What is bourbon made from? This is one of the most frequently asked questions we get here at the Stillhouse. The answer is surprisingly uncomplicated. Unlike other types of whisky, bourbon’s mash must contain more than 51% corn. Additionally, there might be rye, wheat, or barley. This mixture is then combined with water, yeast, and a small amount of sour mash derived from a previous batch.

Because there are certain rules set out by the American Bourbon Association, this spirit is not allowed to contain any additives such as flavoring. Every true bourbon you try has a similar taste, although the exact flavor profile will vary depending on the mix of ingredients, the exact type of barrel used, and the aging process. Read on to find out more about the ingredients and production process of bourbon.

What Is Bourbon Made From?

Bourbon is a type of whiskey, and there are certain rules that govern its production and its ingredients. Most importantly, a product can’t be labeled as bourbon if its mash doesn’t contain at least 51% corn. The mash is the mixture of grains the drink is based on, and it usually contains a variety of ingredients such as corn, rye, wheat, and barley. The high corn content makes bourbon sweeter than other types of whiskey, and it gives it a unique taste.

To create bourbon, the mash has to be mixed with distilled water and yeast. In certain areas of Kentucky, the water is particularly hard, so this state lends itself to bourbon production. Later on in the distillation process, sour mash is added, which is the mash from previous distillations. This reduces the pH and therefore prevents the growth of bacteria.

How Is Bourbon Produced?

Bourbon production is similar to whisky production, but there are some special requirements. The most important ones are related to the mash content, the type of barrel used, the maximum proof, and the length of the aging process. However, bourbon makers are also forbidden from using any additives, such as caramel coloring or flavoring, which could change the taste or appearance of the drink. Bourbon must be 100% pure.

Combining the Ingredients

Before the production process can start, the distiller must determine the bourbon’s mash bill, which is the combination of grains. The end product will taste different depending on the combination of grains used. When creating Bourbon, distillers have to observe the rules set out by the American Bourbon Association.

Once the mash has been created, it can be combined with distilled water and yeast to prepare it for the fermentation process. Hard water that contains a lot of minerals is best for bourbon. Next, the distillers heat the mixture and stir it to make sure it has been blended enough for the fermentation process to take place.


The base mixture is stored in a vat for one to two weeks. During this time, it ferments, which means that the compounds contained in the grains break down due to the influence of the yeast. As a result of this process, an alcohol called ethanol or ethyl alcohol is created.

At this point, bourbon makers add the sour mash, which is derived from previous bourbon batches and serves to kill off any bacteria that are growing inside the mixture. After fermentation, the liquid is strained off the solid mash. While the mash will be discarded, the ethanol is used to produce bourbon.


Distillation is the process of purifying the bourbon and increasing its alcohol content. The liquid is heated and vaporized, and the vapor is then collected in a container, while all the other components that reduce the purity of the alcohol are left behind. Although the process varies depending on the desired end result, most bourbons are distilled twice.

The first round of distillation happens in a beer still, while the second one often occurs in copper pots. Bourbon has a maximum proof of 160, which is the equivalent of 80% alcohol content. Having this maximum proof ensures that the drink won’t become tasteless due to excessive distillation. Instead, bourbon retains some of its natural flavors from the mash bill.

Aging and Barreling

Most distillers will let their bourbon get to 80 to 125 proof before they end the distillation process. Next, the distillate must be stored in new, charred-oak barrels for at least two years. This type of barrel is ideal for aging bourbon because it helps to caramelize the sugars and lends the drink a richer, deeper flavor and color.

The degree to which the barrel is charred affects the taste of the bourbon, so many distillers are very particular about the kinds of containers they use. Once a barrel has contained a batch of bourbon, it cannot be re-used. However, barrels are often sold to other distillers and brewers, who use them to make scotches, whiskeys, wines, or even beers.

Bottling and Selling 

Before or after the aging process, bourbon is diluted with filtered water to create the desired alcohol content. Sometimes, the drink is also chill-filtered before it is bottled. This process removes impurities and long-chain protein molecules that could cause the spirit to become hazy at low temperatures. However, many purists don’t like chill-filtered spirits. After the bourbon is bottled, the aging process is stopped.

Where Is Bourbon Produced?

If you’ve googled “what is bourbon made from”, you might also wonder where this spirit is produced and where you can buy it. Most people think that Bourbon is made exclusively in Kentucky, but this is not necessarily the case. Although experts estimate that 95% of it is produced in this state, Bourbon can be manufactured anywhere in the United States.

However, the word cannot describe any product that is not produced in the USA, so any bourbon you buy has been distilled in this country. Despite this, bourbon has become a popular drink around the world, and it’s likely that you can buy it even if you travel outside the US.

What Does Bourbon Taste Like? 

Due to the high corn content and the charred-oak barrels, bourbon has a very particular taste. Most drinkers agree that the beverage is sweeter than some other spirits and that there are strong notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak. Bourbons that contain higher amounts of wheat are generally softer and more mellow, while those that contain more rye are spicier.

Because it’s illegal to add flavoring to bourbon, you can expect the taste to be very consistent. There are some spirits that are produced like bourbon but contain added ingredients such as apple flavoring. However, they are considered whiskey liqueurs and not true bourbons, and the manufacturers are not allowed to label them “straight bourbon”. Instead, they might advertise these drinks as a “liqueur with a bourbon whiskey base”.

How Should You Drink Bourbon?

Many people who enjoy the taste of spirits drink their bourbon straight, which means that they don’t add any other ingredients. Some prefer the drink “on the rocks”, so they add some ice. If you’re new to drinking spirits, you might not yet be accustomed to the high alcohol content of this drink. In such a case, you might enjoy it more in a cocktail.

Bourbon has been used in cocktails for many decades, and there are plenty of traditional and innovative options. An old-fashioned, for example, is bourbon mixed with fruits, sugar, and bitters. The Manhattan includes bourbon, sweet vermouth, aromatic bitters, and a cherry for garnish. If you prefer tart citrus flavors, you might enjoy a whiskey sour, and if you like a clean, minty taste, the mint julep is a must.

Is Bourbon a Good Drink for Beginners? 

If you’ve only just started drinking alcohol, you might wonder whether you should dive into drinking bourbon right away or whether you should save this beverage for later. Generally, experts believe that bourbon is a good choice for beginners because of its smooth and somewhat sweet taste. What’s more, there are many ways to drink it.

A great way to begin is to dilute the bourbon with distilled water. Adding a few drops of water can release the flavors and allow you to have a richer drinking experience. It can also soften the alcohol taste. People who have never been to a bourbon tasting should book a session with an expert to find out more about how to smell and taste this drink to figure out its unique flavor profile.

Find Out More!

What is bourbon made from? The answer is that this iconic American drink is derived from a mash that contains at least 51% corn as well as rye, wheat, or barley. This mixture is then combined with water and yeast, fermented, distilled, and aged in charred-oak barrels. Bourbon cannot contain any additives, and it has to have a certain alcohol content.

Beginners and experts alike enjoy bourbon neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail. The drink can be diluted with small amounts of water to further bring out the flavors and to reduce the strong alcohol taste. Get in touch with us now at Town’s End Stillhouse & Grill to find out more about bourbon production. We will be happy to welcome you to the distillery and show you around.

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