by Reece Sims
Whether you’re new to drinking whisk(e)y or a seasoned professional, the category of bourbon offers something for everyone.
A corn stalk walks into a bar. The bartender says, “want to hear a joke?” The corn stalk replies, “I’m all ears!” Corny jokes aren’t for everyone, but there’s something else corny that just might be. Whether you’re new to drinking whisk(e)y or a seasoned professional, the category of bourbon offers something for everyone. In order for a whiskey to be considered a bourbon, it must meet five main requirements: it must be made in the United States from at least 51 percent corn, distilled to no more than 80 percent ABV (or 160 proof) and aged in brand new charred oak barrels at no more than 62.5 percent ABV (or 125 proof). Because of the specificity in the minimum amount of corn present, the maximum ABV by which it can be distilled and the type of barrels it must be aged in, there are many commonalities amongst all bourbons. All bourbons will have some sweetness to them and display notes of vanilla, oak and caramel. However, where many nuances lie is in the composition of grains selected (known as the “mash bill”). Let’s explore some of the varying mash bills that contribute to a bourbon’s overall flavour profile. High Standards If you’re just beginning your bourbon journey, trying something with a standard mash bill will set a baseline for your
continued bourbon exploration. The majority of bourbons will fall into this category and will be made from corn in the 60 to 79 percent range, rye in the 10 to 18 percent range and malted barley in the 8 to 15 percent range. The high corn content will result in bourbons that are sweet, creamy and fruity with underlying dessert and baking spice notes. A quintessential starting point for any bourbon drinker is Wild Turkey 81. Made with a mash bill of 75 percent corn, 13 percent rye and 12 percent malted barley, this bourbon is the epitome of quality for value. For just a few dollars more, opting for the punchier, more intense Wild Turkey 101, is highly recommended. Bottled at 50.5 percent ABV (versus Wild Turkey 81 which is bottled at 40.5 percent) the orange, toffee and honey notes and higher ABV allow for this bourbon to stand on its own or to shine through in cocktails. High Rye Rye is the most popular secondary grain used in bourbons to add depth and flavour. If you’re someone who believes bourbon is “too sweet,” try one with a higher rye content. While there are no regulations around a “high rye” bourbon, the general rule of thumb is that it contains 20 to 35 percent rye in its mash bill. This additional rye content offsets some of the sweetness with peppery, pungent, earthy and herbaceous notes. Two outstanding options to try
are Basil Hayden and Old Grand- Dad, both named after iconic distiller, Meredith Basil Hayden Sr., who was affectionately known as the father of high-rye bourbons. His signature recipe used 62 percent corn, 28 percent rye and 10 percent malted barley. Old Grand-Dad is great value, praised by bartenders for its versatility. First launched in 1882, it was one of the few bourbons consumed legally during Prohibition. At the time, it was produced by The American Medicinal Spirits Co. which prescribed it as medicine. Flash forward over a century to 1992 and Basil Hayden was introduced as part of Beam Suntory’s small batch collection. Basil Hayden boasts the lightest body in their bourbon range while also being one of the spiciest. Exhibiting a herbaceous edge, this bourbon can be sipped neat but is also the ideal choice for Mint Juleps. Wheated If you’re averse to spice, wheated bourbons or “wheaters” are a fantastic alternative. Don’t mistake their softer, lighter style with lacking complexity, as they are full of honey, nuts, cereal and caramel notes. You will typically find that wheated bourbons contain corn in the 60 to 79 percent range, wheat in the 10 to 20 percent range and malted barley in the eight to 20 percent range. One of the best-selling bourbons in the world, Maker’s Mark is a textbook example. Made with 70 percent locally
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