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Common Bourbon Myths

While all bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskey can bare distinction of being called "bourbon whiskey" which must adhere to rigid federal regulations. To be designated “whiskey”, a spirit simply must be distilled from grain at less than 190 proof. Blended whiskey, Scotch whisky, Canadian whisky, Irish whiskey and other various kinds of whiskey do not meet these strict rules, and cannot be called “bourbon whiskey."

About 95% of all bourbon is made in Kentucky, but by definition, bourbon can be distilled anywhere in the U.S.

There are many claims to the origin of our favorite spirit, but with many conflicted stories and poor documentation on the invention of bourbon, it is hard to know what to believe. Many credit Baptist minister and distiller Elijah Craig as the first to age a distillation in charred oak casks, and some attribute Jacob Spears of Bourbon County, Kentucky with being the first to label his product "Bourbon Whiskey." Both stories are just legends with little credibility, and it is likely that there was no single inventor of bourbon.

While you can certainly find some fine bourbons with old age statements, the notion that bourbon always gets better with time is simply not true. As bourbon matures, it absorbs flavor from the charred oak barrels. Sometimes too much. Older-aged bourbons can taste dry, woody or bitter. Aging time is just one part of the equation.

As the world’s most versatile spirit, you can find plenty of right ways to drink bourbon. Many connoisseurs say that drinking bourbon neat is the only way to go, but it’s really up to your personal taste. Some prefer a splash of water, ice, mixers, or in cocktails. We suggest you try it different ways and see what you enjoy the most.

While the basic taste profile of any given bourbon can be fairly easily described by attributes such as sweetness, spice, fruit, wood or grain notes. More specific taste descriptors can be more entirely subjective. That’s a beautiful thing about bourbon. One person may notice different subtleties than the next person. This is why bourbon reviews occur so often, drinkers like to share and compare their interpretations and experiences with bourbon. While those with seasoned palates may articulate their experience better, there are no “right” or “wrong” tasting notes to describe various bourbons.

Once bourbon is bottled, it no longer ages. The aging of bourbon is a result of chemical reactions that occur when stored in charred oak barrels. While some claim that there can be subtle changes in taste as a result of oxidation over long periods of time, no maturation occurs once bourbon gets bottled.

U.S. federal regulations make no mention of how long a bourbon must be aged, and some bourbons are aged for as little as three months. However, this myth likely originates from the finer distinction given to "straight bourbon," which requires barrels to age for a minimum of two years, and any straight bourbon aged less than four years must state the age on the label.

Federal regulations dictate that bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels. Much of the flavor and color is extracted from used barrels during their original use. however, it is common for used bourbon barrels to be reused in aging other whiskeys. Since it's estimated that up to five gallons of bourbon remain trapped in the wood, many barrels are used to age Scotch, which mixes with the remaining bourbon, giving the new spirit much of its flavor.