I drink a lot of bourbon. I don’t say it as a boast. Every dirtbag with $25 to his name can do the same, and many do. But over the years, I’ve gained brainpower corresponding to my liver damage, and become something of a bourbon geek. Or at least I’ve communed with enough bourbon geeks to pick up a few facts about the greatest of all American spirits. Some are random, some are esoteric, but some you just can’t be without. To wit:
1. It’s all about the juice. The open secret of the bourbon business is that many brands, including even many of the most esteemed, start with bourbon not of their own making. To take just one example, Pappy Van Winkle, the most highly esteemed bourbon in the world, comes from barrels of whiskey from two or even three different distilleries, blended together to get a particular flavor. The same is true of Black Maple Hill and many other top bourbons, whose origins are the subject of much speculation among bourbon nerds on the Internet. The only exception is “single barrel” bourbon, which is unblended.
2. Nobody cares about the official definition of bourbon. You’ve probably heard that no spirit can legally be called bourbon if it doesn’t meet a whole cluster of criteria: It has to be 51 percent corn, made in America, no more than 80 proof in the bottle, and so on. Whatever! Those laws apply only in the United States; the stuff sold abroad can be anything you want. More importantly, it’s silly. A tiny bit less corn, and a tiny bit more rye, and it’s a different drink? A good Tennessee whiskey like George Dickel Barrel Select Barrel, or a great rye like Michter’s or Templeton’s, has a lot more in common with a fine bourbon than some swill that happens to meet the formal definition of bourbon.