What makes bourbon distinct from other whiskeys is the way it is manufactured and aged. All whiskey is spirit made from fermented grain and then aged in barrels. But the kind of grain and the kind of barrels determines the variety of whiskey. In order to be classified as bourbon, a whiskey needs to be distilled from a mixture of grains, or mash, that’s at least 51 percent corn. That corn gives bourbon its distinctive sweet flavour.
Bourbon also must be aged in new charred oak barrels, and cannot include any additives or colourings. Other whiskeys can be aged in barrels previously used to age other spirits, and they don’t necessarily need to be whiskey barrels—port, sherry, and rum casks are used in the aging process for non-bourbon whiskeys. To be designated “straight bourbon whiskey,” bourbon has to have been aged in new charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years.
Bourbon can be made outside Kentucky but to be designated a “Kentucky bourbon,” the spirit has to be both distilled and aged in Kentucky. The name “bourbon” even comes from old Bourbon, what is now Bourbon County, Kentucky. Most bourbon is made in Kentucky, but not all, so it has become synonymous with the spirit, much as the Champagne region in France is synonymous with champagne, even though sparkling wine using similar methods is produced elsewhere.
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