Bourbon is uniquely American. On May 4th, 1964, the U.S. Congress recognized Bourbon as a “distinctive product of the United States.”
“[T]he word “bourbon” shall not be used to describe any whisky or whisky-based distilled spirits not produced in the United States.” 27 C.F.R. 5. In order for a spirit to be called bourbon, it must meet certain legal qualifications; bourbon’s legal definition, and how it differs from other whiskies, is the source of some confusion, so we’ll start with the basics:
- While bourbon is whiskey, whiskey is not necessarily bourbon. Bourbon is a whiskey (not “whisky,” which is the Scottish spelling — although Maker’s Mark does spell its name “whisky” because it uses a process similar to that of Scotch).
- Bourbon must be at least 51% corn.
- Bourbon must be aged in new white oak barrels that have never been used before, the insides of which get charred with a torch before being filled with the liquor for aging.
- Also, for a spirit to be called bourbon, it can’t have any flavor or color additives: just corn, water, wheat or rye, malt, and the coloring effects of the inside of a charred oak barrel.
- Bourbon has to be between 80 and 160 proof (although, very few clock in above 130). Bourbon may be stilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof and entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof. Bottled at 80 proof or more.
- *Water is an essential ingredient in any spirit. Many local Kentucky distillers have long said the commonwealth’s unique limestone water distinguishes Kentucky bourbon from competitors. (This is not part of the law, but a fun fact and an argument many may make regarding the legal definition of bourbon).
Where did we get the barrels?
We’ve purchased our barrels from oakbarrelsltd.com. I recommend the 1 Liter, anything bigger than that requires a lot of liquor.
What kind of bourbon do we use?
For our first batch, we tried a white dog whiskey from New Mexico, Coyote Silver, however after different barrels and different whiskey’s and bourbon’s, our favorite go-to is Buffalo Trace. You will use a whole liter of Buffalo Trace. Also, something to keep in mind, the Angels take their share – meaning part of of your bourbon will evaporate over the weeks. Each week we check and add more bourbon to top off the mix, its important you don’t allow air in your barrel until you are satisfied with the aging process. We don’t always top off the angels share with Buffalo Trace, sometimes we take a spicier or sweeter bourbon and add it to the mix; my favorite blend thus far has been Buffalo Trace topped off with Eagle Rare.
How long do we leave bourbon in the barrel?
We have discovered that the first time you are using the barrel, it is better to let the bourbon sit for 8 weeks. After that, we have left bourbon in the barrel from 3 to 8 weeks. We’ve discovered that 6 weeks is almost perfect.
Can the barrel be reused?
Yes. We have reused a barrel up to 6 times. At that point, we use the barrel as a decanter (wine or spirits). We are also getting ready to try a barrel aged cocktail with one of the barrels thats on its last bourbon aging run.