May 4th: Bourbon Independence Day!

Whiskey and celebration colorful fireworks

On May 4th, 1964, with the passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution 19 (S. Con. Res. 19), bourbon became a “distinctive product of the United States” and gained independence as it’s own identifiable category of whiskey (similar to Scotch, Canadian Whiskey and Cognac). See the resolution below.

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Now, National Bourbon Day is June 14th every year and September is National Bourbon month. But what was most surprising was the fact there was no official day set aside to celebrate bourbon’s independence. As we all know, our country is famous for creating “holidays” or “special days” to commemorate favorite pastimes, moments in history, and to honor beloved citizens, past and present. It’s what we do. We Americans love to get together, carouse, party and make occasions to take a day off from work. So my personal exhortation will not be any different. Moving forward I am recognizing May 4th as Bourbon Independence Day! And I want all of you bourbon lovers out there to join me. Together we can grow this idea from a grass roots effort to a national day of recognition (I know I am getting way ahead of myself here, but just oblige please). Here’s all you have to do.

  1. Get a bottle of your favorite bourbon
  2. Pour it in a glass neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail
  3. And now for the best part...Drink it!
  4. Then share the tiding, “I Wish You A Happy Bourbon Independence Day!” with me on Facebook @thebourboneer and everyone you know. Provide a comment or share a picture of your drink or your method of celebration. Let everyone know you are enjoying Bourbon Independence Day and doing so in style.

Bourbon Independence day is less than 2 months away. I will be reminding all of you between now and then to mark that date on your calendar. Keep following the Bourboneer for updates. See you on Bourbon Independence Day (or BID as I like to refer to it).

-The Bourboneer

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Buffalo Trace KSBW, 45% ABV or 90 proof (NAS) Buffalo Trace Distillery, Franklin County, Ky.

References: https://catalog.archives.gov “S. Con. Res. 19.”

Gratitude!

Recently, I was given a new assignment at work. Whether I like it or not, the occasional organizational transfer is part of my chosen profession. It’s an aspect you grow accustom to, frankly. I spent almost 6 years in my last position, however, it was time to move on to a new and different adventure. To say I enjoyed my tenure in my last assignment would certainly be an understatement. It wasn’t the position, duties, responsibilities or even the nuances of the job that kept things fulfilling, nearly everyday was a completely new experience. It was the incredible and talented people I worked with that made coming to work every day so rewarding. They made the job easy and enjoyable. These fine men and women developed and maintained a culture of professionalism, dedication and accountability that I had not witnessed in my 20+ years on the job. It was hard to say goodbye. Truly!

On my last day, the group threw a “thank you, we’ll miss you” going away party as a means to celebrate our time together. I was extremely thankful and utterly spoiled, to be honest. They not only paid for my lunch but surprised me with several thoughtful gifts. Since my written word lacks sufficient capability to explain my level of gratitude and how wonderful these people are I will simply show you what they gave me.

Knowing I am the Bourboneer and a lover of the brown water, I was pleasantly surprised by a bottle of Hillrock – Solera Aged Bourbon Whiskey. A very delicious and very expensive bottle of bourbon. According to Clay Risen’s review in American Whiskey Bourbon & Rye, Hillrock has a high rye mash bill. “In the solera process, a barrel of aged whiskey is partially emptied and topped off with unaged spirit. After a few years the process is repeated…After a period of aging, the bourbon is “finished” in twenty-year-old Oloroso sherry casks.” I wanted to save the bottle for special occasions but I couldn’t resist, I just had to try a dram. I am glad I did! The nose was dense, filled with dark fruit, maple syrup, sweet tobacco with even a hint of leather. Chewy fig, raisin and notes of caramel and toffee were evident to the palate. So scrumptious!

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If the bourbon wasn’t enough they also gave me a beautiful stainless steel cocktail shaker with a “To the Bourboneer” engraved inscription. Unfortunately in the picture below, I couldn’t capture the inscription successfully. Every attempt to get an effective shot only reflected my phone and fat head in the picture. My apologies.

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Once again, I just want to say it was truly an honor to work with such professional, thoughtful and incredible colleagues. I am a better person for the experience. Thank you!

-The Bourboneer

 

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Hillrock-Solera Aged Bourbon Whiskey, 46% ABV or 92 proof (NAS) Hillrock Estate Distillery, Ancram, NY.

References: American Whiskey Bourbon & Rye, Clay Risen, Sterling Epicure Publishing, 2013, New York, NY.

So Two Guys Walk into a Bourbon Bar…

old-fashioned-32

Bartender says inquiringly, “What can I get ya?”

First guy  (JD) looks to the second guy (CB) and says assuredly, “Get what you want, it’s on me.”

CB replies surprisingly, “No, really? Are you sure?”

JD postures efficaciously, “Of course, it’s my treat, my friend!”

CB orders confidently, “I’ll have an Old Fashioned.”

