Bourbon is a spirit rich in history and complexity, and sometimes the web of information surrounding it can be complex as well. With that in mind, we've compiled this comprehensive FAQ to help clarify the bevy of bourbon-related knowledge and encourage you as you take your own journey "down the rabbit hole" of America's native spirit. Come enrich your bourbon experience. Brought to you by Rabbit Hole Distillery - Creators of "Original Works Of Bourbon"...

bourbon questions and answers - complete guide

What Is Bourbon?

Bourbon is a variety of whiskey distilled in the United States. As a whiskey, its mash bill — the composition of grains that make up a distiller's recipe — consists of grains. Part of what separates bourbon from other whiskeys, though, is the higher proportion of corn in the mash bill (at least 51%) relative to the other grains. Aside from corn content, bourbon must also satisfy other criteria concerning its origin, aging conditions, and alcohol content at various stages of production. These standards have been formalized by legal definition, and any whiskey that fails to meet them cannot qualify as bourbon.

Is Bourbon Healthy?

Whether bourbon is healthy is a complicated question, as the notion of health relies on a broad array of standards. As an alcoholic drink, bourbon can intoxicate, so it's important not to overindulge, but there are some health benefits to enjoying it in moderation. Research suggests that moderate intake of distilled beverages like bourbon may confer cardiovascular benefits by preventing the formation of artery-blocking clots and raising the body's levels of high-density lipoprotein (the "good cholesterol"). Also, compared to beer and wine, bourbon is lower in calories and free of carbohydrates, so it can fit fairly well into healthy lifestyles.

What Are the Different Types of Bourbon Glasses?

In the narrowest sense, there are seven types of bourbon glasses that bourbon enthusiasts commonly use: shot glasses, rocks glasses, dock glasses, Glencairn glasses, wine glasses, snifters, and NEAT glasses. Each vessel has unique characteristics that will appeal to the bourbon drinker. The shot glass accommodates precisely a serving size of liquor; rocks glasses are broad, suitable for iced bourbon and most cocktails; dock and Glencairn glasses have tapered tops that carry nuances to the nose; wine glasses and snifters promote vigorous swirling; and NEAT glasses boast an irregular shape that directs harsh alcohol fumes away from the nose.

What Is a Bourbon Rocks Glass?

A rock glass — also known as an Old-Fashioned glass, lowball glass, or tumbler — is a short, broad variety of drinkware that usually holds 6 to 10 ounces of liquid. The name of the glass comes from its capacity to accommodate ice along with spirits. Indeed, if you want straight liquor served chilled over ice, you'd ask for it "on the rocks." It's also the vessel of choice for a variety of cocktails, such as the Old-Fashioned (hence the alternative moniker) and the whiskey sour. The glass's dimensions are ideal for containing the measures of such drinks without leaving excessive negative space.

What Is a Bourbon Glencairn Glass?

A Glencairn glass is a whiskey-specific variety of glassware developed by Glencairn Crystal, based in East Kilbride, Scotland. The original Glencairn vessel measures 4.5 inches tall. It has the capacity to hold 6 fluid ounces of liquid, though 1.7 ounces of spirit is the intended serving volume. Physically, the Glencairn glass is distinguishable by its tapered mouth, relatively wide bowl, and stout solid base. These characteristics are functional as well as aesthetic. Designed to be held under the bowl between the index and long fingers, heat from the palm warms the liquor while the tapered mouth concentrates its aromas.

What Are Bourbon Balls?

Bourbon balls are bite-size confections consisting primarily of chocolate and the namesake liquor. They were the invention of Ruth Hanly Booe, a former substitute teacher who left the profession to co-found Rebecca Ruth Candy in Frankfort, Kentucky. The story goes that Booe gained inspiration in 1936 when a customer idly put forward the idea of a treat featuring Kentucky bourbon. Two years later, in 1938, she unveiled her new confection to the world. The original iteration of bourbon balls consisted of a bourbon-infused dough enrobed in dark chocolate and topped with a pecan half. Modern variations take it up a level.

How Do You Make an Old-fashioned?

There are numerous ways to make an Old-Fashioned. The most basic iteration begins with about a teaspoon of sugar, a touch of water, and a few dashes of angostura bitters at the bottom of a rocks glass. Stir these ingredients together until the sugar has nearly dissolved before filling the glass with ice and 2 ounces of good bourbon. Stir again for 20 to 30 seconds, or until the ice has sufficiently chilled and diluted the whiskey. Finally, slice off a section of orange peel, express the oils over the drink, and drop in the twist.

Why Are Some Bourbons So Expensive?

Some bourbons are quite expensive owing to several factors. One is the increase in competition in the last few decades. Given the rise in producers, many have differentiated themselves by shifting resources over to premium brands, which carry premium prices. Another contributor is taxes. Aside from state liquor taxes, there are ad valorem taxes in Kentucky (the leading producer of bourbon), which attach to the value of whiskey in each year of maturation. Also, distillation is a time- and resource-intensive trade that folds its losses into the equation. A lot of cost goes into making a high-quality bourbon.

What Is a Top-shelf Bourbon?

When a bourbon is top-shelf, that means it's of the highest quality and is, therefore, highly desirable. The term "top-shelf" stems from bartender lingo, as drinking establishments would typically display their finest spirits on the uppermost shelf behind the bar. Top-shelf bourbons typically embody the traits that drinkers prize in the spirit, such as complexity in flavor and high drinkability. In addition, they're usually expensive and also quite rare, owing to factors like small-batch production and long-term maturation.

What Is Bourbon Distillation?

Bourbon distillation is the process of producing the spirit that eventually enters the barrel and becomes bourbon. During distillation, a fermented mash of grains gets heated and vaporized in a column still. The vapor collects and condenses back into a concentrated alcoholic liquid. Typically, then, this spirit gets distilled a second time in a pot still. By the end of the process, the spirit has fully separated from the mash and other impurities. Certain laws govern the alcohol content of the spirit at different stages of production, with 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) being the threshold during distillation.

What Defines Bourbon Legally?

Federal regulations define bourbon and the particulars of its production. According to these regulations, a whiskey must meet seven specific criteria to qualify as bourbon. It must (1) be produced in the United States; (2) have a mash bill that consists of at least 51% corn; (3) distill at no greater than 160 proof; (4) enter the barrels at no greater than 125 proof; (5) age in charred oak barrels that have seen no previous use; (6) contain no additives aside from water to dilute the spirit; and (7) be at least 80 proof when it enters the bottle.

Why Is Bourbon Aged?

Bourbon is aged because the time it spends inside the barrel imbues it with its characteristic qualities. When it enters the barrel, the spirit is raw. It's a clear distillate that tastes more closely of the grains that composed its mash bill. However, as the spirit ages, it transforms. Over time, the spirit repeatedly drives into the charred interiors of the barrel and recedes, bringing color and complex flavor compounds into itself. Chemical reactions occur that mellow out the harsh tannins and wood notes while accentuating the notes associated with bourbon, such as vanilla, cream, caramel, and spice.

What Is a Bourbon Barrel Cooper?

A barrel cooper is a trade professional who specializes in making barrels. To produce a bourbon barrel, a cooper shapes the oak staves (the individual planks of wood) and sets them outside to dry in a process called seasoning. This helps to rid the wood of certain undesirable compounds. They then form the barrel by arranging the staves, warming them with fire, and hammering progressively tighter metal hoops around them to define the shape. Then comes the charring, which strategically burns the interior of the barrel — the source of bourbon's signature qualities.

What Is a Cooperage?

The term "cooperage" refers both to the facility where a cooper plies their trade and generally to the collective of products they produce. The cooperage responsible for the Lion's Share of bourbon barrel production is Kentucky Cooperate in Lebanon, Kentucky, a small city approximately 70 miles south of Louisville. A subsidiary of Missouri-based Independent Stave Company (ISC), the cooperage uses sustainably grown and harvested white oak logs that undergo processing in company-owned mills. It's this wood that is largely responsible for the overall flavor of the bourbon you enjoy.

What Is the Difference Between Bourbon Barrel Char Levels?

You can define the differences between the four bourbon barrel char levels by both time and the transformative impact on the spirit. A level 1 char exposes the barrel to a high-degree flame for only 15 seconds, resulting in less of the wood's characteristics in the final product. Level 2 is a 30-second exposure, allowing hemicellulose and lignin to break down and introduce notes of vanilla and caramel to the spirit. At level 3, lasting 35 seconds, you get deeper, earthier notes like toffee and spice. Level 4, at 55 seconds, imbues the deepest notes, such as leather and smoke.

What Is a Single-barrel Bourbon?

As you might tell by the name, single-barrel bourbon is bourbon that derives from one cask alone. Normally, to prepare for bottling, a distiller draws bourbon from multiple casks and blends them. The reason for the blending is that it helps to maintain uniformity between batches. Single-barrel bourbon shirks consistency in favor of the minute differences between individual casks and the unique characteristics they can imbue on the spirits within them. Many distillers produce single-barrel expressions as part of their brand line. You can also come across single-barrel products via barrel picks at distilleries, retailers, and drinking establishments.

What Is a Bourbon Mash Bill?

A bourbon mash bill is the combination of grains used in the initial stages of the bourbon production process. By definition, the mash bill must consist of at least 51% corn. Most distillers' mash bills far exceed that percentage, with 65% to 75% being the ordinary range. The remainder of the mash bill consists of other small grains, normally malted barley, rye, and wheat. The exact composition of the mash bill helps to define the flavor and complexity of the final product. Generally speaking, a higher corn content results in a sweeter-tasting bourbon, while rye-heavy bourbons are more spice-forward.

