Clicky

What Are the Types of Bourbon? Listed & Explained (2022)

Last Updated on September 21, 2022 by Lydia Martin

If you’re a bourbon enthusiast, you probably know that bourbon belongs in the whiskey family. Bourbon is the most famous variation of American whiskey, and over the years, it has grown into multiple styles. 

But what are the types of bourbon, and what differentiates one bourbon from another?

Let’s discuss everything from straight to blended, single barrel to small batch, and wheated bourbon to high rye. 

10 Different Types of Bourbon Whiskey 

10. Wheated Bourbon

Wheated Bourbon

Wheated bourbon means that wheat is used as a flavoring grain in the bourbon mash bill. Typically, bourbon distillers use rye, corn, and malted barley. So in wheat bourbon, rye is swapped out with wheat making it a milder, softer, sweeter bourbon.

In using wheat, distillers don’t use an extra amount of corn to aid the complexity of the tasting notes of wheat bourbon. Wheat has a passive profile; because of that, it allows sweetness from other ingredients to come through fully.

Some notable wheat bourbon brand includes the Pappy Van Winkle and Weller line-up from Buffalo Trace, Larceny, and Maker’s Mark, which uses different proprietary wood staves to create distinctive flavors.

9. Single Barrel Bourbon

Single-Barrel Bourbon

A single-barrel bourbon is a premium-class bourbon whiskey. Precisely, it has been bottled from only a single cask of whiskey. It also means that every single bourbon barrel has individual aging and is not blended with other various barrels.

Every new single barrel release doesn’t taste alike. It doesn’t give uniformity of color because the barrel’s location can radically alter the bourbon’s flavor profile. 

It is bottled individually, bearing the date of the aging process and its barrel number.

Knob Creek, Jim Beam, Four Roses, Evan Williams, and Old Forester are some of the best bourbon brands with a single barrel variant.

8. Standard Bourbon Whiskey

Standard Bourbon Whiskey

A standard bourbon means it meets the legal requirement for bourbon production. All bourbons are technically standard, but some go beyond the aging process and the mash bills. 

Whiskey must have a minimum of 51% corn in its mash bill. It should be made in the US and must be aged in a new charred oak barrel at no more than 125 barrel proof. 

But it should be bottled at a minimum of 80-proof, and nothing else should be added to the bottle of bourbon except water to adjust the proof.

7. Bottled In Bond Bourbon

Bottled In Bond Bourbon

The Bottled-In-Bond-Act of 1897 is a law that ensures quality bourbon and standards of American whiskey. It must be matured for at least four years in a federally bonded warehouse.

Also, Bottled-in-Bond should be made by a single producer within the same season.

Compared to a normal bourbon 80-proof bottling requirement, bonded whiskey must be bottled at a minimum of 100-proof. It represents a high mark of quality in types of bourbon. 

Bourbon brands like Old Fitzgerald, Jim Beam, and George Dickel have the Bottled-in-Bond variants.

6. Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

All bourbon whiskey is an American whiskey manufactured inside the US, but most of the best bourbons are produced in Kentucky.

Bourbon is considered a Kentucky bourbon if the distillery is specifically located in Kentucky. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be recognized as Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. However, the grain ingredients could be sourced outside the state. 

To know whether you’re purchasing the quality of bourbon you expect, you might want to check the bottle label the next time you buy a Kentucky whiskey.

Jim Beam White Label, Wild Turkey, Knob Creek, Four Roses, and Basil Hayden are Kentucky straight whiskey line-up brands.

5. Blended Bourbon Whiskey

Blended Bourbon Whiskey

Blended bourbon whiskey is a creation of blending types of whiskey. In the bourbon world, almost every bourbon whiskey is a product of blending. The difference is that not all blends are created equally.

Blended bourbon must contain at least 20% straight bourbon. Distillers blend pure whiskey with other higher-proof bourbons to make successfully blended whiskeys.

This kind of bourbon has a lower cost, although premium blended have expensive variants in the market. It takes a lot of blending whiskey barrels to create a premium blended bourbon whiskey.

4. Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Straight bourbon is straightforward in terms of its aging process. A bourbon is called straight whiskey if it has been aged for a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels. 

