What The Mash Bill Actually Means In The Bourbon World

The mash bill is used to inform consumers about the ingredients and processes producers use to bring the golden liquid to your glass. Bourbon has strict guidelines that help categorize and define the libation, and the mash bill is an integral part of the equation.

Mash refers to the grains selected by distillers to ferment and make the libation. When it comes to bourbon, mash must be made up of at least 51% corn, and the rest of the composition of the grains is left up to the individual distiller, with different grains providing different flavors. 

Rye, barley, and wheat are common choices, and older, sour mash can help distillers create consistent batches. The mash bill is the exact list of grains and percentages used in the mash, and while some labels are clear about the proportions of each ingredient used, others, like Buffalo Trace, keep what's beyond the 51% corn mash a close secret.

When grains impact taste

After brands adjust the ingredients and amount of grains used in each mash bill, aged and bottled brews will present unique flavor profiles. Pappy Van Winkle incorporates more wheat into their mash to produce bourbon with silky notes of vanilla and caramel. At the same time, other labels use higher percentages of corn mash to yield sweeter-tasting drams. If you prefer a spicier pour, look for bourbons with rye in the mash bill.

Bourbon connoisseurs enjoy detecting subtle and characteristic notes of different labels. Experienced tasters "chew" spirits to detect flavor profiles and fully appreciate the work that has gone into making the amber beverage. Sample bourbons with varying mash bills and compare notes to refine your palate. Taking swigs of Old Grand-Dad and Jim Beam Bottled-In-Bond is an ideal sampling exercise. The same distillery has made the two drinks, which have aged similarly and offer comparable alcohol percentages. Yet, Old Grand-Dad is made with a 14% higher rye count than Jim Beam. With practice, you may notice differences in the sweet and spicy tastes each pour presents.