The Normans learned how to make Calvados from apples, the Mexicans get tequila and mezcal from agave, the Koreans became famous for their persimmon wine, and the English drink Gin is made from juniper berries. Why not remember bourbon! It is an American whiskey made from corn, which has long been considered the country’s main agricultural product.
There is no doubt about the name “bourbon”, which came from the name of the county of Bourbon, located in Kentucky. Here, in the city of Georgetown, a drink was born that became the property of America. And although Kentucky claims that only they make real bourbon, officially bourbon is allowed to be produced throughout the United States.
English producer of whiskey Thomas Robert Dewar, who introduced the whole world to this product, said: “Love moves the world, yes, but whiskey rotates it twice as fast.”
Most whiskeys produced in the USA are bourbon. It is considered the national drink of America. During the war years, bourbon became a comrade, that washed away their wounds. A glass of bourbon was a constant companion of people of different classes, from farmer to banker.
The famous New York musician and jazz player Eddie Condon once joked that the best cure for a hangover is the simplest recipe – you just need to squeeze the juice from two bottles of bourbon.
History of Bourbon began with the White Dog
Since ancient times, US farmers dealing with grain, conducted a small but profitable parallel business for the production of fire water (whiskey of some sort) from grain residues. After the government tried to introduce a distilled alcohol tax, the owners of agricultural estates rebelled, expressing their displeasure. They began to move to the western provinces, exploring new lands, where there were suitable conditions for the cultivation of corn.
In the late 70s of the 18th century, during the American Revolutionary War, the US government encouraged locals by distributing free land for planting corn. In the absence of demand for this product, farmers began to use corn to produce a strong sweet drink. It was sold immediately after distillation, and for its crystal clarity this drink was called the “White Dog”.
At the beginning of the 19th century, two thousand Kentucky farmers had their own distilleries, and a strong alcoholic drink significantly brightened the life of the local population, exactly meeting the social request. The first advertisement for bourbon with its name dates back to 1821.
The Prohibition of 1920 caused massive damage to whiskey (or bourbon) production. The number of distilleries was reduced at times, and the drink migrated to the cellars of conspiratorial manufacturers and to drugstore shelves, where it was offered as a medicine, which could be prescribed on a doctor’s prescription for half a liter every 10 days.
Illegal bourbon become the real “blood of America”, nourishing the whole country during the years of the ban on alcohol. In harsh conditions of survival, bourbon replaced the rum, which was popular in those years, and brandy, and scotch. Its success was explained by the cheapness of raw materials, the rapid maturity of the drink and its attractive organoleptic properties.
After the prohibition was abolished in 1934, bourbon finally emerged from the underground. In 1964, the name “bourbon” was enshrined in the country at the legislative level, it received freedom and its share of long-won fame. Bourbon began to be made not only in Kentucky, but also in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Montana.
Making Bourbon through the flame and years
The technology of bourbon preparation was finalized only in the 1930s. It differs from the production of whiskey only in the absence of a stage of malting the grain. The crushed grain fraction is mixed with water, subjected to heat treatment, fermentation and saccharification, and only then distillation begins. Then, the future bourbon ripens in burnt oak barrels, acquiring color and aroma.
Fire plays a significant role in the production of bourbon, although not directly, but through the barrels in which it is stored. The intensity of the color, taste and aroma of the drink changes depending on the degree of roasting the barrel. Some producers of bourbon try to burn barrels very weakly, while others bring them to the state of “alligator burning”, in which the wood is charred and almost starts to burn, becoming similar to the skin of a crocodile.
The ingenious decision of roasting came by chance. There is a legend on this subject that the barrel maker bent the steamed boards for his barrels over an open fire and accidentally overexposed them. He poured whiskey into these charred barrels and sent his cargo on a long river trip, during which the taste and color of the drink changed for the better, becoming beautiful, rich and saturated. People liked this whiskey with a caramel-vanilla flavor and a color reminiscent of molten gold, and they ordered it, calling by the marking on the barrels, where it was written: “Bourbon County.”
There are facts that pouring corn distillate into burnt barrels was invented by Baptist priest Elijah Craig. In his honor, the traditional 12-year-old bourbon was later named.
To achieve a constant taste of bourbon, manufacturers guessed to blend it from barrels of different ages and different locations in the basement. Today this is already a common practice, and each distillery carefully preserves the secret of its blend.
Bourbon filtered through maple charcoal is bottled. For special gourmets, there is a special unfiltered bourbon, which retains the sharp nuances of carbonized oak.
Bourbon is a child of corn
Any bourbon is whiskey, but not every whiskey is destined to become bourbon.
The main condition for whiskey to be considered bourbon – at least 51% of corn should be in its composition. The remaining raw materials are rye and barley.
An important requirement is that alcohol must be distilled with a strength of not more than 80% (which is 160 Proof), aged in new burnt oak barrels for at least two years and bottled with a strength of 40% (80 Proof) to 62.5% alcohol.
Whiskey is divided into malt Malt whiskey, Grain whiskey, mixed Blended whiskey and bourbon itself. In the American version, the letter “e” is added to the word whiskey.
There are two types of American whiskey: straight and blended. Bourbon is the first direct type of whiskey.
Straight is a cereal distillate consisting of 51% homogeneous cereal and 49% heterogeneous cereal mixtures. In the United States, for the manufacture of whiskey, only 4 types of cereals are used: corn, rye, wheat and barley. In straight, no additives are ever used. They have no colorants or flavors.
