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Bourbon - There are a few definitions and laws pertaining to Bourbon, Straight Bourbon and even Kentucky Bourbon.

Bourbon barrels


Here are the definitions as laid down by USA Federal law


For any distillery, manufacturer or retailer to use the word 'Bourbon' it

  • Must be made (distilled) in the USA (anywhere, not just Tennessee or even Kentucky).
  • At least 51% of the 'mashbill' (the recipe of grains used to produce the whiskey) must be made of corn.
  • It must not be distilled higher than 160 proof.
  • It must not be barreled higher than 125% proof
  • It must be aged in a new, charred oak container (it does not have to be a barrel or even barrel shaped).


Straight Bourbon.

As well as the above constraints,  to be termed Straight Bourbon it must be aged in a charred oak container for at least 2 years.  However,  if it is aged less than 4 years, it must legally be declared on the label the time span of the aging.


Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

To be termed and classed as Kentucky Straight Bourbon, not only do all of the above specifications have to be met, it has also to be distilled and aged for at least 1 year in the state of Kentucky.

There are inexcess of 1,500 craft Bourbon distilleries in the United States. All producing varying quantities.  Many distilleries do not ship internationally but cater for more of a local market.  One would think the states of Kentucky and Tennessee would have the most distilleries in the USA as they 'invented' the process and are the most famous states for this Aqua Vita.  However, Kentucky has only 43 and Tennessee a mere 40 distilleries.

Here is the results of a 2018 national survey - the number of distilleries by state:

148 - California.
123 - New York
106 - Washington (state)

86 - Texas
80 - Colorado

64 - Oregon
62 - Pennsylvania

57 - North Carolina
53 - Michegan

47 - Ohio
47 - Florida
43 - Kentucky
42 - Virginia
40 - Tennessee

and so on.

Every state has a distillery.  At the bottom of the rankings is Rhode Island with just two distilleries.  Considering it size, two distilleries is not bad!  On the sparesely populated side, even Alaska manges to muster 10 distilleries.


It would appear only the USA and Ireland spell Whiskey with an 'e'.  Although both spellings are correct, the rest of the world tends to drop the 'e'.

Does it matter who owns the company?

As mentioned above, Bourbon must be made in the USA for legal definitions. However, today a number of Japanese corporations own quite a significant number of Kentucky's distilleries.  As an example, in 2001 Kirin a Japanse liquor corporation purchased Four Roses.  Jim Beam (the world's best seller) was purchased in 2014 by the Japanese firm Suntory. They then added Knob Creek, Maker's Mark and Basil Hayden's to their portfolio.

The Japanese certainly love (if not just owning) Scotch Whisky and American Whiskey companies.


see - Velvet Elvis


Sources -

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