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Discerning Taste: Bourbon vs. Whiskey

Discerning Taste: Bourbon vs. Whiskey

Hello there readers! My name is Pete, and I’m here with another blog post for the discerning drinker out there. For those that don’t know, I am a bartender, a drink smith, and a man who takes his liquor and drinks very seriously. If you are at my bar and ask for an Appletini, you had better hope my manager is in, or you wont be served.

Today, I’m going to attempt to tackle the long debate of Bourbon vs. Whiskey. There are many good points on both sides of the issue, but lets examine as many angles as we can before we make a decision.

All Bourbon is a Whiskey, but……

Not all whiskey can be called bourbon. If you search the Internet for the differences between these two spirits, this is the first thing you’re going to find. The reason for this is: Whiskey and Bourbon are created for the most part in the same way. Mash has to be fermented and strained, and then it ages in a wooden barrel.

What sets Bourbon apart is a couple of factors that I have to admit are absolutely awesome. Want to make bourbon? Follow these steps.

1)    The mash MUST hit the barrels at 125 proof or below, it can age up to 160 proof.
2)    Bourbon must be ages in new oak barrels; the wood usually chosen by distillers is white oak.
3)    The grain mixture used to make the mash must be at least 51% corn.
4)    Bourbon can only be made in the United States of America, specifically the Bourbon County of Kentucky.

Without getting too much into the specifics of those requirements, just take a moment and absorb what that says. First, the spirit hits the barrels at over 50% abv., and is generally served at around 80%! Second, each cask of bourbon is unique to the oak and charring of the barrel it is aged in, since no barrel can be used twice. Third, its made of corn, at least 51%, but usually closer to 70%. When the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, they found the American Indians to be champion drinkers and smokers. What had built up their then-legendary tolerance? Corn booze.

Finally, and most important, bourbon is like champagne. You need to literally brew and age the spirit not just in a certain way, with a certain wood, but in a specific geographic region of the world. This may not do anything to the taste, but if you read my Martini article, you know that I love precision in the making of drinks; something this precise is hard to hate.

Precision, Precision, Precision

As I just mentioned, something that I love in by booze in precision. To cover my bases right away, I’ll say it now. Precision doesn’t have any effect on the quality of the liquor, because what is truly precise?

Can you accurately measure the amount of whiskey that soaked into the porous sides of the barrel and replicate that measure on all barrels? No, I wager that it is damn near impossible. So if there is no real measure on quality, why bother worrying about precision?

The bartender in me would like to tell you, that although quality is the same, taste is most affected by precision. Would a dry martini taste the same if I didn’t take the time to properly strain 99% of the vermouth? Bourbon is much the same in that the precision doesn’t necessarily make a more high quality spirit that whiskey, but the taste of bourbon is more uniform and unique than most whiskeys could ever hope to attain.

White oak barrels that are properly charred are the optimal aging casks, even if they are more expensive. Over the 200+ years of making booze, Americans have gotten damn good at it. White oak is porous enough to really affect the taste, but will not leak easily.

Corn is a great spirit to use as the start of your spirit for its inherent smoothness and its availability. As the United States Government continues to subsidize corn, it ensures that the price will remain relatively stable. Bourbon will always be an affordable and delicious spirit to enjoy in a tumbler with no more than three ice cubes.

The more you examine the makings of bourbon, the more you realize that its precision is its best quality. What is in your whiskey? By definition, it is a mash made from a “variety of grains.” Want to know what’s in your bourbon? Its 70% corn, 30% whiskey mash, aged in specific wood, for a specific period of time, which by law has to be on the label. I can’t imagine a spirit inspiring more confidence in its creation than what bourbon boasts.

History and Bourbon

This is a simple and short point. During the early 19th century, America tried to become dry. As a poster child for the new legislation, whiskey was made to look like a drink that made men crazy and drove them to violence and crime. During the First World War, it was made illegal to possess or sell whiskey, as all whiskey factories were converted to make gunpowder.

When the war was over, Tennessee held onto the law and helped provide the leverage to make prohibition a nationwide phenomenon. Goodbye Tennessee Whiskey! However, Kentucky held out until the very end, refusing to enforce the law even when it had been written into the constitution. Bourbon helped repeal an oppressive law, so be patriotic and order a bourbon.

Pete Wise is a Content Creation Specialist and a White-Hat SEO Jedi. This article was written for Phil Clark, a Boulder DUI Attorney serving the Greater Denver Metro Area. Call him if you need a Boulder Lawyer. Follow Pete on Twitter: @MySEOHeadache

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