Tuesday, February 08, 2005


I think its time I posted a basic primer on just what makes bourbon bourbon. How bout it? Y'all up for some history and a few old shiner's tales? Yeah... I thought ya would be.

Lets start out with the basics. Bourbon is a type of whiskey, and to be classified as such, the whiskey needs to meet some pretty strict criteria.

1) The mash must be at least 51% corn. Now most distilleries use much more than that... even up to 75-80% corn. The other most common ingredient is Rye. In fact the only distillery that doesn't use Rye is Makers Mark. They use no Rye at all. They use Wheat.

2) Bourbon must be aged in charred oak barrels. Most all distilleries use White Oak. It's usually aged 6 to 10 years. Understand that in Kentucky's heat, that's like aging it 12 to 50 years elsewhere.

3) It's possible to make bourbon outside the state of Kentucky. But its illegal to put it on the bottle. Now that said, Jack Daniels is made with exactly the same processes as the bourbons of Kentucky. The only difference is the Charcoal filtering that ol' Jack insists upon. While this clearly changes many characteristics, it's really the only difference.

Now... If you know other booze, but know very little about bourbon... perhaps I can clarify a bit. In terms of quality Bourbon is the Single malt of Whiskey... and well... if bourbon can be compared to single malt scotch... then the permium bourbons you've read about here are simply beyond compare.

I've sipped whiskey from $1000 bottles of scotch... and frankly... I was unimpressed.

So what makes it so durned good?

Well... there are 1000 different opinions on that... but most folks agree that one of the most important aspects is the charred barrels... and well.... how that came about is a bit of tale in and of itself.

It seems that we owe that discover to Elijah Craig himself. Ol' Elijah made money makin' whiskey and haulin' it down the Mississippi way back when. Apparently one day there was a fire... most likey one of Elijah's own making... and the boy found himself with a bunch of burnt barrels. Bein' a good Scottsman, he wasn't one to throw anything away... he filled the barrels up and headed down river.

With all that sloshin' around, by the time he got to New Orleans... the whiskey inside had turned brown... and according to Elijah.... and his bank... it sold like wildfire.

Now the barrels are only used the one time. After that, they are sold as planters, or chipped up and sold for smoke chips... or... and this is a special jab for all your scotch fans out there...

Apparently a number of famous scotch makers... many premium scotch makers in fact, buy the used bourbon barels to age their scotch in.

Yup... you're scotch is being aged in barrels that we Southrons think ain't good enough for anything but holdin' dirt or smokin' meat. No wonder the stuff is flavorless. It's bein' aged in reject barrels!

It ain't friday... but I sincerely hope ya sneak off to take a nip tonight just the same. Nothin' takes the chill out of a cold winter night like a sip of your favorite bourbon... whatever that should be.

I'll be providing some tasting notes here directly.

*** UPDATE *** I cant believe I left this out... but the man who is credited with inventing bourbon.. Elijah Craig... That's.... REVEREND Elijah Craig... Preacher... and Mississippi Rum Runner.

No comments: