Bourbon is a distinctly American type of whiskey. Whiskey is an alcoholic distillate from a fermented mash of grain.
- Bourbon must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.
- Bourbon must be produced in the United States of America.
- Bourbon must be stored in charred, new oak containers.
- Bourbon may not be distilled in excess of 160 proof; it may not enter the barrel in excess of 125 proof; it must be bottled at 80 proof or higher.
Bourbon has no minimum aging requirements, despite various claims that it must be 2 or 4 years old. However, to be called "straight," it must mature for at least 2 years in new, charred oak. If it is younger than 4 years, the label must declare an age statement. Age statements reflect the youngest whiskey in a blend of bourbons (e.g. a blend of 21 year old bourbon and 2 year old bourbon is a "2 year old bourbon," even if the majority of the blend is 21).
Distillers may add proofing water to bourbon, but nothing else. It is illegal to add coloring or flavoring agents to bourbon (unlike rum, for example). Bourbons that are transferred to rum or wine barrels for additional flavor/maturation may be called "Bourbons finished in [whatever] casks."
Labels must reflect the state of distillation if the whiskey was bottled in a state other than the one where it was distilled.
To recap, if you see an "Alabama Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks. Produced in Kansas," now you know that:
- You are drinking a majority corn whiskey, which was distilled in Alabama.
- It matured in a new, charred oak barrel (somewhere) for at least 2 years, and most likely more than 4.
- It was transferred to an ex-Sherry cask for at least one day.
- It was bottled in Kansas.
Our methodology and grading scale
For a vast majority of the whiskeys reviewed on this site, we've each tasted the whiskey, made independent notes, and discussed/compared. Generally, we'll do a second tasting to confirm our initial impressions before assigning a "gut grade" of A+ through F. We vary the vessels we use to taste whiskey, especially with whiskeys we've consumed many times, but we generally use Glencairn glasses.
A+: Legendary: A truly amazing whiskey that we probably spent way too much $ on.
A-B+: Outstanding: A well-balanced, delicious whiskey that we'd give as a special gift.
B-C+: Good: A whiskey with character but some negative qualities.
C-D+: Not awful: but not something we'd buy again for ourselves or as a gift.
D-F: Awful: Will actively tell others to avoid, even at a $8/bottle.