Bourbon Culture: The Top 4 Brands
When you think of American culture, bourbon probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, this famous brown liquor has become a part of American identity and embraced as an icon. This is thanks to the historical significance and production of this drink in certain areas, such as Kentucky and Tennessee. These states have capitalized on their association with bourbon to create a new type of business: the liquid tourist attraction.
Nowadays, small towns like Bardstown and Lynchburg are known for their distilleries and tours. Even further away from these hubs, there are locations such as Louisville, Lexington, Frankfort and Berea in Kentucky, along with 25 stops on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail and, of course, local alcohol shops.
Here, visitors can take guided tours through working distilleries or even bring home a local souvenir by purchasing their very own bottle of “homemade” bourbon at the end of each tour. So, what makes this drink so special? Try the top four favorite brands of bourbon and find out.
There are two main characteristics of bourbon that make it so unique.
First, bourbon must be at least 51 percent corn. This grain is native and indigenous to North America, making it a very special ingredient to the bourbon drinker.
Bourbon must also be aged in new oak barrels. As opposed to scotch or other types of whiskey, which are typically aged in used barrels, bourbon is aged in barrels that have never been used before. This creates a stronger, spicier taste.
Bourbon’s aging process lasts a minimum of two years, and this makes it distinct from other alcoholic drinks. Such an extensive aging process allows the drink to gain many flavors from the oak barrels, thus affecting the end taste.
The History of Bourbon in America
While the exact origin of bourbon is unknown, it’s been a staple of American culture since the 1700s. During this time, settlers began to produce corn in Kentucky and Tennessee, which would later become the two major bourbon-producing states. Bourbon distilleries popped up in many states, but not in all of them. The ones that did produce bourbon were in the eastern part of the country, where the climate was hot and humid enough to produce the right amount of corn. Bourbon became so popular that it even received a tax break in 1801. American citizens drank and consumed bourbon so frequently that they were overtaxing themselves and racking up a pretty hefty bill. The government quickly realized this and abolished the tax on bourbon.
Nowadays, the most popular bourbon brands are:
No. 1: Wild Turkey
One of the most well-known bourbons is Wild Turkey, which was named after a legendary wild turkey hunting trip in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. When you buy a bottle of Wild Turkey, you get a lot of bang for your buck. This bourbon is one of the finest sipping drinks on the market due to its excellent price, high alcohol content and superb flavor. Wild Turkey is a tasty spirit with vanilla, barley sugar, sweet spice and a cherry aroma. It is also possible to test the new releases: Master’s Keep Bottled in Bond, Rare Reed Rye and Russell’s Reserve 2003 if you can find them.
No. 2: Woodford Reserve
Woodford Reserve’s first distillery was established in 1812, and it sits on the National Historic Reserve. Brown-Forman, the company that owns Jack Daniels and Old Forester, established the new Woodford Reserve Distillery in 1996. A sweet blend of corn, rye and malted barley is used to produce their spirits. Because of this blend, which includes 72 percent corn, 18 percent rye, and 10 percent malted barley, they are among the most popular distilleries. The sweet corn is balanced by the spices of the rye and the nuttiness of the malt to create a robust flavor palette. Vanilla and fruit notes help to balance the spice. The Double Oak, Master’s Collection and Distillery Series are Woodford’s most popular offerings.
No. 3: Jim Beam
From the Beam family, seven generations of distillers worked on the taste of Jim Beam Bourbon. Previous Chief Master Distiller Jerry Dalton—who served from 1998-2007—was the first chief winemaker not from the Beam family. Jim Beam Bourbon is made from a mixture of corn, malted barley and rye. Mashed corn is cooked at about 220 degrees Fahrenheit with slight overpressure. After cooking at a high temperature, two other ingredients are added, and the resulting mass is cooked at different temperatures and mixed thoroughly. Barley enzymes break down all the starch in corn and rye into sugar. Bourbon is usually distilled no higher than 160 proof. The reason for this is to preserve the taste of the original wort, which disappears at higher alcohol concentrations. Under U.S. law, the minimum aging of bourbon is two years, while Jim Beam bourbons are aged for a minimum of four years.
No. 4: Michter’s
In recent years, Michter’s has experienced some significant modifications. Its new Louisville Nelson Distillery opened a few years ago, with Dan McKee as master distiller. In some cases, a fresh perspective is necessary, and new, innovative recipes are catching on quickly. Although Michter’s produces top-quality items, its balanced flavor profile includes vanilla, cocoa and spice that melts on your tongue as you consume. Have a little fun with their 10- or 25-year-old blends, which are well worth the cash.
If you’re curious about the world of bourbon, now is the perfect time to explore. The weather is cooling off, and the leaves are changing color. Head to Kentucky or Tennessee (or just the local liquor store) for a good bottle of bourbon and enjoy a glass in front of the fire if you can.