This September marks the 6th annual celebration of National Bourbon Heritage Month, which was originally ginned up by none other than the U.S. Senate as a way to preserve and acknowledge the American-ness of the spirit.
By law, a spirit can only be called bourbon if it’s made in the good ol’ U.S. of A and adheres to very strict processing and distillation standards. The specific criteria set for determining what can be called bourbon are many, but the net result is this: 95% of all bourbon is currently produced in Kentucky.
It’s not that making bourbon is all that difficult (although, it’s not exactly easy); it’s that Kentuckians have been doing it for so long and do it so well that the rest of the country would just as soon make whiskey and call it a day rather than go head to head with the undisputed champions of the craft.
So, what is the difference between whiskey and bourbon? Well, a few key differences:
<strong>1. Kentucky limestone.</strong>
This is the chief claim to uniqueness for Kentucky distillers, because everything else about the recipe can be replicated elsewhere. Water used in the distillation process first percolates through the state’s high concentrations of limestone, which helps naturally filter out impurities that would otherwise alter the flavor.
<strong>2. New, charred-oak containers.</strong>
The law (Title 27, Part 5, Subpart C, Section 5.22, Paragraph (1)(i) of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Code of Federal Regulations) stipulates that, to be called bourbon, the spirit must be aged in “charred new oak containers” for at least two years. It really doesn’t get any more specific than that, does it?
<strong>3. Age, proof and composition.</strong>
Then there’s the recipe and distillation process. While it can be replicated, it is a very precise procedure that involves crackerjack timing, meticulous measuring and a level of patience that’s hard to find in today’s fast-paced way of doing things.
But, when it’s done right … well … while tastes may vary it would take a very savvy pitch to convince a bourbon connoisseur that any ordinary hooch could hold a candle to the smooth, spicy complexity of a batch of Kentucky’s finest.
<a title="ATG Stores Homepage" href="http://www.atgstores.com/" target="_blank">ATGStores.com</a> would like to toast the craftspeople responsible for what Congress has called a most “distinctive product of the United States” in honor of National Bourbon Heritage Month.