Bourbon Brothers Basics - What is bourbon?

Bourbon Brothers Basics - What is bourbon?

If you’re anything like me, when you were 18 you thought that cans of Jimmy or Jack and cola was pretty much it when it came to bourbon. Thankfully as the years have gone by I have learned to appreciate this American Whiskey for the amazing drop it is. If you’re just starting your journey on appreciating Bourbon, this Beginner's Guide will help get you going! 

Grab a glass of bourbon, and let’s have a Kentucky Hug. It’s not as weird as it sounds. (Keep reading). 

To get us started, over three blogs, we will learn the basics of Bourbon. I’ll start by explaining the terminology you’re likely to encounter, we will then run through how to have a good tasting of bourbon, then I’ll show you a few cocktail recipes you can impress your friends with.

All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.  

Whiskey’s are made by distilling a fermented grain mash, these mash’s may include wheat, rye, barley and corn among others; bourbon though, bourbon is special. To be called a bourbon the liquor must:

  • Be made in the United States, 95% of bourbon comes from Kentucky, but it technically can be made anywhere in the USA. The water used in the distilling of the best bourbons must be filtered through limestone, and Kentucky has a lot of limestone! Kentucky is the only state that has the perfect natural mix of climate, conditions and pure limestone water necessary for producing the world’s greatest bourbon. The limestone adds minerals, like calcium, which helps the yeast used to make bourbon. The limestone also filters out impurities, most importantly iron, which gives liquor a bad taste.

  • Contain at least 51% corn in the fermented grain mash. (Usually, it is much higher). A typical mash might consist of 80% corn, 10% of a flavouring grain (some examples would be rye or wheat), and 10% malted barley, but it varies depending on the distillery and the distinct product. The precise breakdown is known as the mash bill.

  • Must be distilled to no more than 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) and must be no more than 62.5% ABV (125 proof) when it enters the barrel

  • And most importantly, must be stored in BRAND NEW charred oak barrels. It is these barrels and the charring that give bourbon its unique characteristics. which means the barrel can be used only once for bourbon. When the bourbon is being aged in barrels, the liquid expands into, and then shrinks back out of the wood due to changes in temperature.

Bourbon process.PNG

Bourbon Brothers Glossary

Angels Share / Devil’s Cut

Some bourbon is lost to evaporation as it ages. The longer it’s aged, the more that is lost to evaporation. In Kentucky’s climate, this usually amounts to around 4% loss every year. The evaporated bourbon is known as the Angel’s Share, because it has been said to have gone to the angels. The losses incurred from the Angels share and the Devil’s cut are one of the reasons aged bourbons are more expensive. The longer the bourbon ages in the barrel, the more product is lost.

Blended Bourbon Whiskey

This is a blend of at least 51% bourbon and other whiskeys that may or may not be bourbon whiskeys

Blended Straight Bourbon

As the name implies this is a blend of straight bourbon whiskeys.

Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon

Bottled in bond or Bonded is a legal designation created by the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897. It specifies that it be made at one distillery by one distiller, and that it was the product of one distilling season. So, you can’t have a mixture from different years or different distilleries. It also must be aged at least for four years and bottled at 100 proof. The label on the bottle must identify the distillery where it was distilled, and if different, where it was bottled. Only spirits in the United States can be designated as bonded.


Proof is the traditional term for alcoholic content of a spirit. It is two times the percentage of alcohol. For example, a bourbon that is 80 proof would be 40% ABV (alcohol by volume). Bourbon usually comes out of the barrel at a much higher proof than people drink it. It varies on the individual barrel. To ensure a consistent proof, the distiller adds enough water to bring the alcohol down to the desired level. This is usually anywhere from 80 to 100 proof.

Single Barrel Bourbon

As the name implies, the bourbon comes from a single barrel, instead of blending multiple barrels together to get a standardised flavour for a large production of bottles.

Small Batch Bourbon

You will see this term on a lot of bottles, it is meant to indicate that only a small number barrels were mixed for that production. The term itself though isn't regulated, so there is no real restriction on distilleries whacking it on any product.

Straight Bourbon

Bourbon that is aged for at least 2 years. It may be mixed together from multiple barrels or bourbon recipes.


A warehouse used for storing barrels of ageing whiskey. Barrels are stored on ricks (racks), stacked several barrels high. The materials that the building is constructed from, as well as the location of the barrel in the building, can affect the maturation process.

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