Bourbon 101

Bourbon, the much beloved and uniquely American whiskey, gets its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky. It was first distilled in the area in the late 1700s by westbound British, Irish and Scottish settlers.

In 1964, the US Congress established federal regulations for producing the spirit. Bourbon must be made from a mash (the base mixture of grain and water) that is at least 51 percent corn. The rest of the mash is made up of rye, wheat and/or malted barley. Unlike Scotch or cognac, bourbon must by law be aged in new, charred oak barrels. (The used barrels are then sold to distilleries around the world to age a range of alcohols, including Scotch, tequila and rum.) The spirit’s beautiful amber color comes from the wood that it is aged in for at least two years; distillers can’t add any color to the finished product. Bourbon also has to be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof (40 percent alcohol by volume).

Over the last ten years, bourbon has seen a rapid rise in popularity around the world. Demand has grown so much that distillers are having trouble keeping up. What’s driving sales are premium, small-batch bourbons, including Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek, Russell’s Reserve and Michter’s. Whether you’re in Louisville, New York or even Melbourne, Australia, you won’t have to look hard to find a bottle of good bourbon.

Here’s a shot of spelling with your glass of bourbon: Whisky from Scotland, Canada and Japan is spelled without an “e.” Whiskey from Ireland and the United States is usually spelled with an “e.”


Purists drink bourbon straight, but it’s often served in a rocks glass with a few ice cubes and a splash of water, in what industry legend and Jim Beam’s grandson Booker Noe called “Kentucky iced tea.” Like most whiskies, bourbon works well with club soda and ginger ale. The spirit is also the base for many classic American cocktails, including the Mint Julep, Old Fashioned, Presbyterian, Horse’s Neck, Ward Eight and Brown Derby.


1792, A. H. Hirsch, Baker’s, Basil Hayden’s, Black Maple Hill, Blanton’s, Booker’s, Buffalo Trace, Bulleit, Eagle Rare, Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, Four Roses, Jefferson’s, Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark, Michter’s, Noah’s Mill, Old Crow, Old Forester, Old Grand-Dad, Old Rip Van Winkle, Rebel Yell, Rowan’s Creek, Sam Houston, Wild Turkey, Willett, Woodford Reserve

Learn all about even more types of liquor in our Spirits 101 stories on absinthecognacginIrish whiskeyrumrye whiskeyScotchtequila and vodka.

Locations: Kentucky
Series & Type: History Products101
Appears in 1 Collection

From our Friends



  • Ed Adams posted 4 years ago

    Bourbon was created by Scotch-Irish immigrants. They were British ONLY in the sense that they were subjects of the British crown. They were ONLY Irish in the sense that they immigrated to America from Ireland. The Scotch-Irish were actually Scottish - not Irish. They were immigrants from Scottish communities in Northern Ireland that were settled after James I of England (also James VI of Scotland) opened a plantation on seized properties in Northern Ireland. The proof is that bourbon was distilled - until modern distillation methods - by the same dual distillation that has been used in Scotland for hundreds of years. It is also the same dual distillation used by Scotch-Irish of Appalachia in the manufacture of moonshine.

  • Hugh posted 4 years ago

    Second from end WILLETT

  • Chad R. posted 6 years ago

    No Willett? Who's making these lists?

~ all comments loaded ~
Next Article
Are you smarter than
your bartender?

Think you know the booze?
Let’s start with some basics.