At any given time, there are more barrels of Bourbon in Kentucky than there are people. The population of the Bluegrass State is about 4.4 million. Today there are more than 5 million barrels of Bourbon sitting in the rick-houses of that Old Kentucky Home. That’s nearly 300 bottles of Bourbon per person, or about 60 gallons each.
To put this in perspective, if you filled your bathtub for a soak, it might only take 20 gallons or so. The state is literally swimming in the stuff.
We are talking about the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897. Back then, cheaply made crap-ohol was flooding the market. Folks were getting cheated and sometimes made sick by the bottled gunk. So Uncle Sam stepped in.
Bottled in Bond means that the spirit was made in the good ol' USA, sourced in one production season from a single distillery—the equivalent of a single malt in the Scotch world—aged at least four years in a federally bonded warehouse, and bottled at 100 proof or higher.
A lot of it is added to livestock feed … makes sense, right? But it’s also mixed into tortilla batter and used as one of the starchy, edible glues that holds granola together.
So the next time some health-nazi gives you a dirty look as he nibbles on his flavorless granola cluster-puck, just smile back at him, raise your glass, and say, “You’re welcome!”
But, the official recipe for the Mint Julep at the Derby calls for Early Times, which is a Kentucky Whiskey, not a Bourbon. It’s close, but just doesn’t meet all the requirements that make Whiskey a Bourbon.
Every other major category of spirit allows—even encourages—aging in previously used barrels. Thus, the Bourbon industry consumes more than a million barrels per year—using them once before selling them off to the Rum, Scotch, and Tequila makers to use again and again.
Distilleries all over Kentucky and Tennessee were re-tooled to distill fuel alcohol and ferment penicillin cultures to treat wounded soldiers.
During fermentation, little yeasty critters are consuming sugars and starches and … ahem … secreting two compounds: alcohol and carbon dioxide. If the mix is off just a tad, the starchy CO2 bubbles can build up to overflowing—damaging the equipment and entire batches of product. Not good.
So it’s very common to suspend a small ladle filled with a few drops of pure dish soap above the mash. If the bubbles rise up and touch the soap, a reaction called saponification pops them, protecting both the spirit and the distillery. Just a few drops of soap can protect a 50,000-gallon batch.