It’s important to remember that everyone is a beginner at some point and asking questions is how you learn. So here, judgment-free, are some of the answers to things you’ve secretly been Googling about Bourbon.
1. Is Bourbon a Whiskey?
There’s the old adage all Bourbon is Whiskey but not all Whiskey is Bourbon. However, if you’re asking the question chances are you haven’t heard that one.
Whiskey is a specific type of alcohol distilled from grains. Bourbon is also a specific type of alcohol distilled from grains, but more specifically it must be distilled from a minimum of 51% corn to no higher than 160 proof, barreled in charred new oak containers at no higher than 125 proof, and bottled no lower than 80 proof with nothing but pure water added to adjust for proof. Bourbon must also be made in the United States.
2. What Bourbons are made in Kentucky?
Just about all of them. The fact is, Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, but Kentucky produces 95% of the Bourbon in the world.
There are some up-and-coming distilleries outside of Kentucky - Breckenridge in Colorado, Ironroot Republic in Texas, and Kings County Distillery in New York are just some of the Bourbons I have tried from outside of Kentucky recently.
3. Why is Kentucky Bourbon the best?
It’s serendipity, really. The climate here is perfect for aging Whiskey - it gets really hot in the summer and drives the Whiskey into the wood, and then it gets really cold in the winter and draws it back out, giving it all of its color and a lot of its flavor.
The limestone-filtered water takes out all the iron and puts in the nice limestone and calcium the yeast needs to thrive. Corn grows great in this region. Thanks to this history we have also had generations of Bourbon distillers here, which has left us with a great talent pool from which to choose.
4. What Bourbon is served at the Kentucky Derby?
These days Woodford Reserve is what is in the $1000 Mint Julep sold to benefit various charities each year.
But the official Kentucky Derby Cocktail - Mint Julep is made from Old Forester. Both brands are owned by Louisville native Brown-Forman, so the partnership between Louisville’s Bourbon and the Fastest Two Minutes In Sports is a perfect fit.
5. How does Bourbon get its name?
Even the experts can’t agree on this one. Bourbon Historian Michael Veach writes in his book Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage that it was likely sold to the only major down-river market at the time, New Orleans, and when people would eventually start asking for “some of that old Bourbon Street Whiskey” on the paddleboat on the return cruise it likely caught on.
Others say it was named after Bourbon County in Kentucky in one form or fashion. Regardless, the French Bourbon family name is somewhere in the mix.
6. How much does good Bourbon cost?
Thanks to all the strict laws about what Bourbon can and can’t have in it, typically as long as you buy straight Bourbon (which has to be aged a minimum of 2 years with a stated age or 4 years without a stated age) it’s going to be difficult to get a bad bottle.
In Kentucky, you can get a good bottle of Heaven Hill Bottled In Bond 6 year old for around $12. Typically, though, you can expect to pay $30-50 for a good bottle of Bourbon.
7. Can Bourbon go in the freezer?
In the immortal words of the late Booker Noe of Jim Beam, drink it any damn way you want.