A few facts that I will share with you from my trip to the Buffalo Trace Distillery about what makes a bourbon and what makes a Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey:
- Must be made from 51% to 79% corn. Other grains include rye, wheat, and barley. Typically bourbons will be made from a combo of corn, barley, and rye OR wheat. Woodford Reserve bourbon released a Four Grain boubon a few years back that utilized all four grains (and it was pretty good :))
- Must be distilled at less than 160 proof (80% alcohol)
- Must be aged in charred white oak barrels at no higher than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol) for a minimum of 2 years
- Must be distilled using Kentucky limestone water in order to be called Kentucky bourbon. A.H. Hirsch is an example of a non-Kentucky bourbon as it hails from Illinois.
- If all the above requirements are made and the whiskey has not been blended with other whiskey and has been aged for a minimum of two years, then it may be called Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
This year, there was one particular bourbon that stood out to me as the best bourbon of the year. The sweet elixir that got me all riled up this year was George T. Stagg's uncut/unflitered bourbon, part of the Buffalo Trace "Antique Collection". I had stumbled upon this one at Total Wine & Spirits while visiting to pick up a few wines for a dinner I was to attend that evening. When I got home, I took a small sip and knew I had to head back for another bottle (the production is limited) so I did just that the next day. This year's version was aged for about 16.5 years and bottled at "barrel proof", meaning that it goes from the barrel to the bottle without being filtered or diluted in any way. This bourbon is what I like to call "a real ass kicker", weighing in at 141.4 proof or 70.7% alcohol! The nose is pure alcohol which has gotten some funny reactions when I've offered a taste to friends. Upon hitting the tongue, a little flavor of spice and wood presents itself and then the alcohol burn sets in when swallowed. Upon swallowing, I find that is where the best flavor presents itself. So far, I've noted cherry, wood, vanilla, caramel, cinnamon, white chocolate and char and it seems like some of these notes become stronger depending on what I've had for dinner that night. For example, the night I dined on a linguine with a spicy red sauce was the first night that I really picked up a strong cinnamon flavor in the Stagg later in the evening.
Overall, the strong alcohol nose and many different flavor notes made this bourbon one I really enjoyed as a nightcap. It's a bourbon to be sipped slowly and enjoyed. It's definitely not one for the bourbon beginner, as evidenced by the many "what the f@$k?" faces that I got when I gave out some introductory tastes to friends. If you're into bourbon for the flavor and for the slow sipping enjoyment of a true American spirit, I strongly recommend picking up a bottle if you can find one.
FYI - Prices on a Google search came up higher than I paid at Total Wine & Spirits. My cost was $67.99.