Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

Amber Lights: American whiskies – what does bourbon actually mean?

Post Thumbnail

Our whisky columnist, Brian Townsend, seeks to find out what’s in an American bourbon and how it impacts the Scotch industry

In Scotland, we are precise about defining our whiskies – they are single malt, single grain, blended malt or blended (mixed grain and malt).

All whiskies must be at least three years old before bottling and 40% alcohol by volume.

American whiskies (overwhelmingly bourbons from Kentucky) also operate under strict rules and definitions, although not always what they seem.

They also have terms unique to bourbons and virtually unknown this side of the Atlantic.

Bourbons must be made from a mash of at least 51% maize (corn-on-the-cob) plus a mix of other grains, such as barley and rye.

America still works in proof so the spirit is distilled at up to 160 US proof (80% alcohol by volume) and casked at up to 125 proof (62.5% abv).

Interestingly, US proof is exactly half a percent, while Britain’s (obsolete) proof was 0.57 of a percent.

New bourbon must be casked in new charred oak barrels which may only be used once. This is a boon to the Scotch industry, as it means millions of emptied bourbon casks are discarded every year.

Brian Townsend.

Scots cooperages have partner set-ups in Kentucky that buy and dismantle them and load the staves and hoops (up to 40 casks to a pallet) to be re-assembled once in Scotland.

As there are some 63 bourbon distilleries in Kentucky, and many more across the States, that means a plentiful supply.

Bourbons have their own vocabulary. “Sour mash” means part of a previous mash is added to a new one to ensure continuity of flavour.

Many assume “Straight Bourbon” means it’s from just one distillery, but in the US it mainly means it’s at least two years old, three years when exported to the EU and Britain.

Bottled-in-bond bourbon must be four years old and “high-rye” bourbon must be 20-35% rye. Blended bourbon can be mixed with neutral spirits, but must contain 51% bourbon. Interestingly, in the US bourbon can be sold three months after distillation.

How bourbon got its name is disputed. Some say it’s named after Bourbon County, Kentucky; or it was shipped from Old Bourbon harbour on the Ohio river; or it’s named after Bourbon Street in New Orleans.

What is certain is the name Bourbon stems from the former French royal family.

Read more in this series…

Amber Lights: Monks made a habit of distilling whisky

Amber Lights: Britain in a Bottle – new book is an armchair tour of the UK’s distilleries, breweries and wineries


Already a subscriber? Sign in



More from The Courier Food & Drink team

More from The Courier