America is currently in what we call the "Bourbon Boom." Production is at an all-time high and is expected to increase over the next 5 years. Plus, since 8.7% of all alcohol consumed across the US qualifies as bourbon, it's gaining popularity with young people and those in multiple ethnic groups.
There are many potential reasons for this. People crave the authenticity and purity that bourbon offers. Others enjoy the simultaneously high-class and casual feel that the beverage exudes.
Here, we're going to talk about different types of bourbon that you can enjoy. Read on if you want to get in on the Bourbon Boom the right way.
What Is Bourbon?
Bourbon is an alcoholic beverage produced in the United States. This isn't just because it's often produced here. Rather, the law indicates that a drink must be American-made in order for it to meet the baseline qualifications to be bourbon.
It's a very patriotic drink! It also will always be accessible regardless of trade agreements, international tariffs, or challenges with distribution across the seas. There's nothing to inhibit bourbon drinkers from enjoying their favorite beverage, and there never will be.
If you know the basics of bourbon, you likely think that it must have been made in Kentucky, giving it even narrower parameters than it actually has. While the Bluegrass State does produce 95% of the nation's bourbon, it can also be produced elsewhere in the US. New distilleries and varieties regularly pop up in all areas from coast to coast.
A drink must meet other basic standards to be classified as bourbon.
Its mash needs to be at least 51% corn. The drink must age for at least 2 years in a new, straight barrel made from oak.
Additionally, nothing but water can be used to lessen the proof, meaning that you can't use other additives for color or flavor. This makes it a pure beverage, which contributes to its popularity.
How Is Bourbon Made?
The basis for all bourbon is a mash bill made primarily from corn. This must constitute over half the drink's mash.
49% or less can also be made from other grains like wheat, rye, or malted barley. The mash types combined with the corn mash will change the way that the bourbon tastes. Some will be sweet while others will taste oaky or even spicy.
Experts create the mash by combining the grains with water and yeast. It's then heated up and stirred thoroughly to create what people call 'bourbon mash.' Then, distillation starts in a copper pot still or column still.
Distilling the mash gets rid of any impure elements including debris and natural contaminants. It also gives the end product a higher alcohol content. Bourbon needs to be distilled to no more than 80% ABV.
After this, the producer will start aging the bourbon in charred oak barrels. This gives it a unique flavor and makes the flavor profile more intricate.
It needs to sit for at least 2 years, but bourbons that age longer will have better, more complex flavors and aromas. Bourbons that are aged longer may cost more, but they have absorbed more flavor and will have a smoother taste. A 12-year-old Jack Daniel's bottle is perfect for those celebrating special occasions in style because of its one-of-a-kind taste.
The Different Types of Bourbon
Bourbon that meets the minimum legal standards is called "straight bourbon." It's the most commonly sold variety and is generally extremely affordable to most whiskey enthusiasts.
This bourbon variety is known for being smooth and rich in flavor. The exact flavor will depend on the mash, so it's critical to read the label and understand which grains correlate to which flavors.
Corn bourbon is the purest bourbon option on the market. It's not the most common, but it's something that everyone should try at least once.
Its mash needs to be completely made up of corn in addition to meeting all the other legal standards for bourbon. This drink is simultaneously hearty, earthy, and sweet.
High Rye Bourbon
High rye bourbon uses rye in its mash bill in addition to the required corn.
This gives it a spicier flavor than other types of bourbon whiskey. It also will likely have an aroma of baking spices that add some complexity to the overall profile.
Some rye bourbon also has a somewhat fruity aroma depending on the way that it's made. Regardless, it's the most robust bourbon variety and has peppery, spicy undertones.
If you want to try rye bourbon but aren't sure where to start, Four Roses is a well-known brand that produces this variety. You can try multiple flavors by getting their ten-recipe tasting pack. It's perfect for those still experimenting with drinking bourbon and learning what they like.
Wheat bourbon is distinct because its non-corn grain is- you guessed it- wheat. This can constitute up to 49% of the drink. The more wheat used, the sweeter it's likely to become.
When a distiller uses wheat mash, they create a smoother and softer flavor. It's generally pretty mellow and is more likely to calm you down than energize you.
Wheated varieties usually taste a bit like caramel and honey, so it's a perfect dessert drink.
WL Weller is a widely-known luxury brand for wheated bourbon. It comes in 107-proof bottles that have a unique flair because of their stronger proof. This delicious high-quality drink has strong vanilla and cinnamon flavors in addition to gentle notes of fruit and sharp undertones of spice.
Sour Mash Bourbon
Sour mash bourbon can use mash made with any variety of grain. The main difference between sour mash and straight bourbon is the pH level of the final product.
Usually, distillers regulate this during the initial mash brew. Sour mash bourbon mixes a previous batch's grain in with a new batch of mash to play with the pH level and create a new flavor.