The difference between a straight bourbon and a non-straight bourbon is the permitted modifications in other U.S. states. It doesn’t contain any added color, vanilla or caramel flavor, or blending materials. 

However, you can combine straight whiskey with another straight whiskey bourbon as long as it’s produced in the same state.

All kinds of Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve are considered straight bourbon.

3. Sour Mash Bourbon

Sour Mash Bourbon

Sour mash bourbon is made by adding a distinct flavor to the bourbon. Mash is the mixture of water, yeast, and grain, such as rye, barley, or corn, fermented to produce liquor. 

Tennessee whiskey creates bourbons using a sour mash method. An important step with this method is to decrease the pH level after crushing the grains. The acids from the previous batch will affect the overall pH levels of the batch.

So, a liquor label indicating “Sour Mash Whiskey” means it was distilled using the sour mash process.

2. Small Batch 

Small-Batch 

Small batch bourbons don’t have an exact legal definition for small batches. It might mean a few selections of barrels blended for a specific profile. 

Due to its lack of formal definition, small batch bourbons can be very subjective.

For some large manufacturers, it might be a small batch for them. But a batch of ten is already massive for small and new manufacturers.

1. High-Rye

High-Rye

Unlike wheat bourbon, high-rye relies heavily on rye. It tends to have a deeper and more aromatic flavor profile.

A normal bourbon uses around 7-10% rye in its mash content. For high-rye, distillers use around 20-35% rye content in their mash.

Rye is a crucial feature of the bold flavor profile of bourbon with the concentration of the grain mixture. If the rye is high, it will give more depth and spiciness to the bourbon. 

Throughout its time, high-rye whiskeys gained their spirited and rustic reputation because of their heavy notes and aromas of baking spices.

Old Forester, Four Roses, and Bulleit are some brands with a high-rye bourbon line-up.

Is Tennessee Whiskey A Bourbon Type?

It depends. Tennessee whiskey can be a bourbon type.

Given that it is made in the United States, it could also be classified as bourbon because it meets bourbon-category criteria: having minimum mash bill content of 51% corn, and it’s aged in a charred oak cask. 

However, it is also classified as Tennessee whiskey because of the Lincoln filtering process or the charcoal mellowing done exclusively for Tennessee whiskeys like Jack Daniel.

What’s A Corn Bourbon?

Corn bourbon is an American whiskey primarily made of corn. To be considered a corn bourbon, it must have a minimum of 80% corn in its mash. It should be matured in a new charred oak cask.

However, it can also be aged in used, uncharred oak barrels and produce corn whiskey. Maturation in different kinds of oaks is an important distinction between the two categories.

FAQs 

Are whiskey and bourbon the same?

No. Whiskey and bourbon are not the same. All types of bourbon are whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. They differ in the kind of grain and the location where it’s manufactured.

Bourbon is smoother than whiskey in terms of flavor profile, making it first-timer friendly. [1]

Is bourbon an American whiskey?

Yes, bourbon is an American whiskey produced in the United States. It is identified as a distinctive product of the United States. It can’t represent and define any whiskey-distilled spirits that are not manufactured in the United States.

What legally defines a bourbon?

Bourbon must have a mash of 51% corn, at least. The mash must be distilled at 160-proof or less. It should always be aged in new, charred oak cakes with no more than 125- proof.

Also, bourbon should be diluted and filtered to not less than 80-proof cask strength before bottling. [2]

What makes bourbon a bourbon?

A bourbon is called bourbon if it’s made in the United States and is aged at least two years in a charred oak cask to be considered straight bourbon whiskey. Nothing can be added as preservatives, but water reduces the proof when needed.

On A Final Note 

We all know now that the best bourbon whiskey brands are produced in the U.S.

Technically, all bourbon whiskeys are standard bourbons because they meet the legal requirements. But it varies with their mash builds which make different types of bourbon.

Wheat bourbon has a high quantity of wheat used, while high-rye has a high quantity of rye. On the other side, single barrels and small batch bourbon are both premium bourbon, but they differ in the number of barrel series.

References:

  1. https://www.foodnetwork.com/how-to/packages/food-network-essentials/bourbon-vs-whiskey 
  2. https://www.foodandwine.com/cocktails-spirits/difference-between-bourbon-and-whiskey