The Grumpy Marmot: Bourbon Series, Part 1

The Grumpy Marmot: A multi-part series on Bourbon.

Part 1 – What exactly is Bourbon?

Bourbon is the classic American distilled spirit.  It is also the de facto liquor of the deep South.  To a Southerner, Bourbon is found everywhere from weddings to funerals, holidays, hunting camps and football games.  Bourbon and barbeque sauce are the liquids of the South.

But what exactly is Bourbon?

Under Federal law, the Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to promulgate regulations regarding the labelling of distilled spirits.  26 U.S. Code § 5301(a)(1).  These regulations govern what constitutes Bourbon whisky (also spelled “whiskey”).  Specifically, these regulations provide that a distilled product labeled as “Bourbon” can only distilled in the United States.  27 C.F.R § 5.22(l).  Further, “’Bourbon whisky’. . . is whisky produced at not exceeding 160° proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn. . . and stored at not more than 125° proof in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type.”  27 C.F.R § 5.22(b)(1)(i).  A “straight Bourbon whisky” is Bourbon whisky that has “been stored in the type of oak containers prescribed, for a period of 2 years or more. . . .  No other whiskies may be designated “straight”. “Straight whisky” includes mixtures of straight whiskies of the same type produced in the same State.”  27 C.F.R § 5.22(b)(1)(iii).

Sometimes a Bourbon might be labeled as “Bottled-In-Bond.”  This refers to a whiskey bottled pursuant to the Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897.  Prior to this act, the government had no role in what went into the bottle or on the label.  The Bottled-In-Bond Act ensured that any whiskey bearing the name “Bottled-in-Bond” was produced by the same distiller, at the same distillery, during the same distilling season, aged for at least four years, unadulterated (save for pure water for dilution), and bottled at exactly 100 proof.  The label also had to identify the distillery where the whiskey was distilled and bottled.

So, now we’ve laid the law down on what Bourbon is, and the next time you’re in a bar and some self- proclaimed whiskey “expert” is spouting off and running his or her mouth about what is and what isn’t Bourbon, you can correct him – with citations to the law – compliments of The Grumpy Marmot.