It makes the liquid more acidic. This assists with fermentation and makes it less probable for bacteria to ruin the bourbon while it's aging in the barrel. It also gives the drink a sour flavor more akin to dry wine than sweet whiskey.
It's a unique and distinctive taste that everyone should try at least once. It also tends to cost less because of the production process, so you can get sour mash bourbon from a high-end brand like Jack Daniel's for a very low price.
Blended bourbon used to be an unpopular variety because it's not considered 'pure.' However, it's fallen into favor in recent years.
Experts are calling it the next trend in American whiskey, which makes sense since blended scotch is already one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the US.
To make blended bourbon, a distiller will take multiple different varieties of straight bourbon and blend them together. Some may be aged 2 years while others are aged 12. Some may be made from a corn-and-rye mash while others are made from corn and wheat.
Blending multiple whiskey varieties together means a more complex flavor profile. For example, if someone blended a spicy rye-based bourbon with a caramel-y wheat bottle, the result would be mixed notes of peppery spice and rich sweetness. It would be bold and oaky as well because the drink would have more aged properties.
This is one of the most interesting ways to spice up your normal whiskey consumption and add some surprises to the list of bourbons in your cabinet. There are hundreds of ways to blend bourbon, so you can keep experimenting until you find something you love.
Blended bourbon is also great for those who enjoy cocktails. It's the most common base for Old Fashioneds, which have been loved for decades just as the name indicates. Manhattans also are commonly made with blended bourbon, which makes sense since there are so many ways to drink that cocktail!
Single Barrel Bourbon
Blended bourbons are made from multiple types of bourbon. But even straight bourbon usually doesn't all come from the same cask. One bottle is often made up of the same type of bourbon from multiple different bottles.
This makes for more uniform production so that drinkers always know what to expect. If you want something extremely distinct and unique, you can get single-barrel bourbon. This is made when producers make a bottle of bourbon from one single barrel rather than several.
There are several advantages to this including a one-of-a-kind taste that stems from all barrels being different. However, these bourbons also tend to be aged longer than standard bottles, so more complex flavors and undertones develop.
This makes them more expensive, as does their limited-edition nature. After all, you can't get single-barrel bourbon from one source forever. Eventually, that barrel will run out, and there won't ever be anything exactly like it again.
Cask Strength Bourbon
Most bourbons are diluted in water when they come out of the barrel. They're then bottled after the dilution process. This stops the end product from having too strong a taste so that more people can enjoy it.
However, some bourbon enthusiasts crave higher-proof bourbons that don't have this dilution. Cask-strength bourbon is perfect for these individuals because it goes straight from the barrel into the bottle. There's no added water whatsoever.
Generally, cask-strength bottles have a proof of over 100. They're incredibly bold and intense, and the strength isn't for the faint of heart. But if you're looking for something complex that packs a punch, these bourbon varieties may be your new favorite thing.
They also generally are aged longer than diluted bourbons. Their flavors are more vivid and intricate in addition to being stronger. They're basically the bourbon equivalent of a super-spicy dish that's rich in complex flavor - in short, an absolutely amazing experience for many people.
High-Quality Bottled in Bond Bourbons
The Bottled-in-Bond Act was passed in 1897 and set forth strict rules to ensure that whiskey was of a high standard. Bourbon whiskey was of course included in this category. Its outlined regulations stated that each bottle must be:
- Produced by a single distillery by the same distiller within 1 distilling season
- Aged in a federally bonded warehouse
- Aged for 4+ years (rather than the 2+ years required today)
- Bottled up at 100 proof
- Distilled exclusively with water to bring it to that proof
This is no longer the norm today, but some distillers still stand by the Bottled-in-Bond Act's guidelines. These high-quality bottles are called "Bottled in Bond bourbons," and they have unique flavor profiles. They're also incredibly consistent because they follow the same strict production rules.
You can get bottled in bond bourbons made with any type of bourbon mash. This gives you multiple different possibilities despite the consistency.
Specialty bourbons are also sometimes called "small batch." The focus is quality rather than quantity, making these drinks expensive and rare.
Small-batch bourbon blends together a limited number of barrels from one distilling location. Usually, this will be anywhere between 4-9 barrels. This lets the distiller create a consistent flavor profile because they can control the blending.
Start Drinking Bourbon the Right Way
Now that you know the different types of bourbon to enjoy alone or with friends, it's time to get started.
Liquorama is committed to offering deliciously affordable bourbon options for daily casual drinking. However, we're just as excited to offer fine, high-quality bourbons for those celebrating special occasions with friends and loved ones.
Regardless of your needs, we're proud to offer speedy customer service and assist you in selecting the perfect bourbon whiskey to fit your personal tastes. We offer free shipping on orders of $200+, so contact us today to start discovering the high-value drinks available to you.