How Is Bourbon Made? Adventure From Barrel To Bottle

How-To Guides

How Is Bourbon Made

Strong notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel. These pleasant flavors and more make bourbon a home run when it comes to whiskey. Of course, nothing beats a good classic bourbon either neat or on the rocks. But did you ever wonder how is bourbon made or what is bourbon made from? 

Bourbon is distilled from a fermented mash of grain, yeast, and water. The mash bill is required to have a minimum of 51% corn. But most bourbons are averaged at 70%. In enhancing the flavor of this alcoholic beverage, grains such as rye, barley, and wheat are added. 

Despite bourbon being a mainstay, some are still quite lost about its facts. So, if you're a beginner or just want to refresh your memory, here is everything you need to know about America’s Native Spirit.

How Bourbon Whiskey Is Made

To come up with the bottle of bourbon, a master distiller from a bourbon distillery considers the grain, the yeast strains, new white oak barrels, and storage. Here are the processes needed to produce the classic bourbon whiskey.

1. Grain Selection and Mixture

Every distillery has its bourbon recipe. The law requires that every bottle of bourbon whiskey contains at least 51% corn. However, the content usually runs from 60% to 80%.

To understand how bourbon is made, one must take into consideration other components involved in making the mash bill. This includes rye and malted barley which makes up around 10% to 15% of the bourbon whiskey.

Other distilleries also add wheat to their mash bill. When this ingredient is added, it makes up about 10%. The different types of grain are grounded separately and stored. Then they are crushed and ground into a fine texture. 

Grain Selection and Mixture

2. Type of Water

Distilleries are usually located near springs that have enough water. The reason behind this is that the type of water involved when making bourbon is fresh spring water. This water type is needed so the grain can be cooked and the sugar can be extracted.

Spring Water

3. Cooking The Grain

Grains mostly consist of starch, but these are also loaded with fats, proteins, and other trace elements. Each grain can germinate and can turn starch into sugar. However, it should be noted that only barley can turn into cellulose during the germination process. 

For other grains such as corns, rye, and unmalted barley a different solution is needed to cook them. These are cooked at a higher temperature (220° F) with slight overpressure. After the grain mixture has cooled down, the yeast is then added to the fermenter.

4. Making The Yeast Mixture

The next step on how bourbon is made involves the creation of yeast. Every distillery has its yeast strains that they keep in cool rooms. The process begins by getting the natural yeasts from fruits and a sample solution is put on carriers. Then, they breed in ovens at 95° to 104° F (35° to 40° C).

A small amount of yeast is added to a malt extract in a glass container. The pH of the solution must range from 5.4 to 5.8 for yeast production. Then, the mixture is transferred in a dona tub to undergo fermentation.

5. Alcoholic Fermentation

Once the mash has completely cooled down at around 77° to 86° F (25° to 30° C), it is transferred into a fermenter alongside the yeast. This is where the beer with 9% alcohol content is fermented. During this point, the stillage is also added.

During the alcohol fermentation, the yeast converts the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The fermentation runs for approximately 3 days. Now, the alcohol content reaches 8% to 9.5%.

6. Distillation

The pillar-shaped column is filled with beer in the middle position and is heated below. The liquid beer runs down through the tubes whereas the alcohol vapors flow upward to the holes. This process can continue for as long as there is still beer liquid entering the column. While the alcohol vapor moves upward, the liquid remnants are formed at the bottom. This product is called “stillage” which is used as animal feed and sour mash. 

Once the alcohol is extracted, it is led to a doubler copper pot where the flavor of the whiskey is improved. Then, the vapor is transferred again to a condenser wherein it is liquified. This is commonly known as the “white dog”. Then, the whiskey is led to a spirit safe to make sure that the liquor is properly contained for transportation purposes.

Distillation

7. Filling the barrels

Before the whiskey is added to the barrels, the latter is first assembled. The first step involves joining the staves of the barrel using hot steam. Then, the barrels with the other side still open are held over a small fire. This process called “toasting” makes the wood sugar caramelized. 

After the initial fire, the whole barrel is submitted to a stronger fire treatment for about 6-12 minutes. This creates the charcoal layer in the barrel. Lastly, the barrel is closed and is ready to be transported.

Filling the barrels

8. Storage

The barrels of bourbon whiskey are stored in warehouses with different floors. For every floor, the taste of the bourbon can vary due to temperature variations.

9. Bottling

After the long process of how is bourbon made, it is now down to the last step - bottling. The distilleries remove the whiskey from the barrel and transfer it into various bottles for selling and distribution. 

What Does Bourbon Taste Like?

The process and ingredients used in making bourbon affect the overall taste of the liquor. Some note a nutty taste while others experience a cinnamon hint out of this whiskey variant.

