When I posted my three bourbon Manhattans last week, I had no idea that September was National Bourbon Month in the US! For the curious, National Bourbon Month was first proclaimed in 2007 to celebrate “America’s Native Spirit” in conjunction with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. So for the next couple of weeks, Woozy Wednesday will be devoted to bourbon, a much-beloved whiskey in the Econo Man-Petite Chablis household.
Here are some things you should know about bourbon.
- Bourbon is a kind of whiskey. Different kinds of whiskeys are made from different types of grain. The principle grain in bourbon is corn. By contrast, the principle grain in single-malt Scotch is barley, and the principle grain in rye whiskey is rye (shocking, eh?).
- In order to be labeled a bourbon, a whiskey must be produced in the US, made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, and be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol).
- I’m not sure I recommend drinking a 160-proof bourbon, frankly. 126-proof Booker’s is delicious but also knocks me on my butt after a single ounce.
- Although bar menus will often label it as one, Jack Daniel’s is not technically a bourbon. It’s made from enough corn to meet the official criteria for a bourbon, but for some reason JD’s has chosen to call itself a “Tennessee Whiskey” instead.
- “Sour mash” bourbon is bourbon that has been fermented with a mixture of fresh corn mash and previously-fermented mash (which still has some live yeast in it). Almost all bourbons now use a sour mash.
Econo Man and I both frequently unwind with an ounce of our favorite “everyday” bourbon: Evan Williams Black Label.
Evan Williams is ridiculously affordable — it’s about $12-15 for a 1L bottle — but repeated taste tests with dinner-party guests have affirmed that it holds its own with much more expensive whiskeys.* It’s warming and flavorful, with mint and orange peel on the nose and notes of vanilla, tobacco, and just a hint of caramel on the palate. I can’t find it in Canada so I import it in my luggage when I return from Boston (always under Canada’s customs limit, bien sur!). Bless you, Porter Airways, for letting me check my bag for free.
If you’re looking for a slightly higher-end bourbon, I can enthusiastically recommend Evan Williams Single-Barrel Reserve, one of the smoothest whiskeys I’ve ever tried. (For the Scotch drinkers out there: I once described EWSBR as “what bourbon would taste like if Macallan made one.”) At ~$25 for 750mL it has an insanely good quality-to-price ratio, especially considering that it regularly scores 90 points and above from whiskey reviewers.
Just one thing, Evan Williams. Could you please rethink your objectifying “the longer you wait, the better it gets” advertisements? Women drink whiskey too — don’t go down the dreaded video-game-industry path of assuming only straight men enjoy your product! Plus, the “better” woman in your tennis-themed ad doesn’t even look like she could swing the racket.
Happy National Bourbon Month everyone!
* Evan Williams tied for Malt Advocate’s 2011 Best Buy Whisk(e)y of the Year award, so we’re not the only ones who think it’s a steal!