Currently, the entire world is fascinated by whiskey in any form – Irish whiskey, Japanese whiskey, Scotch whiskey, and even French & Indian whiskies have a growing foothold in the global marketplace, and in America, it is no different. We are equally as passionate about the world’s ever-growing number of offerings. However, there is one whiskey we U. S. citizens are particularly fond of, and that is America’s Native Spirit: Bourbon. A fan myself, I thought I’d research the state of not just Kentucky Bourbon, but American Bourbon, as well.
Confused by this statement? You are not alone. Until recently, if anyone wanted a good bottle of Bourbon they would automatically look to Kentucky. After all, most other whisky-producing states and there were few, labeled their whiskies as something else. However, Bourbon, while it is Kentucky’s official spirit, and the Bluegrass State (Kentucky’s nickname) does produce the overwhelming majority of America’s bourbon, at 95 percent, there is no law or regulation stating that bourbon must be made there. Bourbon is a recipe, not a product of geography, and as such, can be made in any state, and by anyone, that chooses to make it.
What exactly is Bourbon? Distilling laws state that Bourbon must contain a minimum of 51% corn. Tradition and history dictate that the balance of ingredients is made up of rye, (malted) barley, and wheat – although the exact recipe is up to the individual distiller and what they prefer. Sampling Bourbons from coast to coast, I found many differing bourbons based on the distillers’ flavoring grain of choice, some “high rye”, some “wheated”, and even the corn used differs – Crooked Creek: open-pollinated heirloom corn is used by Troy and Sons of Asheville, NC (https://ashevilledistilling.com), and Blue Corn is used by Texas-based Balcones (https://balconesdistilling.com) – though the resulting bourbon is not blue.
Style also plays a role. Hillrock Distillery in New York (https://hillrockdistillery.com) ages their bourbon by the Solera method, an innovative approach that they think makes their bourbon produced from estate-grown grain stand out from the crowd. Sonoma Distilling’s Adam Spiegel (https://www.sonomadistillingcompany.com) who sources his grains locally in California likes this kind of innovation “Since bourbon can be made anywhere, only when a distiller makes their bourbon with intention will it have authenticity.”
Tommy Tardie of New York’s Fine & Rare, a whiskey-centric restaurant & jazz club in midtown Manhattan, agrees. “Like wine, Bourbon is a personal choice and the first thing I tell my customers during my whisky classes is this: try as many different brands as you can,” he says, adding, “eventually you’ll find your own Bourbon profile sweet spot.”
So, after taking Tommy’s advice to heart and sampling Bourbons from all over the country, I learned that the nationwide craft distilling movement has opened the door to a whole new world of American Bourbons of very high quality, and with a little homework, one can indeed find a stylistic fit for their palate. So next time you are thinking of updating your whiskey offerings on your spirits list, don’t forget the bourbon. As production grows, more are becoming available on a global scale and you just may find your customers thanking you as they, in turn, find their own bourbon sweet spot.