What Is Sour Mash Bourbon?

"Sour mash bourbon" refers to a method of bourbon production. A mash is a porridge-like quantity of cooked grains, which ferments into the beer that eventually gets distilled. The idea behind the sour mash process is to use mash left over from a previous batch to start a new one, as a baker might use a preferment to start a fresh dough. Because the mash has been fermenting for much longer, it's now "sour" and relatively acidic compared to the new mash. The elevated acidity helps to impede microorganisms, while the use of previous mash contributes to consistency between batches.

What Is Sweet Mash Bourbon?

Sweet mash bourbon is another method of bourbon production. Rather than using leftover mash from an older batch, the sweet mash process starts from scratch, cooking the grains in water and adding yeast in a straightforward fashion. As the mash ferments, there's a higher risk of bacterial contamination because of the absence of the acidic component that sour mash would have added. To safeguard against unfettered microorganism growth, distillers using the sweet mash process must keep their equipment fastidiously clean. Despite the potential complications, though, the sweet mash process does provide advantages, particularly that of the treasured low barrel-entry proof.

What Is Distiller's Beer When Making Bourbon?

Distiller's beer refers to the liquid that results from the fermentation of the grains in a bourbon's mash bill. Also known as the wash, it's the proto-product that precedes distillation and from which all whiskey derives. Like ordinary beer, distiller's beer is alcoholic. The alcohol content may vary depending on the distiller. The typical range is between 8% and 10% alcohol by volume, but some may get as low as 7% and as high as 11%. Distillers control the content by limiting or extending the fermentation period. The longer the fermentation, the higher the concentration of alcohol in the beer. 

Why Are Bourbon Grains Fermented?

Bourbon grains are fermented because that's how alcohol enters the equation. The fermentation process begins with creating a mash, which refers to the blend of grains, water, and yeast. Bourbon distillers use the whole mash, solids and all, rather than just the extracted liquid, or wort. Then, over a specific span of days — usually at least three — the yeast feeds on the sugars in the grains and converts them to ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. An additional function of fermentation is flavor. The sugar-to-alcohol conversion process breaks down chemical compounds in the mash, creating new compounds that are pleasing to the palate.

What Are Bourbon Esters?

Bourbon esters are a byproduct created at multiple stages of the bourbon production process. During fermentation, distillation, and maturating, esters arise naturally from within the pertinent fluids. They result from the interaction and integration of acid and alcohol compounds. Specifically an alkyl — such as butyl, ethyl, methyl, or propyl alcohol — takes the place of hydrogen in carboxylic acid. Esters are essential to the final character of bourbon because they are responsible for many of the flavors and aromas. For example, n-amyl acetate is the ester that might introduce flavors of pear and banana, n-octyl acetate imbues citrus, and ethyl butyrate brings pineapple.

Which Esters Are in Bourbon?

A diverse range of esters may occur in bourbon, differing depending on factors such as the yeast strains used during fermentation, the variables of distillation, and the chemical reactions that occur between the wood and the distillate during aging. N-amyl acetate is the ester that imparts qualities of rich fruits like pineapple and banana, lactic acid produces soft and creamy characteristics, vanillin brings the signature vanilla notes, and furfural is what gives off the grainy and almond-like flavors found in some bourbons. As the world of esters is broad, the list provided here is by no means exhaustive - more can be found here.

What Is Bourbon Bottle Proof?

"Bourbon bottle proof" is an industry term that refers to the concentration of alcohol in the beverage at the time that it enters the bottle. By definition, a bourbon in the bottle must be at least 80 proof, or 40% alcohol by volume, though higher proofs are common. Also, the proof of the spirit is significantly higher coming out of the barrel, so distillers typically dilute it with water previous to bottling. Dilution not only extends the stock of whiskey but also helps to maintain consistency between batches while making the final product more palatable to a wider range of consumers. 

What Does Bourbon “Barrel Proof” Mean?

When a bourbon is barrel-proof, that means its alcoholic potency is the same as it was when it entered the barrel. Another term for this is "cask strength." Essentially, with a barrel-proof bourbon, the distiller forgoes diluting the spirit with water previous to bottling. There's some leeway in terms of the alcohol content of barrel-proof bourbons, but not a lot. The United States Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) has ruled that any spirit sold with the "barrel-proof" designation can be no more than 2 degrees of proof lower than at barrel entry, so precision is still paramount.

What Is a Cask-strength Bourbon?

A cask-strength bourbon is a barrel-proof bourbon: one whose alcoholic concentration matches its entry proof. At the end of the maturation period, the whiskey goes straight into the bottle, sans dilution. Often, that means it's a higher-proof liquor, as bourbon distillates tend to enter the barrel at concentrations between 55% and 62.5% alcohol by volume. There are at least a couple of advantages to be had by purchasing a cask-strength bourbon. One is the allowance of control provided to the drinker, who can experiment with dilution on their own end. Another is the opportunity to experience an unaltered, unblended whiskey that reflects entirely the attributes of the barrel from which it flowed.

What Is a Bourbon Age Statement?

A bourbon age statement is a declaration on the bottle that tells you the length of maturation for the bourbon within. Among the myriad rules of bourbon production is that the spirit must age in new, charred oak containers before it can legally be sold as bourbon. A caveat of this rule is that any bourbons that have aged for less than four years must bear an age statement on the bottle. Should the distiller blend bourbons from multiple barrels at varying stages of maturation, the age statement must reflect the youngest of the spirits contained in the bottle.

What Does “Straight Bourbon Whiskey” Mean?

The term "straight bourbon whiskey" means that a bourbon has met specific aging requirements. Namely, it has spent a minimum of two years in new, charred oak containers. Keep in mind that any bourbons that have aged for less than four years must indicate the maturation period on the bottle, so many straight bourbons do bear age statements. Another point to consider is that some distillers elect to transfer and finish some of their bourbons in different casks. Such bourbons may still qualify as "straight" as long as they satisfy the aging requirements previously mentioned and also contain no additives.

What Does “Devil's Cut” Mean?

"Devil's cut" is an expression that refers to the amount of distillate absorbed by the wood of the cask as bourbon ages. Loss is an integral part of the aging process. Some distillate gets lost via evaporation. Vapor-based loss is the "angel's share," as it dissipates into the heavens, so to speak. For the sake of poetic balance, then, distillers describe absorption loss as the domain of the devil because the distillate is now doomed to the depths (of the wood). It's possible to minimize the devil's cut by using casks of oak grown in cooler climes, as the wood is often denser.

What Is a Finished Bourbon?

A finished bourbon is one that has aged a while in one container and then completed its maturation in a completely different one. By definition, bourbon must age in new oak containers with charred interiors, but there's an allowance for transferring the spirit to a used, non-charred container once it has fulfilled its initial requirement. Often, the containers used for finishing have previously held wines like sherry or port, or else other spirits like rum. It's also not uncommon to finish bourbons in previously used bourbon or rye barrels. The practice of finishing can enhance the complexity of the final product.

What Is Chill-filtered Bourbon?

Chill-filtered bourbon is bourbon that has undergone a particular method of refinement to remove particulates before bottling. The chill-filtration process involves cooling the bourbon to around the freezing point of water, sometimes lower. What this does is cause sediments and chemical compounds (e.g., fatty acids) to bind in a process called flocculation. The bound clumps then get filtered out of the liquid, producing a clarified spirit. Though chill-filtration does improve the visual uniformity and shelf life of the product, many drinkers and distillers prefer non-chill-filtered bourbon for what they feel are its superior flavor, texture, and body.

What Is Non-chill Filtering Bourbon?

Non-chill filtering refers to the the absence of the chill-filtering process, or flocculation. Coming out of the barrel after maturation, bourbon contains particulate matter from the container in which it had spent the previous several years. Many distillers choose to remove this matter, as well as certain chemical compounds, by cooling the bourbon before bottling. At low-enough temperatures, sediment and other components clump together and are easily removed from the liquid. However, many feel that chill-filtration compromises the desirable characteristics of bourbon, so they eschew the process in favor of a less refined product and a more rewarding drinking experience. 

What Is a Bourbon Pot Still?

A pot still is one of the common apparatuses used in the distillation of spirits such as bourbon. Made of copper — owing to its easy moldability and excellent heat conductivity — the typical pot still consists of four parts. The first is the eponymous pot, the large basin in which the wash gets heated. The pot tapers into the swan neck, into which the vaporized rises. Together, the pot and swan neck often resemble the top half of an onion. Extending off of the swan neck is the lyne arm, a tube through which the vapor travels to the condenser, where distillate collects. 

How Does a Bourbon Column Still Work?

A column still works via continuous distillation, characterized by an ongoing feed of wash into the system and a steady supply of distillate. A single column still is essentially a wide vertical pipe. Inside are a series of plates, each being cooler than the one below. Wash flows downward over the plates while steam blasts up from the bottom. Repeatedly, the wash vaporizes, condenses on the plates, and gets re-distilled to a vapor state. As the vapors travel up the still, the system separates heavy compounds (e.g., fusel oil) from light ones (e.g., ethyl alcohol), thereby purifying the distillate.

What Is a Bourbon Hybrid Still?

