Bourbon is considered to be the the most well known of all types of American whiskey in the United States. Bourbon is incredibly popular, so much that our distillers can not make enough of it. Ridgemont Reserve, Wild Turkey, and Jim Beam are under the umbrella of “straight whiskeys“. They are each identified as such on their labels.
There are requirements which must be adhered to quite strictly, in order for something to be called a straight whiskey. One is that it needs to be made in the U.S. Almost all bourbon is made in Kentucky at this time, but it does not need to be. The “mash bill“, or grain formula, is required to have at least 51 percent corn. It must be aged for a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels. Also, it may not be distilled at higher than 80 percent alcohol by volume, and it must not go in the barrel at higher than 62.5 percent alcohol. The requirements have been put in order to keep to the high standards of consistency and quality.
There are other straight whiskeys that have strict requirements, as well. These include straight wheat and straight rye whiskeys. The difference with them is the main type of grain that is used in them.
When you go into a bar and order a bourbon, you will likely be handed a glass of Jack Daniel’s. This is actually a misunderstanding, because it is not exactly a bourbon. It is created in the same way, except for one more step. Once the spirit has been distilled, and before going into the barrel for the aging process, it is placed in vats of sugar maple charcoal to be “mellowed”. The flavor is changed somewhat with this step, and is described as being a bit sooty and sweeter than bourbon.
Even though bourbon must be created from a mash that has 51 percent corn or more, you will typically find that it has 70 to 80 percent corn. The rest is made up of malted barley and rye. The “spice” that is in bourbon is actually the rye. This does not need to be used in the bourbon, but it contributes nicely to the flavor. You will understand its contribution, if you have ever eaten rye bread.
Wheat is sometimes substituted for rye, in certain brands of bourbon. Maker’s Mark is one example of this, and it is typically a bit less bold. Some people prefer a more bold flavor that comes from rye bourbon, while others prefer the more approachable wheat bourbon. Although straight rye whiskey has been ignored for decades, it is making a big comeback in cocktails made by mixologists these days.