by John Q. Adams III
Having been invited to be a Go Metric contributor with Bourbon (Whiskey) as the suggested column content, I thought I’d start off with a little introduction to "America’s Native Spirit" and address some common misconceptions.
Here are a few Bourbon “requirements”:
Only whiskey produced in the United States can be called bourbon. If it says bourbon on the label, it’s from the good ol’ US of A.
Bourbon (like other whiskey) must be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof (40% ABV - alcohol by volume). The highest proof bourbon I know of is the 2007 release of George T. Stagg bottled at 144.8 proof. Any proof above 140 is legally considered to be Hazardous Material so you’ll hear this GTS affectionately referred to as HazMat IV (the 2003, 2005 and 2006 bottlings were all over 140 proof as well.) Once you get into proof like this, don’t be afraid to add a few drops of water to make it a bit more palatable.
Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period, however to be called STRAIGHT bourbon it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years. The rules say bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels but they don’t say for how long - some of the smaller craft/micro distilleries only age their bourbon for a few months. Bourbon aged for a period less than four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging so if you don’t see an age statement on the bottle, it is at least four-year-old juice.
There are four levels of char, ranging from #1 ("burnt toast") to #4 ("crocodile" char). Most distillers use #3 or 4 char. I believe Maker’s Mark specifies a 3 1/2 char.
To be labeled as "Bottled-in-Bond" (BIB) or "Bonded," the spirit must be the product of one distillation season and one distiller at one distillery. It must have been stored (aged) in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof. The bottled product’s label must identify the distillery (by DSP number) where it was distilled and, if different, where it was bottled. BIB bourbon is at least 4 years old and 100 proof and makes for some might nice drinking.
Some common Bourbon myths:
Bourbon whiskey must be made in Kentucky. Not true — Bourbon may be made anywhere in the United States.
Kentucky is the only state legally allowed to put its name on a bourbon label. Again, not true - no such law or rule exists.
Jack Daniel’s is not bourbon. Technically, Jack Daniel’s (and George Dickel) are considered to be Tennessee Whisk(e)y but they could probably be classified as bourbon.
They aren’t labeled as bourbon because they choose not to be. In 1941, JD’s Reagor Motlow solicited (and received) a letter from the Alcohol Tax Unit of the Treasury Department acknowledging that Tennessee whiskey is distinct from bourbon. Reagor’s concern was that because his product met all the requirements for bourbon, it might be required to label itself as bourbon. He wanted, and got, a piece of paper from the government that said "Tennessee whiskey is not bourbon." But that is all it says – it offers no reason or explanation.
Awright, then. If GM doesn’t get too many complaints and they’ll have me back again, next time I’ll give you my thoughts on Pappy Van Winkle.