Bourbon Whiskey Tastings

We've all stood in the liquor store aisle staring at the shelf wondering what to buy. Read our tasting reviews and stare no more

Widow Jane Barrel Picks Tasting [Review]

Widow Jane Barrel Picks Tasting [Review]

Widow Jane was founded in 2012 by Daniel Prieto Preston (owner of Cacao Prieto) in Redhook, Brooklyn, and started off by hand picking barrels from producing distilleries. But what I love is they are also distilling their own whiskey. Widow Jane explains: We also...

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2019) Tasting [Review]

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2019) Tasting [Review]

Birthday Bourbon is the annual release from Old Forester and celebrates the birthday of their founder George Garvin Brown on Sept 2nd every year. “September is a special month for us at Old Forester." Campbell Brown, Old Forester President. "We get to mark, in a...

Booker’s 2015-01: Big Man, Small Batch Tasting [Review]

Booker’s 2015-01: Big Man, Small Batch Tasting [Review]

My collection of Booker’s now starts with this crown jewel — Big Man, Small Batch 2015-01.What I love about these old Booker’s is the way the wax is brittle. You can’t replicate that. The wax on newer batches peals away without...

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Frequently Asked Questions

What's the Difference Between Bourbon and Whiskey?

The short answer: All bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon.

The long answer: Whiskey (or you might see it as whisky but it's the same drink) is made from a fermented grain mash including barley, corn, rye, and wheat. Sometimes these grains are also malted. This spirit is generally aged in wood barrels (sometimes called casks).

Bourbon is whiskey that has a mash bill made of at least 51% corn among other regulations (see below) and is aged in new, charred oak barrels (generally American White Oak).

What is the Definition of Bourbon Whiskey?

Bourbon truly is America's native spirit which was enshrined into law by Congress in 1964 when they called it a "distinctive product of the United States" and set up the requirements for when whiskey transforms into bourbon.

Here are the cliff notes version:

  •  It must be made in America (sorry Kentuckians — bourbon can be made outside of the bluegrass state).
  • It must have 51% corn in its mashbill but the other grains are up for grabs. Generally, the secondary grains are rye and barley, but some of the most highly renowed bourbons use wheat as the second grain and barley as the third.
  • Must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
  • Cannot be distilled over 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume).
  • Must enter the new, charred oak barrel at 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume) or less.
  • Bottled at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume)

What does bottled in bond mean?

Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 was one of the first consumer protections laws and was passed in response to adulterated bourbon whiskey that was in some worst case scenarios killing people.

As with many government regulations, distilleries who sought this designation for their spirits received a tax incentive.

Having the bottled in bond tax strip was a badge of trust in the eyes of consumer. Here's the gist. The spirit must be:

  • the product of one distilling season
  • the work one of one distillery
  • demonstrate the skill of one distiller
  • aged for no less than 4 years
  • bottled at 100 proof (50% alcohol by volume)

Also, if you're looking for a bottled in bond whiskey chances are you'll run across one from the Heaven Hill distillery. They have a deep and delicious catalogue of bottled in bond bourbons and whiskeys.

what is straight bourbon whiskey?

Straight bourbon whiskey is all about consumer protection, aging, and proof. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 dictated that "straight whiskey" must be distilled from a fermented cereal grain mash, may not be distilled higher than 160 proof (80% ABV), aged for a minimum for 2 years, and enter the barrel no more than 125 proof (62.5 ABV). Only water may be added to bring the proof down.

Last, any straight whiskey aged less than four years must have an age statement, and it always reflect the youngest whiskey in the bottle.

You'll notice the original question was about "straight bourbon whiskey" and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 dealt mainly with "straight whiskey" that's because bourbon wasn't officially bourbon until 1964. That's why you'll also notice some of the "straight" requirements mirror bourbon's like the distillation and barrel entry proof.

To be designated, "straight bourbon whiskey" a spirit must not only meet all of the requirements from the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 but also meet Congress' 1964 definition of what bourbon is.

Also, in common parlance, "straight" can also be a request for a whiskey or bourbon without ice or other add ons at a bar. "Hey bar keep, give me a shot of Maker's straight."

What are the types of bourbon whiskey?

The types might fall into different categories. We will start with the different types of bourbon mashbills.

The most common bourbon mashbill has the required 51% corn, a secondary grain of rye, and barley.

This mashbill can be high rye (e.g., Wild Turkey, New Riff) or low ry (e.g., Elijah Craig, Buffalo Trace). The higher the rye generally the more spice is present.

The next most popular mashbill replaces the rye with wheat. So you might 51% plus corn, wheat, and barley. 

This mashbill was made popular by the now defunct Stitzel Weller distillery in the mid-twentieth century with brands like Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, Weller, and Pappy Van Winkle.

These wheated bourbons are still being made today but by different distilleries after Stitzel Weller shut its doors in 1972. The wheat is a softer flavor and takes premium aging well.

Let's call the last type experimental. Some distillers are more adventurous with their mashbills than others. You will have mashbills that include four grains (corn, wheat, rye, and barley), five grains, or other grains like amaranth, malted grains, triticale, rice, oat, millet, or sorghum.

The other types of bourbons would fall into a category we've touched on already — straight bourbon whiskey and bottled in bond. 

What is the difference between single barrel and SMALL BATCH bourbon?

These terms can be confusing for bourbon newbies. Single barrel is the easiest to define so we'll start there. 

After the spirit is distilled, it's moved to barrels where it becomes bourbon whiskey. Some barrels may have exceptional flavor on its own. 

Distilleries market and sell this bourbon whiskey as a single barrel. This designation was popularized by Colonel Albert Blanton at the now Buffalo Trace Distillery and is sold as Blanton's. 

It's a single barrel of bourbon whiskey not mingled or blended with any other barrel.

Small batch is less clear and can cause confusion. There are no regulations on what small batch means. It might mean a craft distillery mingling 5-10 barrels to hit their desired flavor profile. Or it might mean a larger distillery mingling 200 plus barrels.

Some popular small batch bourbon whiskeys include Maker's Mark, Buffalo Trace, and Elijah Craig. 

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