Apple Pie. Denim. Bourbon. They're pretty much interchangeable with the good 'ole Red, White and Blue. For folks like us, there's no doubt bourbon is the essential American liquor.
A variety of whiskey, bourbon takes its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky. You know — the home of thoroughbred horses and Bluegrass. Combine some classic Kentucky music and horse racing with bourbon and we're there! But, in all honesty, we'd take the bourbon regardless.
Although production in Kentucky isn't required to officially qualify as a bourbon, the beverage must be distilled within the United States. Even so, 95 percent of bourbon is Kentucky-born. Let's face it. . . they know how to make bourbon right! Plus, there's something about Kentucky water that results in the best bourbon.
Believe it or not, Kentucky sits atop vast blue limestone deposits, which filters out minerals like iron and adds sweet-tasting magnesium and calcium for a more pleasing flavor. More than that, Kentucky's chilly winters and hot summers help produce incredible bourbon because the temperatures cause the charred oak barrels to absorb and release the whiskey. The result is a distinctive flavor and amber hue unlike anything else on earth.
Whiskey increased in popularity after the American Revolution when rum imports slowed down. We had to get our fix somewhere, and Kentucky-born bourbon whiskey was as good as any. . . if not better!
Letter of the Law:
You're probably not thinking about fine, American lawmaking while sipping bourbon, but all types of bourbon are more than a little regulated. In 1964, the U.S. Congress recognized bourbon as a "distinctive product of the United States" and put parameters in place to uphold its unique qualities.
To get the math out of the way — per the Federal Standards of Identity for Bourbon, the whiskey must be made with a mash of no less than 51 percent corn grain along with rye, wheat and/or malted barley. It must be distilled to no less than 80 percent ABV and casked at 62.5 percent ABV or less. Only then can it be matured in new, charred white-oak barrels for a minimum of two years. And no, those details don't make for the best party banter, but hey, at least you know them now! You never know, this info could come in handy on trivia night!
How To Drink It:
To truly experience the slight sweetness and character that has made bourbon a worldwide sensation in recent years, drink bourbon neat, on the rocks or with a splash of water or soda water. You can also enjoy it as the foundation of many classic cocktails like the Mint Julep, Old Fashioned and Ward Eight.
The Mint Julep is the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby for good reason. It features smooth bourbon whiskey, sugar cubes and mint springs served over crushed ice in a silver or pewter cup. Our mouths are watering just thinking about it. Is it any wonder why the Kentucky Derby serves some 80,000 juleps each year?
The Whiskey Sour is another favorite. It's a classic cocktail made with bourbon, lemon juice, sugar and occasionally egg white for a little creaminess. Garnish with a maraschino cherry or lemon rind in a sugared glass, and you're good to go!