Bourbon whiskey holds a revered status as a timeless libation deeply rooted in American culture. Its distinct qualities distinguish it from the array of liquors commonly savored around the world. Within the United States, bourbon reigns supreme as the most sought-after variant of whiskey, solidifying its position as a beloved national treasure. However, its popularity extends far beyond American borders, with enthusiasts worldwide celebrating its unparalleled taste and craftsmanship.
Now, let us embark on an exploration of the various types of bourbon, delving into their unique characteristics and uncovering the gems that reign supreme in the realm of this captivating spirit. Whether you are planning an upcoming party or crafting a meticulously curated menu, these renowned bourbon selections are sure to captivate the palates of your guests and elevate their drinking experience to new heights.
When it comes to bourbon, the world is brimming with delightful variations that cater to diverse tastes. These captivating libations are crafted with utmost care, employing distinct distilling methods and a diverse array of grain profiles. So, let’s dive into the exciting realm of bourbon and explore the most common categories of this cherished whiskey.
By the end, you’ll be well-equipped to choose the perfect bourbon to suit your preferences and elevate your drinking experience to new heights. Get ready to embark on a journey of flavor and discover the bourbon that speaks to your soul!
Standard bourbon is a type of liquor that meets the minimum legal requirements of 51% in the mash bill. Standard bourbon must only contain bourbon and liquor, without any water added to change the proof of the bourbon. Every standard bourbon must be aged in an oak barrel that is no more than 125 proof and no less than 80 proof.
The most popular bourbon brands in 2023 include Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Basil Hayden’s, Jim Beam, Bulleit, and Maker’s Mark.
Kentucky Bourbon is made in Kentucky and contains at least 40% alcohol by volume and 80% proof. Although bourbon doesn’t necessarily need to be made in Kentucky, this state has become the center of bourbon production due to its water, climate, and distillation process.
The limestone filters iron out of the water, which adds a more complex and unique fermentation process to the grains. The weather seasons in Kentucky also add to the complexity of the flavor profile since the whiskey expands during the spring and summer months, and the rich and sweeter notes come out during the winter season.
The most popular types of Kentucky bourbon are the Noah’s Mill Small Batch Bourbon at Flaviar, Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon at Drizly, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon at Drizly, Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, and Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bourbon at Flaviar.
Straight bourbon is aged for over 2 years in oak barrels. This bourbon must not exceed 80% ABV. If the straight bourbon is aged for less than four years, it must contain an age seal on the bottle that tells the number of years it was aged.
Distillers who are making straight bourbon must limit the amount of modifications they can add to the liquor. The only allowed modifications include batching different whiskies, chill filtering the whiskey, and reducing the ABV proof by adding water.
Wild Turkey, Knob Creek, Michter’s, Old Forester, Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, and Evan Williams are the most popular straight bourbon brands.
Wheated bourbon uses wheat as the main flavor. Usually, bourbon is made with corn, barley, or rye. In this case, wheated bourbon creates a subtler and sweeter flavor than you would find with rye or malted barley.
When distillers use wheat, they don’t have to use additional corn or barley to add extra tastes or flavors to the bourbon. Since wheat has a very distinct flavor profile, it adds more sweetness.
The most common wheated bourbon brands are Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark, and Pappy Van Winkle.
Rye bourbon is a bourbon with >51% of rye grain, with the remaining percentage typically coming from a mixture of unique grains and ingredients.
Common types of rye bourbon popular on the market today include Penelope Bourbon Tokaji Cask Finish, Redemption Bourbon, Knob Creek, Old Overholt, Sazerac Rye Whiskey, Pikesville Straight, and Bulleit Bourbon.
Bottled-in bond bourbon is a type of liquor that one distiller must produce during one distillation season (between January-June or July to December). The label on the bottle must label where the liquor was distilled and bottled. Bottled-in-bond bourbon must be aged for >4 years at 100 proof.
The most popular brands of bottled-in-bond bourbon to drink in 2023 are Old Forester 1987 Bourbon, 1792 Bottled In Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, New Riff Bourbon Bottled in Bond, Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon, Wilderness Trail Bottled in Bond Small Batch, and Heaven Hill 7-Year Old Bottled in Bond Bourbon.
Blended bourbon must have >51% straight bourbon but can include other additives, such as spirits, grains, flavoring, or coloring. The blended bourbon must clarify the age of the youngest bottle.
Blended bourbon usually mixes straight or single bourbon with more cost-effective spirits and additives to cut prices and reduce production costs. The requirements for blended bourbon or whiskey vary based on the country. For example, the United States requires that blended bourbon has a minimum of 20% straight bourbon.
The most popular blended bourbon whiskeys on the market right now include Three Chord Blended Bourbon, Fistful of Bourbon, Milam & Greene, High West American Whiskey, Old Elk Blended Bourbon, Widow Jane Aged 10 Years, and Stellar Black Bourbon.
