Bourbon production is among the most tightly governed of all spirits. It must be made from a grain mix, at least 51% of which must be corn, although it usually makes up around 70%
It must be distilled to no more than 80% abv, and aged in new, charred-oak barrels. No other type of wood is allowed, caramel must not be added, and the bourbon must be aged for at least two years
Bourbon is produced by the sour-mash method, which is a way of ensuring that the bourbon retains its character from one batch to the next. Liquid from a previous distillation is added to the mix, or ‘mash’, similar to using a ‘starter’ when making sourdough bread
Bourbon is not exclusive to Kentucky; it can, in fact, be made in any US state
Bourbon, the county in eastern Kentucky that used to cover a large area of the state, was named after the Bourbon royal family of France. There are no distillieres in the modern-day Bourbon County, which is not ‘dry’, contrary to popular belief
Jack Daniel’s is not a bourbon, it is a Tennessee whiskey; it is filtered through sugar-maple charcoal, which adds sweetness, but is banned in bourbon production
A key bourbon pioneer is Elijah Craig, an 18th-century minister and distiller from Kentucky. He is credited with using charred barrels for the first time, when several of his own caught fire by accident. He stored his whiskey in them, liked the taste, and now all bourbon is aged in new, charred oak.
Each year, the Bourbon Festival is held in Bardstown, Kentucky. The five-day event attracts more than 50,000 people.
Bourbon is the official spirit of the United States, thanks to an Act of Congress passed in the 1960s.
Top bourbons command top prices. The Whisky Exchange has a bottle of McBrayer 1913 – yours for £699.