De-mystifying Whisk(e)y, take 2

Time to launch back into talking about bourbon, its cousins, and more so – renaming this De-mystifying WHISK(E)Y since confusion, myth, and misnomers seem to apply across many types and not just bourbon.

Here’s the first take, talking about bourbon and the law:

I quickly broke down the rules of bourbon-making and pointed out how much of craft whiskey is actually just bourbon from the major manufacturers being bottled and sold under another label – often times, there’s aging and blending involved by the people behind a brand. Take 3 we’ll start looking at the real craft distillers, while at the end of this post, we’ll talk about the craft bottlers. Let’s look at some crucial markers on the labels.

Label clues:

– Straight; so if the label says Straight on it, this is minimum 2 years of aging, and no additives or colorings. If it’s younger than 4 years, it will state the age. This is a crucial category. When “craft” whiskey first arrived on the scene, many writers noted that this term had fallen out of favor. BUT, I wonder, if it’s just that they can’t use it at all really. Some brands, it turns out, use flavoring, while others use flavorless coloring (often caramel E150). Many don’t age beyond the two years because they need to get product in the market and make money to sustain the enterprise in the first place. Some of those younger products turn out pretty solid, mind you, though they taste almost like a different product.

– Bottled in Bond; must be the product of one distillation season, at one distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse under government supervision (what this means, though, in practice, I’m not sure of yet), for a minimum of 4 years. Bottled at 100 proof.  Works great in combination with the above “Straight” label, but is rarer (down to about 12-15 brands still using Bottled in Bond).

– Distillery numbers (DSP); at the very least, this means you can look up where it was made. Rare. Often seen on bottles of Kentucky-based brands, wherein the DSP listed identifies who owns the brand, or where the product was made then v now, etc.

– Distilled at, Produced at, Bottled at information; this can be very important to look for. Distilled at or Distilled by is what you want to find for the most part, if you’re looking for something made by the same people that own the brand, etc. Bottled by is at least being honest, and most often appears on the brands that admit they source their whiskey (High West, local brand CH, St. George from San Francisco).

The parenthetical above notes some brands that openly admit to buying bourbon from other distillers and bottling it themselves. Sometimes this is after some modifications are made, others are single barrel or small batch blends, and others are special one-off releases (often while their own whiskey ages). Buying happens on the spot market, but also on a contract-basis, so that the same juice ends up in the branded bottle time after time. Personally, I applaud the brands that simultaneously do as much as they can to give the bourbon their own stamp, while admitting, they didn’t distill the juice inside.

I think I will save for Take 3 making a list of bottlers vs. craft distillers, and then talking about the positives and negatives associated with some of each.

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