The name bourbon whisky brings to mind the famous American brands of whisky that presently enjoy a leading share of the market. Like everything American the American public, especially the whisky loving crowd, are very proud of this whisky.
Bourbon whisky is basically made from corn; it is a distilled spirit and has a lot of history behind it. The whisky is called bourbon as it comes from the old Bourbon region, present day Kentucky. However, bourbon whisky can and is produced anywhere in the US. Having said this even today more than 90% of bourbon whisky is still distilled and aged in Kentucky. In fact the annual Bourbon festival that is held every September in Kentucky is a major tourist attraction.
Tennessee also produces bourbon whisky but it is not called bourbon whisky and instead the companies there prefer to call it differently. One notable example is “Jack Daniels”
There is a slight difference between bourbon whisky and Tennessee whisky. The Tennessee whiskies use the Lincoln County process. In this process charcoal is used as a filter. However, there are many whiskies from Tennessee that do not use this process and therefore NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) describes the whisky produced in Tennessee as bourbon whisky.
Typically all North American whiskies are made from corn, wheat, rye, barley and other grains. The proportions may differ but they are all aged in wooden barrels for long periods of time. The barrel used may be new or old; charred or uncharred.
The government stipulates that all North American whiskies be made from grain mash and be distilled in column stills at 98% ABV or less. The whisky also needs to be reduced to 62.5% ABV before being aged in wooden (normally oak) barrels. Every whisky should have taste and aroma that is consistent with whisky. And when bottled the strength should be no less than 40% ABV.
As far as bourbon whisky is concerned it must contain 51% corn, should be produced in US and distilled at less than 80% ABV. Bourbon whisky should also be aged for a minimum of 2 years in new charred barrels before being bottled. However, most brands are aged for 4 or more years.
Bourbon has a distinct taste. It comes with several flavors like pralines, toffee, vanilla, and dried fruit. The spicy and unique firmness of American whisky comes from the charred oak barrels.
Bourbon whisky owes a lot to the thirst of the first British settlers in North America. Kentucky and Tennessee had the ideal climate for corn production and the limestone filtered water too was ideal. The availability of both the essential ingredients ensured that immigrants produced some of the finest whisky which eventually came to be called as bourbon whisky.