The Bourbon Basics
The B-Line is Northern Kentucky’s very own bourbon trail. With tons of great distilleries, bars, and bourbon-centric restaurants, it’s the perfect way to spend a weekend in NKY. Learn more about The B-Line today.
So, you’ve discovered Northern Kentucky’s self-guided bourbon tour, The B-Line, but you’re new to this whole “bourbon” thing. Before you dive into the line, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of what bourbon is.
Bourbon enthusiasts are proud of their favorite libation, and most tend to be extremely familiar with the requirements that make whiskey bourbon, as well as the history behind the spirit. Before you embark on your B-Line journey, here are 10 things to know about bourbon that’ll get you ready to dive headfirst into the captivating world of this infamous intoxicant.
Bourbon is distinctly American. A whiskey cannot be considered bourbon if it was made outside of the United States. And, despite what many of us locals would love to claim, bourbon does not need to be made in Kentucky to be considered a true bourbon (although we think it tastes better coming from Bluegrass soil).
All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. In order for a whiskey to be considered bourbon it must have a mash bill (aka grain mixture) of at least 51% corn. The rest of the bill is usually made of grains like malted barley, wheat, or rye.
Bourbon is distilled at no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume). This is the process that separates the alcohol from the fermented grain mixture and it is often done in column stills or pot stills. You can see these stills in person at some of The B-Line’s stops, like Boone County Distilling Co., Neeley Family Distillery, and New Riff Distilling.
Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. Charring the barrels caramelizes the wood’s natural sugars and gives bourbon its distinctive flavors and color.
To be legally labeled as “straight bourbon,” the spirit must be barrel-aged for at least two years. Although many bourbons are aged for longer.
Another legal requirement states that bourbon cannot contain any additives, flavorings, or colorings. The beverage’s flavor profile must come entirely from the grains used to make it and the aging process.
Elijah Craig did not invent bourbon:
Despite popular legends, Elijah Craig is not the inventor of this American fixture. He was a distiller, and an incredibly popular Baptist preacher, but the origins of bourbon stem from the collective efforts of many throughout the Bluegrass region.
Neat, On the Rocks, or in Cocktails:
Bourbon is enjoyed in various ways. Some prefer sipping it neat (without any additional mixers or ice), while others enjoy it on the rocks (with ice). Bourbon is also a versatile base spirit for classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Mint Julep. All of the bars on The B-line are required to feature a rotating weekly bourbon-based cocktail.
The Six Categories:
Generally speaking, there are six main categories of bourbon—high corn, high rye, wheated, single barrel, cask strength, and small batch—and each one has its own flavor profile.
Tasting bourbon and drinking bourbon are very different experiences. Tasting bourbon takes everything into account, from the glass, the appearance, the aroma, and finally, the flavors. Try using the “Kentucky Chew” method to really get a taste of new spirits—swish the bourbon around in your mouth a few times before swallowing. It’s going to be hot (aka, it’s going to burn), but this method makes it easier to detect all of the hidden flavors within.