Broadly speaking, a hybrid still is a distilling apparatus that allows for the shared functionality of a pot still and a column still. In some cases, hybridization might entail a pot still with a column still structure interlinked. In others, it might mean a still that can alternate between pot and column capabilities. Such an interchangeable apparatus would be particularly useful in distilleries that produce multiple spirits. They could, for example, use the column still mode for distilling bourbon, but switch over to the column mode for making vodka, which requires a greater degree of purification.

What Are Bourbon Heads, Hearts, and Tails?

Heads, hearts, and tails are terms that describe the three primary portions, or cuts, of bourbon distillate. Heads are the first cut, which consists of a high concentration of potentially lethal compounds such as methanol and acetaldehyde. Much of the head cut has no place in the final product but can be re-distilled to extract a purer distillate. Then comes the hearts, the desirable alcohols. They comprise the crux of the ethyl alcohol and appreciable characteristics that will define the finished bourbon. Eventually, the hearts give way to the tails, which are unpleasant and, like the heads, re-distillable.

What Are Bourbon Foreshots?

Bourbon foreshots are the very first vapors that come off of the heated mash during distillation. In other words, they are the head of the heads — the beginning of the first cut of distillate. The foreshots consist of dangerous compounds that no distiller would want in their final product, such as methanol, acetone, and aldehyde. Generally speaking, anywhere from 2% to 5% of the overall distillate is foreshot material, which must be discarded. 

What Is a Barrel Bung?

A barrel bung is a stopper used to plug a barrel of spirits. The construction of a spirit barrel involves numerous parts. The staves are the individual slats of oak that compose the walls of the container, the heads are the lids on the top and bottom ends, and the hoops are large metal bands that hold together the various components. On a side of the barrel is a bunghole, a 2-inch opening drilled into the wood. The bunghole allows for easy filling and then dispensing. Between those moments, though, the bung keeps a watertight seal on the contents.

What Does Chipping Mean in Bourbon?

In the context of bourbon, chipping refers to the practice of adding wood to the cask. This can be any wood — staves, chips, planks, and even sawdust — as long as it, like the cask itself, is new. If it has had previous exposure to any other spirits, it could adulterate the liquor, which would no longer qualify as bourbon. A distiller might engage in this practice to enhance the flavor of the bourbon. With chippings floating freely in the distillate, the liquid has more points of contact with the wood, from which bourbon derives its color and many of its sense characteristics.

What Is a Dram of Bourbon?

In the strictest sense, a dram of bourbon is a specific unit of measurement that amounts to one-eighth of a fluid ounce. To visualize that, imagine a teaspoon of liquid and then discard more than 90% of it. That being said, the word "dram" is also a colloquial term that means just "a small portion." Drinkers generally use the term as an imprecise measurement for dark liquors like whiskey. So if you were to pour yourself a shot's worth of bourbon in a glass, you could say you're having a dram of it — though, technically, you'd actually be having 12 drams.

Is Bourbon The Same As Ethanol?

It's not entirely accurate to say that bourbon is ethanol. Rather, bourbon is a complex distilled spirit whose chemical composition includes ethanol. Ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, is the primary ingredient in alcoholic beverages. With liquors such as bourbon, you can determine the total concentration of ethanol by checking the proof statement on the bottle. By definition, every bourbon is at least 40% ethanol by volume by the time it's ready for consumption. The rest of its chemical composition includes water and various compounds leached, over several years, from the charred wood of the barrel.

What Does “Bourbon Expression” Mean?

The term "bourbon expression" refers to a variation of a particular bourbon. A given distiller might have multiple expressions to represent a brand. Each expression likely has a different ratio of grains in its mash bill, and its production may include variables that alter the final product in nuanced ways. Rabbit Hole, for example, has five expressions in its line. Cavehill is the flagship that boasts a four-grain mash bill, Heigold is a high-rye bourbon, Dareringer is finished in PX sherry casks, Boxergrail is a straight rye, and Nevallier Founder's Collection is a cask-strength expression finished in French oak.

What Are Bourbon Notes?

The notes of bourbon are its characteristic sense features. When someone discusses notes, they're referring to how something smells, tastes, and feels. Notes can be on the nose or on the palate. Notes on the nose are aromas. Bring a glass of bourbon to your nose and you might get the scent of honey, apples, toasted malt. Notes on the palate are tastes and finishes. Describing palate notes involves both edible and nonedible referents. One might speak of butterscotch, citrus, caramel, and vanilla, as well as tobacco, leather, and wood. Altogether, these notes provide a quasi-synesthetic depiction of an experience.

What Flavors Are in Bourbon?

The exact flavors that are in a bourbon depend on factors such as its mash bill and variables in its production process. The composition of grains, the duration of mash fermentation, the length of its maturation, and whether or not it gets finished in a separate cask can all affect the flavor profile. That being said, there are common taste notes associated with bourbon in general. On the palate, you might sense notes of vanilla, toffee, chocolate, grain and malt, citrus or dark fruits, herbs or spices, and floral or buttery characteristics, to name just a few.

Does Bourbon Go Bad?

The answer to whether bourbon goes bad depends on certain variables. Unopened, a bottle of bourbon has an indefinite shelf life. Things change, however, when you break the seal. As soon as oxygen touches the spirit, you're best off consuming it within one to two years. This is because oxidation can negatively alter the taste of the bourbon over time, as aroma and flavor molecules are simply dissipating into the air. Another component being lost is alcohol. As you lose this volatile liquid, you also compromise the sense features of the bourbon, and your taste experience won't be the same.

What Is a Unicorn Bourbon?

A unicorn bourbon is a bottle or barrel that is extraordinarily rare (and expensive). Such a bourbon is so hard to find, you might as well be looking for a unicorn in the woods. Typically, unicorn bourbons derive from very small batches, so scarcity is folded into the product at the very start, or else they're very old bottles whose kin have largely disappeared in one way or another. It's extremely unlikely that you'll come across any unicorn bourbons at a retailer, drinking establishment, or restaurant, so you have to hunt them down from sources such as collectors and auctions.

What Are Allocated Bourbons?

Allocated bourbons are bottles that are available in limited quantities. That doesn't mean, necessarily, they are on the same level as unicorn bourbons. Often, allocation is a strategic maneuver on the part of the distiller. They may elect to provide only a restrictive number of bottles to select retailers and bars while stowing the rest in inventory. This creates a manufactured scarcity, which the distillers can control by releasing additional bottles in a calculated fashion. Sometimes, though, the allocation is organic, as when distilleries don't have enough of a particular expression to meet the demand.

What Is a Honey Barrel Bourbon?

A honey barrel is a cask of bourbon that is, simply, very good. It's difficult to specify, much less standardize, the factors that produce a honey barrel. The distillate within may come from a common batch, but the quality of the kin barrels may not match that of the honey. The prevailing belief is that the barrel in question happened to occupy the ideal position in the rickhouse. The climate conditions were especially perfect there, allowing for the perfect marriage between barrel and bourbon. On discovering a honey barrel, the distiller is unlikely to blend it with others. 

What Is a Four-grain Bourbon?

A four-grain bourbon is one whose mash bill consists of four discrete grain types or variations in the malting process, resulting in a more complex spirit. One of those grains, of course, is corn. The remainder of the mash bill may be any small grain, with common choices being barley, wheat, and rye. For example, Rabbit Hole's four-grain Cavehill expression uses barley and wheat in addition to corn, but the barley has been processed in two distinct fashions: malted barley and honey-malted barley. Each has distinguishable flavors and chemical characteristics that contribute uniquely to the final product.

What Is a Double-malt Bourbon?

A double-malt bourbon's grain composition comprises the required corn and two malted grains. Malting is the process of allowing a grain to germinate to a certain point, giving rise to essential enzymes on which the yeast will feed during fermentation. An example of a double-malt bourbon would be Rabbit Hole's high-rye Heigold, whose mash bill is 70% corn, 25% malted rye, and 5% malted barley. Bear in mind that the term "double-malt" carries a different meaning outside of the world of bourbon. If you're talking scotch, it would refer to a whisky blended from two separate distilleries.

What Is a Triple-malt Bourbon?

With a triple-malt bourbon, three malted grains feature in the mash bill, in addition to corn. Consider, for example, Rabbit Hole's Cavehill, a four-grain expression consisting of 70% corn and equal parts malted wheat, malted barley, and honey-malted barley. As mentioned in this FAQ, as well as elsewhere, malting involves germinating grains so they produce enzymes that facilitate fermentation of the mash. Malting three grains separately requires a tremendous degree of precision, scientific expertise, and artistic skill. The result, if done appropriately, is a bourbon of greater interest and complexity than you might be used to.

What Is Chocolate Malt Bourbon?

Chocolate malt bourbon uses chocolate malt in its mash bill. Despite what the name might suggest, chocolate malt has no botanical relationship to chocolate. Rather, it's a malting process that produces a chemical profile comparable to that of chocolate or coffee. What happens is the distiller first germinates a type of barley called two-rowed barley, so named because of the dual rows of kernels on the seed head. Then they roast the malted barley, as one might roast coffee beans or cacao nibs, resulting in a darker grain with greater depth of flavor. This flavor ultimately transfers to the bourbon.

What Are Honey-malted Grains?

