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What Is Bourbon Made From? Answered (2022 Updated)

Last Updated on September 18, 2022 by Lydia Martin

Bourbon is America’s native spirit, a whiskey made primarily from corn. However, despite its popularity, bourbon remains a mystery to many.

But what is bourbon made from? 

Read on to find out what makes bourbon a bourbon, along with its mash bill content. 

About Bourbon’s Main Ingredients 

grains in a container

Bourbon is made from grains, yeast, and water; to be labeled as one, a distillery should make it from at least 51% corn [1]. 

Bourbon is quite a popular type of whiskey here in the US, and it is featured in many classic cocktails, from Bourbon Smash to Old Fashioned. 

What Makes Up A Bourbon? 

Grains

Bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys can be considered bourbons. For a bourbon to be considered one, the mixture of grains should be at least 51% corn, and the rest of its mash bill can be wheat, rye, malted barley, or malted rye grain. 

Every whiskey contains a different ratio of grains, and corn gives bourbon the brown-buttered, creamy, sweet flavor profile. 

Yeast

yeast

Yeast is an important ingredient that will convert the sugar of the grains into alcohol. All bourbons use a yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae [2], which exists in different strains. 

Distilleries use different yeast strains for their bourbon, and most producers have their proprietary yeast that is closely guarded.

Water

Water is an important ingredient in bourbon, and it is one of the things that create confusion for those new to bourbon whiskey. 

There was a misconception that bourbons should be made in Kentucky because 95% of bourbon production happens in Kentucky, but bourbon can be made anywhere in the US.

The big connection between the spirit and Kentucky is undeniable because the state sits on a bed of unique limestone water that is ideal for making bourbon. Kentucky limestone adds calcium and magnesium that the yeast needs to thrive. 

10 Bourbons & Their Mash Bills

10. Single Barrel Bourbon

Single Barrel Bourbon

Single Barrel bourbon is made from a mash bill of at least 51% corn, rye or wheat, and malted barley.

It occupies the similar production aging and barreling procedure of a standard bourbon; however, it comes from a single barrel instead of a blended or various barrels of bourbon. 

9. Wheated Bourbon

Wheated bourbon is made from a mash bill of corn, malted barley, and wheat instead of rye or small amounts of rye.

The wheated bourbon contains 51% corn, and the secondary flavoring grain is wheat (20-30%), which imparts grainer and earthy notes that most people find easier and smoother to drink. 

8. Sour Mash Bourbon

Sour Mash Bourbon

Sour Mash Bourbon is made from 51% corn and contains a sour mash. The sour mash is a combination of grain, yeast, and water removed from an older batch of alcohol to kick off the fermentation of a new batch.

7. Small Batch 

Small Batch bourbon typically consists of 51% corn, and its remaining mash bill can contain rye, malted barley, or wheat. It has a similar process as a standard bourbon but is made on a smaller scale, typically not more than a selected single barrel. 

6. Standard Bourbon Whiskey

Standard bourbon whiskey is typically a three-grain distilled spirit. It contains 51% corn, but most bourbons contain 65-75% corn, 5-15 % malted barley, and 10-20% rye.

It is fermented, distilled, and aged in new charred oak barrels before blending and bottling. 

5. Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

Kentucky bourbon whiskey is a bourbon made in Kentucky, and it follows similar rules as a straight bourbon from grain to bottles. It is primarily made of corn, and its remaining grains on the mash bill contain rye or wheat and malted barley.

4. Bottled In Bond Bourbon

Bottled In Bond Bourbon

Bottled-In-Bond bourbon contains a mash bill of around 70% corn, 20% rye, and 10% malted barley. However, unlike a standard bourbon, it is stored in a government-bonded warehouse and should be bottled at exactly 100 proof.

3. Blended Bourbon Whiskey

A blended bourbon is usually made of a mash bill ratio of 51-73% corn, 15-20% rye, and 5-7% malted barley.

Unlike a straight bourbon, blended bourbon is a mixture of different bourbons made from different distilleries, mash bills, and sometimes different states. 

2. High-Rye

High-Rye

High rye bourbon is made from a mash bill of at least 51% corn, although most distilleries use around 60%-70%.

Unlike standard bourbon, it has a high-rye content, about 20-30% in rye. The remaining percentage on the mash bill is malted barley, which helps with the fermentation process of the distilled spirit. 

1. Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Straight bourbon whiskey should contain at least 51% corn, and its other flavoring grain can be rye, wheat, and malted barley.

However, based on United States law, straight bourbon whiskey should be aged for a minimum of two years to be labeled as one. 

FAQs 

Is Jack Daniel’s a bourbon or whiskey?

Jack Daniel’s is a whiskey, and while it complies and can be considered a bourbon, the brand chooses not to call itself a bourbon. Jack Daniel’s is a Tennessee whiskey and undergoes charcoal filtration as an additional step to its process.

Is bourbon whiskey the same as bourbon?

Yes, bourbon whiskey is the same as bourbon. It is an American whiskey made from 51% corn, distilled and aged in new charred oak barrels before blending and bottling. 

Final Thoughts

Bourbon is made from grains, water, and yeast; unlike other whiskeys, distilleries should make it from at least 51% corn.

From grain to bottle, the production process of bourbon is strictly regulated by the Federal government because it is America’s native spirit. 

References:

  1. https://www.cnbc.com/2015/06/04/5-rules-that-make-it-bourbon.html 
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/saccharomyces-cerevisiae 

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