The ABCs of Bourbon

Did you know that bourbon was declared the national spirit by Congress in 1964? Fifty years later, whiskey is the fastest growing category in spirits, and millenials consume more spirits than any other generation while drinking less beer and wine. Based on current growth rate, it’s predicted that in just six short years, by 2020, bourbon consumption will double.

Our team had a fantastic opportunity to learn more about this type of whiskey from a local expert, David Kearns from Jim Beam, one of the oldest distilleries in America.

A Little History
The story begins in the United States in 1764, even before the U.S. Declaration of Independence was signed. Scottish and Irish immigrants moved in to the country with their stills, and a history of distillation from their native lands of Ireland and Scotland. Because corn grew abundantly and farmers had a surplus, they turned to distilling it as a way to use their surplus grain. Corn was America’s native grain, it became the basis of their new whiskey, with malted barley or rye added in for some flavor muscle.

Aging in barrels actually was a mistake, as they were originally stored in jugs and other earthenware. Thankfully, the barrels were burned to sanitize them because they were used for everything, from storing pickles to fish to nails. Over time, the distillers noticed that the charring actually mellowed the flavor; therefore, the quality of wood and depth of char became more important to the process.

By the early 1800s there were 2,000 independent whiskey producers, including Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, and Mark Brown (Brown Foreman). When prohibition occurred between 1918-1933, only five whiskey producers survived, mostly because they were able to sell their current stock medicinally. No surprise, consumption of alcohol actually increased during prohibition – most of it was smuggled in from other countries to satiate the American thirst. For comparison, today there are seven major distilleries and eight minors, but with recent legislation, Washington state currently has more distilleries than Kentucky, where most of the bourbon is made.

Bourbon is a type of whiskey, but there are certain laws to be able to call it Bourbon, these are the A, B, C’s of Bourbon:
A-America. All bourbon must be made in America (fun fact: 96% is currently made in Kentucky)
B-Barrel. All bourbon must be aged in a brand new, American oak charred barrel, which can only be used once.
C-Corn. Bourbon must made be with at least 51% corn.
D-Distilled. The law states that a bourbon can be distilled to 160 proof.
E-Entered. Distillers cannot enter the barrel for aging at higher than 125 proof. Water is used to bring it to 125 proof if distilled to more than 125.
F-Filled. Bourbon cannot be bottled at less than 80 proof.
G-Genuine. No flavoring or color can be added for it to be called bourbon.

Jim Beam has 1.2 million barrels of whiskey stored in Kentucky right now, with 57 rack houses (where the whiskey is aged and stored). Currently they are producing 650 barrels of whiskey a day while pulling 500 barrels a day, positioning themselves for the predicted growth in popularity in the coming years.

After this fantastic overview of Bourbon, our team set in to taste eight different bourbons from the Jim Beam portfolio, starting with the Knob Creek White Dog – nothing like a 134.5 proof bam in our mouths to wake us all up! We made the rounds to Maker’s Mark (one of the top 25 most identifiable brands in the world), followed by the fairly new Maker’s Mark 46 – which was just introduced in 2011. We continued through our placemat of tastes to Basil Hayden – dubbed a beginner whiskey and one of the fastest growing bourbons in the country, followed by Booker’s, to Knob Creek 9 year, Knob Creek Single barrel, Knob Creek Rye, and lastly, Yamakazi – a Japanese single malt whiskey.

Interested in expanding your bourbon knowledge? We invite you taste these bourbons, and some of our unique cocktails: El Gaucho Bellevue is currently offering a Sazerac and Gaucho Mule, featuring the exclusive El Gaucho Knob Creek Rye, which bar captains Dasha Mulein and Lonnie Anderson hand blended on a recent trip to Kentucky. Click here to read more about their experience.

We are proud to share the passion and stories behind creating the world-class products we enjoy from our trusted brands like Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Knob Creek, and we look forward to imparting the knowledge we gained with our guests. Cheers!


Leave a Reply