Honey-malted grains have undergone processing that imparts on them a sweet, honey-like quality. The grains in question are either barley or wheat. After malting, the grain undergoes a drying process called kilning, after which honey gets added to the mix. Using honey-malted grains in the mash bill imparts earthy and warm flavors on the whiskey — notes of toasted bread, pretzels, and a bit of tang or tartness. Rabbit Hole's Cavehill expression is one bourbon that incorporates honey malting in its production, allowing it to feature the comforting notes of toasted grain on the palate.

Why Is Limestone Water Used in Bourbon?

Many distillers consider limestone water to be an integral ingredient in bourbon because its unique characteristics produce desirable outcomes in the finished bourbon. The limestone in question filters out iron from the water, thus removing a component that would otherwise impart a bad taste to the liquor. At the same time, the limestone adds calcium and magnesium. These minerals increase the dehydration stress tolerance of yeast, allowing the essential microorganisms to thrive during fermentation. It's not by coincidence, then, that Kentucky has a reputation for producing the best bourbon, considering that the state is rich in deposits of blue limestone. 

What Is Alpha-amylase?

Alpha-amylase is an enzyme that is essential to bourbon production, specifically the fermentation stage. Alpha-amylase arises during malting, the process by which grains undergo conditions that allow them to germinate to a particular point. Then, when the mash gets cooked, the grains inflate and burst, spilling out long-chain starches. Alpha-amylase basically attacks these starches, breaking down the long chains into dextrins, which later convert to disaccharide maltose, monosaccharide glucose, maltodextrins, and trisaccharide maltotriose — sugars that the yeast feeds on to produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. 

What Is Saccharification?

Saccharification is the conversion of a complex carbohydrate, such as a starch, into a simple sugar. Because yeast feeds on simple sugars, this conversion is vital for the fermentation of the mash in the early stages of bourbon production. The enzymes produced by the malting of grains are the driving force behind saccharification. Alpha-amylase starts things off by breaking down the long-chain starches into dextrins. Then beta-amylase comes in to break the dextrins down further into the essential yeast-digestible sugars.

What Kind of Oak Is Used for Bourbon Barrels?

The kind of oak used for bourbon barrels is American white oak. There are a couple of reasons why this arboreal hardwood species is the go-to material. One is its physical properties. American white oak is strong, capable of maintaining its structure during and after barrel shaping, and its pores tend to be plugged with a membraneous growth that renders it leakproof. The other reason is its chemical properties. Its hemicellulose, lignins, and tannins are largely responsible for imparting the signature color, aromas, and flavors of bourbon through extended interaction during the aging process. 

What Type of Yeast Is Used in Bourbon Fermentation?

All bourbon distillers use a species of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae during fermentation. Within this species are multiple strains, and one of the ways that distillers differentiate themselves is by using a specific strain, or a combination thereof, to achieve unique results. This is possible because the genetic variations between strains allow for the production of different esters, which are the source of various flavor and aroma compounds. Because of the potential impact of individual yeast strains, many distillers use proprietary combinations to create distinctive flavor profiles. Unsurprisingly, these distillers also protect their strain combinations as trade secrets.

What Is the Difference Between Ethanol and Methanol?

The difference between ethanol and methanol comes down to their chemical structures. Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) consists of two carbon atoms along with hydrogen atoms and an alcohol group, whereas methanol (methyl alcohol) has only one carbon atom, three hydrogen atoms, and an alcohol group. The difference is small, but in chemistry, the smallest difference can have a tremendous impact. In this case, it means that methanol is much more acutely toxic than ethanol, and ingestion could cause damage to the optic nerve and poisoning of the central nervous system. That's why bourbon distillers remove methanol during distillation.

What Are Bourbon Congeners?

In the broadest sense, bourbon congeners are all of the by-products of fermentation save for ethyl alcohol. You can understand the term "congener" by its Latin root, which roughly translates to "born with" — every congener is born with alcohol. As you might expect, then, congeners comprise a broad array of compounds, including esters, fusel oils, acids, sulfur, and aldehydes. Some congeners, like esters, are good, as they affect the flavor and texture of the finished bourbon. Indeed, of all the whiskeys, bourbon has the highest concentration of congeners, contributing to its distinctive profile compared to, say, Canadian or Scotch whisky.

What Is the Typical PH of Bourbon?

Some studies show that the typical pH of bourbon ranges from 4 to 4.5. That means it's more acidic than it is basic. For comparison's sake, consider that water has a neutral pH of 7, being exactly in the middle of the 14-point pH scale. Ethyl alcohol — which, along with water, composes the crux of bourbon's composition — has a pH of 7.33, meaning it's more basic than water. However, all whiskeys contain flavor and aroma compounds that pull their pH toward acidic. These compounds arise primarily during maturation, so, bourbons tend to become more acidic the longer they age.

What Is a Condenser Used for in Bourbon Production?

The purpose of a condenser in bourbon production is to return vaporized spirit to a liquid form. During the distillation process, hot vapor enters the condenser, which introduces it to a cooler environment and causes the vapor to collect as liquid spirit. The exact mechanism by which this works depends on the type of condenser used. Shell-and-tube condensers contain coiled metal tubing surrounded by cold water, whereas worm tub condensers feature a broad tank with a submersed cooling loop. Owing to the differences in a steam-to-copper ratio, each condenser type can produce different characteristics in the finished bourbon.

What Is a Bourbon Spirit Safe?

Bourbon spirit safes were a variety of equipment once used for the distillation of bourbon. Alternatively known as tail boxes, they are cubic apparatus composed of metal and glass that somewhat resemble a home aquarium. Their purpose was to make cuts to the distillate by siphoning the heads, hearts, and tails to the appropriate receiving compartments. They entered use in distillation in 1823 with Scotland's Excise Act. A padlock on the exterior prevented distillers from drawing off distillate for illicit sale, ensuring that every drop of liquor could be accounted for and taxed.

What Grains Are Used To Make Bourbon?

A variety of grains are used to make bourbon, the primary one being corn. By definition, a bourbon's mash bill must consist of at least 51% corn, though most distillers use much higher ratios. The high corn content is largely responsible for bourbon's characteristic sweetness compared to other varieties of whiskey. The remainder of the mash bill consists of small grains such as barley, rye, and wheat. Each of these contributes its own flavors to the spirit. Generally speaking, barley lends an earthy nuttiness, rye brings a sharp spiciness, and wheat imparts a mellow bread-like quality.

What Are Barrel Staves?

Barrel staves are the long, narrow planks of wood that make up the primary construction of a barrel. For barrels destined for the bourbon rickhouse, the staves are made of American white oak, prized for its strength and leakproof nature. Not all staves are equal. Depending on the growing conditions of the tree, the location on the tree from which the stave originated, the manner in which it was cut, and variables in the seasoning and drying processes, there may be minute but important differences in porosity and chemical composition — factors that impact the quality of the bourbon in the barrel.

Why Is Bourbon Charcoal Filtered?

Some bourbons are charcoal filtered after aging to impose a degree of quality control. Passing the liquor through charcoal not only filters out impurities but also adjusts the pH toward basic and mildly tweaks the characteristics by cutting down on particular esters. Charcoal filtering of bourbon isn't the same as the Lincoln County Process, the filtration method for producing Tennessee whiskey. The former occurs post-maturation and has minimal effect on the final flavor of the bourbon, whereas the latter is a pre-barreling procedure that significantly mellows the spirit.

What Are Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) Bourbon Sales?

Direct-to-consumer (DTC) bourbon sales are transactions between bourbon producers and end users without the involvement of a retail intermediary. DTC sales circumvent the traditional three-tier system. Ordinarily, if someone wants to purchase a bottle of bourbon, they'd visit a business such as a liquor store that stocks the desired product. The business purchases from distributors, who themselves purchase from distilleries, and a markup at every transaction raises the ultimate shelf price for the consumer. Only a few states allow DTC sales of liquor. Even in those states, some restrictions may apply depending on the spirit in question.

What Is Non-distiller Producer (NDP) Bourbon?

When a company sells bourbon but has no hand in its production, the product is known as non-distiller producer (NDP) bourbon. The company in question purchases the whiskey (called sourced whiskey) from a distillery, puts its own branding on it, and sells it under a different name. Often, they purchase from multiple distilleries and create their own blends, thereby creating a unique liquor. The NDP practice isn't exclusive to bourbon, either, as it's common throughout the wider whiskey industry. Many NDPs insist on transparency and will disclose where they source their whiskey, but such ethics are by no means universal.

What Does “ABV” Stand For?

The abbreviation "ABV" stands for "alcohol by volume," a measure of the alcoholic potency of an alcoholic beverage. It's expressed as a percentage of the liquid. More specifically, it's the number of milliliters of ethyl alcohol present per 100 milliliters of the entire solution. All liquors, wines, beers, and other such libations declare their ABV on the product label. By definition, bourbon must have an ABV of at least 40%, though many expressions have higher alcoholic concentrations than that. The Rabbit Hole line, for example, ranges from 46.5% to 47.5% ABV, and ABVs exceeding 60% are common among bourbons.

What Does Bourbon “Proof” Mean?

The term "proof" is another manner of measuring the ethanol content of bourbon and other spirits. To calculate proof, all you have to do is double the ABV. So, for example, if you have a bourbon measuring 47.5% ABV, that would amount to 95 proof. Distillers measure alcoholic proof throughout production. This is particularly true for bourbon, which must satisfy certain proof-related standards at different stages. It can't be distilled at any greater than 160 proof, can't enter the barrel at any point higher than 125 proof, and must be at least 80 proof upon bottling.

