Bourbon is a corn-based, aged spirit that, while legally can be produced anywhere in the U.S., is Kentucky’s signature liquor; in fact, Kentucky distilleries make 95% of the world’s bourbon and the Bluegrass State hosts over a million visitors annually for bourbon tasting tourism. Because of the liquor’s aging process variation, bourbon’s colors range from light amber to dark caramel and each bottle must contain at least 40% ABV. Bourbon can only be called bourbon if it’s aged in an oak barrel; barrels must be new and are pre-charred to help the liquid extract as much flavor as possible from the wood.
Much like how a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square, bourbon is a whiskey — but because of the stricter standards set for bourbon distillers, most whiskies are not considered bourbons.
While both whiskey and bourbon are made from the same base ingredients (a predominantly corn mash, yeast and water), a spirit can only be called bourbon if it’s crafted in the United States, surpasses a minimum 40% ABV and is aged in new, charred, white oak barrels. Bourbons are generally on the younger side of the whiskey family (compared to older whiskies like scotch) and thus deliver a sweeter profile.
Bourbon’s ingredient list is short and sweet (literally): corn, other grains, water and yeast. Barley, wheat and rye grains are often featured in the mash composition alongside the liquor’s signature corn base, but even so, the FDA considers straight bourbon as a gluten-free product that is safe for those with Celiac Disease or for individuals who suffer from other forms of gluten intolerance.
Raise a glass to science: While rye, barley and wheat all contain the gluten protein, the actual gluten is removed during the bourbon’s distillation process, in which the gluten molecules are separated from the actual distillate used to make the final product.