Head over to Princeton University’s web entry on Bourbon, and you will learn that, back in 1964, the U.S. Congress recognized Bourbon Whiskey as a “distinctive product of the United States,” and the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 C.F.R. 5.22) established a bunch of laws defining what Bourbon is, and isn’t. The Standards read as follows:
- Only whiskey produced in the United States can be called bourbon.
- Bourbon must be made of a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn (maize).
- Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume).
- Neither coloring nor flavoring may be added.
- Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
- Bourbon must be entered into the barrel at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).
- Bourbon, like other whiskeys, must be bottled at not less than 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume.)
- Bourbon that meets the above requirements and has been aged for a minimum of two years may (but is not required to) be called Straight Bourbon.
- Straight Bourbon aged for a period less than four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging.
- If an age is stated on the label, it must be the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle.
If a spirit doesn’t comply with these rules, it ain’t Bourbon.
In the video above, Gear Patrol takes a closer look at how Bourbon is made. The producers toured 12 distilleries in five days, and asked each to explain the Bourbon-making process. Along the way, you will figure out why so much Bourbon comes from Kentucky. It comes down to geology, not chance.