What Is a Wheated Bourbon?

A wheated bourbon is one whose mash bill contains wheat. Bourbon mash bills have traditionally contained malted barley and rye in addition to the requisite corn. In general terms, barley provides a nutty characteristic to the bourbon's flavor profile, while rye imparts spice. Using wheat — typically to replace a portion of the rye — tends to have a mellowing quality. The relative mildness of wheat helps to cut through the sharp rye while contributing an additional, albeit subtle, layer of sweetness that plays well with the corn.

What Is a High-rye Bourbon?

A high-rye bourbon is a type of whiskey that contains a relatively high ratio of rye in its mash bill. The term "high-rye" is an informal classification, as there's no official standard against which to measure a bourbon's rye content. That being said, mash bills that incorporate rye tend to keep the content to around 15%, so anything substantially higher than that is likely to qualify as high-rye. As the rye ratio rises, so too do the spice notes of the bourbon's flavor profile. For fans of a sharp bite, high-rye bourbons can be an excellent choice.

What Is a “Smooth” Bourbon?

A "smooth" bourbon is one that sips easily, going down without a wince. That being said, the meaning of the word depends on who's using it and what their conception of smoothness is. A bourbon might be smooth if it's relatively low in proof or rye, which can add sharpness to the spirit. Or it could be the bourbon has a higher concentration of sugar or wheat, which can mellow out the finish. In the end, "smooth" is usually shorthand for "enjoyable," and it's part of the drinker's journey to reach their own definition of the term.

What Type of Corn Is Used To Make Bourbon?

The type of corn used to make bourbon is typically a variety called dent corn, so named for the indentation in the crown of the kernel. Also known as field corn, this grain is particularly high in starch, rendering it useful for applications such as ethanol production and livestock feed. The two primary categories of dent corn are white and yellow. It's the latter that tends to find its way into bourbon mash bills, specifically a type known as #2 yellow dent corn. There are also a variety of heirloom dent corns that may yield unique flavor profiles.

What Is Bourbon Distillate?

Bourbon distillate is the concentrated alcoholic liquid that results from distillation — the process of vaporizing fermented mash and then condensing the collected vapors. Coming off the still, distillate is a clear, high-proof liquid colloquially known as white dog or moonshine. Per regulations, the distillate can be no higher than 80% alcohol by volume, or 160 proof. By the time it enters the barrels, it must not exceed 62.5% alcohol by volume, or 125 proof. While aging in new, charred oak barrels, the distillate undergoes a gradual transformation via interaction with the wood, eventually becoming the sweet deep-amber spirit called bourbon.

What Is a Master Distiller?

A master distiller is someone who oversees the creation of a liquor such as bourbon. Though there's no formal definition for the title, the person who occupies this position is usually an expert in the spirit whose production they're supervising, and it is they who are largely responsible for the outcome of the product. Ordinarily, they're also a senior-level member of the organization and, thus, command a high level of prestige. The primary tasks of the master distiller may vary, but they often include responsibilities in a broad array of functional areas — purchasing, operations, quality control, administration, and even finance.

What Does “Low-entry Proof” Bourbon Mean?

"Low-entry proof" is a term that refers to the alcoholic concentration of the distillate at the time that it enters the barrel. Bourbon distillate cannot exceed 125 proof, or 62.5% alcohol by volume, at the time of barrel entry, but many distillers aim for a lower proof. This is because a lesser concentration of alcohol correlates with comparably high water content, whose molecules are smaller and can drive more easily into the charred wood of the barrel. As a result, the bourbon eventually absorbs more of the desirable characteristics derived from the barrel — flavors, aromas, and such. 

What Is a Bourbon Rickhouse/Rackhouse?

A bourbon rickhouse is a storage facility in which barrels of distillate are left to age. Inside a rickhouse, you'll find barrels arranged horizontally in tiered racks, several levels high, that allow air to circulate on all sides. The typical rickhouse isn't climate controlled, so the air circulation helps to regulate the conditions to some extent. At the same time, it's important for the barrels to experience the natural climate of the region, as the fluctuations in temperature from season to season aid in driving the distillate into the wood and pulling it back into the spirit. 

Why Do Some Bourbons Taste Like Caramel and Vanilla?

Caramel and vanilla are two of the flavors commonly associated with bourbon because of the interaction between the distillate and the barrel during the aging process. The barrels, remember, are charred. At a level 2 char — in which the interior gets exposed to a high-degree flame for 30 seconds — certain polymers in the wood begin to break down, namely hemicellulose and lignin. Hemicellulose is the source of that caramel flavor, along with nutty and toffee-like notes, while lignin brings on the vanilla as well as some creaminess, spice, and leather. If these flavors are absent or muted, that may be due to the distiller's choice to use a different char level.

Why Are Bourbon Stills Made of Copper?

Bourbon stills are made of copper because the characteristics of the metal facilitate distillation and foster advantageous qualities in the finished product. For one thing, copper is an excellent thermal conductor. It gets hot quickly, distributes temperature evenly, and cools down rapidly, all of which are helpful from a distiller's perspective. For another thing, because of copper's chemical properties, it's inhospitable to microbes and volatile sulfur. Both arise naturally during fermentation and can either contaminate the mash or jeopardize the integrity of the spirit. Not only that, but copper's also rather malleable, making it relatively easy to form into vessels.

What Is the Oldest Bourbon Distillery?

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the title of the oldest operating bourbon distillery belongs to Burks' Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. Its distilling history reaches back to 1805 when a man named Charles Burks began operating the property for both distilling and water grist milling. The property remained in the Burks family for four generations and 116 years before ownership began to change hands. However, distilling operations continued even under successive proprietors, and the facility remains in operation. Today, you can visit Burks' Distillery as a stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Should Bourbon Be Mixed in Cocktails?

The question of whether bourbon should be mixed in cocktails is one that only you, the drinker, can answer. There are numerous ways to enjoy any spirit, and the "right" way depends entirely on an individual's preferences. What we can say is that plenty of great bourbons mix quite well into cocktails, including several classic drinks that have withstood the evolving tastes of time. The complex coalescence of aromas and flavors that constitute bourbon also makes it an excellent base for experimentation. Indeed, a number of wonderful novel libations incorporate bourbon, such as this recipe for bourbon-infused dalgona coffee.

Should You Drink Bourbon Straight?

As with any question concerning how to drink bourbon, whether you should drink it straight is up to your personal tastes. With that said, many connoisseurs feel that straight is the best way to experience the subtle nuances that an individual bourbon can present. To clarify, "straight" means first stirring or shaking the bourbon with ice and then straining it into the serving vessel, sans ice. The water from the initial exposure to ice opens up many of the flavors and aromas of the bourbon, and serving it in a glass without ice prevents ongoing dilution as you enjoy your drink. 

What Is the Difference Between Scotch and Bourbon?

The difference between scotch and bourbon is that they're two separate varieties of whiskey that stem from different distilling traditions and adhere to different regulatory processes. Bourbon is a prohibitively American product whose process ensures exact, unadulterated expressions of a singular type of spirit. Scotch is a prohibitively Scottish product that allows for a small degree of adulteration by allowing for the use of caramel coloring and used barrels. With scotch, there's also a distinct smoky quality stemming from the post-malting process of drying the barley over peat fires. To learn more about the unique qualities of scotch, refer to this article.

Is Bourbon Considered Vegan?

Bourbon, like all hard liquors, is ordinarily vegan. The only living thing involved in the recipe is yeast, which is also vegan. Indeed, If you abstain from using animal products, you'd be hard-pressed to find a whiskey that isn't appropriate for your lifestyle. The exceptions would be any whiskey-based liqueurs that include dairy. Coincidentally, a well-known online vegan personality, photographer, and cook Timothy Pakron — known by his blog handle Mississippi Vegan — happens to be an enthusiast of America's native spirit and enjoys incorporating bourbon into his cooking.

Can Bourbon Be Made in Other Countries?

By definition, bourbon cannot be made in other countries. Even if an overseas distillery were to adhere strictly to every regulation concerning the mash bill, proof, and barrel-aging, the resulting product still wouldn't qualify as bourbon. Rather, it would be considered, at most, a bourbon-style whiskey. Bourbon is America's native spirit, and U.S.-based production is one of the immutable requirements that separates it from other types of whiskey. On a related note, many people believe that bourbon is a Kentucky-exclusive product, but there's no such law concerning its origination. Distillers in any U.S. state can produce a fully regulation-compliant bourbon.

Does Bourbon Continue to Age in the Bottle?

Though the bourbon may get older, it doesn't continue to age once it's in the bottle. Aging refers to the long-term process of maturation that occurs inside the barrel. The interaction between the distillate and the charred wood produces chemical reactions that impart color, flavors, and aromas to the spirit. Once the bourbon leaves the barrel, that special ongoing interaction is out of the equation. The only changes you may notice in bottled bourbon arise after you break the seal, as oxidation causes key flavor and aroma compounds to dissipate while evaporation gradually kills off the alcohol over time. 

Does Bourbon Have Any Additives?

One of the attributes of bourbon that make it so special is that it does not have any additives like caramel color or caramel flavor. All of its deep hues and characteristics come from the distillate's interaction with the barrel during the aging process. The only component one might consider to be an additive is water. Water first comes into play after distillation, to dilute the distillate before it enters the barrel. Later, after maturation, the distiller may add water previous to bottling to adjust the quality of the final product. 

How Much Does Bourbon Evaporate?

