What Is Bourbon Made From?

Popular whiskey known as bourbon has been consumed for many years.

It is a distinctively American spirit that must meet stringent legal criteria in order to be called authentic bourbon. The mash bill, or the blend of grains used in the production process, is one of the important needs.

Corn is the main grain used to manufacture bourbon and accounts for at least 51% of the mash bill. Rye, wheat, and malted barley are additional grains that can be utilized. Each distillery may utilize a different blend of grains, and this can significantly alter the flavor profile of the final product. The water used during manufacture may also have an impact on how the bourbon tastes.

What is Bourbon?

Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is made primarily from corn. According to the American Bourbon Association, bourbon recipes consist of at least 51% corn, which creates a sweet flavor. Other grains such as rye, wheat, and malted barley are added for a more complex flavor.

Bourbon is a distinct type of whiskey that is recognized by its unique flavor and aging process. In fact, bourbon is so unique that it has been recognized as a “distinctive product of the United States” by Congress since 1964. This means that bourbon cannot be legally produced outside of U.S. soil.

The precise source of inspiration for the name “bourbon” is uncertain, but there are a few contenders. Some believe that bourbon is named after Bourbon County in Kentucky, while others think it is named after Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Both of these places are named after the French Bourbon dynasty, which ruled France from 1589 to 1792.

Bourbon has a rich history that dates back to the late 18th century. It was first produced in Kentucky, which is now known as the bourbon capital of the world. Today, there are many distilleries in Kentucky that produce bourbon, including Buffalo Trace Distillery, Brown-Forman, Eagle Rare, and Elijah Craig.

During Prohibition, bourbon production was forced underground, but it continued to be produced illegally. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, bourbon production resumed and has since become a beloved American tradition.

In summary, bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is made primarily from corn and aged in charred oak barrels. It has a unique flavor and aging process that make it a distinctive product of the United States. Bourbon has a rich history that dates back to the late 18th century and is now produced by many distilleries in Kentucky and beyond.

Bourbon Ingredients

Bourbon whiskey is made from a combination of grains, yeast, and water.

The precise recipe for bourbon varies from distillery to distillery, but there are some basic ingredients that are common to all bourbons.


The primary grain used in bourbon whiskey is corn. By law, bourbon must be made from a mash bill that contains at least 51% corn. The remaining grains can include rye, wheat, and barley. The use of different grains in the mash bill can affect the flavor and aroma of the finished bourbon. For example, a high-rye mash bill will produce a spicier bourbon, while a wheated mash bill will produce a softer, more mellow bourbon.


Yeast is used to ferment the mash and convert the sugars in the grains into alcohol. Different strains of yeast can be used to produce different flavors and aromas in the bourbon. Some distilleries use a proprietary strain of yeast that is unique to their brand.

During fermentation, the yeast consumes the sugars in the mash and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide. The resulting liquid, known as the “distiller’s beer,” is then distilled to separate the alcohol from the water and other impurities.

Overall, the quality and type of grains and yeast used in the bourbon-making process are critical to the flavor and aroma of the finished product. The use of high-quality ingredients and careful attention to the mash bill and fermentation process are essential to producing a high-quality bourbon.

Distillation Process

Bourbon is a distilled spirit that undergoes a rigorous distillation process to purify and concentrate the alcohol content.

The distillation process is a crucial step in the bourbon production process that determines the quality and flavor of the final product. This section will discuss the different aspects of the bourbon distillation process, including the Mash Bill, Fermentation Process, and Distilling Process.

Mash Bill

The Mash Bill is the recipe of grains used to make bourbon. The most common grains used in bourbon production are corn, rye, and barley. The Mash Bill must contain at least 51% corn to be considered bourbon. The other grains are used to add flavor and complexity to the final product. Some distilleries use a higher percentage of rye or wheat in their Mash Bill to create different styles of bourbon, such as rye bourbon or wheated bourbon.

Fermentation Process

The Fermentation Process is the process of converting the sugars in the Mash Bill into alcohol. Yeast is added to the Mash Bill to initiate the fermentation process. The yeast consumes the sugar in the Mash Bill and produces alcohol, carbon dioxide, and heat as byproducts. The Fermentation Process usually takes between two to four days, depending on the distillery’s preference.

Distilling Process

The Distilling Process is the process of purifying the alcohol content in the fermented Mash Bill. The Mash Bill is heated in a still, and the alcohol vaporizes and rises to the top of the still. The vapor is then condensed back into a liquid form and collected. The distillation process is usually done twice to achieve a higher alcohol content and a purer taste.

Bourbon can be distilled in either column stills or pot stills. Column stills are more efficient and produce a higher alcohol content, while pot stills are more traditional and produce a richer, fuller flavor. The Distilling Process is also responsible for the color and flavor of the bourbon. The bourbon is aged in oak barrels, which imparts color and flavor to the final product. The barrels are usually charred to add a smoky flavor to the bourbon.

The ABV (Alcohol By Volume) of bourbon can vary depending on the distillery’s preference. Most bourbon is bottled at 40-50% ABV, but some distilleries bottle their bourbon at barrel proof, which can be as high as 70% ABV. The caramel color of bourbon is not added during the distillation process but is a result of the aging process.

Aging Bourbon

Bourbon is a whiskey that is aged in charred white oak barrels.

The aging process is crucial to the final product, as it imparts color, flavor, and complexity to the whiskey.

Aging Process

The aging process for bourbon is regulated by law. According to the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, bourbon must be aged in new charred oak containers. The containers must be made of oak and can be no larger than 700 liters.

Bourbon must be entered into the container for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume). It must be bottled at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume). Many bourbons are bottled at 100 proof, which is a popular choice among consumers.

The aging process for bourbon can take anywhere from two to twenty years. During this time, the whiskey interacts with the oak barrel, picking up flavors and aromas from the wood. The longer the whiskey is aged, the more complex and mature it becomes.


The warehouse where bourbon is aged can also have an impact on the final product. The temperature and humidity of the warehouse can affect the rate of aging and the flavor profile of the bourbon.

Bourbon producers often rotate barrels within the warehouse to ensure that all barrels age evenly. They may also move barrels to different parts of the warehouse to take advantage of temperature and humidity variations.

The warehouse where bourbon is aged is also where the age statement on the bottle comes from. The age statement reflects the youngest whiskey used in the blend. For example, if a bourbon is a blend of three-year-old and five-year-old whiskeys, the age statement on the bottle will be three years.

In recent years, there has been a growing demand for older and more mature bourbons. This has led to a shortage of aged bourbon, as producers struggle to keep up with consumer demand. To meet this demand, some producers have started releasing bottled-in-bond bourbons, which must be aged for at least four years.

Overall, the aging process is a crucial part of making bourbon. It gives the whiskey its signature color and flavor, and it is what sets bourbon apart from other types of whiskey.

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

Written by Paul Kushner

I have always had a deep interest in the restaurant and bar industry. My restaurant experience began in 1997 at the age of 14 as a bus boy. By the time I turned 17 I was serving tables, and by 19 I was bartending/bar managing 6-7 nights a week.

In 2012, after a decade and a half of learning all facets of the industry, I opened my first restaurant/bar. In 2015, a second location followed, the latter being featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

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