All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.
In 1964 the United States Congress declared bourbon to be a “distinctive product of the United States”. Certainly grain distillates consisting of at least 51% corn can be aged in new oak barrels anywhere in the world – and ne’er-do-wells can stoop so low to label their swill bourbon – but it isn’t bourbon. Bourbon is an American spirit and only an American spirit.
If you want to know how bourbon is made – go to Kentucky where 95% of all bourbon is bottled. Take the time to tour the distilleries, from the established to lesser known small craft distilleries. A true appreciation of the craft of making great bourbon begins to develop when the smells of the cooked grains, tasting the mash from a finger dipped in enormous vats, the mesmerizing sight of the flow of clear raw alcohol from the stills and the sight of barrel upon barrel of aging whiskey in the rick houses with the unique odor of the angles share.Without a doubt sampling of various bourbons is educational, important and frankly most enjoyable.
A true class act among all the distilleries is the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Here is a link to Google Maps.
Tours of the distillery are complementary and include tasting of some of their labels. The tour guides are passionate about their products, the people and their employer, which makes the visit all the more enjoyable. With the exception of the Trace Tour all other tours require reservations. Five tours are offered:
- The Trace Tour,
- Hard Hat Tour
- National Historic Landmark Tour
- Bourbon Barrel Tour
- Ghost Tour
The Hard Hat tour takes the visitor behind the scenes and into the heart of the industrial facility. The walking tour includes stairways along with the sights and sounds of a hard working factory environment. One stop is at the E.H. Taylor, Jr., Microstill where unique and award-winning experimental collection whiskeys are produced.
By federal law;
• Bourbon must be made of a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn
• Aged in new, charred oak barrels
• Distilled to no more than 160 proof
• Barreled for aging at no more than 125 proof
• Straight bourbon the distillate must be aged a minimum of two years
• Bourbon must be bottled at no less than 80 proof
Over 1.4 million barrels are in production and the current Kentucky bourbon inventory is over 5.8 million barrels. The 2014 tax-assessed value of all barrels aging in Kentucky is $1.9 billion.
The Buffalo Trace Distillery is not listed as a member of the Kentucky Distillers Association – Bourbon Trail and the distillery does not show up on the various maps and promotions by the KDA. None-the-less a visit to this distillery is highly recommended. Forbes listed Buffilo Trace as 2012Top 10 American Whiskey Distilleries To Tour
The Buffalo Trace Distillery is located in Frankfort, Kentucky. The distillery is a component of the Sazerac Company, Inc., an independent, family-owned, private company. (Click here for a map to Buffalo Trace.)