During maturation, the aging bourbon may lose an average of 4% of its total volume per year, with a range spanning 3% to 7%. The evaporated portion of the distillate is known as the angel's share because the contents vaporize toward the heavens, as it were. The porousness of the oak used to construct the barrels is what allows for evaporation to occur. The wood may be leakproof, but gas is thinner than liquid and can make its way through tighter spaces. Naturally, the longer a bourbon ages, the more angel's share it loses. 

What Is Mass-produced Bourbon?

Mass-produced bourbon is bourbon that is distilled and sold on a large scale. These mass-distillers focus more on volume than quality and then source out their spirits en masse to non-distiller producers, who sell the products under their own "white label" branding. In fact, many popular bourbon brands on the market today do not even have a physical distillery; they mainly source bottles, labels and liquid. Further, many of these brands all use the same liquid with the same mash bill - and differentiate based on label and bottle design alone.  

Why Is Kentucky Bourbon the Best?

There are at least three reasons why Kentucky has a reputation for producing the best bourbon. First is the famed limestone water. Kentucky's deposits of blue limestone filter impurities from the water while adding minerals such as calcium and magnesium. The minerals not only sweeten the water but also help to reinforce the yeast during fermentation. 

The second reason is the state's land, which is rich, fertile, and favorable for the cultivation of corn — the primary grain in any bourbon mash bill. Such are the agricultural conditions in the Bluegrass State that it has devoted more than 1.5 million acres to corn crops, and corn grows in every county.

The third reason — the climate. The temperatures in Kentucky cycle through extremes of hot and cold as the seasons progress throughout the year, and these conditions have a direct impact on bourbon as it ages in the barrel. When the temperatures climb, the wood of the barrel opens up, allowing more of the distillate into its pores. Inside, the distillate leaches out essential compounds that define its signature color, taste, and aroma. Then, when the temperatures drop, the wood pores tighten and drive out the distillate, allowing the leached compounds to marry with the rest of the liquid.

An additional, fourth reason could be the legacy of bourbon that permeates Kentucky. The history of the spirit in the state goes as far back as the 1700s, and bourbon remains one of its greatest cultural exports. With that in mind, Kentucky distillers have a lot to live up to, and they continue to meet the challenge with every barrel.

Does Climate Affect Bourbon Aging?

Climate certainly does affect bourbon aging. Bourbon rickhouses typically aren't climate-controlled, so outdoor conditions continually impact the happenings going on inside the barrel. Heat causes the wood of the barrel to expand, and cold causes it to contract. Accordingly, the spirit drives in and out of the pores and cracks of the charred wood, leaching essential compounds and washing them back into itself. As this cycle occurs repeatedly in the years that a bourbon ages, the climate is indirectly responsible for the complex flavors and deep aromas signature of bourbon.

Can Bourbon Go in the Freezer?

You can store your bourbon in the freezer if you want, but know that it wouldn't be the optimal storage condition for your bottle. If you're wondering about freezing, don't worry. Given that all bourbons are at least 40% alcohol by volume, you'd have to have an impossibly cold industrial flash freezer to even approach the possibility. But if you're concerned about achieving the optimal drinking experience, leave the bottle out at room temperature. Freezing the liquor would only dull the flavors and aromas. For chilled bourbon, serve it straight, over rocks, or with whiskey stones instead.

Should I Refrigerate Bourbon?

The consensus is that, no, you shouldn't refrigerate bourbon. The average refrigerator maintains an internal temperature in the mid-to-high 30s Fahrenheit, but the optimal serving temperature for bourbon is between 59 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. By storing your bottle in environments much cooler than room temperature, you'd be dulling the flavors and aromas that make drinking bourbon such a pleasurable experience. Even if room-temperature bourbon isn't your preference, you'd still do well to store it on a shelf or cabinet in that 59-to-65-degree range. There are several ways to cool your drink without compromising its flavor.

What Is a Honey Hole?

The term "honey hole" refers to a source of a valued commodity or resource, someplace where you can get what you want or that provides a desirable outcome. With regard to bourbon, then, that might be the area of a rickhouse whose microclimate is conducive to the highest-quality barrels of liquor, or honey barrels. In a broader sense, a consumer might apply the term "honey hole" to a retailer that carries a wide selection of the brands and expressions they seek. In some cases, one could describe a particularly well-stocked and intelligently staffed bar as a honey hole. 

What Is a “Tater” in the Bourbon World?

In the world of bourbon, a "tater" is any novice who pretends to know more about bourbon than they actually do. The bourbon industry has seen tremendous growth in the past few decades, and it's certainly risen in the ranks of esteem in the view of liquor connoisseurs. With that in mind, many bourbon enthusiasts look down on taters for what they perceive as naivete and overeagerness to hop onto a bandwagon. It's important to bear in mind, though, that every glass starts out empty, and we've often relied on others to fill our own.

What Are Bourbon “Dusties?”

Bourbon "dusties" are, to put it most simply, very old bottles of bourbon. As you might guess, the term "dusty" stems from the implication that a bottle has been resting in somebody's collection for so long that a sheath of dust has accumulated on it. Because an unopened bottle of bourbon theoretically has an indefinite shelf life, a dusty is likely to retain its quality no matter how old it is. Typically, with dusties, you're talking about expressions or brands that are no longer in production, so there's considerable overlap between them and the micro world of unicorn bourbons. 

What Is a Bourbon Bunker?

A bunker is the bourbon drinker's equivalent of a wine cellar — both a collection of bourbons and the physical space for storing them. Though the term "bunker" may bring to mind a dim, fortified underground space, the definition is loose, and there are really no hard parameters to meet. You could use a pantry, a liquor cabinet, the top surface of a dresser, a corner of your garage, an area of your basement, or — why not? — an actual bunker. What's more important is that the space keeps your bottles away from direct sunlight and maintains a temperature between 59 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

What Is the Best Bourbon for an Old-Fashioned?

Though what constitutes the "best" bourbon for an Old-Fashioned comes down to personal preference, we'd recommend a bold but sippable expression that plays well with the sum components of this classic cocktail. Aside from the whiskey itself, the flavors of an Old-Fashioned stem chiefly from sugar, angostura bitters, and the orange rind garnish. To bring out the potential of this stark set of ingredients, look for a bourbon with complementary notes — citrus, honey, mint, butterscotch, spice, dark fruit, or nuts. Rabbit Hole's Cavehill, Heigold, and Dareringer would each be an appropriate choice.

What Is the Best Bourbon for a Manhattan?

The best bourbon for a Manhattan is one that matches your preferred flavor profile. The typical Manhattan order skews either sweet or spicy. If you'd like a sweeter drink, go for a bourbon with milder, mellower notes, such as vanilla, honey, citrus, or toasted grain. The resulting cocktail will have a sort of creamy, somewhat tart characteristic, perfect as either an aperitif or a postprandial treat. For a spicier libation, choose a high-rye bourbon. The peppery notes cut through the vermouth and complement the bitters, while the notes of fruit and wood add robust complexity, making for a thoughtful sip.

What Is the Best Bourbon for a Mint Julep?

As with the Manhattan, choosing the best bourbon for a mint julep is a matter of spicy versus smooth. The mint julep is an astoundingly simple drink, so it's important to choose a spirit that shines without blinding the other ingredients. If your palate skews smooth, we'd recommend a four-grain bourbon such as the Cavehill, whose complexity can elevate the cocktail from merely refreshing to profound and interesting. For a spicier hit, a high-rye bourbon like the Heigold can offer bursts of contrast without competing with the foundational flavors of the drink.

Can You Give Bourbon as a Gift?

Presuming that the recipient has an interest in the spirit, we'd say you absolutely can — and should — give bourbon as a gift. Given that bourbon is often a celebratory drink, it's quite a fitting gift too. To choose the best bottle for the occasion, familiarize yourself with the recipient's preferences. Fans of complex characteristics might like a four-grain bourbon like Rabbit Hole's Cavehill, while spice enthusiasts may prefer the sharper kick of a high-rye bottle like the Dareinger. If they're a more curious, adventuresome drinker, go for something uncommon or novel, like a sherry cask–finished expression

What Is Bourbon Heritage Month?

Bourbon Heritage Month is an American observance that takes place during the month of September. In 2007, the United States Senate passed a simple resolution that formally recognized the observance and reinforced the designation of bourbon as America's native spirit. One of the beautiful attributes of Bourbon Heritage Month is that you can honor it anywhere and in any way you'd like. The simplest celebration would be pouring yourself a glass of your favorite bourbon and just relishing the experience. Or, if you happen to be in Kentucky, you might consider heading to a festival dedicated to the spirit.

What Is the Bourbon & Beyond Festival?

To paraphrase Stevie Nicks, one of the performers at the inaugural festival in 2017, the Bourbon & Beyond Festival is the bourbon-related event of the year. It's an annual multiday festival organized by the festival production company Danny Wimmer Presents. Though the events center on the namesake spirit, it's also the musical acts that help draw tens of thousands of attendees every year. The most recent festival, in 2022, featured Pearl Jam, Alanis Morisette, Jack White, Courtney Barnett, and Charley Crockett, to name just a few. Clearly, it's an event that targets and appeals to a diverse range of demographics.

What Are the Legal Rules of Bourbon?

