When we heard that there are at least 15 times the number of distilleries in the US than in Scotland we knew we couldn’t ignore American whiskeys (no, not a typo) for much longer. America’s whiskey distilling history dates back to the 1700s when it was only used as a form of barter (by the corn and rye farmers) for sheep and other livestock. Every US presidency only saw the industry grow, sometimes in spite of the President, and today the world enjoys six styles of American whiskey.
6 Styles of American Whiskey
If you’ve heard that American whiskeys are on the sweeter side of things then you heard right. Firstly, the American terrain was kinder to grains like corn and rye than barley, and so most traditional American whiskeys are made with these. Corn’s sweeter flavours and rye’s peppery spice, therefore, remain the trademark flavour profiles for these whiskeys. Secondly, the ample availability of American oak, with its flavours of vanilla, coconut and caramel also add to its fruity mouthfeel.
Every American whiskey you drink needs to meet very clear guidelines (governed by the US Code of Federal Regulations). There are six major law-abiding styles, all made from a different type of fermented cereal grain:
• Bourbon Whiskey
• Rye Whiskey
• Rye Malt Whiskey
• Malt Whiskey
• Wheat Whiskey
• Corn Whiskey
Will the Real Bourbon Please Stand Up?
From a drink that comforted the most humble of drinkers, to one that has been fetishised into costing hundreds of dollars a bottle, Bourbon has certainly had a colourful history. Even as the French (House of Bourbon) and the Americans (Bourbon County) fight it out for this spirit’s naming rights, the history of bourbon whiskey dates back over 200 years.
European farmers settled in American in the late 1700s and early 1800s brought their distilling knowledge with them. And so, quite sensibly in our opinion, they started making whiskey using the local crop (mostly corn) for thirsty locals.
Its popularity grew through the 19th century. Hey – who would say no to a cheap and delicious local dram? And after a blip in production during the Prohibition (1920-1933), bourbon emerged as the craft spirit to watch out for. A bottle of Pappy Van Winkle – if you can even find one – costs upwards of US $2,000!
So what’s so special about bourbon you ask? Let’s begin with what a true bourbon is:
• For an American whiskey to be called a bourbon it must come from America. Anywhere in America; and not just as some would have you believe, from Kentucky.
• It must be created from a mixture of fermented grain (called mash) that is at least 51% corn. The other 49% is usually a mixture of barley, rye or wheat.
• A Straight bourbon must be aged in new American oak barrels for at least 24 months.
• It must be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof.
• Finally, for it to be a whiskey to be called a bourbon, the only additive can be water, and only to proof the whiskey down.
Let us leave you with one last thought – there are more barrels of bourbon ageing in Kentucky than the local population! We hope you’ll stay with us on this journey of discovering bourbon. Our next newsletter shares surprising facts and busts common myths about this American spirit. We will also share our recommendations for the best bourbons available in India.