A Handy Beginner’s Guide To Bourbon


Updated 12/7/2021

If you like going out and having a drink with friends, you probably have that one friend’s always talking about how great bourbon is. Even if whiskey or beer is more your thing, your friend is always talking about how you and all your buddies should check out a local bourbon bar.

Even if you don’t know much about bourbon, you’ve likely seen plenty of commercials and based all the familiar brands in the store: Makers Mark, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, Old Crow, Town Branch and Jim Beam just to name a few. In fact, bourbon is American’s native spirit and while it is closely associated with Kentucky, it can be distilled anywhere in the United States.

It’s true there are many bourbon brands you can find at a local bourbon bar, but bourbon is actually very distinct and tightly regulated in its making. Bourbon made for consumption within the United States mus be:

  • Made in the U.S.
  • Bottled at 80 proof at a minimum
  • Distilled at no more than 160 proof
  • Made from a mixture of grains (rye, wheat, barley) that includes 51% corn at a minimum. The corn helps give bourbon sweetness and whatever grain is used will give that bourbon a particular flavor. Many distillers of bourbon use that other 49% mixture to make their bourbons very distinct.
  • Aged in brand new containers of charred oak. Most bourbons are aged for a period of four to seven years.
  • Aged at no more than 125 proof

small oak barrels

So if you’ve finally acquiesced to your friend’s pleas and you’re going to visit a local bourbon bar, here are some helpful things to know about different types of bourbon:

  • Straight bourbon is bourbon that’s been aged at least two years. If you drink it with no ice, this called drinking it neat.
  • The flavor profile of bourbon might be characterized as having notes of caramel or oak or vanilla. Such contrast makes it ideal for drinking on the rocks (with ice) or in cocktails.
  • If you go to a bourbon bar and see apple bourbon or cinnamon bourbon, know that it’s not true bourbon. Once flavors such as those have been added to a batch of bourbon, they must be labeled as whiskey liqueurs. If you’ve ever noticed in stores, brands like Jim Beam Apple don’t place bourbon so prominently on the label.
  • If you’re not looking to taste just straight bourbon, there are any number of cocktails you can enjoy. You can enjoy an old-fashioned, which is bourbon mixed with bitters, sugar and some fruit. You can enjoy a mint julep, which is arguably the most famous of all bourbon cocktails. You can have a Manhattan, which combines bourbon with bitters and some sweet vermouth. Heck, you can even use bourbon to spice up your holiday eggnog.

It’s estimated that 86% of Americans have had alcohol at least once in their lifetime. Even if alcohol isn’t a big deal to you, it’s not a bad idea to find a go-to drink to fall back on the next time you go to a whiskey bar, a bourbon bar or somewhere alcohol is prominently served. No one says you have to try all types of rare whiskeys, but you may find yourself more open to drinking different kinds of bourbon or whiskey as you learn more about them or find one you enjoy.

Armed with a little bit of knowledge and an open mind, you may take a liking to bourbon if you visit your local bourbon bar. Even if you don’t want bourbon neat or bourbon on the rocks, you can find a cocktail that’s enjoyable and won’t take away from your bourbon tasting experience.

Creating Your Own Bourbon With Small Oak Barrels

Bourbon whiskey is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from grains such as corn, rye, and barley. There are some notable things to know about Bourbon before you start drinking it. If the maker’s age statement is less than 10 years old, it is likely a blended whiskey with more than one type of grain. It is typically aged and in used bourbon barrels, which add to its flavor and color. There are many types of bourbons that have been created over the years in different regions of the world. This includes using small oak barrels, which can be bought online for a reasonable price. To help you figure out what to drink, we’ll create a list of the five best bourbons currently on the market.

The best Bourbon on the market is whiskey made from a grain mixture of at least 51% corn, aged in oak barrels. The best aged bourbon whiskey has been distilled from the fermented mash of grains such as wheat, rye, or barley. Many bourbon drinkers have a preference for their own personal favorite bourbon brand. This type of preference is often referred to as “brand loyalty.” People typically drink Bourbon straight up with ice and water – this is called “on the rocks.” Others prefer to mix it with other ingredients – this can be done by adding bitters or soda water.

Most bourbon choices start with a small oak barrel made from American white oak and use new or used charred American white oak barrels for aging. Some bourbons use new charred French Oak barrels for aging and used European Oak Barrels.

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