The legal rules of bourbon are federal regulations that define the qualities of America's native spirit. To qualify as bourbon, a whiskey must (1) be made in the United States, (2) contain at least 51% corn in its mash bill, (3) contain no coloring or flavor additives, (4) satisfy specific proof thresholds (160 proof at distillation, 125 proof at barrel entry, 80 proof at bottling), and (5) age in new, charred oak containers. Additional rules state the spirit must age at least two years to qualify as straight bourbon and those that have aged less than four years must bear an age statement.

What Are the Three Main Types of Bourbon?

If one were to classify bourbon into three main types, they would be traditional, rye, and wheat. With a traditional bourbon, you're looking at a mash bill that typically consists of between 70% and 80%, with the remainder being a more-or-less even distribution of other small grains like barley, rye, and wheat. With a rye bourbon, though, the non-corn component of the mash bill is either primarily or entirely rye, producing a sharper, spicier spirit. Wheat bourbons replace the rye with wheat, which helps to create a mellower profile with an added, though subtle, layer of sweetness.

What Makes Bourbon “Spicy?”

The spicy quality of some bourbons primarily originates from the mash bill, along with the interactions that take place in the barrel. By "spicy," most drinkers mean the spirit denotes characteristics of warm spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper. The source of the spiciness is usually rye, a grain that's noticeably sharp on the nose. Later, the aging process itself contributes spice notes via the breakdown of cellulosic compounds. It's worth noting, too, that a high alcohol content may also lead to a perception of spice, as the burn of the finish may feel like that of capsaicin.

Who Drinks Bourbon?

The question of who drinks bourbon is complex, as it is, especially in the 2020s, an egalitarian beverage. To some, the idea of bourbon may bring to mind the image of an elderly man with a soft Kentucky lilt, but today's bourbon enthusiast can't be classified so narrowly. Indeed, since the start of the Bourbon boom, a growing number of the liquor's consumers are skewing younger, with the majority of sales going to millennials of various socioeconomic states and geographical backgrounds. The bourbon crowd is also being increasingly represented by women, putting to rest another set of outdated notions. 

Who Invented Bourbon?

If you're to believe the legend, the invention of bourbon was an accident committed by a Baptist preacher named Elijah Craig. Aside from his position as a religious figure, Craig made his name as an entrepreneur. By the end of the decade, he'd opened a variety of mills and a corn whiskey distillery. Fate arrived in June 1789 in the shape of a fire that partially burned down one of Craig's barns, which had been holding a few empty whiskey barrels. Some of the barrels were only charred interiorly, so Craig saw no harm in reusing them for another batch of distillate. As you might've predicted, the resulting whiskey was a revelation and a hit among Craig's customers.

If the story seems far-fetched to you, you're not alone. It is a legend, after all. Most likely, bourbon was the result of a slow progression from older distilling traditions, attributable to no single inventor.

How Many Years Does Bourbon Age?

The duration of the aging period for bourbon varies from bourbon to bourbon. The only broad regulation concerning aging is that it must take place in new, charred oak barrels. With regard to the minimum length, only certain specific rules come into play. For example, to qualify as a straight bourbon, the spirit must age for at least two years, while bottled-in-bond bourbon must age at least four years. Also, if a particular bourbon has aged for less than four years, its label must bear an age statement declaring the length of maturation for the youngest spirit contained within.

Why Is Bourbon So Popular?

Bourbon's popularity is attributable to at least four primary factors across numerous decades of industry evolution. In terms of the current bourbon boom, the watershed was probably in the late 1980s and early '90s, which saw the rise of the "single-barrel" and "small-batch" designations that insinuated the premium potential of America's native spirit. On the heels of this development was the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994, which helped to legitimize bourbon as a distinctive national product.

Then, in 2007, came "Mad Men," a cable program that followed the career and exploits of midcentury ad executive Don Draper. Draper, though flawed and contentious, was handsome and charming, his cocktail of choice was the Old-Fashioned, and he drank copious volumes of whiskey on-screen. Draper's tastes soon influenced the tastes of viewers. Coincidentally, Kentucky's bourbon tourism industry was still, then, in its nascency. 

Finally, around 2010, the market saw the introduction of easy-to-drink flavored whiskeys. Though they weren't bourbon, they introduced many consumers to the palatability of whiskey, and the line from there to bourbon wasn't a long one. Thanks to these factors working in sequence and conjunction, bourbon is possibly more representative of America's drinking population than ever.

Are Bourbon and Whiskey the Same Thing?

Yes, and no. The best saying to help you remember the difference between the two is this — bourbon is always whiskey, but whiskey is not always bourbon. Let's break it down. Whiskey is a dark, distilled spirit made from grains. When you change the makeup and ratio of the grains, you get different types of whiskey, including bourbon. To be considered a bourbon, the grains must be made up of at least 51% corn.

What Mixes Well With Bourbon?

This is all a matter of personal taste, but many mixers go well with it, including cola, ginger ale, soda water, apple cider, coffee, and water. It's a strong liquor, so having another liquid to dilute it can mellow the alcohol concentration, allowing the complex and interesting flavors of the liquor to come through.

When Was Bourbon Invented?

This famously American spirit has been brewed in the U.S. since the 18th century, and Kentucky is the official birthplace of the drink. Many frontiersmen in this Southern state experimented with turning grain into drinkable alcohol, therefore no one person was attributed as the true inventor of bourbon. However, Elijah Craig, a Baptist preacher, founded one of the first distilleries in 1789 in Kentucky, giving him the dubious reputation as its inventor.

How Did Bourbon Get Its Name?

There is no specific event where bourbon got its name. However, it's definitely named after the House of Bourbon, a famous French dynasty. France and French culture have many connections with the American South, and as a result, many cities, counties, and streets have French names. One of these locations is where the liquor got its name. One theory is that it's named after Bourbon County, Kentucky; a fitting choice since bourbon was invented in Kentucky. The second theory is that the name came from Bourbon Street in Louisiana, a famous street known for its many bars and restaurants.

How To Drink Bourbon

There's no wrong way to imbibe. But, if you're looking to really appreciate the taste of your drink, here are some tips on how to sip. For starters, try it without mixers and at room temperature, although a bit of water is okay. Use a glass that directs the aroma straight to your nose; a Glencairn glass is a good example of this. Before taking a sip, sniff the drink and see if you can smell any of the unique aromas. Finally, take a sip, hold it in your mouth for a few seconds, and then swallow. It's going to be warm doing down, but try to see if you can taste hints of cool vanilla or caramel.

What Is the Kentucky Chew?

This term was coined by a professional whiskey writer decades ago. It refers to the process of taking a sip of the drink, swishing it around in your mouth, and then smacking your lips in a way that looks like you're chewing on the drink. This method of drinking is a great way to ensure you find all the unique flavors and notes of a drink.

How Strong Is Bourbon?

Most bourbon is distilled and bottled between 80 and 100 proof. In the U.S., the term "proof" is used for drinks with a high alcohol content. A liquor's proof is two times the alcohol by volume (ABV). This means bourbon is between 40% and 50% alcohol by volume.

Is Bourbon Gluten Free?

Despite having a combination of wheat, barley, and rye, bourbon is, in fact, gluten-free. This is because the distillation process removes all proteins, including gluten, from the liquor.

What Are Whiskey Stones?

Whiskey stones are stones, typically made from soapstone or stainless steel, that you freeze and then put in your drink. They essentially take the place of ice. This is for the drinker who prefers not to have water dilute the beverage.

Does Bourbon Go Bad?

An unopened bottle will never go bad — you can store it safely for decades until you are ready to enjoy it. However, once you open a bottle, it has about one or two years until it goes bad. Also, once you open a bottle, seal the cap tightly after each use. Exposure to oxygen affects the taste, and the more oxygen it's exposed to, the more the flavor and taste will dull.

What Is an Angel's Share?

The angel's share is a common saying among distillers, as the angels must take their cut from every barrel of distilled liquor. They want the good stuff too! In scientific terms, this refers to the amount of distilled liquid that is lost to evaporation during the maturation process in a barrel or cask. How much the angels take changes with each batch. This is because many things affect evaporation rate, including barrel size, weather, maturation time, and even location in the distillery.

How Does It Get Its Color?

There is absolutely no coloring added to bourbon to give it its brown hue. When whiskey goes into a barrel or cask for its final step of maturation, it is clear. The barrel it ages in is charred and as the liquid sits inside the barrel for years at a time, the charred wood affects the color (and flavor) of the liquid. A good rule of thumb is the lighter the liquid, the younger the liquor.

What Is Bourbon Made Of?

The mixture of grains that create a spirit is called a mash or mash bill. In order to be considered a bourbon, the mash bill must contain at least 51% corn. This is why it is such a sweet liquor. The rest of the mash bill can be a varied combination of rye, wheat, and barley.

How Many Calories Are in Bourbon?

A shot is 1.5 ounces. This amount contains about 95 calories and 0 carbs. The lack of carbs or any other nutritional benefit is because all the calories are from the alcohol. However, if you start mixing with soda or some other sugary mix, then all calorie bets are off.

Why Is There So Much Corn in Bourbon?

Because it's America's native spirit! Corn grows well in the United States and always has. So when the first frontiersmen and pioneers started experimenting with excess grain to create alcohol, the one they had in abundance was corn.

When Is National Bourbon Month?

