With my new love for bourbon (I can still taste my Mint Julep), I dove in to taste testing. On a Monday night, some bars remain closed, no doubt to recuperate from a crazy weekend.
I managed to find one southern establishment in Ottawa open to satisfy my curiosity for bourbon. Fat Boys Smokehouse. Food so authentic, a gentleman who shall remain nameless, from the south, swears it tasted like home. True story.
Unique to Fat Boy’s is their homemade bourbon, called Bacon Bourbon. It’s made with Jim Beam Black and their own concoction of bacon and other spices. So, if you LOVE bacon, all I have to say is 34 Murray Street. Tonight.
The bartender, Cat, is still learning the extensive ins and outs of bourbon but was able to offer plenty of information.
Collectively, through her and poking around in other places, here is what I’ve learned.
With its close relation to whiskey, bourbon is identified by law for its content. Yes, there are laws for how bourbon is made.
The mash (the grains used to distill) must contain at least 51% corn. The rest can be any combination of barley, rye, rice, oats or wheat.
For it to be called Bourbon, the mash has to be distilled at a maximum of 80% alcohol by volume (ABV) and transferred to a barrel when it has reached no more than 62.5% ABV. When it is bottled, it has to be at least 40% ABV.
The percentages drop due to evaporation. Alcohol evaporates at 172 degrees and water at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. If more water evaporates, you’ll have a higher proof. If more alcohol evaporates, the proof will be less. Think juice concentrate.
The real good news? No additives are allowed in Bourbon. Whatever naturally occurs, such as the tannins, is allowed.
Only a brand new charred oak barrel can be used for aging. Otherwise, it’s not bourbon. These barrels are moved to other distilleries, such as Scotland, for the aging of Scotch, or elsewhere in the US, to age whiskey.
This law originates from tradition. Centuries ago, Kentucky distillers filled oak barrels with the spirit, sent it upriver on the Mississippi to the East Coast. By the time it arrived, it had aged sufficiently.
Since Kentucky had so many oak trees, it was more cost effective to just make new barrels instead of having the original ones returned.
Plus, as the Scots say, It has lost it’s virtue. The compounds, tannins, lactones, vanillin, and hemicellulose, are all released from the wood into the bourbon so the flavoring decreases for the next round.
Check out this fascinating video of how barrels are made in a modern day factory. Not a drop of glue is used! Non-factory versions of making oak barrels, also very interesting, can be seen in this video.
Bourbon can be made anywhere, and be called such, as long as these rules are followed.
It makes a lot of sense that Kentucky is a central region for the production of this liquor since one of its major leading field crops is corn. The Bluegrass State produces 95% of the world’s supply of bourbon! Other leading crops are tobacco, wheat and soybeans.
When a batch of bourbon is specifically chosen to be bottled from one barrel, each batch will have a slightly different taste from the other. Whereas with Small Batch, the contents from many different barrels are blended together so the taste is more unified.
You get a better quality, in my opinion. I taste tested 3: Buffalo Trace, Four Roses Single Barrel and Wild Turkey. Four Roses had the smoother taste.
Drink it straight up and you get that firey tingle in your mouth. A few drops of water changes the taste instantly, smoothes it out. Thank you for the wonderful advice, Cat! (Fat Boys Bartender).
This version is aged at least 2 years in the barrel. If it’s aged 4 years or less, the distillery is required to label the amount of time it spent in the barrel. Over 4 years, this requirement is not necessary. That’s why you won’t always see the age of the bourbon.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon can only be made in Kentucky, for obvious reasons but there are bourbon distilleries all over the world. Most of them are in the States and a select few elsewhere such as Ireland, Scotland, the UK and even one here in Ontario.
According to Jim Beam‘s Fred “Booker” Noe, The Kentucky Hug happens when you get your first sip of bourbon. Your mouth comes alive and your esophagus heats up as it courses down your throat. He came up with this phrase and the Kentucky Chew. Which is basically how to taste test bourbon.
If your prefer off the beaten path places while you’re in Kentucky state, I’ve provided a few sweet ideas here.
Sour or Sweet Mash
If already distilled mash is put back into the fermentation, it is considered sour mash. Only fresh water and grains are used in the fermentation process of sweet mash.
Bourbon County was established in 1785 and was named after the French Royal Family. See the House of Bourbon family tree.
Contrary to popular belief, Elijah Craig was not the first producer of bourbon. The Baptist minister of The Blue Run Church, in 1771, does takes credit for the first to use oak barrels in the aging process.
It is hard to determine one single inventor of the liquor.
As with most liquor, beer and wine, the original producers date back longer than we realize. The method of distilling bourbon was likely brought from Scotland in the late 1700’s and has since morphed into what we know bourbon as today, thanks to Elijah Craig and many others.
So, get out there and get your Kentucky Hug today!
Posted by Kim Ratcliffe-Doe on June 14, 2017