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Decoding the Bottle Label on Bourbon: An Important Guide

With its rising popularity and easy availability, bourbon whiskey is becoming the go-to drink for many spirit lovers. Its unique flavor and heritage make it a favorite among other liquor choices.

If you’re a bourbon lover, and you want to explore its flavorful world, this is the blog for you. But before you try the world’s finest spirit, it’s helpful for you to know some important terms mentioned on the bottle label. This will help you select between the many different choices available on the market.


What is Bourbon?

Before we explain the bottle label, what is helpful to know about bourbon?

Bourbon is the most popular style of American whiskey. It is distilled from fermented grain mash, then aged from two to four years in unused, first pour American oak barrels. The combination of distillate (spirit) and the oak wood is what creates bourbon’s special experience – including exceptional tasting notes of cinnamon, walnut, and allspice.


Alcohol By Volume (ABV):

Alcohol by volume (ABV) helps you understand how much alcohol is contained in the spirit. The amount of alcohol may range from 40% to 50% ABV or more. The spirit’s “proof” is double the ABV, so a spirit with 40% ABV is 80 proof, 50% is 100 proof, and so on.

It’s not wise to make an assumption of flavor or drinkability based on ABV—a higher percentage of alcohol by volume doesn’t mean that the spirit will taste more harsh, although it will be stronger with more alcohol influence. The amount of alcohol chosen within a given mash bill will vary based on many factors, the most important being taste or flavor. More alcohol does not mean better flavor, nor does less alcohol. The best bourbons have an ABV that is just the right amount of alcohol to bring out the best flavor in that particular mash bill.


Age Statement:

Contrary to popular belief, more age does not necessarily mean better flavor or a more refined spirit. If an age statement is on the label, it indicates the youngest age of any spirit included in the bottle. So if it is a blended spirit, meaning there are more than one mash bill present in the final product, the age statement can be no older than the youngest spirit in the mix.

Recently, age statements have become much less popular on labels, reflecting the reality that the actual age of a spirt may have less to do with quality and flavor than other factors. The most important factor, of course, is taste.


Straight vs Blended Bourbon:

What differentiates a straight bourbon from a mixed bourbon? According to United States law, Straight Bourbon must be aged in a new charred American Oak barrels for at least 2 years. Blended Bourbon is an mixture of more than one distillate from different kinds of grain.

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