September is National Bourbon Month. As the weather cools off (OK, everywhere except Southern California), it's a good time to consider one of the finest drinks made in America. Uncork a bottle, pour a little into a snifter, add a little pour of cool spring water, and lean back. Here are five things you may not have known about bourbon.
5. It doesn't have to be from Bourbon County, Kentucky.
That's right… bourbon can hail from any point in these United States and still legally be called bourbon. What's odd is that this rule only applies for bourbon produced for domestic consumption. When produced for export, all bets are off. Still, most bourbon comes from Kentucky, and if it says Kentucky bourbon, it has to be from Kentucky.
4. Bourbon County, Kentucky is a “wet” county.
Kentucky gives counties the local option when it comes to alcohol sales. Internet lore insists that Bourbon County is a “dry” (i.e., alcohol-free) county. This is not true; in fact, all the counties along the Kentucky Bourbon trail are “wet,” including the homes of Maker's Mark, Bulleit, Jim Beam and Woodford Reserve.
3. Jim Beam is bourbon; Jack Daniels is not.
Jack Daniels is filtered through charcoal in a step called the Lincoln County Process; bourbon is not allowed to go through this step according to the federal laws regarding the naming of whiskey, so it's called “Tennessee whiskey” instead.
2. Bourbon is distilled at up to 160 proof.
Like most distilled liquors, bourbon is distilled at liver-destroying concentrations of alcohol, then tempered with water before and after aging in new charred white oak barrels. The bourbons you buy in the bottle are typically 80 to 100 proof, which makes it possible to have a couple of glasses before you start embarrassing yourself.
1. Many bourbon distilleries also produce rye.
Bourbon has to be distilled from at least 51% corn, and rye whiskey must be distilled from at least 51% rye. The two are closely related, but the difference between the two is obvious: bourbon is sweeter than rye, and rye has a slightly smoky, grassy flavor absent from bourbon.