In 1964 Congress recognized Bourbon as a “distinctive product of the United States” meaning it cannot be legally produced outside of U.S. soil. Along with the geographical definition there are stipulations that more narrowly define bourbon. If you have read my article on the difference between bourbon and whiskey, you’ll be familiar with the legal definition of bourbon; however, today we’ll focus the lens specifically on what bourbon is made from:
- Bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn.
- Bourbon must be distilled to no higher than 80% ABV (160 proof)
- Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak containers.
- Bourbon must go into the container at no more than 62.5% ABV (125 proof)
- Bourbon must be bottled at 40% ABV (80 proof) or higher
Corn being delivered to the distillery (photo: Buffalo Trace Distillery)
Bourbon’s history is so ingrained with American history that it can be hard to tell where one stops and the other begins. Farmers who subsided almost entirely on what they could raise, harvest, and process relied upon grains such as corn to feed not only their families, but their livestock as well. Excess grains couldn’t simply be thrown out–so they turned to distillation.