a thin strip of citrus peel, usually lemon or orange.
Bourbon “With Lemon/Lime”
Bourbon “With Lemon/Lime” simply means served with a lemon or lime wedge on the side of the glass.
Bulleit Old Fashioned
Having a bourbon-based cocktail is a great option, too. Who doesn't love a great classic like an Old Fashioned, Mint Julep, a Derby, or a simple Bourbon and Ginger Ale?
“Bulleit (brand name) Old Fashioned (cocktail name)” is how you tell the bartender what brand of bourbon you’d like in your cocktail. Asking for a “Bulleit Old Fashioned,” for example, tells the bartender you want an Old Fashioned (a traditionally easy cocktail with whiskey, sugar, bitters, ice, and a lemon peel) made with Bulleit Bourbon.
How to Order Bourbon at a Bar
Order by name. If you aren't a pro, you probably at least know a few of the major players like Maker's Mark, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Bulleit. Start there. You won't look like a total novice. You can always ask what they have available for bourbon options, too. Every bar has a different stock, but remember, you pay more when you ask for a specific brand than if you take whatever the cheapest option is but I also guarantee it will be a better experience. If you know the style of bourbon, even better. If not, go with the brand and your bartender will take it from there. If you order a Bulleit Neat, and they keep more than one Bulleit available, they'll ask which one you want.
So now you know to use the name, next you add your style preference, Do you want neat? On the rocks? Name first. Style last. It's pretty easy, but you will look a little silly if you do it the other way around.
“I'd like a Bulleit, Neat, please.”
“I'd like a Woodford Reserve, On the Rocks, please.”
See? Easy peasy!
Try These Bourbons for National Bourbon Day on June 14
Bourbons to Try on National Bourbon Day
Thanks to the Baptist minister Elijah Craig who opened a distillery in Georgetown, Kentucky, in 1789, we can celebrate National Bourbon Day on June 14.
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Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
Four Roses Small Batch combines four of our distinct Bourbon recipes to achieve exceptional balance. Easy to drink neat, on the rocks – or as the foundation of a great craft cocktail. A top-shelf staple.
Crafted from four of our 10 distinct Bourbon recipes.
Aged 6 years minimum
The Old Man of the Mountain Bottled in Bond Bourbon
Old Man of the Mountain is a single edition, bottled-in-bond bourbon made from 82.4% organic yellow corn, 11% organic rye, and 6.6% malted barley. Fermented using a traditional sour mash press, the bourbon was aged for four years at 100 proof in accordance with the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 at a government-appointed facility and is the first liquid ever developed by the New Hampshire craft distillery.
Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Kosher Rye Whiskey
In partnership with the Chicago Rabbinical Council (cRc), Buffalo Trace Distillery produced these Kosher Whiskeys made with the same high-quality grains as Buffalo Trace Bourbon Whiskey. This Kosher spirit was aged in specifically designated Kosher barrels. In order to satisfy Passover requirements, these barrels were sold to a non-Jewish executive in a ceremony witnessed by a representative from the cRc. After aging for seven years, this Rye Recipe Bourbon was bottled at 94 proof after ensuring the bottling lines were cleaned beforehand and that no contact was made by non-Kosher spirits and released after Passover each year.
Davidson Reserve Genesis Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Davidson Reserve joins the very small club of Tennessee distilleries that perform every function of the production process on-site. At our facility in West Nashville, we do everything except grow the grain which is sourced locally from Renfroe Farms just up the road in Huntington, TN. Davidson Reserve is one of the first “bottled-in-bond” distilleries in the state to receive the sought-after designation since the 19th century.
Kinsey Bourbon Whiskey Aged 4 Years
This bourbon is a custom blend of two different bourbon mash bills of 51% Corn, 45% Wheat & 4% Barley Malt and 68% corn, 21% Rye & 11% Barley Malt, each aged in new charred American oak barrels, and bottled at 95 proof for robust flavor. Kinsey Bourbon is warm and complex on the palate, with notes of honeysuckle, toffee, unripe orange, and grass culminating in a sweet spice finish.
Frey Ranch Bourbon
"My journey starts with the love of growing grains in a sustainable way here on the ranch – over 2,000 acres in the Sierra Nevada Watershed. Every time I step onto the land I can feel the generations before me. I’ve tilled the soil, planted the seed, and grown the grains specifically for making a bourbon unlike any other – born from 165 years of our family farming tradition every single aspect of this whiskey was crafted on Frey Ranch."
Maker's Mark | Handmade Kentucky Bourbon Whisky
This one changed the way we think of bourbon, all because one man changed the way he thought about making it. Bill Samuels, Sr., simply wanted a whisky he would enjoy drinking. Never bitter or sharp, Maker's Mark® is made with soft red winter wheat, instead of the usual rye, for a one-of-a-kind, full-flavored bourbon that's easy to drink. To ensure consistency, we rotate every barrel by hand and age our bourbon to taste, not time. Each and every bottle of Maker's® is still hand-dipped in our signature red wax at our distillery in Loretto, Ky., just like Bill, Sr., would have wanted.
Bootlegger New York Craft Barrel Bourbon
Yes, we make our bourbon in New York. Bootlegger New York Craft Bourbon is made from a mash of New York corn, rye, and malted barley, which is distilled using time-honored methods on our traditional pot stills. Our bourbon then enters the finest new charred, white oak barrels where they patiently await harvesting. Our distiller believes that only time makes for great bourbon, which is why we are in no rush to release them. Once vanilla, caramel, cinnamon, and chocolate notes find their balance in the barrel, we taste and select each of the barrels for release. When ready for the bottle, we slowly blend in the purest Catskills Mountain water and bottle at 92 proof (46% Abv). Our whiskey is not chill-filtered, delivering a rich mouthfeel and lasting, complex-tasting bourbon with every sip.
I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
I.W. Harper is a refined bourbon, perfect for life’s special moments. With a rich cultural history, from inspiring a clothing line to cruising around the world as an ocean liner staple in the 1950s, I.W. Harper has always been a favorite amongst those with great taste.
Beginning with a subtle nose, I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey leaves traces of caramel and vanilla on entry before melting into creamy bursts of wood and spice. The finish is sweet and pleasant with subtle fruit notes.
I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is perfect in classic cocktails such as the Vieux Carre or twists on the classics such as the Manhattan Blanc or the Manhattan Noir.
Do you have a favorite bourbon? Share with us below!
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