Bourbon whiskey

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Bourbon is a type of American whiskey – a distilled spirit made primarily from corn (maize). The name of the spirit derives from its historical association with an area known as Old Bourbon, around what is now Bourbon County, Kentucky (which, in turn, got its name from the French House of Bourbon royal family). It has been produced since the 18th century. While it may be made anywhere in the United States, it is strongly associated with Kentucky.

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Legal requirements

On May 4, 1964, the United States Congress recognized Bourbon Whiskey as a "distinctive product of the United States." The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 C.F.R. 5.22) state that bourbon must meet these requirements:

  • Bourbon must be made of a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn (maize).[1]
  • Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume).
  • Neither coloring nor flavoring may be added.
  • Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.[1]
  • Bourbon must be entered into the barrel at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).
  • Bourbon, like other whiskeys, must be bottled at not less than 80 proof (40% alcohol by volume.)
  • Bourbon that meets the above requirements and has been aged for a minimum of two years may (but is not required to) be called Straight Bourbon.[2]
  • Straight Bourbon aged for a period less than four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging.
  • If an age is stated on the label, it must be the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle.
  • Only whiskey produced in the United States can be called bourbon.[3]

In practice, almost all bourbons marketed today are made from more than two-thirds corn, have been aged at least four years, and do qualify as "straight bourbon"—with or without the "straight bourbon" label. The exceptions are inexpensive commodity brands of bourbon aged only three years and pre-mixed cocktails made with straight bourbon aged the minimum two years. However, a few small distilleries market bourbons aged for as little as three months.

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