National Bourbon Heritage Month is September, and this year I decided that it was about time to give a whole bunch of bourbon whiskey a try. I drank bourbon all month, and now it’s time for a report.
To be legally called bourbon, a spirit must be:
- Distilled from a grain mash that’s at least 51% corn
- Aged in new, charred, oak barrels for a period of time (not specified)
- Distilled and aged in the United States.
Congress recognized bourbon in 1964 as “America’s Official Native Spirit,” and while not required to be made in Kentucky, 90% of bourbon is. I tried bourbons from Knob Creek, Buffalo Trace, Bulleit, and Maker’s Mark, and outside of the above characteristics, they vary quite a bit from each other. A good bourbon is usually sweet from the corn and quite smooth, but there are some unique characteristics that each of these has:
Knob Creek ($30): Corn, rye, and barley, aged 9 years, 100 proof, black stamped wax seal on the bottle. Pretty spicy, and not the smoothest of the bunch. Abraham Lincoln’s father distilled whiskey near Knob Creek, and Hank served Walt some of this in the mid-season finale of Breaking Bad a few weeks ago.
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve ($40): Corn, rye, and barley, aged 9 years, black stamped wax seal on the bottle. Significantly smoother than it’s little brother and absolutely delicious. Add water, ice, or both, because this one is bottled at 120 proof.
Buffalo Trace ($20-25): Corn, rye, and barley, aged at least 8 years, 90 proof. Very spicy to the point you might mistaken it for a rye whiskey and likely the best bourbon you can drink in it’s price range.
Bulleit ($35): Known for being a bourbon with high rye content, it’s probably the spiciest bourbon you’ll try. Aged at least 6 years, 90 proof. These iconic bottles were used as props in the bars on Deadwood.
Maker’s Mark ($30): A stand-out in this bunch, Maker’s uses no rye and instead uses red winter wheat with the corn and barley mash. Aged “to taste,” so usually 5-8 years, 90 proof, with the red wax seal. The wheat makes Maker’s very smooth, probably the most accessible of the bunch. You can seal your own bottle with wax if you visit the distillery.
Maker’s 46 ($40): Similar to Maker’s in every way but one: when a barrel of Maker’s Mark is ready, it’s removed from the barrel and 10 seared French oak staves are added to the barrel. Maker’s 46 is then aged “for several more months,” then bottled at 94 proof. Maker’s 46 is a more serious, spicy drink than the standard Maker’s. The number 46 represents how many variations of a “new” Maker’s Mark they tried before the distillery settled on this product.
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