What Is Straight Bourbon? Explained (2023 Updated)

Last Updated on August 22, 2023 by Lydia Martin

The US Congress has legally secured “Bourbon” under the US Law Title 27 of the Code of Federal Regulations since 1964. 

And to be considered straight bourbon, some criteria or requirements must be met. 

But what is straight bourbon in the first place, and what are the requirements to be called one? 

Let’s get to the bottom of it. 

What Defines Bourbon As Straight?

pouring whisky from decanter to a glass

Straight bourbon is a type of whiskey that meets all of the requirements of bourbon according to US law. It must be aged for two years at the minimum.

Before a straight bourbon can be bottled, it must undergo various steps, such as chill filtering, batch whiskey making, and adding water to reduce the proof. 

This ensures that the alcohol content meets the minimum 80-proof requirement. No other blending or coloring agents are allowed.

History & Origin 

Straight bourbon is a type of American whiskey made from corn.

It’s derived from the French Bourbon dynasty, though its exact source of inspiration is unknown. 

Some examples of places named after the dynasty include Bourbon Street in New Orleans and Bourbon County in Kentucky.

In 1964, the US Congress recognized the distinct qualities of Bourbon, which is made from at least 51% corn. 

Since then, bourbon sold in the US must only be made within the country.

Also, US law states that it must be stored using new charred oak barrels, which is in effect until today. 

Straight Bourbon requirements 

Production Process

distillery copper stills

There’s a concentration limit of 160 proof or 80% ABV [1] during the distillation process, and it should be barreled at 125 proof. 

If blended, both spirits must be the same type, and adding colorings, flavorings, or any blending additives is not allowed. 

Most importantly, the mash bill of straight bourbon must comprise at least 51% corn, and the production process must only take place in the US. 


Straight bourbon must be stored in new charred oak barrels.

During the maturation process, bourbon oxidizes and penetrates the wood, resulting in a straight bourbon. 

This process results in the extraction of various flavor compounds, such as sweet and smoky notes.

Age & Alcohol Content

Straight bourbon must mature for at least two years and must be bottled at no less than 80-proof or 40% ABV.

Does Straight Bourbon Have To Be Made In Kentucky? 

refilling whisky bottle

Not necessarily, as bourbon can be made anywhere within the US. But 95% of straight bourbons are made in Kentucky. 

The state of Kentucky is known for its unmatched history of craftsmanship and is the spiritual home of bourbon. 

Its climate and water supply are ideal for distilling, but straight bourbon can be made outside the state. 

A straight bourbon can be from Indiana or Tennessee as long it meets the straight bourbon requirements. 

But to be called a Kentucky Straight Bourbon, the spirit must be made in Kentucky. 

“I have never in my life seen a Kentuckian who didn’t have a gun, a pack of cards, and a jug of whiskey.” – Andrew Jackson,Former US President/Lawyer

Famous Straight Bourbon Brands 

Basil Hayden Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Bottle of Basil Hayden Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey on top of a table

Basil Hayden’s is a bridge between the more expensive, small-batch, and independent distillery labels and the lower-priced, non-premium brands. 

It’s also a great after-work sipper, as it can be purchased at a lower price in most locations. 

It’s a great way to introduce your friends and family to bourbon, and it can be a gateway to discovering the more interesting Dark Rye or 10-year expressions from the company.

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Knob Creek Whiskey Bottle

Known for its rich and full-bodied flavor, Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a popular spirit that Jim Beam produces. 

It’s part of the company’s Small Batch Collection. The flagship bottle of this brand is aged for nine years.

This premium Kentucky whiskey brand produces a variety of different types of whiskey, including a robust rye.

It’s an excellent addition to any cocktail or mixed drink.

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

close up shot of Woodford Reserve bottle

This spirit has a heavy nose that features rich dried fruit and hints of mint and orange. It also has a faint vanilla and tobacco spice flavor.

This is a smooth and rich drink that many drinkers love.

Its complex flavors, such as cinnamon and cocoa, are complemented with various sweet and savory notes.

It’s warm and creamy at first, followed by a silky smooth, satisfying finish. 


What does straight bourbon whiskey taste like?

Straight bourbon whiskey has a sweeter taste with oak, cinnamon, and vanilla notes.

There are a wide variety of different types of bourbons, and one expert breaks them down into four main flavors: grain forward, cinnamon forward, nutmeg forward, and caramel forward.

What is the difference between bourbon and straight bourbon whiskey?

The difference between bourbon and straight bourbon whiskey is the requirement.

The primary requirement for a straight bourbon is to store the distillate in new charred oak barrels for two years, at least.

In Summary 

When we say American spirit, bourbon comes to mind first. Well, bourbon is indeed an American Native Spirit. 

It is only produced within the country– with Kentucky as the main producer of bourbon spirits. 

To be considered as a straight bourbon, it has to meet the requirements in the production process, maturation, as well as the aging & alcohol content. 

But regardless of whether the bourbon is straight or blended, what’s important is it suits your taste and satisfies your feeling. 



Lydia Martin

Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds! Contact at [email protected] or learn more about us here or feel free to give Lydia a tip.

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