I first tried bourbon when I was in my mid-twenties. I really enjoy the sweet caramel flavour that comes from this beverage as well as the smokey aromas of cinnamon, cloves and the significant heat from the alcohol. It’s a drink that should not be hurried but rather sipped and shared with friends in front of a fire or on a cool evening sitting on a deck.
I started proudly drinking Jack Daniels which I always touted as bourbon before I realized that the bottle did not say bourbon anywhere on the label but rather “Tennessee Whiskey”. Whiskey? So, I convinced myself that bourbon is not whiskey but some other distilled liquor like whiskey. It was until years later that I began sampling different whiskey styles like Canadian whiskey, rye whiskey, Irish whiskey and scotch (spelled whisky) and realized that I needed to understand what the fundamental differences are between the styles of whiskey. Is bourbon a whiskey or is whiskey a bourbon and where does Tennessee Whiskey fall into the mix.
What goes into making a bourbon? Like any other distilled beverage there are rules for making bourbon which are mostly defined by state legislation. Here are some of the A,B,Cs for making bourbon.
A – Bourbon must be made in the USA. Although the residents of Kentucky proudly display that the majority (95%) of bourbon is created in their state.
B – At least 51% of the mash must contain corn. The rest of the mash can be a mixture of rye and barley. Corn is the key to providing the flavour and aroma profile of bourbon.
C – The proof after distillation cannot exceed 180 proof. Bourbons are typically double distilled so that the proof does not exceed 180. Corn is key to the signature bourbon flavours and aromas.
D – Bourbon must be stored in white oak barrels that have been charred on the inside. The bourbon must be aged for at least 2 years before bottling. Aging in barrels gives the bourbon a chance to be absorbed into the barrel during the warm summer months when it expands and then pulled back into the mixture during the cold winter months when the bourbon contracts. This continual expansion and contraction pull the oaks flavours and colours into the bourbon, but it comes at a cost. At least 3% of the mixture is lost each year to evaporation.
A Tennessee Whiskey is very similar to the bourbon distilling process with a few differences. The most important difference is that the whiskey is filtered through maple charcoal before being put into charred oak barrels. This is known as the Lincoln County process.
I recently purchased a bourbon from the LCBO (online order) that has a bit of history to it. Blanton’s Bourbon was the first distillery to bottle a “single barrel” bourbon in 1984. Most distilleries blend bourbons to achieve a similar taste profile form bottle to bottle. Elmer T Lee, who worked for Blanton’s recalled that Colonel Blanton would bottle special bourbons for friends from “honey barrels” stored in specific areas of warehouse H where conditions were perfect for producing an exceptional bourbon. Elmer T Lee decided to share those premium honey barrels in a “single barrel” select bourbon for everyone to enjoy.
Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon
93 Proof – 46.5% ABV
Bottled on May 27 2022 from barrel 636 on Rick 13 from warehouse H.
No tasting notes on this bottle as I’m waiting for a special occasion to open it.