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Bourbon whiskey

Bourbon bottle, 19th century
Bourbon bottle, 19th century
Bourbon is an American form of whiskey, made from at least 51% but not more than 80% maize, or corn (typically about 70%, with the remainder being wheat, rye, and other grains), distilled to no more than 160 proof, and aged in new charred white oak barrels for at least two years (usually much longer). Most of the time it is then adjusted to 80-100 proof and bottled, although some are bottled at "cask strength."

The name derives from Bourbon County, Kentucky, which was itself named after the French royal family at the time of the American Revolutionary War. A concurrent resolution of the United States Congress in 1964 restricted bourbon to U.S. production. Some stories about its origins there are not true, such as its purported invention by Baptist minister and distiller Elijah Craig.

A refinement introduced by Scottish chemist Dr. James C. Crow was the sour mash process, by which each new fermentation is conditioned with some amount of spent beer (previously fermented mash that has been separated from its alcohol), in much the same way that sourdough bread is made from starter. The acid introduced by using the sour mash controls the growth of bacteria that could taint the whiskey. As of 2004, all straight bourbons use a sour mash process. Crow developed this refinement while working at the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery (now the Woodford Reserve Distillery ) in Woodford County, Kentucky.

Curiously, when thinking about bourbon, many people first think of the brand Jack Daniel's, which is of the similar Tennessee style, and not technically a bourbon. Almost all bourbons are distilled in Kentucky, and it is often said that only Kentucky whiskey can properly be called bourbon; this is, however, not true, as those few exceptions to the rule demonstrate.

See also: Corn whiskey, Moonshine.

Some modern bourbon distilleries and brands

External links

Last updated: 11-06-2004 20:52:39