Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: What’s the Difference Between Straight Bourbon, Blended Bourbon and Sour Mash Bourbon
There are federal laws regarding the definition of bourbon. Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is made in a particular fashion. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the country, but it is most often associated with its origin site in Kentucky. The mash that the liquor is fermented from must be at least 51% corn and must be distilled to no higher than 80% alcohol. The liquor then must enter the new oak barrel for aging at no more than 62.5% alcohol and bottled with at least 40% alcohol to be considered Kentucky bourbon whiskey.
The description above fits straight Kentucky bourbon whiskey to a tee. Kentucky bourbon whiskey is made from a single batch and aged in a new oak barrel. The liquid that comes out of the barrel is all that you’ll find in the bottle you buy. It is not mixed or blended with any other alcohols. It is, essentially, straight from the barrel.
Blended bourbons are difficult to find. The legal definition of bourbon states that it must come straight from the barrel in a single batch, but some companies may sell a blended whiskey that contains some bourbon. Blending can be used artfully to enhance the texture and flavor of the liquor or it can be used as a money saving technique that destroys the quality. Sometimes neutral grain spirits are used to raise the alcohol content of a blended whiskey and these neutral grain spirits are much less expensive to make. This type of whiskey also tastes much less expensive because some of that oak barrel aging is watered down. Other companies might blend together particularly fine whiskeys to achieve a particularly palatable and deep taste. These whiskeys tend to be more expensive.
Sour mash is a technique in making bourbon to preserve the flavor from one batch to another. A whiskey maker wants to make his mark and wants his whiskey to stand out while tasting the same from batch to batch. Bourbon flavor is difficult to control from year to year because the liquor comes straight and cannot be blended to achieve flavor control. So, the whiskey maker uses some of the mash from last year’s batch to make the new batch. This mash is referred to as the sour mash and translates the distinctive flavor from year to year. You can count on sour mash bourbons as the taste will be incredibly consistent and will not change over the years.