bartender pouring straight bourbon in a glass

What Is Straight Bourbon? Our Expert Guide

Straight bourbon stands out as a special kind of American whiskey characterized by its unique production process, distinct flavor profile, and legal requirements for classification. What makes it different from other whiskeys is its aging process.

In this article, we will delve into the main facts surrounding straight bourbon. We’ll also share other interesting information about it, such as its alcohol content, ingredients, production process, and the possibility of crafting it at home.

Straight Bourbon: The Main Facts

For a bourbon to be classified as “straight bourbon,” it must be aged for at least two years in charred oak barrels. In addition, it must not contain any added flavors, colors, or other additives, maintaining the purity and integrity of the spirit. For these reasons, it's an extensive process and the title means something – not too far off from the recognition of something like a nice cognac from France.

Straight bourbon whiskey offers a rich taste of caramel, vanilla, and oak with a touch of spice, and its deep amber color, accented with golden highlights, showcases its quality aging process.

The history of straight bourbon dates back to the early days of American whiskey production, with its roots firmly planted in the fertile soil of Kentucky. In the late 18th century, settlers in Kentucky began distilling corn-based whiskey, taking advantage of the abundant supply of corn in the region.

The name "bourbon" itself is believed to have originated from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it gained prominence.

It became so popular that in 1964, the US Congress recognized it as a “distinctive product of the United States.”

What Is the Alcohol Content of Straight Bourbon?

Straight bourbon is bottled at 40% alcohol by volume (ABV). That is the minimum requirement set by law in the US. There are many brands that offer variations with higher ABV levels, ranging from 40% to 50% ABV or even higher.

What Is Straight Bourbon Made From?

Straight bourbon is made from a “mash bill,” which contains 51% corn and a combination of other grains, such as rye, wheat, and barley. However, the corn content cannot exceed 79% to maintain its classification.

Rye and barley are often included to the mash bill to add some depth to the flavor profile. Rye imparts spicy and peppery notes, while barley contributes to the whiskey's malty character and helps with the fermentation process.

Some distillers experiment with alternative grains to create unique flavors of bourbon. For example, high-rye bourbons contain a higher proportion of rye in the mash bill, resulting in a spicier and more robust flavor profile. Wheat bourbons, on the other hand, replace rye with wheat, resulting in a softer and more mellow whiskey with notes of caramel and honey.

As mentioned above, straight bourbon doesn’t contain any artificial flavors or colors.

What Is the Primary Ingredient of Straight Bourbon?

Corn is the primary ingredient that’s used to make straight bourbon. Its high starch content contributes to the sweetness and smoothness of the whiskey. Corn has always been a defining element in Kentucky whiskey.

Back in the day, when whiskey-making was taking off in America, Kentucky's fertile land made it ideal for growing corn. As settlers arrived in the late 18th century, they brought their distillation skills to Kentucky, utilizing the abundance of corn to create the distinctive whiskeys that would define the region's tradition.

Today, corn still lies at the core of Kentucky whiskey-making, a testament to the state's deep-rooted history and its passion for crafting outstanding spirits.

How Is Straight Bourbon Made?

First, corn and a combination of other grains like rye and barley are ground into a coarse meal known as the mash. This mash is then mixed with fresh spring water and heated, allowing the starches to break down and convert into fermentable sugars.

The grain mixture is then added to a fermenter with yeast. This produces a beer that contains 9% of alcohol by volume, which serves as the base for distillation.

How Is Straight Bourbon Distilled or Filtered?

Next, the fermented beer undergoes distillation. The beer is heated in a still to purify and concentrate the alcohol. Once the distillation process is finished, the resulting clear, high-proof spirit, known as "white dog" or "new make spirit," is collected and transferred to charred oak barrels for aging.

The barrels are sealed and left to age. During this aging process, the bourbon absorbs flavor from the charred oak barrels, while also undergoing chemical changes that mellow and refine its taste.

It is only after it’s been aged for two years in charred oak barrels that the bourbon can be legally designated as straight bourbon.

After the aging process, the bourbon is filtered to remove any remaining impurities before it can be bottled and labeled as straight bourbon.

Can You Make Straight Bourbon Yourself?

Yes, you can make straight bourbon yourself, but we suggest familiarizing yourself with local and federal laws first. It’s illegal to make distilled spirits at home without a proper license or permit.

The first thing you would have to do is source the necessary ingredients, including corn, rye, barley, and sometimes wheat, as well as yeast and water.

Once you have the ingredients, you have to mash the grains to release their sugars and ferment the mash to create alcohol. Then, distill the fermented liquid, age the distilled spirit in charred oak barrels, and then bottle it for consumption.

This entire process requires a lot of time, effort, and resources. If you don’t have a thorough understanding of distillation techniques and legal requirements, then we recommend buying straight bourbon from a trusted supplier like Speakeasy Co.

Straight Bourbon: Capturing American Heritage in a Bottle

whiskey in corn field

Straight bourbon was born in the heart of America, tracing its roots to the fertile fields of Kentucky. It is made primarily of corn, along with other grains like rye, wheat, and barley, contributing to its distinctive taste.

The grains are carefully selected and ground into a coarse mixture, which is then mixed with water and heated to convert starch into fermentable sugars. Once the distillation process is finished, the resulting clear, high-proof spirit is collected and transferred to charred oak barrels for aging.

It’s carefully monitored by master distillers for two years until deemed ready for bottling. It can then legally be designated as straight bourbon.

You can make straight bourbon yourself at home, but depending on where you live, you may need a license or permit to distill spirits legally. If you don't want to put in the time to make it yourself, you can always opt to purchase straight bourbon from a reputable supplier, like Speakeasy.

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