Sampling Woodinville Whiskey Co.'s bourbon straight from the barrel. They expect to bottle and sell their first batch of bourbon by fall.
The Fourth of


Be Patriotic: Drink Bourbon

Sampling Woodinville Whiskey Co.'s bourbon straight from the barrel. They expect to bottle and sell their first batch of bourbon by fall.
The Fourth of July holidayis just around the corner, and while some people are thinking what should go on the grill, I'm thinking about what should go in the glass. To celebrate our nation's independence, consider filling your glass with a truly American product--bourbon.

Many people believe that all bourbon must be made in Kentucky. Or that all bourbon is made in Bourbon County, Kentucky. They're not too far off--the majority of bourbon is made in Kentucky. A recent statistic released said there are 4.7 million barrels of bourbon in Kentucky--a state with just 4.3 million people. That's right--there are more bourbon barrels in Kentucky than people. While Kentucky does produce about 95% of all the country's bourbon, it can be made anywhere within the U.S. In fact, there is some tasty bourbon being made in Woodinville at the Woodinville Whiskey Co., which will bottle and release "batch #1" of its bourbon this fall.

Woodinville Whiskey Co.'s owners, Orlin Sorensen and Brett Carlile, hope to bottle 300 cases with this first batch. Sorensen commented, though, that it would depend on "how much the angels take." He was referring to a term in bourbon-making called "angel's share," or the amount that evaporates from the barrel during the aging process.

Bourbon is regulated in the U.S. by federal law, which states that bourbon must meet the following requirements to be labeled bourbon:

  • It must be made with at least 51% corn.
  • It must be distilled to be no stronger than 160 proof.
  • And it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
  • It must be bottled at 80 proof or more.
  • It must be made in the U.S. That's right--bourbon is a truly American product. Drink and be proud.

The grain mixture used to make bourbon varies from distiller to distiller. While they must use at least 51% corn, most use nearer 70-80%. The rest of the mash bill, as it's known, includes rye, malted barley, and/or wheat. Bourbons that use only corn and wheat are known as wheated bourbons. These include Maker's Mark, Old Fitzgerald, and Woodinville Whiskey's bourbon. A lot of people find the spicy, fruity flavor of a rye-blended bourbon more appealing. Rye bourbons include Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, and Basil Hayden.

Taking a trip to Kentucky to tour and taste at the dozens of distilleries there isn't feasible for most people. Thankfully, you can learn all about distilling in Woodinville. Woodinville Whiskey Co. conducts informative tours at 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Tours are free and include tastings of WWC's vodka and White Dog (unaged) Whiskey. And by this fall, hopefully their bourbon will be available for tasting as well.

Learning which bourbons you prefer means tasting a few different kinds. Labels won't help you much, as the mash bill used by each distiller is not revealed. Deciphering the labels on bourbon bottles requires a glossary of sorts. Here are some common terms and very basic definitions:

Straight: Means no neutral distillates were added when the bourbon was bottled. Only water can be added. And if it's made in Kentucky, the bourbon will be labeled "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky."

Single Barrel: All the bourbon is from one barrel. Usually a barrel number will be written on the label as well. Barrels are aged in rack houses where the barrels may be stored at varying heights. Barrels stored at the top will have a different taste than barrels stored at the bottom. Some distillers rotate barrels, but not all.

Small Batch: There is not an exact definition or adherence required to label a bourbon small-batch. Instead, many distillers use it to differentiate a bourbon from single-barrel.

Age statement: The length of time a bourbon was aged must be listed on the label if it was aged less than four years. Labeling a bottle that was aged for more than four years is optional.

Strength: All bourbon must be at least 80 proof.

Bottled in Bond: Basically, this just means the bourbon is bottled at exactly 100 proof. It also must be aged four years. It must also come from one distiller and one season, so no blending.

Whiskey vs. Whisky: All bourbon is whisky but not all whiskey is bourbon. That was a purposeful typo. Whisky is the spelling used in Scotland for Scotch whisky, but most bourbon distilleries use the spelling with the "e."

Ready to learn more? Dozens of great bars in Seattle stock a wide variety of bourbons and have staff that know a lot about them. Some of my favorites include Liberty, the lounge at Canlis, and Whisky Bar. Otherwise, grab a few friends and a few bottles of bourbon that you can taste and compare.

Already have a favorite bourbon? Share with us in the comments section.

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