Bourbon has reached a whole new level of popularity in the past decade or so, not to mention it’s also become easier to access than it used to be. But what is bourbon, exactly? How can you tell if the bourbon you’re drinking is quality? And what are the different types of bourbon that exist? We’ve put together this quick guide to help you learn more about bourbon and how it’s made.

How Bourbon is Made

Bourbon is made from the fermented mash of grains. In the United States, bourbon must be made with a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, and distilled no higher than 160 proof (80% alcohol). It is then stored in new, charred oak barrels. The time bourbon spends in the barrel can vary significantly, depending on the desired flavor profile. The most common process for making bourbon is between two and four years, but some bourbons are aged for up to 12 years or more. This aging process mellows out the flavor of bourbon and gives it its signature amber color.

The Taste of Bourbon

The taste of quality bourbon is often described as having a smooth, warm, and sweet taste with notes of vanilla and caramel. If it tastes too harsh or bitter, it’s probably not the best quality bourbon. The taste is dependent on how long the bourbon is aged. Generally, the longer it’s aged, the more expensive it will be, but not always. If you don’t like the taste of bourbon right away, try adding some water or mixers.

How to Tell Different Bourbons Apart

Bourbons are categorized by three classifications and two methods of production. The three classifications are straight bourbon, blended bourbon, and small-batch bourbon. The two methods are column stills and pot stills. Straight bourbons use both a pot still and column still, blended bourbons are made from more than one type of whiskey with column distilled liquor added for consistency, while small-batch bourbons come from a single distillery that uses pot stills to produce the product.

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