This blog is a celebration of special times and the special beverages we reach for when we’re with family and friends. Setting up the right atmosphere has been no small feat. We want you to feel welcome and included, no matter what your choice is in beer, bourbon or wine. We’ll also give cocktails and culinary delights their time in the sun. We’ll keep you posted on the ever-expanding Beer Cheese Trail, we’ll share anything we hear about the latest top secret BBQ techniques, and we’ll certainly keep our eyes peeled for the up-and-coming wine regions.
What we’ve gathered here are barrels and buckets of unique stories. We’ll feature the families and legends that have been crafting bourbon since Prohibition. We’ll bring you discoveries and experiments for classics made new again. When the time’s right, we’ll give the trends a turn, too.
Then there’s our personal stories. The icy cold beers at the bottom of the cooler remind us of our first brew at the ballpark. The map on the back label of a Cabernet Sauvignon transports us to the first family gathering when we were old enough to toast with wine. And the jingle of ice, accompanied by the vanilla-sweet nose of the bourbon, sounds like the start of a love song we’d long forgotten.
We’ll be bringing you tasting notes, recipes and DIY instructions for all your hosting challenges. If you’re a weekend warrior, we’ll teach you how to host the best Mexican fiesta – in the woods. If you’re more of a history and trivia buff, we’ll dig center-of-the-earth-deep to bring you the latest discoveries about your favorite beverages. If you’re already fluent in India Pale Ale and bourbon profiles, we promise to bring you behind the scenes to meet the experts, and get to know the distilleries’ best-kept secrets. We’ve also got new product releases, reviews and plenty of impress-them-at-parties history lessons.
KENTUCKY BOURBON SECRETS REVEALED
If high-rye, alligator char, limestone water and ‘Kentucky chew’ sound like code, you’re right. It’s both bourbon lingo and ingredients that make this spirit the unique beverage it is. Bourbon recipes have always been common knowledge, but what makes each bourbon so unique is the quantity of each ingredient. So, the age-old questions remain the same: What’s the corn to rye to barley ratio? How unique is each distillery’s yeast strain? How long was the barrel charred? How long was the barrel aged? How about we dig deeper and see if we can come closer to revealing some secrets?
Unlike its cousins, Scotch and whisky, bourbon is required by law to be made with a minimum of 51% corn grain. Also, it must be aged in new oak charred barrels, distilled to no more than 160 proof and poured into the barrel at 125 proof. Lastly, it must be free of color or flavor additives. So there we have it: The first clue to the secret recipe is in the ingredients! The grain mash is made up of more than 51% corn!
It’s estimated that 95% of the US’s bourbon is made in Kentucky, and, if you read up on each distillery’s production methods, you begin to learn what makes it so unique to the state. It boils down to (no pun intended) its inherently localized ingredients: 1) Kentucky’s mineral-rich limestone water; 2) Kentucky’s unique seasonal temperature swings in summer – critical to aging; and 3) the oak barrel’s char level. So, more clues: terroir and charring.
What’s fascinating is that the consensus amongst all master distillers is that 70-85% of the flavor comes from the charred barrel itself. For that very reason, it’s crucial to understand the charring process. The four char levels are time-based, from 15-55 seconds, as follows:
· No. 1 Char: 15 seconds
· No. 2 Char: 30 seconds
· No. 3 Char: 35 seconds (the most popular)
· No. 4 Char: 55 seconds
The last one on the list is where the term alligator char comes from, because the longer char makes the wood staves become rough, cracked and shiny, like the texture of a reptile’s skin. What’s magical about this longest char is that it creates a red mead-like layer beneath the badly charred layer. This layer, pulsing with oak sap, gives the bourbon a uniquely sweet nose and deep oak taste.
The last major piece of the puzzle is aging: How long in the barrel and where in the rick house? Every single distillery’s storage system varies from wooden rick/rack houses, to brick and concrete rack houses. This ultimately affects the way the barrels are exposed to temperature, moisture and air circulation. Add to that the fact that taste profiles will vary dramatically between bourbons aged just mere months, to those aged 10 to 20 years.
Seems like we’re nowhere near finding an answer! Although we may never get our curious hands on those fascinating, well-guarded recipes, understanding the complex and beautiful art of making bourbon is satisfying on its own.
To possibly uncover more secrets, and learn a great deal more about this fascinating beverage, consider a visit to the Bourbon Trail or the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.