Straight from the Source
To know Kentucky Bourbon is to love Kentucky Bourbon. But first, you’ve gotta learn the basics: what it is, how it’s made, how to taste it and the terminology, flavors and aromas behind it all.
All Bourbon is Whiskey, but Not All Whiskey is Bourbon
The ABCs of Bourbon
Bourbon is a distinct product of the United States of America, as declared by Congressional Resolution in 1964.
Bourbon must be aged in a new, charred oak container. This container is almost always a barrel.
The grain recipe—or mash bill—used to make Bourbon must contain at least 51% corn.
Bourbon cannot be distilled above 160 proof. This preserves flavors and character from the cooking and fermentation process.
Bourbon cannot enter the barrel at more than 125 proof. Water is added to achieve the desired entry proof.
When Bourbon is bottled, like all whiskey, the bottles cannot be filled at less than 80 proof.
It must be genuine—no color or flavoring agents or other spirits may be added.
How to Taste Bourbon
Appearance / Color
Pour a small amount of Bourbon (an ounce or two at most) and take note of its color. The hue offers clues about the Bourbon’s age. Younger spirits are usually lighter tones of amber, with deeper, richer browns indicating a Bourbon that’s older. Color can also be influenced by proof, level of char—and believe it or not—the weather that took place as the Bourbon aged.
Nose / Aroma
Your sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than your sense of taste, so nosing your Bourbon is a must. Swirl the Bourbon so it coats your glass, then wait a second for the alcohol vapor to leave. Allow the aromas to rise to your nose above the rim, and inhale slowly. Let the smell come to you. And don’t be afraid to sniff more than once—the Bourbon’s nose changes with each whiff.
Flavor / Taste
Take a small sip and swirl it around your mouth, leaving your lips slightly parted. Swish and roll the Bourbon around your tongue—and don’t miss a single taste bud! This important step—or as we like to call it, the “Kentucky Chew”—acclimates your nerves to the alcohol so the true flavor can come through. Look beyond the alcohol and notice what you taste.
The finish refers to the sensations you feel after you’ve swallowed the Bourbon. Did it linger for a while? That’s a long finish. Did it disappear quickly? That’s a short finish. Did any hidden flavors surface after it went down? Did you feel an unmistakable warmth after the Bourbon left your mouth? We call that a “Kentucky Hug” and it’s a feeling you won’t forget.
Don’t let the cornucopia of flavors intimidate you. With a little practice, you’ll be tasting Kentucky Bourbon like a pro in no time.
Become a Bonafide Bourbon Steward
Ready to level up from enthusiast to expert? Train your senses to identify subtle aromas and flavors and expand your horizons through study and testing with the first Bourbon Certification program to be recognized by the industry. Join the ranks of the Stave & Thief Society today.
Enjoy Like a True Kentuckian: Responsibly