Grain

  • Grain. Bourbon may have a taste of cornbread, oatmeal, wheat flakes, or toasted rye bread. “It typically takes about four years for a barrel to completely replace the prominent corn note with one of caramel or vanilla,” according to bourbon expert, Fred Minnick.
Nutmeg
  • Nutmeg. Some variants of bourbon may suggest flavors of eggnog, pumpkin pie, or toasted nuts. As to why this hint of taste is found in almost all bourbon, there is no specific reason for this, but this may be the result of the barley component.
Caramel
  • Caramel. The caramel taste of some bottles of bourbon may come from the partial burning of the barrels during the process. Since all barrels undergo this method, every sip may have that sweet apple taste.
Cinnamon
  • Cinnamon. Bourbon made with rye is the most prominent type to exude a cinnamon taste.

Different Types of Bourbon

Here are the different classifications of bourbon according to its main component. 

Different Types of Bourbon

  • Traditional Bourbon

These liquors are those that are made with 70% corn and equal amounts of rye and barley. Popular brands include: Baker’s, Booker’s, Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, Jim Beam, Jim Beam Black, Knob Creek, Old Crow, Wild Turkey

  • Spicy High Rye

From the term itself, this type of bourbon is made with a high amount of rye. Popular brands include: Basil Hayden’s, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Four Roses, George T. Stagg, Old Forester, Old Grand-Dad, Woodford Reserve

  • High Wheat

The traditional taste of bourbon usually comes from this type. High wheat is made of corn, barley, and wheat which gives that smoother taste. Popular brands include: Maker’s Mark, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, Old Rip Van Winkle / Pappy Van Winkle, W.L. Weller

Bourbon Cocktails Recipe

Bourbon is a great whiskey base for your cocktails. What makes bourbon a traditional mix to add to cocktails is its smoothness and affordability. Also, it balances the naturally powerful components in cocktails such as the zesty and fruity flavors. Here are some notable bourbon cocktails recipes for traditional or modern whiskey drinkers.

Old-Fashioned Bourbon Cocktail

What You’ll Need:

How to Make:

  1. Cut a one-inch circle of orange peel.
  2. Place a sugar cube in a glass and saturate with bitters.
  3. Muddle the sugar cube and then add 1 1/2 oz of bourbon.
  4. Add ice and stir well. 
  5. Using a match or lighter, warm the orange peel up, then squeeze while holding at a 45-degree angle over the glass. Wipe peel on the rim of the glass and drop in. 
  6. Add the cherry and 3/4 oz of bourbon. Give a final stir. You may add a small spritz of soda as well. 
  7. Garnish with a strip of orange peel and enjoy!

New York Sour

What You’ll Need:

How to Make:

  1. Dry shake the egg white.
  2. Fill your shaker with ice and add the remaining ingredients except for the red wine.
  3. Shake and strain over fresh ice into a Double Old Fashioned glass.
  4. Float the red wine on top.

Scotch vs Bourbon vs Rye

Scotch, bourbon, and rye are types of whiskey. Although most people think that they are relatively the same, there are hints of differences among the three. 

For a whiskey to be considered scotch, it has to be made mostly from malted barley. This liquor is also distilled and processed in Scotland. Although commonly associated with bourbon, scotch has that “bite” effect which makes it stronger compared to bourbon. Compared to scotch and rye, bourbon has that sweet and smoky hint due to charred oak. It is also mostly made from corn and other grains. As the name suggests, rye is a type of whiskey made with 51% rye. Rye tastes spicier and stronger than bourbon but is less hard than scotch.

Origin Of The Word Bourbon

Origin Of The Word Bourbon

The name bourbon is linked to various origins. Some say that it is derived from the French Bourbon dynasty, while some claim that it is taken from Bourbon County in Kentucky and Bourbon Street in New Orleans. 

According to Michael Veach, a Louiseville, Kentucky historian, the term was coined after two men known as Tarascon brothers arrived at Louisville from south of Cognac, France. They began shipping whiskey from the Ohio River to the port city in Louisiana. 

“They knew that if Kentuckians put their whiskey into charred barrels they could sell it to New Orleans’ residents, who would like it because it tastes more like cognac or ‘French brandy’,” says Veach in an interview with Smithsonian Magazine

It was in the 19th century when the New Orleans entertainment district was named Bourbon street. Veach furthered that people started asking about the whiskey that is being sold on Bourbon Street. He said that is when people started the name “bourbon whiskey”. 

Although there are various versions as to where the term originated, no actual record shows who invented bourbon or who the first Kentucky distiller is.

Conclusion

We hope you learned something new about how is bourbon made and what is bourbon made from. Learning some interesting facts about this classic whiskey is fun and interesting, don’t you think? If you enjoyed this read, share it or leave us a message in the comment section.

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