In the Spirit: Bourbon
EDGE’s new "spirit series" takes a look at our favorite libations, their origins and what manufacturers are producing the best of the bunch. Our first installment: bourbon.
While there used to be only Kentucky bourbon (and Tennessee whiskey), now there are hundreds of distilleries across the country making quality bourbons. Before we explore some small-batch and unique selections made outside bourbon’s place of origin, there are three main bourbon facts that help this brown spirit stand out from the pack:
Born in the U.S.A.
Bourbon has one up on Bruce Springsteen. In 1964 Congress declared bourbon a "distinctive product of the United States." Bourbon was first made in the 1800s out of Bourbon County, KY where it got it’s name, but it can be made anywhere in the U.S.
Make that a Double
Bourbons must be distilled at no more than 80 percent alcohol (160 proof) and the final product (after aging) cannot be more than 62.5 percent alcohol (125 proof). This helps maintain some consistency of product. In addition, to be called "bourbon," it must be made with least 51 percent corn mash (the starchy combination of the grain and water). Depending on the style of bourbon and the decisions of the Master Blender, the drink may also include a mash of wheat, rye, and barley.
If a Tree Falls?... Make a Barrel
Bourbon is aged in new white oak barrels that are charred to different levels on the inside to promote the oaky, vanilla flavors and aid in the development of brown color. The longer the bourbon stays in the barrel, the darker the color and more pronounced the flavor. Eco-friendly consumers will be glad to know that used bourbon barrels are often repurposed to store and age other libations like scotch and beer.
EDGE offers three bourbon picks to either start or enhance your bourbon collection.
Breckenridge Bourbon: Colorado
This multiple award-winning bourbon uses the snowmelt from nearly 10,000 feet at the Breckenridge Distillery - the world’s highest. They use a high percentage of Green Rye mash, which adds a spicy quality and develops depth of flavor. It has a pretty dark color for a young bourbon (only aged two to three years) and emits a caramel, maple nose that also presents on the palate. They also offer a DIY kit for about $200 if you want to try your hand and being your own Master Blender.
$55, 750 ml bottle
Kings County Bourbon: New York City
Claims of being the oldest distillery in New York City (and the first since Prohibition) is a touch cheeky since New York City has only "legally" been able to distill spirits since 2010. Their eye-catching packaging of a glass flask with a plain typewriter set paper hints that this is a special, under the radar libation. Nicole Austin, one of the few women Master Blenders in the country takes care of the bourbon as it ages and makes sure it is aged and bottled at the right moment. The recipe includes organic corn from New York’s Finger Lakes and Scotch drinkers will appreciate the inclusion of Scottish malted barley. The barley smooths out the unique buttery sweetness of the corn and adds depth.
Cost: $25, 200ml bottle
Smugglers’ Notch Bourbon: Vermont
With a bit of prolonged aging of (six to seven years), the use of multiple grains (corn, rye and barley) and the addition of clean Vermont spring water, Smugglers’ Notch ends up capturing a different side to bourbon. Owner and father-son team, Ron and Jeremy Elliott, opened the distillery in 2006 with selections of vodka, gin and rum. Their newest release is labeled "straight" bourbon whiskey, meaning it has met the required minimum of two years aging in those new barrels. Softer than you might expect for a 90 proof bourbon with two different "mash bills" or blends of the different grains.
$57, 750 ml bottle
These bourbons are available at select retailers around the country as well as online. When in New York City, check them out at St. Marks Wine and Liquor.