Bartender asks specifically, “And what bourbon would you like?”

CB responds with certainty, “Blanton’s…of course.”

JD plants his hand down firm on the bar and says expressively, “Make that two!”

CB smiles then nods impressively, “Thank you. Very nice choice.”

JD snaps a crisp Alexander Hamilton ($20) in his hands undoubtedly, “Your welcome and I agree.”

Bartender returns with their drinks rapidly, “Here ya go. Two Blanton’s Old Fashioneds.”

JD slaps down the Hamilton convincingly, “For you fine sir and keep the change.”

The entire bar pauses dramatically.

Bartender sneers then glares at CB with conspiracy.

CB looks at JD and winces with anxiety, “Uh, that’s not…”

Bartender grins and interrupts satisfyingly, “That will be $32.50.”

Dazed and confused, JD utters embarrassingly, “…I am sorry, did you say $32.50?”

Bartender retorts sarcastically, “Why yes fine sir…most definitely!”

JD fumbles for another Hamilton discouragingly.

CB tenders a Ulysses S. Grant ($50) immediately, “No worries. I’ll get this one.”

JD apologizes humbly, “I am sorry. I had no idea.”

CB eases comfortingly, “My pleasure, I’ll let you buy the next one.”

JD smiles and says, “Happily!”

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The above story is based on true events that may or may not have happened in Annapolis, MD, January 2016 inside Dry85 Bourbon bar. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

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The moral of the story: No matter the price, bourbon spent on friends, is time well spent.

 

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Blanton’s KSBW, 461/2% ABV or 93 proof (NAS) Blanton Distilling Company, Frankfurt, Ky.

Bourbon Basics

whiskey-bottles

As I looked back through my past articles, I realized I haven’t really provided a understandable definition of what makes bourbon, well…bourbon. I’ve shared stories, recipes and even some history regarding the distilled spirit, but never why bourbon is the distinctive American spirit, that I love so much.

So here is a down and dirty overview of not only what bourbon is, but the qualifications that define it. Pay attention. Class is in session.

First of all Bourbon is a whiskey (or whisky). Whiskey is nothing more than a distilled spirit produced from fermented grains (mash). Grain varieties include rye, corn, wheat and barley. For example, Scotch is made from malted barley, Irish whiskey is also made of mostly barley and other cereal grains, Rye is made from mostly rye, Canadian whisky is also made of various cereal grains like rye, wheat and corn, and Tennessee whiskey is made from mostly corn. Bourbon is also made mostly from corn. In 1964 however, the U.S. Congress acknowledged, as defined in Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulation, that bourbon be recognized as a “distinctive product of the United States.” Although all bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskey is bourbon. And here’s why:

  1. Bourbon must be made in the United States (not only in Kentucky)
  2. Bourbon must be made from at least 51% American corn.
  3. Bourbon must be distilled at no higher that 160 proof
  4. Bourbon must be barreled at no higher than 125 proof
  5. Bourbon must be put into a new, charred oak container.

That’s it! So if a spirit that is produced and distilled according to the above regulations then it can be considered a bourbon.

What about the aging process you ask? Bourbon has no minimum specified age requirement actually and it doesn’t necessarily need to be aged in a barrel. As you can read from the regulations above, a new, charred oak container is all that is needed. In fact, Jimmy Russell (Wild Turkey, Mater Distiller) was quoted as saying, “You can take a new charred, oak bucket and fill it up from the still, walk it over to the bottling line, fill the bottle with it and it would be bourbon. You’d have to put an age statement on it that it was aged less than a day, but it’d be bourbon. And if you wanted to do it again, you’d need a new bucket.” That being said, for bourbon to get its beautiful golden amber color it needs to age in the container for some time. The longer time spent in the charred oak container, the longer time the bourbon has to absorb the vanillins and tannins released by the wood that add the distinctive color, aroma and taste.

  • 0-4 years aged is when the bourbon picks up the majority of its color and some of the wood/smoke flavor.
  • 5-10 years aged is when the bourbon will grow a little darker and when the sweetness from the sugars in the wood will be absorbed.
  • 10 + years aged is when the complexity of the bourbon (fruit, sweet, herbal notes) may lessen. Although during this time period the bourbon will become smoother and obviously more “oaky” in taste.

The bourbon lost to evaporation during the aging process is know as the “Angel’s share” and the bourbon absorbed and trapped in the wood is referred to as the “Devil’s cut.

However there are several different types of bourbon as they relate to age. The most common are:

Kentucky Bourbon – Bourbon produced and aged in a new, charred oak container for the minimum of one (1) year in Kentucky.

Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Bourbon aged in new, charred oak containers for two (2) or more years. Most popular bourbon brands age their bourbon for at least four (4) years. If the bourbon is aged more than 4 years then the label does not need to contain an age statement. If less than 4 years, then it must according to law.

