America’s magic spirit, born of corn, is finding fascinating new ways into our hearts

By Tali Dalbah


Technically, In order to qualify as “bourbon,” whiskey must be distilled from a minimum of 51% corn and aged in charred new oak casks.

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If the whiskey is aged for at least two years and made without any added coloring or flavoring, it may be labeled as “straight” bourbon. If aged for less than four years, the distiller must also state the length of aging time on the bottle.

More than 95% of bourbon whiskey is produced in Kentucky, though it may legally be produced anywhere in the U.S.
Whereas many American whiskies rely on newly charred wood barrels to contribute flavor to the spirit, scotch relies on used bourbon and sherry casks for a more subtle wood spirit interaction.

Bourbon is America’s only native spirit, as declared by a 1964 U.S. Congressional Resolution.

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One style of bourbon, made famous by Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel, is produced in Tennessee. According to state legislation passed in 2013, Tennessee whiskey must be filtered with maple charcoal prior to aging and must be manufactured in the state. Like Kentucky bourbon, it is made from at least 51% corn and aged in new, charred oak barrels. It is a sour mash whiskey, a style utilized by many bourbon distillers, in which a portion of spent mash is incorporated into a newly fermenting mash.

During World War II, distilleries throughout Kentucky and Tennessee were retooled to make fuel alcohol and to ferment penicillin cultures.

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In Kentucky, bourbon is an $8.5 billion industry, generating 17,500 jobs and producing an annual payroll of $800 million. The industry produces about 300 bottles per person in the state.

Distilled spirit exports from the U.S. topped $2 billion in 2016, with Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey constituting more than $1 billion of that amount, making it the largest export category among U.S. distilled spirits.

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