What Does Bourbon Mean? Discover the Meaning behind the World’s Favorite Whiskey.

Bourbon, the world’s favorite whiskey, is a type of American whiskey that has gained international popularity for its distinctive flavor and smoothness. The name ‘bourbon’ is often used interchangeably with ‘whiskey,’ but there are a few key differences that set bourbon apart as a unique and flavorful spirit.

What Is Bourbon?

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is distilled from a mashbill containing at least 51% corn. The remaining portion of the mashbill typically consists of malted barley and rye or wheat. Bourbons are aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years, although many premium bourbons are aged for much longer.

The Origin of Bourbon

The origin of bourbon is a subject of much debate, but most historians agree that it originated in Kentucky in the late 18th century. While the exact details of its creation are not known, it is believed that bourbon was created as a way to use excess corn crops that were grown in the region. The first bourbon distilleries were located in what is now Bourbon County, Kentucky, which is where the name ‘bourbon’ is believed to have come from.

What Does Bourbon Taste Like?

Bourbon has a distinctive flavor and aroma that sets it apart from other types of whiskey. The high proportion of corn in the mashbill gives bourbon a sweet, grainy flavor, while the new, charred oak barrels impart flavors of vanilla, caramel, and oak. The aging process also helps to mellow the flavors and create a smooth, drinkable whiskey.

Common Flavor Profiles

While there is no set flavor profile for bourbon, there are certain characteristics that are commonly associated with the spirit. Some of the most common flavor profiles include:

  • Sweet and grainy
  • Vanilla and caramel
  • Spicy and peppery
  • Oaky and smoky
  • Fruity and floral

What Are the Regulations for Bourbon?

In order for a whiskey to be labeled as ‘bourbon,’ it must meet certain legal requirements. The regulations for bourbon are set forth in the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, which are administered by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

The Bourbon Mashbill

In order for a whiskey to be considered bourbon, it must be made from a mashbill that contains at least 51% corn. The remaining portion of the mashbill can be made up of malted barley, rye, or wheat. The type of grains used in the mashbill can have a significant impact on the flavor profile of the bourbon.

The Aging Process

All bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years. The charred oak barrels help to impart flavor and color to the whiskey, and the aging process helps to mellow the flavors and create a more drinkable spirit. Many premium bourbons are aged for much longer than the legal minimum.

The Proof of Bourbon

Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 80% alcohol by volume (ABV) and bottled at no less than 40% ABV. The proof of bourbon can have a significant impact on the flavor profile and overall quality of the whiskey.

How Is Bourbon Made?

The process of making bourbon is a complex and time-consuming one that involves several steps. The basic steps in the bourbon-making process are: mash, ferment, distill, age, and bottle.

The Mash

The first step in making bourbon is to create the mash. The mash is made from a combination of corn, malted barley, rye, or wheat, and water. The grains are ground and mixed with hot water to create a porridge-like mixture that is then cooled and mixed with yeast. The yeast helps to convert the sugars in the grain into alcohol.


After the mash is created, it is transferred to a fermentation tank where it is allowed to ferment for several days. During the fermentation process, the yeast consumes the sugars in the mash and converts them into alcohol. The result is a mixture called ‘distiller’s beer.’


After fermentation is complete, the distiller’s beer is transferred to a still where it is heated to boiling. The steam that is produced is captured and condensed back into a liquid, which is collected and further distilled. This process is repeated several times until the desired alcohol content is reached.


Once the whiskey has been distilled, it is transferred to new, charred oak barrels for aging. The whiskey is aged for a minimum of two years, but many premium bourbons are aged for much longer. During the aging process, the whiskey absorbs flavors and colors from the oak barrel, and the flavors of the whiskey mellow and become more complex.


After the whiskey has been aged, it is removed from the oak barrels and bottled for sale. The whiskey is typically diluted with water to reach the desired proof, and some distillers add caramel coloring to adjust the color of the whiskey.

What Types of Bourbon Are There?

There are several different types of bourbon, each with its own unique flavor profile and aging process. Some of the most common types of bourbon include:

Straight Bourbon

Straight bourbon is aged for at least two years and is not blended with any other whiskeys. The term ‘straight’ refers to the fact that the bourbon has been aged for a specific amount of time and has not been blended with any other spirits.

Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon

Bottled-in-bond bourbon is a type of bourbon that is aged for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof. In order to be labeled as bottled-in-bond, the whiskey must also be produced by a single distiller in a single distilling season.

Small Batch Bourbon

Small batch bourbon is a type of bourbon that is produced from a smaller number of barrels, typically between four and ten. The smaller number of barrels allows the distiller to create a more consistent and higher quality whiskey.

What Foods Pair Well with Bourbon?

Bourbon is a versatile spirit that pairs well with a wide range of foods. Some of the most popular food pairings for bourbon include:


Bourbon’s sweet and smoky flavors make it the perfect pairing for rich and savory barbecue dishes. Try pairing a glass of bourbon with a plate of brisket, ribs, or pulled pork for a flavor explosion.


Bourbon’s rich and complex flavors are the perfect complement to the bold and rich flavors of dark chocolate. Try pairing a glass of bourbon with a piece of dark chocolate for a luxurious dessert experience.


Bourbon’s sweet and nutty flavors make it a great pairing for a wide range of cheeses. Try pairing a glass of bourbon with a sharp cheddar, a creamy brie, or a tangy blue cheese for a flavor sensation.

The Final Sip

Bourbon is a unique and flavorful spirit that has gained a legion of fans around the world. From its distinctive flavor profile to its complex aging process, bourbon is a truly American spirit that is loved by whiskey enthusiasts around the globe.

Common Questions Related to Bourbon

  • What is the difference between bourbon and whiskey?
    • Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is distilled from a mashbill containing at least 51% corn. All bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbons.
  • What is the proper way to drink bourbon?
    • Bourbon can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or mixed into a classic cocktail like an old fashioned or a whiskey sour.
  • What is the best way to store bourbon?
    • Bourbon should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Once a bottle is opened, it should be consumed within six months to ensure the best quality and flavor.
  • What is the most expensive bourbon in the world?
    • The most expensive bourbon in the world is Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23 Year, which can sell for thousands of dollars per bottle.
  • Does bourbon have any health benefits?
    • While it is not advisable to consume large amounts of alcohol for health reasons, moderate consumption of bourbon may have some health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.


“Bourbon Whiskey.” Distilled Spirits Council. https://www.distilledspirits.org/spirits/bourbon-whiskey
“Bourbon Whiskey.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bourbon_whiskey

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