Kentuckians have plenty of reasons to be proud of their state. Besides hosting the country’s most famous horse race, Kentucky is home to Bourbon county, which may be where bourbon was first made, named, and loved.
So, bourbon aficionados could be forgiven for believing that bourbon can only be made in Kentucky — after all, 95% of it is (via Kentucky Distillers Association). But the idea’s a myth nonetheless. The relatively small amount of bourbon that is produced elsewhere in the United States, can still legally be labeled bourbon, so long as it meets the same strict requirements that distilleries in Kentucky have to meet.
First of all, bourbon must be made with a mixture of grains (or mash) that is at least 51% corn. The remaining 49% can be any combination of rye, wheat, or barley. This is one of several things that distinguishes it from other whiskeys. Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Greg Davis notes “Bourbon needs to be produced in America and made from 51 percent corn, and whiskey does not” (via Men’s Journal).
Most, but not all, bourbon is made in Kentucky
Bourbon must also be stored in charred, new oak barrels, and cannot have any colors or flavorings added to it. And finally, it has to meet specific ABV (alcohol by volume) levels: the mash has to be distilled at 160 proof (or, 80% alcohol) or less, it has to be aged in barrels until it’s no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol), and then bottled at no less than 80 proof (or 40% alcohol) (via msn.com).
If any of these conditions aren’t met, you’ll have whiskey, not bourbon. As the old saying goes, “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.”
As for bourbons that are made in Kentucky, the bluegrass state does rightfully lay claim to unique climate patterns and limestone filtered water that are specially suited to producing top-quality bourbon (via Kentucky Distillers Association). “Kentucky” and “bourbon” will be synonymous in the minds of Americans for a long time to come.
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