I imagine a drink so prized that a bottle was as good as cash. That was bourbon in 1776. Created by Scottish-Irish immigrants yearning for a sip of the spirits they left behind, it was the first American whiskey and an instant hit, and for a time it served as a form of currency. After the Revolutionary War, the government imposed heavy taxes on whiskey makers. So they set up shop in Kentucky, outside the original 13 colonies, in what's now known as the bourbon capital of America.
Brewers cook corn, malted barley, rye and wheat, then add yeast. This prompts the natural sugars in the grain to ferment, producing alcohol. The liquid is distilled twice to concentrate the alcohol, and aged in charred barrels for at least two years. The lengthy aging gives bourbon its familiar taste and reddish color.
|Photography by Barney Taxel|
Bourbon Whiskey vs. Scotch Whisky
Technically, bourbon and scotch are both whiskies, i.e. distilled spirits made from grains and aged in oak barrels. Although spelled differently (the American version has "ey" at the end) the real difference between the two lies in the grain and the origin. Scotch whisky is made with a high proportion of barley and brewed in Scotland. Bourbon must have at least 51 percent corn in the grain blend and be produced in the United States.
The Small-Batch Upgrade
Spurred by the growing interest in higher-quality spirits and the single-malt scotch craze of the '80s, bourbon producers began to market premium small-batch bourbons. The toasting time, amount of grain and storage conditions add a unique set of flavor characteristics to each blend. Our increasing national fascination with premium, handcrafted beverages has us sipping bourbons such as these straight, on the rocks and mixed into classic cocktails. Try the Manhattan, created in 1874 at the Manhattan Club in New York.