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A lot of people can’t tell bourbon from regular whiskey or scotch. To a layman, there is no difference between the three, but a true alcohol connoisseur can’t afford to make such cardinal mistakes. Namely, whiskey is a general term that encompasses all of these drinks made out of mash grain (rye, wheat, corn, barley…) A special type of whiskey made in Scotland, especially from malted barley is called scotch. So, what is bourbon? Well, bourbon is the American take on this good old drink, specifically made from corn in the historical Bourbon county in Kentucky. So, because having a glass of this godly nectar is synonymous with respecting our great country, we thought it would be important to show you how to drink bourbon like a true American.
A Little Bit of History
In order to be able to drink bourbon like a true patriot that you are, it is necessary to first acquaint yourself with the drink’s history because, as the Latin proverb states, “History is life’s teacher.” So, we’ll start things off with the well-known name. The name Bourbon comes from the historic county region in Kentucky USA that first started producing this amazing drink. The region is just named after a French Bourbon dynasty as a sign of gratitude for their help in the American Revolutionary war. The drink itself has nothing to do with the French, though. We can’t stress this enough. The people in the Bourbon region started making whiskey early on, but what made it so unique was the fact that they used corn to make it (whiskey is more commonly made from rye). This specific brand was marked Old Bourbon to signify its uniqueness and special flavor.
How It’s Made
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One of the main characteristics of bourbon is that it’s made out of corn, at least 51% of it. Also, most of the reputable whiskey makers wouldn’t dare to call their product bourbon unless it originated from the eponymous historical region. The process is fairly simple, but the true masters of the trade have a secret or two up their sleeve. The corn is mashed, distilled and left to ferment in big charred oak barrels for at least two years. The bourbon that has been aged for only two years is called straight bourbon. More commonly, however, this process takes anywhere from four to nine years. During the fermentation, a small amount of bourbon evaporates through the cracks in the barrel, which is called Angels’ Share, and a small amount is absorbed by the char inside, which is called Devil’s Share. It is important to note that the barrels can only be used once. Every new batch requires a whole new barrel. You can roughly estimate the bourbon’s age by its color. Namely, the older it is, the darker the color of the liquid. You can also guess by the taste, as the older batches have a slightly sweeter taste and, of course, a richer flavor.
One of the best known bourbon whiskeys in the world is the so-called Pappy bourbon. This high-quality brand is owned by Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery and their product is so exclusive that it is always in high demand among the whiskey-lovers. The founder of the company, Julian van Winkle (that went by the nickname Pappy), started his whiskey-soaked career by working for W. L. Weller (where Weller bourbon name comes from) and buying it off after about 15 years of work with a co-worker. They acquired the Stitzel-Weller Distilling Company and started making their trademark brand Old Rip van Winkle bourbon. It lasted until the prohibition and was only re-introduced way later, in 1972 by numerous other companies. Interestingly, the name van Winkle bourbon comes from a well-known American short story Rip van Winkle by Washington Irving. In the story, a man goes to the top of a mountain, drinks a magical liquid and falls asleep for 20 years missing the American Revolution and awaking to a whole new world. The idea is that Rip van Winkle bourbon might do the same.
Types of Bourbon
While it is true that most of the bourbons are light or dark brown in hue, some of them can be white or nearly transparent. This happens because the whiskey is aged only one year and the barrel and the char didn’t have time to color the liquid. You might encounter names like The Ghost, White Dog Whiskey, Raw Whiskey, and others, but they all refer to the same thing. Now, the color and the taste also depend on the percentage of its ingredients so, for example, a high rye bourbon (which has more than 10% of rye) like Old Grand Dad and Bulleit has a much stronger taste and kick. On the other hand, if you prefer a sweeter, softer taste of your drink, you might choose a bourbon that has a higher percentage of corn like Baby Bourbon or Old Charter. Finally, you can also opt for the wheated bourbon that replaces rye with wheat and is quite softer with a strong vanilla or caramel taste. These are whiskeys like the aforementioned van Winkle bourbon.
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Now that you know quite a lot about bourbon, its history, fermentation process and various types, you’re ready to finally grab the bottle of your choice and pour yourself a glass. Because drinking bourbon is a full experience that includes both taste and smell, make sure you get a wide glass for your drink. Also, remember to pour only about a quarter of it in the glass, because you want it to settle down a bit and breathe before you taste it. Pull up the glass, shuffle and smell it. With that scent in your mind take a short sip and enjoy the flavor. Depending on how good the bourbon is, you could keep it in your mouth for a while longer before swallowing it. After you’ve drunk it, put the glass down and wait a while before the next sip. You’ll want to get as much of the aftertaste as possible before going for another try.
Now that you know how to drink bourbon properly, you can go ahead and become an expert in the field. Just make sure not to overdo it.