Classification of Bourbon or straight American whiskey
- Bourbon, consisting of 51% of corn.
- Wheat whiskey or bourbon with wheat or “wheated” bourbon, which in addition to the mandatory “bourbon-forming” 51% of corn contains 49% of wheat. The most famous brand in this class is Maker’s Mark bourbon.
- Tennessee whiskey, known for slow filtering through sugar maple charcoal and having a soft and delicate taste.
- Rye whiskey, in which rye replaces corn.
- Corn whiskey, containing 80% of corn and not regulated by exposure time. For this type of lowest grade whiskey, aging is not necessary at all.
Bourbon has a characteristic sweetness of taste. For those accustomed to Scotch whiskey, it may seem heavy. The alcohol content in it is from 40 to 51% (with an average value of 43%). In America, the country of cocktails, it is often used as the basis for all kinds of mixed alcoholic drinks.
Blanton’s bourbon, America’s most iconic drink
The joke about how a seasoned bourbon arrogantly refused to pour into a plastic cup has a certain truth in it.
The most expensive bourbon to date is considered AH Hirsch Reserve, made in 1974 in the Pennsylvania city of Shefferstown at the Michter’s distillery. This bourbon was poured in 1990 according to the ancient traditions of Kentucky. Its standard bottle will cost bourbon lovers $300.
Iconic bourbons have raised the entire industry to an incredibly high level. Whiskeys from a single malt distillery, whiskeys from a small batch of small batch barrels and whiskeys from a single barrel have been the subject of desire for thousands of lovers of high-quality strong drinks.
The first premium bourbon was Blanton’s Single Barrel. Colonel Albert Bacon Blanton, managing director of George T. Stagg Distillery, had an incredible flair for creating his own alcoholic masterpieces. He used the best barrels, knew how to make the best blends, and thanks to personal connections he could arrange things in such a way that even in the most difficult times for the industry, when only four distilleries were legally allowed to work in the United States, he managed to be one of these successful lucky ones.
Blanton’s flourishing distillery was later renamed Buffalo Trace Distillery. One of the most famous bourbons of this company is Blanton’s brand. Its original bottles showing a saddled horse are recognizable and loved throughout America. The long list of gold and silver medals won by Blanton’s bourbon in across years of maturity is extensive and impressive.
Each bottle of traditional Blanton’s bourbon is manually written with the date of bottling, the number of barrels and bottles, the exact location of the barrel at a special warehouse is required to be indicated. This allows conditions for a special optimal temperature and humidity regime necessary for the maturing of bourbon. Bottling is also carried out not by the conveyor method, but manually. At the same time, a strict commission of five tasters approves the product for release only with a unanimous decision on each barrel. If at least one taster doubts the taste, the entire barrel is discarded.
Blanton’s patriotic bourbon is famous for its unmatched taste and smell. Its aroma consists of honey-caramel sweetness that harmoniously combines with citrus-pepper freshness. The corn in the mesh reaches 80%, and the barrel firing corresponds to the fourth degree in a five-point system.
Jim Beam’s bourbon
Among the most popular bourbons in the world, there is a name that resembles the clink of touching glass goblets. Its called Jim Beam. Glorified in Zemfira’s song, Jim Beam has held a steady first place in sales for more than two hundred years in a row, delighting fans of strong alcohol with his perfect taste. The founder of the company, Jim Beam, was Jacob Beam, who moved with his family to Kentucky in the late 18th century.
Having become a miller, Jacob milled flour for the surrounding farmers, who paid him with their grain. The most reliable and profitable method of preserving grain was through distillation. Alcohol was not threatened by the prospect of spoiling, and in addition, it was a kind of currency. Jacob Beam set up production of bourbon from finely ground corn in his mill mixed with rye and malt.
The first barrel of bourbon was sold in 1795, and after a quarter of a century, a successful enterprise was transferred to the hands of his son David, who became not only the managing company, but also its main distiller. The successful business was facilitated by the opening of the Erie Canal, greatly simplifying the transport problem. The Gold Rush also favored the heyday of the company, when thousands of Native Americans and immigrants of all stripes rushed west, and demand for bourbon went uphill.
David, the younger Beam, took over the company of his father and grandfather in 1850. The plant was relocated to Nelson County, where the first Kentucky railroad ran, and was named “Clean Source Distillery.” His son named James Bergard Beam became interested in the affairs of his father at a young age of sixteen.
In 1894, James Bergard Beam, abbreviated Jim Beam, began to independently manage the company, and did it brilliantly over the next 52 years. The company was temporarily closed only during the Prohibition period, when the hereditary bourbon maker was forced to grow oranges and lemons in Florida, engage in the extraction of coal and manage limestone quarry.
Returning to his beloved business in 1934, Jim Beam founded the alcohol company The James B. Beam Distilling Co in Clermont (Kentucky), and eleven years later transferred it to the safe hands of his son T. Jeremy.
Under the direction of President T. Jeremy, the distiller of Jim Beam was the work of his talented nephew F. Bucker Noé the Younger, under whose control magnificent bourbons were born. Bucker has become the Honorary Main Distiller of Jim Beam branded bourbons, beloved by everyone for the highest quality, rich round taste and airy aroma with subtle floral-woody notes.
The subtleties of bourbon production, studied by great-great-grandfather Jacob, preserved by great-grandfather David, studied by grandfather David the Younger and passed on by father Jim, came in handy to the son of T. Jeremy and his nephew F. Bucker Noé, the seventh-generation Bim, to create the very best bourbons in the world.