All Bourbon is Whiskey, but NOT all Whiskey is Bourbon!

It must be made with no less than 51% corn.

It must be aged in “new” charred oak barrels. “Straight” bourbon refers to bourbon that has been aged in these barrels for two years.

It must be distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume).

It must be entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).

It must be bottled (like other whiskeys) at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume).


Whiskey is distilled from a fermented blend of grains, commonly corn, barley, rye, and wheat–that blend is what distillers call a mash bill. Depending on what ratio of grains comprises the mash bill is part of how the resulting liquid is either categorized whiskey or bourbon.


The name Bourbon comes from the French Bourbon dynasty. Bourbon County, Kentucky, was named after this French royal family, and bourbon was first produced in the old Bourbon county region of Kentucky. Bourbon was originally made in the 18th century but didn’t become well known until the 1860s. Due to re-definitions written into NAFTA, bourbon is now made throughout the United States. However, by tradition, true bourbon comes from distilleries located in the original 1786 Old Bourbon County region in northeastern Kentucky which has since been divided into 34 separate counties. The first distillery in present-day Bourbon County to be licensed since Prohibition did not begin operating until 2014. Whiskey makers of good reputation outside of the historic Bourbon County region will not use the term bourbon for their whiskeys.


STEP  1: Find the Correct Glass:

The NEAT glass reduces the amount of alcohol you smell. This allows you to smell the complexities of the bourbon. Avoid using improper glassware for spirit sipping like highball glasses or pint glasses. Also, filling your glass more than a quarter full or ordering a double will degrade your ability to swirl your spirit as well as ruining the nosing of your drink. The number of different whiskey glasses has been undergoing a startling proliferation, with novel shapes and sizes for every slice of the whiskey universe.

Ubiquitous in whiskey bars and tasting rooms, the Glencairn has become the high-end whiskey glass. Originally designed for single malt Scotch and modeled after the copita, a sherry glass also used for nosing, the Glencairn was first introduced in 2001. Its wide bowl and relatively narrow, straight mouth concentrate whiskey aromas, and the hefty foot lets you handle the glass without warming its contents through the thin wall. Glencairns can be excellent choices for bourbon as well as Scotch, but keep in mind that they tend to concentrate alcohol as well as aroma.

The latest glass on the market being Norlan Whiskey Glass. Whiskey looks darker and richer in the Norlan glass as a result of its double wall construction. It makes the whiskey more attractive it’s a bit problematic when you’re trying to judge the age of your whiskey by its color. You have to raise the Norlan to eye level to get a proper color reading like that from a Glencairn glass. But once you know how to compensate for the color difference, the Norlan wins for a better visual experience.

Either glass is suitable!

If you really want to learn to detect different flavors in your whiskey, don’t mix it with sodas like Coke or Sprite because the sugar and other flavors in the soda will overwhelm the flavor of the whiskey. Pour your favorite bourbon into your glass without any ice or water. Hold the glass up to the light, or in front of a clean white sheet of paper to get a good look at it. Swirl it around the glass once or twice. Age, proof, and filtration methods all affect appearance.

STEP  2: Aroma

 Smell is a vital part of taste, and thus it’s very important to not skip the aroma portion of a taste. Swirl your whiskey in the glass for a minute. This will allow some of the alcohol to evaporate and carry the wonderful smells of oak and vanilla to your nose.

Close off one nostril (people have a tenancy to smell better from one nostril than the other), part your lips, breathe in through your nose, and exhale gently through your mouth. Give your nose a chance to sniff and appreciate your bourbon’s aromas. Notes of wood smoke, caramel, and fruit are also common to bourbon. 

Close the other nostril and repeat.

STEP  3: Tasting (Neat)

Sip it sloooooowly, hold it in your mouth for a couple of seconds and roll the liquid over your tongue, you can even chew on it. Swallow.

STEP  4: Tasting (Breath)

After you swallow, take a big breath and blow. This will blow out the alcohol vapors in your mouth.

STEP  5: Tasting (Experience)

Take a generous mouthful into your mouth and “chew” it. The folks at Jim beam call it the “Kentucky Chew.” Move the bourbon around inside your mouth with a chewing motion to coat your tongue. The finish refers to the sensations after you’ve swallowed. Notice the difference in flavors from the front to the back of your tongue. Finally, swallow it. The tongue has several tasting “zones.” The tip of the tongue detects sweetness. The middle of the tongue detects salty flavors, and the back of the tongue can taste bitterness. These zones, combined with the aroma, define the flavors of the bourbon. If it lingers for a while, that’s a long finish. If it dissipates quickly, it’s a short finish. If you catch a warm sensation in your upper body after swallowing, the folks at Jim Beam call that the “Kentucky Hug.”

STEP  6: Tasting (Add Water)

Add an ice cube or several drops of water. According to a recent study published in Scientific Reports, understanding guaiacol’s interaction with water is the key to unlocking the secrets of whiskey-water ratio optimization. Using computer simulations, authors Björn C. G. Karlsson and Ran Friedman were able to measure how guaiacol is affected by different concentrations of water. That flavor comes from a molecule called guaiacol, which contributes to common “tasting notes” for the spirit—smoke, peat, spice. Chemically, it resembles other aroma compounds, such as vanillin (tastes like vanilla) or limonene (tastes like lemon).

Take a generous mouthful into your mouth and “chew” it. Notice the difference with and without the drop of water.




By law, Tennessee whiskey must be produced within the state, but it must also undergo a filtering process with sugar-maple charcoal.


Bourbon is the most popular type of whiskey in the U.S. It was traditionally distilled in and around present-day Bourbon County, Kentucky. The region takes its name from the Bourbon dynasty, a royal lineage that ruled various European countries intermittently during the past 500 years.