Single-barrel bourbon is a premium bourbon bottle from a singular whiskey cask. This means that single bourbon is not blended with other barrels, ensuring that every barrel has a unique flavor and a distinctive profile you won’t find in other bourbon barrels.
Since single-barrel bourbon is bottled individually, it features the age, date, barrel number, and unique flavor profile.
One of the most unique facts about single-barrel bourbon is that the distiller can choose the distinctive flavors from the barrels and cuts the liquor with water to create the right proof.
The most popular brands of single-barrel bourbon are Knob Creek, Old Forester, and Jim Beam. For those who want to try single-barrel bourbons, we recommend the Evan Williams Single Barrel 2014 Vintage, Four Roses, 1792, Redemption High Rye Bourbon, New Riff, Milam & Greene Whiskey, and Stellium Single Barrel ‘Lyra.’
Corn bourbon is American whiskey mainly made of corn — go figure! To be considered corn bourbon, this type of spirit must contain >80% corn in the mash mixture and be aged in an oak cask. Corn bourbon is usually aged in a new charred oak cask but can also be aged in charred oak casks.
Most distillers use yellow corn since it has a high starch content and low sugar content. Furthermore, distillers typically use Dent Corn to make corn bourbon. However, unique distillers, such as Balcones Distilling and Jimmy Red Whiskey, use another type of corn that gives the bourbon a unique flavor.
The most popular types of corn bourbon are Reservoir Bourbon Whiskey, High Wire Distilling Co. Southern Revival Straight Bourbon Whiskey, FEW Sarah Shook & The Disarmers Blue Corn Whiskey, Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon, and Yellow Rose Outlaw Bourbon.
Small-batch bourbon is whiskey from just two to 200 barrels. “Small batch” simply refers to fewer barrels, which indicates higher quality. When you purchase a small batch of bourbon, you typically are dealing with a bourbon that is rich, intense, and unique when compared to more mainstream bourbon types.
The most popular kinds of small batch bourbon include George Dickel Handcrafted Small Batch Bourbon, Four Roses Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, RD One Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Knob Creek, George Dickel Aged 8 Years, Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea Voyage 25 Straight, and Rabbit Hole HEigold.
Sour mash bourbon adds a distinctive flavor to the bourbon liquor by including yeast, water, and a specific type of grain. Distillers can choose the grain type they want for their sour mash, usually fluctuating between barley, corn, or rye.
Companies that sell “sour mash whiskey” or “sour mash bourbon” use a sour mash process for distilling.
Some popular brands include Tiger Snake Sour Mash Whiskey, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Tennessee Whiskey, Belle Meade Sour Mash Straight Bourbon, Colonel Taylor Jr. Old Fashioned Sour Mash Bib Bourbon, and Old Elk Sour Mash Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Toasted barrel bourbon adds a smoky flavor to the spirit by using a ‘toasted’ or charred oak barrel. The toasted flavor gives the bourbon a personal flavor profile that often is reminiscent of smoke, nuttiness, wood, oak, and chocolate. Toasting the oak barrels adds different flavors to the bourbon for a more complex liquor.
Popular types of toasted barrel bourbon include Wilderness Trail, Jack Daniel’s, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, and Michael’s.
Tennessee whiskey is a unique type of bourbon that goes through distillation in Tennessee and passes the Lincoln County process. People who enjoy drinking this type of bourbon often enjoy it for the charcoal undertones, lighter taste, and vanilla/caramel notes that add just the right amount of sweetness to each sip.
The most common brands of Tennessee Whiskey include Jack Daniel’s, Daddy Rack, Benjamin Prichard’s, Corsair, George Dickel, Nelson’s, Superior No. 12, and Tennessee Fire.
Ah, Kentucky bourbon, a delightful elixir that has captured the hearts of whiskey enthusiasts around the globe. Within the hallowed borders of the Bluegrass State, where rolling hills meet golden fields, you’ll find a treasure trove of beloved bourbon brands that have stood the test of time.
Among the shining stars of Kentucky bourbon are the legendary Buffalo Trace Bourbon, renowned for its rich and complex flavors that dance on the palate. Then there’s Evan Williams, a cherished name that brings forth a smooth and velvety experience with each sip. For those seeking a touch of history, Old Forester beckons with its timeless appeal and a legacy that dates back to the 19th century.
But let’s not forget the venerable Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon, crafted with meticulous attention to detail and boasting a symphony of flavors that will leave you craving another glass. And of course, we have Maker’s Mark, a true icon in the bourbon world, recognized for its signature red wax seal and a taste that epitomizes the essence of Kentucky craftsmanship.
So, whether you’re planning a bourbon-tasting soirée or simply looking to savor the finest Kentucky has to offer, these beloved bourbons will surely leave a lasting impression. Take a sip, savor the notes of caramel, oak, and spice, and let the spirit of Kentucky wash over you. Cheers to the artistry and tradition of Kentucky bourbon!