The Ingredient All Bourbon Must Be Distilled From

If you like to drink and learn more about the strange magical world of wine and spirits, or simply grew up in a home in which you heard your parents discussing the nuances between liqueurs, odds are you've heard the phrase: All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.

For those of you who know, you know. For those who don't, whisky is a spirit distilled from grains and barrel aged (like wine). Scotch, Bourbon, Irish whiskey, Japanese whisky, and so forth down the line all fall under this general whiskey umbrella description. Scotch is made in Scotland, Irish whiskey is made in the Republic of Ireland, and bourbon is specific to the United States.

Bourbon became an American favorite after Prohibition ended on December 5th, 1933. History Art & Archives states that its popularity grew and grew until the government decided to pass Resolution 57, which officially designated bourbon as an official United States product in 1964. This ensured that the U.S. bourbon industry would be protected against foreign competitors.

For the love of corn

Bourbon stands out against other foreign whiskeys due to its grain and aging process. The American Bourbon Association lists the strict rules for bourbon production in the United States, which require the use of new charred oak barrels for aging, no additives, and 51% corn in their mash bill (a producer's mix of grains).

Kentucky currently dominates bourbon production, making 95% of the bourbon in the world (via CNBC). This makes sense given the state's abundant corn crop; it makes it easier for distillers to use local crops instead of outsourcing their grains. It may be a bit strange to think of corn being used to brew your favorite nightcap, but the type of corn used to distill bourbon varies vastly from the stuff you grilled up during your last July 4th party. According to Lux Row Distillers, bourbon is manufactured using "dent corn." Dent corn is not something you'd want to break your teeth on, it is left in the field until it turns hard and dry, and then it is milled into a powder to access its sugars.

Corn is the main ingredient in bourbon, giving it the drink's classic caramel and vanilla richness. Its notable flavors and syrupy smoothness differentiate bourbon from other kinds of whiskey and are why, for a bourbon to be classified as such, the liquor must be made using between 51% and 79% corn in its grain mix (via Bourbonr).