Bartenders Guide to Bourbon
Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that was originally produced in and around Bourbon County in Kentucky. Although Bourbon from other countries can be found, United States regulations state that for a whiskey to be called bourbon, it must be produced in the U.S. as well as meeting other requirements. These include that the whiskey is made from a minimum of 51% corn, be distilled between 80 to 160 proof, and be aged in new, charred oak barrels. The minimum period that a whiskey must be aged for it to be considered bourbon is two years, but most are stored for at least four years.

Bourbon is produced by following the four basic steps of whiskey making. First the grain is mashed and mixed with water then yeast is added and the fermentation process starts. Once the mixture is distilled, the resulting clear liquid is placed in new charred oak barrels for the duration of the aging process. As they mature, their color and flavor change, but it is important that they are not left for too long as over-aging bourbon can produce a woody and unbalanced flavor in the whiskey.


Whiskey has been present in the United States since Scottish, Irish and English settlers arrived in the 18th century, but it was not until the 19th century that bourbon developed a name for itself in association with the original Bourbon County. Similar to the way scotch whiskey is associated to Scotland, bourbon whiskey is associated with Kentucky, leading to bourbon being declared as a “distinctive product identifiable with the United States”.

Bartending Tips

A good quality bourbon whiskey should have a deep amber color and complex aromas including vanilla and oak. In order to truly appreciate the drink, bourbon should be served neat in a whiskey tumbler. It should never be served cold or on ice as this dulls the flavors and aromas of the whiskey. That being said, bourbon is often used in whiskey based cocktails, such as: a Melon Splash, Mint Julep, Whiskey Sour, or many variations of the popular Manhattan.

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