Only the United States is authorized to distill bourbon.
Until Congress intervened in 1964, ‘bourbon-whiskey’ was essentially permitted to be distilled wherever, geographically. For decades many have proclaimed bourbon as a unique part of America’s heritage; the passing of S. Con. Res. 19 just over 51 years ago officially designated the spirit as a distinctive product of the United States.
Meaning: the U.S. laid the hammer down on other distillers and was like,
“Hey ya’ll, this shit is ours now.”*
* Scotland made the same move with Scotch.
All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.
The 1964 legislation declared that for whiskey to be considered a bourbon, it must meet specific Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits — most importantly, bourbon must be distilled within the United States.
Other criteria includes:
- At least 51% of its grain mixture must contain corn
- Be no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume)
- Be aged in new, charred oak barrels
- and have no alteration of color or flavor.
The legal requirements progress when distilling more specific bourbon such as straight and Kentucky. Straight bourbon requires an aging life of at least 2 years, while Kentucky bourbon must be produced and stored within the state for at least one year.
Bourbon cannot be used to describe whiskey.
- When ordering a bourbon at the bar, don’t get too thrilled when you see the bartender giving you multiple pours. This pouring action stirs the bourbon and rounds out the flavor. While they’re doing you a solid, it’s likely not more than what you’re paying you for.
- Kentucky produces more than 95% of bourbon and possesses more barrels of the spirit than people. (4.7 million barrels to 4.3 million people).
- The origin of the name bourbon is a conflict between Bourbon County in Kentucky (where a distiller took credit) and Bourbon Street of New Orleans (major selling port).