June 14th is National Bourbon Day and we’d like to thank the UFCW members working hard to make America’s bourbon.
Though Jim Beam is most known for the familiar Jim Beam Original bourbon, the men and women of UFCW Local 111D in Clermont and in Boston, Kentucky also make other well-known bourbons, including Knob Creek, Booker’s, and Basil Hayden. UFCW Local 111D members take pride in their work, and it’s no wonder. All told, they produce more than 90 million bottles annually at the Kentucky facilities.
What is Bourbon?
Counter to popular belief, bourbon does not have to be made in Kentucky, but most bourbon is. Kentucky produces 95% of the world’s bourbon—and more than half of Kentucky bourbon is made by Jim Beam.
To be classified as a bourbon, the amber spirit must be made in America. In addition, its mash (the grains that go into the bourbon) must be over half but no more than 79 per cent Indian corn. The rest of the grains include malted barley and either rye or wheat. Some Kentucky bourbon makers say the limestone spring water in that area of the state lends bourbon its distinctive flavor.
Bourbon gains its color and much of its flavor from the barrels it is aged in. Bourbon must be aged at least two years in a new, charred oak barrel made from American White Oak, but many types are aged for longer. The charred wood provides caramelized sugars that add flavor to the whiskey, and there is a great deal of science that goes into how much the barrel is charred and what impact that will have on the taste and the color. Different bourbons have different “char levels,” or how long and hot a barrel is heated.
Want to learn more about how bourbon is made? Carey Jones of the food blog Serious Eats shows the behind-the-scenes of how corn, rye, and malted barley become the iconic American spirit.