Bourbon is a type of whiskey that has a rich history and a unique production process. In order to be considered a bourbon, the whiskey must adhere to six strict guidelines set by the U.S. government. This article will delve into the process of making bourbon and highlight the key steps involved in producing this iconic American spirit.
Understanding the Mash Bill
The first step in the process of making bourbon is to understand the grain mixture or mash bill. According to the guidelines, at least 51% of the grain content must be corn, with other grains such as malted barley, rye, and wheat also contributing to the final flavor. These grains are combined with water and yeast to create the bourbon mash, which is then fermented, distilled twice, and aged in oak barrels before bottling.
The Importance of Barrel-Making
The barrel-making process is just as important as any other part of whiskey creation. Coopers purchase Missouri American oak wood, age it for 2 to 5 years, shape it into a barrel, attach a ring to keep it all together, heat and char it, then cool, cauterize, seal, sand, and ship it. Only then is the barrel ready to be filled with bourbon. The use of new, charred oak barrels is crucial as it imparts unique flavors and colors to the whiskey as it ages.
Aging and Bottling
The bourbon must be aged for at least two years to be called straight bourbon whiskey and at least four years to be called bottled-in-bond bourbon. The master distiller at a distillery sample the bourbon from the barrel and decides when it’s ready to be bottled. Tasting all that bourbon is not as easy as it may sound, with the master distiller having to avoid smoking, wearing perfume, and spitting a lot. The master distiller also has to calibrate her senses using scent jars to pick up on flavor notes. The bourbon is then bottled through an automated process and shipped to your local liquor store.
The Use of Sour Mash
The use of sour mash, a leftover liquid from a previous batch, is a tradition used to create consistency in flavor across batches. This process ensures that each batch of bourbon has the same taste profile, allowing distilleries to maintain their signature flavor. The specific ratios and processes used to create bourbon are decided by each individual distillery, giving each brand its unique character.
In conclusion, the production of bourbon is a complex and multi-step process that requires attention to detail and a deep understanding of the ingredients and processes involved. From the mash bill to the barrel-making process, every step plays a crucial role in creating the final product. Whether you are a seasoned whiskey drinker or a newcomer to the world of bourbon, understanding the process of making this iconic spirit will give you a greater appreciation for the work that goes into each bottle.