The mint julep has been the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby for more than 70 years. In fact, Early Times, the official liquor brand for making all mint juleps served at the Churchill Downs racetrack, has trademarked the title. Which is somewhat ironic, given that the drink is traditionally made with bourbon, and Early Times is not technically bourbon.

A mint julep is traditionally made with bourbon , mint, sugar, and water and is served in a silver or pewter cup. The drink is believed to have originated in Louisiana during the 18th century, although its exact origin remains unknown. The mint julep recipe spread and became a staple drink throughout the South, and was especially popular in Kentucky, where 95 percent of the world’s bourbon — America’s native spirit — is produced, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. This earned it the title of the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1938. Kentucky whiskeys like Early Times, while not bourbon, are a suitable substitute in a mint julep. Bourbon is a type of whiskey that meets several specific distilling requirements; most whiskeys created in Kentucky and the rest of the U.S., however, meet several of these requirements and taste very similar to bourbon.

Early Times has been the official whiskey of the Kentucky Derby since 1987, when the liquor’s parent company, the Brown-Forman Corporation, signed an exclusive contract with Churchill Downs. The contract states that Brown-Forman Corporation’s Early Times mint julep cocktail is the “official drink of the Kentucky Derby.”

Although Early Times Kentucky Whiskey mint juleps are the main drinks sold at the Kentucky Derby — about 120,000 of them are served at Churchill Downs over the two-day period of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby — juleps with bourbon were allowed to be sold at the Churchill Downs racetrack in 2006. As part of its marketing agreement with Brown-Forman, Churchill Downs designated Early Times’ sister brand, Kentucky bourbon company Woodford Reserve, as the “official bourbon” of the derby.

Extra-premium custom-made mint juleps made with Woodford Reserve bourbon are sold for $1,000 each at the derby. Made using mint imported from Ireland, ice from the Bavarian Alps and sugar from Australia, the bourbon mint juleps are served in gold-plated cups designed by jeweler Tiffany & Co. As for the outrageous price tag, proceeds from its sales go to charitable causes for retired race horses .


If you’ve ever seen a bartender do a multiple pour when you order bourbon neat or on the rocks, you might think one of two things: 1) he mis-measured or 2) he really likes you because he just gave you an extra pour. In fact, it’s because there’s something known as “suspended solids” in a bourbon, so by doing multiple pours, you’re actually shaking up the bourbon and rounding out the flavor.


The term for bourbons made from a few select barrels married together for consistency. A good place to start is Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch 2010, which has a bit of sandalwood and a lot of golden pipe tobacco flavor, and might just inspire you to open a leather-bound book.


These have been bottled from one barrel only. They’re entirely unique in the sense that each vessel has its own temperature and character. Evan Williams specializes in single barrels, most of which are very good, including the latest 2001 edition, a dark, toffee-rich liquid that makes a perfect dessert.


Not necessarily a bourbon, this is a whiskey made from at least 51 percent of any grain. It carries the same proof minimum as bourbon, but straight whiskey also needs to see at least two years in charred new oak barrels, whereas bourbon has no aging requirements. Added color and flavor are shunned in both categories.


A sour mash is made by taking a portion of previously used mash and adding it to a fresh batch. This makes the mash taste a little sour, but it doesn’t affect the flavor of the finished whiskey. The process is roughly analogous to using a sourdough starter when making bread, though unlike a sourdough starter, a sour mash is made of dead yeasts.

The process has two advantages: first, it help ensures consistency from batch to batch, and second, it lowers the pH of the batch, leading to more efficient fermentation.


Most bourbons are made with corn, rye, and barley. More traditional bourbons contain 8 to 10% rye. However, bourbons can be divided into several additional categories, including High Rye, High Corn, and Wheated.

High Rye means that the bourbon is made up of more than 10% rye. Bourbons that have a high rye content are generally spicier than other bourbons and are known for their bold flavor. Common high rye bourbons include Bulleit, Old Grand Dad, and Basil Hayden.

High Corn bourbons contain more than 51% corn. Bourbons with high corn content are often much sweeter than traditional bourbons. High corn bourbons include Old Charter and Baby Bourbon.

Wheated bourbons are bourbons that substitute wheat for rye, making them a combination of corn, wheat, and barley. These bourbons are softer on the palate and have a stronger flavor of caramel or vanilla. Maker’s Mark, Van Winkle bourbons, and Rebel Yell are some of the more common wheated varieties.


The mash bill of a bourbon is its recipe. Bourbon must, as noted earlier, contain at least 51% corn, but the other grains in the mash bill depend on the tastes of the distiller. Any grain is possible; some distillers use rice, oats, and other grains. Most bourbons, though, are a mix of corn, wheat, and rye, and sometimes barley.


A bourbon in which the second major ingredient is rye is known as a high-rye bourbon. Rye is a spicier, richer grain than either corn or wheat, and high-rye bourbons are usually spicier and richer as a result.


A bourbon in which the second major ingredient is wheat is known as a wheater, or a wheated bourbon. Wheated bourbons are sweeter than high-rye versions.


Most bourbons when  bottled, they’re diluted with water to bottling proof. Usually, this is 80 proof, or 40% alcohol by volume, which is the lowest a bourbon can be diluted to and still be called a bourbon. Adding water is a way to stretch the supply of bourbon, making it less expensive to produce. The lower proof is also seen as being more palatable to consumers. Some bourbons, though, have less water added, and are sold at higher proofs, such as 90 proof, 95, 100, 101 (Wild Turkey, of course), or even higher.