American whisky, Bourbon, is a spirit that is made from corn and is a distilled spirit. The reason why Bourbon is names so is because of its historical association with the place Old Bourbon. Old Bourbon is today known as Bourbon County, named after the French House of Bourbon, and is located in Kentucky. While Bourbon can be made in any place in the U.S but it has its strongest association with Kentucky.
The origin of the Bourbon whisky is not clearly documented. There are a number of conflicting stories and legends that associate themselves with the origin of the Bourbon. In the absence of any clear historical proof it has been derived that Bourbon was not invented by any one person. Since any grain can be used to make whisky and since the whisky producing process has been known to Europeans through the ages, it has been derived that Bourbon has been made by European settlers in America. They used the grain that was easily available to them, in this case corn to form the mash and use oak barrels that were available to mature the whisky. However, it was only in the early 19th century that the sprit evolved and came to be called a Bourbon.
A whisky can be called a Bourbon when it is produced in the United States. According to the laws and regulations required to make Bourbon, stringent laws and processes must be followed to ensured that the whisky is labeled as a Bourbon. However, much like Scotch, if a whisky is made following the specifications of making a Bourbon but is not made in the United States, then it cannot be called so.
According to the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits a spirit must meet specific requirements to be called a Bourbon. Firstly, as mentioned earlier, the spirit has to be distilled and matured in the United States. Bourbon also has to be made out of a grain mix which is made predominantly from corn. This corn mixture has to be at least 51%. A Bourbon also cannot be distilled to more than 160 proof which translated to 80% of it being alcohol by volume. To start the maturation process, the Bourbon has to be no more than 125 proof when it enters the barrel. When the Bourbon has reached 80 proof, which means it has reached 40% alcohol by volume it has to be bottled. The Bourbon has to be aged in oak barrels that are new but charred. Though there is no specification regarding the timeline required for ageing, Bourbon has to be aged for at least some time.
The aging process is greatly relevant when the American Whisky Bourbon has to be differentiated. A ‘ Straight” bourbon is one which has been aged for a period less than four years and for a minimum of two years. There can be no additional spirits or flavorings that can be added to this. A ‘Blended’ Bourbon on the other hand is one where additional un ages neutral spirits, colorings, flavorings are added out of which 51% will be straight Bourbon.