American whiskey is often referred to as Bourbon and has its historic home in the state of Kentucky. As with most history, the history of American whiskey is disputed however Bourbon has been produced in the USA since the late 18th century. Bourbon was developed by farmers who discovered it was easier to transport, didn’t spoil (like on the grain it was made with) and was easier to sell.
The whiskey business grew quickly and the government (like governments the world over) were quick to levy tax on whiskey. This led to a ‘Whiskey Rebellion’ in 1794 and the whiskey making community moved south into Tennessee and Kentucky where river transportation and growing conditions suited the business model well.
The common name for American Whiskey, Bourbon, comes from Bourbon County where much of the whiskey producers were based. Customers in New Orleans started to refer to the whiskey as Bourbon and it caught on. Over time the production methods were adapted to develop a more palatable product much like in Scotland. The key developments for American whiskey or Bourbon was the charring of barrels (credited to Reverend Elijah Craig) which allow the sweeter taste and the introduction of Sour Mash production (credited to Dr James C. Crow). This involved the use of approximately 25% of spent mash to be used in the following batch to maintain flavour consistency.
Like Scottish whisky American whiskey has a certain criteria before it can be labelled Bourbon. The main ones are that the whiskey must be taken from the still at a maximum of 80% alcohol, enter the charred white oak cask at a maximum of 62.5% alcohol and be bottled at a minimum of 40% alcohol. The other main characteristic is that if it has matured less than 4 years it must say clearly on the label.
As with the English language the American’s have a developed their own language around their whisky industry which we will try to explain a little of here:
- Rye Whiskey: The most famous brands of Rye whisky are Jim Beam and Wild Turkey and the main difference from Bourbon where the main ingredient is rye rather than corn. Canadian whiskey is often mistakenly referred to as Rye whiskey.
- Tennessee Whiskey: The most famous brand of Tennessee whiskey is Jack Daniels (yes not a Bourbon) and again differs in the production process where it is filtered through 10 feet of maple charcoal (called the Lincoln County Process) before being put in the oak barrels.
- Corn Whiskey: A throwback to prohibition and popular due to no ageing process, not for the fainthearted.
- Straight Whiskey: Doesn’t contain added flavour or colouring (coloring for you Americans) and must be matured for a minimum of 2 years.
- Single Barrel & Small batch: If you want the best and are prepared to pay the extra this is the single malt of the American whiskey world. The main difference is the distiller has more input into the Small Batch as where nature decides the flavour of Single Barrel.
If you are looking to buy whiskey online today the The Scottish Whisky Store currently has a limited range of American whiskey available online and will be adding to our range over the coming months.
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