September is National Bourbon Heritage Month. September became the month for all things bourbon in 1991, when the Kentucky Bourbon Festival began. The festival, held in Bardstown, Kentucky, draws over 50,000 people each year and has everything from distillery tasting tents to the world championship for competitive barrel rolling. The festival was once a family-friendly event, but now you must be 21 or older to buy tickets to attend. In 2007, the U.S. Senate declared September as National Bourbon Heritage Month, recognizing the spirit as "a distinctive product of the United States."

What Food Pairs Well With Bourbon?

Like with any liquor, the best food pairings are the foods you enjoy the most. However, if you are looking for a place to start, fatty foods are great. This includes things like salmon, chocolate, cheese, and nuts. Fats coat the mouth and change the flavor of the bourbon, bringing out specific notes and qualities in the drink. Try to avoid foods with a strong taste, such as garlic, onions, or heavily processed foods. This could overpower the drink or bring out bitter tasting notes.

What Food Can You Make With Bourbon?

There are several recipes that can be improved with a bit of bourbon. You can glaze ham or chicken with it for a tangy and sweet sauce. You can add it to a cake or brownie mix for a richer and more complex taste. You can even add it to bacon jam for a more refined and boozy taste.

What Happens If Bourbon Gets Hot?

Molecules in the drink will expand as it gets hot. Extreme heat and the expansion that comes with it will cause taste changes in the drink. While it won't spoil, it definitely won't have the intended flavor. If it expands too much, it could actually rupture and break the seal. This would cause the drink to go bad. If you think the seal has broken due to heat, taste or sniff a small amount of the liquid. If it has a metallic or sour taste, throw it out.

What's the Difference Between a Bourbon Barrel and a Cask?

There are no major differences between a bourbon barrel and a cask. Both terms are used interchangeably when distilling liquor. To make bourbon, the barrel or cask must be made of charred American white oak.

Should You Add Water to Bourbon?

Many people think that the best way to test the flavor of a drink is to have it straight with no other liquids. However, other connoisseurs believe that adding a few drops of water to a glass can help "open up" the drink and reveal new flavors. Adding water loosens more aroma molecules, allowing more evaporated liquid to hit the taster's nose, which perhaps gives the drink more of a punch.

Why Is Bourbon Sweet?

Bourbon is the sweetest of the dark liquors because over half its grain mash is made of corn. Its mash bill must be at least 51% corn, although some bourbons are higher, resulting in an even sweeter drink.  Drinks like rye whiskey or scotch have much more barley and rye grains in their mash bill, resulting in a drink that is not as sweet.

What Does "Bourbon Bottled in Bond" Mean on a Label?

"Bottled in Bond" refers to any liquor that adheres to a set of regulations created by the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. This originally applied mostly to American-made whiskey but later applied to other spirits as well. While some consumers and producers see this as an endorsement of good-quality liquor, many find it archaic and unnecessary.

What Is a Neat Bourbon Drink?

A drink that is "neat" means that no other liquids or ice are added and the drink is served at room temperature. It is very common for people to enjoy bourbon neat. If you would like your drink chilled, ask for it to be made "straight up." If you would like ice, you can simply ask for ice or use the term "on the rocks."

What Cocktails Can You Make With Bourbon?

Some famous drinks include the Manhattan, old fashioned, mint julep, hot toddy, whiskey sour, whiskey highball, boulevardier, Kentucky mule, John Collins, and gold rush.

What Is the Oldest Bourbon Cocktail?

The oldest whiskey cocktail is a Sazerac. Remember, bourbon is a whiskey, so you could use it as a base in this cocktail. A Sazerac is a mixture of rye whiskey (or bourbon) absinthe, bitters, and sugar. It is said to have been created in antebellum Louisiana and is considered one of the oldest American cocktails.

How Should You Store Bourbon?

Keep it away from sunlight and large fluctuations in temperature. The best temperature to store is between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, refrigerating won't improve or change the flavor as long as it's properly sealed. 

What Constitutes "Small Batch" Bourbon?

There is not a technical or legal definition for what makes up a small batch. For some distilleries, this means using only 10 barrels. For others, it could be 200. Rabbit Hole distillery uses only 15 barrels per small batch. Using a few barrels to create a batch of liquor ensures a consistent flavor that brands need to create a unique taste all of their own.

How Much Bourbon Does A Barrel Hold?

A standard U.S. barrel holds 53 gallons or 200 liters, although some are large enough to hold up to 66 gallons. Because barrels are all handmade, the size variations will differ from barrel to barrel. Want to buy a barrel? That will run you between $8,000 and $20,000, depending on the distillery.

Are Bourbon Barrels Charred?

Yes. In order to be considered a whiskey in the United States, the barrels used to age the drink must be charred. Barrels are typically charred between 15 and 55 seconds, although some distillers may char their barrels for even longer. Charring the wood changes its chemical makeup, which affects the drink as well.

How Much Is a Finger of Bourbon?

A finger's worth of alcohol is an old-fashioned form of measurement. It means to pour a liquor to the height of a finger held horizontally against a glass. This is equal to about 2 ounces. Some bars and bartenders have tried to standardize this unofficial measurement to mean 3/4 of an inch.

Does Bourbon Improve With Age?

Yes, and no. Once it is bottled and sealed, it will not change much at all. However, during the distillation process, it is aged in oak casks. Bourbon that is un-aged is sharp and can be unappealing to some. The aging that takes place in casks or barrels gives a unique and delicious taste to every batch.

What Is the Best Type Of Bourbon Glass To Drink From?

When you drink any liquor, especially neat or with just a little water, the size and shape of the glass can affect the taste and smell of the drink. Most bartenders will say that a Glencairn glass is best for tasting whiskey. Its unique shape allows for more aroma to reach the drinker, giving them a fuller taste.

Where's the Bourbon Trail?

The Bourbon Trail is in Kentucky. It is a group of distilleries sponsored by the Kentucky Distillers' Association to promote the bourbon whiskey industry in the state. Some distillers are right next to each other, and some are over 70 miles apart.

Does Bourbon Have To Be Made in Kentucky?

No, bourbon does not have to be made in Kentucky in order to be considered bourbon. Many other states are excellent producers of the drink. However, just as Scotch can only be produced in Scotland and Champagne must come from Champagne, France, bourbon must be made in America to be considered a bourbon.

How Long Does Bourbon Have To Age?

There is no set amount of time for it to age. You could drink it immediately if you wanted to. Technically, in order to be considered bourbon, it must see the inside of a cask before it is bottled — but this could be as little as 10 seconds. In order to be considered a straight bourbon, it must be aged at least two years. Most distilleries age bourbon between four and 10 years. Rabbit Hole distillery ages their drinks for at least three years.

What Is an Un-Aged Bourbon Called?

It's called white whiskey or white dog. This is because this liquid will be very light and even clear. As bourbon ages in a cask, it gets its traditional brown color. White whiskey has an extremely high alcohol content, as the liquid has not mellowed and developed over the years. It also means that the unique tastes that are brought out from the cask are not present. Therefore, many people say that white whiskey has a strong yet uniform taste. Un-aged bourbon is a great way for distilleries to get a product out fast, as there is no waiting time for it to mature.

How Is Moonshine Different Than Bourbon?

Any alcohol that is high-proof, un-aged, and produced illegally can be considered moonshine. Historically, moonshine was created using a lot of corn in the mash, so moonshine is considered an un-aged bourbon. Moonshine became popular in the U.S. during the Civil War, when unregistered stills were outlawed. Popularity increased in 1920 when Prohibition made all alcohol illegal. Some distilleries today still make novelty versions of this illicit drink.

What Is Bourbon Street?

The most technical explanation of Bourbon Street is that it's a thoroughfare in New Orleans, Louisiana, but that doesn't capture its historical and spiritual significance. The street spans 13 blocks in the historic French Quarter. For many, Bourbon Street embodies the lively, party-driven heart of New Orleans, as it's the connecting pathway for many of the city's oldest and best-known drinking and dining establishments. As for the street's connection to America's native spirit — though it's almost certain that large volumes of bourbon are consumed on Bourbon Street — the relationship between the two is primarily etymological, as we've explained elsewhere.

What Is Bourbon Chicken?

Bourbon chicken is a popular poultry dish named after Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. The origin story states it originated in a Bourbon Street Chinese restaurant, and from there it spread to other Chinese eateries as well as Cajun-themed establishments. As whiskey isn't common to the Chinese pantry, it's unlikely the original dish contained the eponymous liquor. But given the name association, as well as bourbon's capacity to play well with sweet and hearty flavors, it eventually made its way onto the ingredients list. Indeed, in many bourbon chicken recipes today, bourbon helps form the base of the sauce.

What Is Bourbon Steak?

Bourbon steak is, essentially, a steak that is not only flavored in a bourbon-based marinade but also served with a bourbon sauce or glaze. The exact origins of the dish are unclear, but the use of alcohol in marinades and sauces is an established practice. It binds to the fat and water molecules of the food, which not only allows flavors to cohere but also carries flavors and aromas more effectively to the relevant sense organs. Consequently, the food both tastes and smells better, and each sense helps to enhance the other. It's the same principle behind a vodka sauce.

Where Can I Learn More About Bourbon?

The internet is a great place to start. However, just as with anything else, there can be a lot of confusing and contradictive information there. It is best to find. A comprehensive source of information – typically created by a distillery who actually makes bourbon. While there are a lot of blogs, podcasts and forums full of “bourbon experts” many are paid or given concessions in trade for polarized reviews. It is best to find brand-agnostic information written simply to educate those who are interested in learning more about bourbon whiskey.

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