In the bourbon industry, you often hear that all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. This is a helpful statement, but it only becomes helpful once you begin to understand what bourbon is. So what exactly is bourbon? What is the difference between bourbon and whiskey? If you are a restaurant or bar owner, you may have noticed that bourbon is trending right now. Bourbon sales continue to increase and show no sign of slowing down. New bourbon distilleries are opening at a feverish pace. What this means for you is the opportunity to increase beverage sales and profits.

Knowledge Is In Demand

bourbon in glassAs with anything, knowledge is the key. There are plenty of bourbon enthusiasts out there who already know what they like and how to order it. But there are just as many people who are curious and want to try bourbon for the first time. If you need proof of that, just look up bourbon tasting events or bourbon 101 classes in your area. Notice how they are all booking, and booking fast. Or, look up information related to bourbon tourism. Yes, there is a thriving tourism industry centered on bourbon alone. Attendance of bourbon distillery tours is on the rise. Business is also booming for Louisville’s “Urban Bourbon Trail”. The bourbon enthusiasts and the bourbon curious alike are coming to your establishment. The more you can offer them in both product and product knowledge, the more you can make in profits.

What Is Bourbon?

distillery barrelsPatrons of your establishment will have questions about bourbon. For example, what is the difference between whiskey and bourbon? All bourbon is whiskey, but whiskey is such a broad category. It can be distilled from any number of grains including corn, barley, rye, and wheat. To be bourbon, whiskey needs to have a few distinct characteristics. It must be (1) produced in the US, (2) distilled from at least 51 percent corn (the other 49 percent can be any other grain), (3) aged in charred, new oak barrels, (4) distilled at no higher than 160 proof (80 percent ABV), (5) put into the barrel at no higher than 125 proof (62.5 percent ABV), and (6) bottled at a minimum of 80 proof (40 percent ABV).

There is a common misconception that bourbon must be aged at least two years to be bourbon. In reality, bourbon has no age requirement. But in order for it to be labeled as straight bourbon it must be aged two years. It may also include blends of two or more bourbons aged two or more years produced in the same state.

A Diverse Spirit

So what are the best ways to taste and enjoy bourbon? Bourbon is a versatile spirit with many possible flavor profiles and aromas. Remember that bourbon must be distilled from at least 51 percent corn. The remaining 49 percent of the grain recipe (known as the mash bill) is up to the distiller. In today’s market, there are a variety of bourbons from different distilleries with various mash bills, ages, proofs, and blends. Most bourbons do share some similar aromas and flavor profiles like caramel and vanilla. However, no two bourbons are alike. These characteristics are influenced by the mash bill and the aging process. One bourbon may have strong notes of oak and tobacco, while another may have notes of citrus and baking spices.

Detecting these notes is part of the bourbon experience. The diverse flavors and aromas are just as diverse as the people who enjoy bourbon. Bourbon is accessible to everyone. Two or more people can taste the same bourbon and get different results. That too is part of the experience of bourbon. It is social, sparks discussion, and brings people together. So, in the next part in this series, we will discuss in depth on how to taste and enjoy bourbon. For more information, you can visit our store at 3110 Preston Hwy in Louisville, KY, or call us at 866-591-3463.

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