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Bourbon made in Kentucky and aged in a new, charred oak container for a minimum of two (2) years.

Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Blend of straight bourbon whiskies.

Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon Whiskey – Bourbon aged in a new, charred oak container as the product of one distiller, one distillery from one distillation season. The bourbon must have been stored for a minimum of four (4) years in a federally bonded warehouse and then bottled at 100 proof (50% alcohol).

A very important fact to remember is that bourbon does NOT have to be made only in Kentucky. It can be made anywhere in the U.S. as long as the above regulations are followed. Many states such as Colorado, New York, Texas and California have become prominent in today’s burgeoning bourbon market.

Despite the fact that bourbon can be produced in any state of the Union, ninety-five (95) percent of all bourbon is made in Kentucky. Kentucky is bourbon’s birth place for several distinguishable reasons; water, wood and seasons.

  • Water – Kentucky sits on a vast stretch of limestone. Limestone is a natural filter that removes iron from water and adds calcium, magnesium as well as other nutrients.
  • Wood (oak) – The oak tree is the most prevalent species of tree in the state of Kentucky. Oak is naturally water-tight if milled properly. This fact, coupled with the abundance of oak, allowed coopers (barrel makers) to thrive in Kentucky.
  • Seasons – Kentucky is famous for its crazy temperature swings. The Bluegrass state endures brutally hot and humid summers followed by frigidly cold and dry winters. Kentuckians may not appreciate this climate disparity, but it is great for the aging process. The fluctuation in temperature forces the oak to contract and expand which allows the bourbon to interact more with the char providing it’s characteristically oak, caramel and vanilla flavors.

What about Jack Daniels? Is it a bourbon? Technically the answer is yes because it follows the above regulations that define a spirit as a bourbon. But the biggest difference is that Jack Daniels, which is classified as a Tennessee whiskey, purposely wants to be defined differently. Tennessee whiskey became a classification of whiskey in 2013 when the Tennessee state legislature passed a bill which added a step to bourbon’s federally regulated process. The added step requires the bourbon to be filtered through maple charcoal before being aged. The procedure is known as the Lincoln County Process. This added step is the only thing that differentiates Tennessee whiskey from bourbon whiskey.  By the way, Jack Daniels is the number one selling whiskey in the world, so whether you consider yourself a bourbon purist or not, you have to give mad props to Old No.7.

Armed with this new understanding, you are hopefully ready to enjoy bourbon at a much more pleasurable level. You can also feel confident in partaking in conversation on the subject. In fact, you may even find yourself dispelling popular bourbon myths that plague our beloved spirit.

But I can’t leave you without imparting some popular additional terms and classifications to broaden your bourbon education. Enjoy!

Small Batch –  Bourbon bottled from a selection of a certain number of barrels (determined by each distiller usually anywhere from 10-100 barrels from predetermined sections of the warehouse) typically much smaller than the amount used in the routine production.

Single Barrel – Bourbon bottled from one single barrel.

Barrel (Cask) Strength –  Bourbon that has no water added meaning it is the same proof in the bottle as it was when it came out of the barrel.

Flavored Bourbon – No such thing. Anything added to bourbon except water and more bourbon is merely a flavored whiskey. Flavors like Maple, Honey and Cinnamon are very popular. But brands that sell such spirits will never have the word “bourbon” on the label.

Sour Mash – Liquid left over from the distillation process when the grain solids and alcohol has been removed. A lot like the making of sourdough bread, a portion of sour mash (roughly 20%) is set back to add to the next batch. The sour mash process ensures an increase in the pH level helping the yeast strain to excel.

I hope you enjoy this article and I pray it shed some light on bourbon.

-The Bourboneer

Follow me on Facebook @thebourboneer.

Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Kirkland Small Batch KSBW, (Costco’ Private Label) 51-1/2% ABV or 103 proof (aged 7 years) James B. Beam Distilling Co., Clermont Frankfort, KY.

References: Bourbon Curious, Fred Minnick, Zenith Press 2015, Minneapolis, MN. Stave and Thief, Executive Bourbon Steward manual, Distilled Spirits Epicenter 2015, Louisville, KY. American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye, Clay Risen, Sterling Epicure 2013, New York, NY.

Happy Groundhog Day!


February 2nd is Groundhog Day! Be sure to enjoy your favorite bourbon this evening and watch the cult classic Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray. And if you cant seem to get it “right” this evening then…be sure to enjoy your favorite bourbon and watch the cult classic Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray!

Since that bloated rat Punxsutawny Phil saw his shadow and there will presumably be 6 more weeks of winter, I think the most important thing to take away from today’s holiday is enjoying your favorite bourbon over and over😀🥃. I mean on what other day can you partake in such a fortunate tradition?


                              -The Bourboneer
Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Jim Beam Black KSBW, 43% ABV or 86 proof (extra-aged) James B. Beam Distilling Co., Clermomt Frankfort, KY.