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Bourbon questions and answers

+ What is the difference between whiskey, bourbon and scotch?

Short answer: A Whiskey is a spirit made by distilling malted grain. A Bourbon is a Whiskey typically made in the USA, by using at least 51% corn. Scotch is a Whiskey exclusively made in Scotland, by using malted barley. It’s normally spelled without an E (Whisky).

+ Will exposure to sunlight damage whiskey or other spirits?

There may be some degradation over time, but to be honest, you’re more likely to notice oxidation from small air leaks in the cork over that time than you will from sunlight. It also depends on the type of bottle - green glass bottles allow less light to pass through than clear glass bottles. However, this kind of degradation might take years to become apparent, and unless you’re keeping this bottle as an heirloom or for collecting, you probably will finish it long before any effects become noticeable.

+ Does bourbon get better with age?

If you keep the 8 year old bourbon on your bar shelf for 8 more years, the bourbon is still only 8 years old. So, the aging process stops when the distillery bottled the bourbon.

+ How do bourbon distilleries work?

Bourbon Distilleries essentially distill beer. Of course it is a little more complicated than that.

First of all bourbon must be made with a mash bill (grain recipe) of at least 51% corn. Most distilleries use a mash bill of corn, malted barley, and either rye or wheat for additional flavor. The grains are milled and then cooked in a mash cooker.

The mash is then fermented using yeast. The yeast first eat all of the oxygen and reproduce rapidly, then they begin to eat all the sugar and produce alcohol as a by product. This is the distiller’s beer. Once fermentation is complete the distiller’s beer is put on the still. Most bourbon is make on a column still but some smaller distilleries use a pot still. The mash goes on the still at around 7–9% abc but comes off as a very high proof spirit. A still heats the mash to the point where the alcohol becomes vapor but the water does not. The alcoholic vapors condense at the top and then you have distiller’s wine, otherwise known as new make or white dog. It can’t be more than 160 proof.

The wine is then cut with water to no more than 125 proof and put into the barrel. The barrel has to be a new, charred, oak barrel. That means it is charred on the inside and can’t have been used for any other product before. It ages in a warehouse called a rackhouse or sometimes a rickhouse. There is no legal requirement for how long you have to age it but most distilleries age for at least 2 years and 4–12 years is considered a good window for flavor.

At the distillery there will usually be a large number of distillers who are in charge of not just making the mash and distilling it but also for tasting barrels, blending barrels, and creating new products.

+ How do you make the smoothest bourbons?

There are a few ways of making a whiskey “smoother” - distillation is one of them (where you “cut” the spirit makes a difference, as does the size and shape of the stills). The other main one is maturation in charred oak casks, which are burnt on the inside to create a layer of carbon. This layer works as a filter, making the liquid smoother to the palate.

Another example of carbon in whiskey filtration is the Lincoln County Process, used by Jack Daniel’s (not a bourbon but great for the example) - in this case, the liquid is filtered through or steeped in carbon chips before maturation for added smoothness.

+ Is bonded Bourbon the same as bottled in bond?

Yes. Bonding is the process of making sure the taxes are paid and therefore the booze is legal. Warehouses and producers need to be licensed and bonded by ATF in the US and other agencies elsewhere.

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