Few things are quite as American as bourbon. The history of bourbon whiskey is rooted in Kentucky in the 1870s, where Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister, was said to have first aged spirits in charred oak barrels which gives bourbon its distinctive reddish tint and smoky oak flavor.
For some people, ordering bourbon can seem a bit intimidating. What does on the rocks mean? Will you be judged for ordering a cheap whiskey or adding coke to an expensive whiskey?
Many people have strong feelings about how bourbon should be enjoyed, but the truth is–it is all up to you! Before you order, here are a few things you need to know about the wonderfully rich spirit known as bourbon.
What, Exactly, Is Bourbon?
Bourbon is a sister spirit of Scotch whiskey; however it has an incredibly unique taste. In general, bourbon is an alcoholic spirit made from at least 51% corn mash and aged in charred oak barrels. Bourbon that is aged longer retains more of the color and flavor of the oak barrels.
In the United States, there are actually legal requirements distillers must meet to call their spirit bourbon. These include:
- Must be made from a minimum of 51% corn
- Cannot be distilled higher than 160 proof
- Must be aged in charred, oak barrels at no higher than 125 proof
- Must be a minimum of 80 proof at the time of bottling
All of these factors contribute to the distinctive taste of bourbon. However, other factors may also impact taste, such as the inclusion of other grains (such as rye, wheat, or barley), the type of water used to create it, and the addition of other natural flavorings.
Understanding the Different Types of Bourbon
There are dozens of types of bourbon that fall under the bourbon umbrella. These include straight bourbon, which must be aged a minimum of two years, blended bourbon, which may include neutral-grain spirits, and rye bourbon, which contains a higher percentage of rye.
You may also hear terms such as small batch, single barrel, and blended. These all refer to the way the bourbon is produced and can impact the flavor.
Small Batch Bourbon: Most bourbons are a blend of several barrels of bourbon. Small batch usually means less than 100 barrels of bourbon were blended.
Single Barrel Bourbon: This type of bourbon is not blended with other barrels, which means the flavor may vary from bottle to bottle.
Blended Bourbon: This type may include additives such as color or flavorings, however at least 51% of the bottle must be bourbon.
Straight Bourbon: Bourbon that is aged a minimum of 2 years and contains no added color, flavorings, or other spirits.
How It Is Traditionally Served
The best way to serve bourbon is however you enjoy it the best! However, newer bourbon drinkers may be wary of ordering a bourbon when they don’t understand the lingo. We’ve broken down the most popular ways to enjoy bourbon whiskey so you can order with confidence.
On the Rocks: Served with ice to chill the bourbon and open up the flavors.
Splash of Water: Served in a glass at room temperature with a splash of water to help the flavors bloom.
Straight Up: Shaken or stirred with ice, then strained and served in a glass.
Neat: Poured into a glass at room temperature and served. No ice, no water, no mixers.
Three Fingers: In general, fingers are a unit of measurement that refers to the amount of whiskey that would be equal to the width of one finger. Three fingers is generally around 3 ounces of bourbon.
In a Cocktail: Many bourbon afficandos enjoy bourbon on its own, however it can also be enjoyed in cocktails, such as bourbon and coke, classic Manhattan, or an Old Fashioned.
Join Us at Bull & Bourbon Steakhouse
Bull & Bourbon is a premier steak house located in the Sycuan Casino & Resort in Cajon, California. We pair the best steaks in the world, including ribeyes, filet, strips, and porterhouses, with a large selection of the best bourbons in the United States. Our menu includes a wide selection of steaks, salads, and locally-sourced California seafood as well as dozens of different bourbons.
Not sure which bourbon to order? Ask one of our servers for a recommendation, we would be more than happy to recommend the right bourbon for your tastes. Make your reservations now!