Bourbon 101 - Definitions


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Thanks to the World Wide Web, there is an enormous amount of information available to us every second of every day. Of course, that also means there is an enormous amount of misinformation available as well! When it comes to understanding what all of the words on a bourbon label actually mean, you have to be careful to trust the source.

To help clear things up, here are a few basic definitions for the most common words on a bourbon label:

Bourbon – Use of the word Bourbon is legally protected under Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations as acknowledged in 1964 by the US Congress. To be recognized as Bourbon, the following must be met:

  • Must be made in the United States (any state, not just Kentucky)
  • Must be made of at least 51% corn
  • Must be distilled at no higher than 160 proof
  • Must be barreled at no higher than 125 proof
  • Must be put in a new, charred oak container (not necessarily a barrel)

Straight Bourbon – To be classified as Straight Bourbon, it has to conform to all the guidelines for Bourbon and be aged in that charred oak container for at least 2 years. If it is aged less than 4 years, an age statement must also appear on the label.

Kentucky Straight Bourbon – To be classified Kentucky Straight Bourbon, the guidelines of Straight Bourbon must be adhered to, in addition to having been distilled and aged for at least 1 year in Kentucky.

Finished Bourbon (includes Straight and Kentucky Straight) – This refers to Bourbon that has been modified in some way by the producer. This could include additional aging in a non-new charred oak barrel…such as a wine barrel, adding a flavoring, or some other modification. Legally, these are no longer classified as Bourbon, but simply as Whiskey.

Single Barrel – This implies that all the contents of the bottle came from a single barrel of bourbon.

Small Batch – This implies that all the contents of the bottle came from a small batch of barrels mingled together to achieve a desired taste. Unfortunately, there is no legal definition applied, so the batch could be 10 barrels, 40, barrels, or some other non-descript number of barrels.

Until next time, Cheers!!