A Lesson in Bourbon Law

Do you know the difference between bourbon and whiskey?

Here in the South, it is important to know the difference between bourbon and whiskey – Because as the saying goes: all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.

For a whiskey to be considered bourbon, it must follow a strict set of guidelines during the distilling process. This is where it can get a little confusing. To clear things up, we met with Teddy Nixon, Bar Manager at Bar Mash in Charleston, South Carolina, for a quick lesson in “Bourbon Law.”

“Whiskey is basically just a blanket term for anything distilled from cereal grains,” Nixon explains. “That can be anything from corn, rye, barley, wheat.” Bourbon gets a little more specific, which is where “Bourbon Law” comes in.

To be classified as bourbon, whiskey must:

  1. Be made in the United States.
  2. Contain at least 51 percent corn.
  3. Be aged in new charred American oak barrels.
  4. Be distilled at no higher than 160 proof.
  5. Be put in the barrel at no higher than 125 proof.
  6. Be bottled at no lower than 80 proof.

For Nixon, it is these rules that make bourbon a higher quality product than general whiskey. “You don’t know exactly what you’re getting when it just says whiskey on the bottle. When it says bourbon, you know what your having.”

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