13 Things You Need To Know About Bourbon

America’s spirit has a rich and interesting history. Brought to you by Jim Beam® Bourbon, making history with Kentucky Straight Bourbon since 1795.

1. Bourbon was designated “America’s Native Spirit” by a Congressional Act in 1964

…and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

2. Kentucky Straight Bourbon has two main ingredients

Dwight Sipler / CC BY http://2.0 / Flickr: photofarmer


Corn mash and limestone filtered water.

…and one essential maturation technique.

Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

Bourbon must be aged inside a new oak barrel with a charred inner skin. “Straight bourbon” must be aged for at least two years.

3. All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.

Whiskey includes any spirit made from grain in an open barrel and bottled above 80 proof. Bourbon meets those standards, but for a whiskey to be a bourbon, it must also be made of 51% corn mash and aged in a charred oak barrel. Bourbon need not be distilled in Kentucky, though many of the oldest bourbons are.

4. Bourbon’s Kentucky roots are the result of a rebel insurrection.

The National Guard / CC BY http://2.0 / Via Flickr: 33252741@N08

In 1794, farmers in Pennsylvania rebelled after the government levied a tax on whiskey. George Washington sent 15,000 troops to quash the rebels. Some surrendered, others fled to Kentucky where they resumed distilling.

5. Bourbon gets its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky.

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In the late 19th century, distillers sent whiskey downriver from Bourbon County to New Orleans. This became known as “The Whiskey from Bourbon,” and then just “bourbon.”

6. We can thank the French for bourbon’s distinctive and delicious maturation process.

Frenchmen in New Orleans preferred the mellow flavors of bourbon that aged in the barrel during its journey downriver. Kentucky distillers noticed the preference and began aging all their products.

7. Whiskey is the most heavenly spirit around.

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Some of the liquid in a bourbon barrel evaporates each year. This missing whiskey is known as “the angel’s share.” For older bourbons aged 12 - 18 years, as much as 75% of the original volume can be lost to the angels.

8. The wood stopper that plugs a bourbon barrel is called a “bung.”

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And now you know.

9. Bourbon barrels were burned in huge pyres during prohibition.

Imagno / Contributor / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Who knows how many rich and rare bourbons were lost forever to the world…

10.Liquid gold” doesn’t just refer to bourbon’s distinctive color.

Jeremy Hudson / Getty Images

A single glass of rare aged bourbon can go for $100 or more — that’s more than the price of a full barrel of oil (the other liquid gold).

11. Abraham Lincoln reportedly lifted a full bourbon barrel and took a drink from its spigot to win a bet.

FPG / Getty Images

Good Guy Lincoln made the bet to relieve the debts of a friend. He succeeded by squatting and lifting the 400-pound barrel onto his knees. Then he tilted his head around to reach the spigot and took a gulp. But Lincoln, a notorious teetotaler, spit the alcohol out.

12. Unaged bourbon is known as White Dog — but beware, this dog has a bite.

Chemically, White Dog is no different from the moonshine of the prohibition era —though today’s version is quality controlled and perfectly safe to consume.

13. Connoisseurs enjoy bourbon with a drop or two of pure spring water.

The water cuts the harshness of the alcohol and allows you to enjoy the complex flavors imparted to the bourbon during its maturation.

But frankly, it’s good any way you like it.

Jim Beam® is a registered trademark of Jim Beam Brands Co. and is used with permission.
Jim Beam® Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 40% Alc./Vol. ©2014 James B. Beam Distilling Co., Clermont, KY

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