The Miseducation of the American Bourbon Drinker

Q: When is a bourbon not a bourbon? A: When it is a Tennessee whiskey. There are only four whiskeys in today’s market that distinguish themselves as ‘Tennessee whiskey’. Jack Daniels is the biggest culprit.
Now, for bourbon to be bourbon it has to go through specific steps and have official traits (and I do mean [...]

Q: When is a bourbon not a bourbon? A: When it is a Tennessee whiskey. There are only four whiskeys in today’s market that distinguish themselves as ‘Tennessee whiskey’. Jack Daniels is the biggest culprit.

Now, for bourbon to be bourbon it has to go through specific steps and have official traits (and I do mean official). The process of distilling official bourbon has been regulated and standardized by Congress, a fine bunch of drinkers in their own right. An official bourbon is made of a grain mixture of at least 51 percent corn grain, is aged in new, charred oak barrels and is bottled at no less than 80 proof. There are other regulations in there, but those are the main ones.

There are also rules about what you must display on the bottle besides the alcohol content. This includes whether it is strait or blended whiskey and how long it has been aged. On the label of most bourbon, you will see the word “Kentucky” displayed boldly and proudly. This is simply signifying the state in which the bourbon was made. Most bourbon is distilled in Kentucky due to the belief that the spring water used there is the best to use for the distilling process; however, bourbon can be made in any state that allows the distilling of spirits.

In May of 1964, the drinkers in Congress managed to put their glasses down long enough to officially recognize bourbon as a distinctive product of the United States. This means if it is made in Canada, even if all the correct procedures are followed, it can’t be called bourbon. It has to be made in the United States to be called bourbon.

bourbon-barrels

Now how is whiskey like Jack Daniels different from standard bourbon? For the most part they are identical. They both use a sour mash process. They both use a majority corn grain mixture. They both are aged in new, charred oak barrels. It comes down to one very distinctive step: charcoal mellowing. Sounds nice right? Charcoal mellowing is a process in which the newly distilled whiskey is filtered, drip by drip, through a layer of maple charcoal before it is placed in the charred oak barrels and aged. Tennessee whiskey distillers say this step gives the whiskey a new and distinctive flavor when compared to bourbon. I agree. Put on your old Tri-Lamb sweater and take a shot of Jack and then a shot of good bourbon like Woodford Reserve or Makers Mark. The flavor signatures are definitely different.

I urge more men to drink bourbon whiskey, be it from Tennessee or Kentucky. Put down the French Vodka, you look ridiculous. Tequila will only get you in trouble and save the Gin for the English. For the love of God, drink it strait or on the rocks. Three fingers worth should do the trick. The bartender will appreciate not having to make another appletini. Try to think of it this way. If your girlfriend can’t handle drinking what you are drinking, it’s a good thing. It means you have a man’s drink.

Thomas Jefferson. George Washington. Mark Twain. Harry Truman. Frank Sinatra. Hunter S. Thompson. All whiskey drinkers. If you have what she is having, some mixed vodka concoction; you might as well be drinking a Zima.


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