cocktail education - kentucky straight bourbon

What is a Kentucky Straight bourbon?

In this new edition, the Profesor explains what a Kentucky Straight Bourbon is, because it is not the same as plain bourbon… check out our article.

You have already read it in bourbon bottles such as those of Jim Beam or Maker’s Mark, the “Kentucky Straight” label has a reason to be. But first, we will briefly explain what a bourbon is.


What is bourbon?

Bourbon is a distinct product of the United States of America, as declared by Congressional Resolution in 1964. A bourbon is a type of American whiskey.

To produce bourbon you need a recipe (called mash, a mixture of grains from which the product is distilled) containing a minimum of 51% corn. The mash is distilled at 160 proof (a measure of the content of ethanol (alcohol) in an alcoholic beverage) or less.

The distillate must then be stored in new charred oak barrels at 125 proof or less, and must not contain any additives.

Bourbon must be genuine, which means that no coloro or flavoring agents or other spirits may be added.

(Source: World Whisky Scotch Association).


How to taste bourbon? Four steps to taste

  1. Pour in a small amount of Bourbon (an ounce or two at most) and note its color. The hue gives clues as to the age of the Bourbon. Younger spirits generally have lighter amber tones, while deeper, richer browns indicate an older Bourbon. Color can also be influenced by alcohol content, level of charring and, believe it or not, the climate that prevailed while the bourbon was aged.
  2. Your sense of smell is 10,000 times more sensitive than your sense of taste, so tasting your bourbon is a must. Swirl the bourbon so it covers your glass, then wait a second for the alcohol vapor to escape. Let the aromas rise to your nose over the rim of the glass, and inhale slowly. Let the smell come to you. And don’t be afraid to sniff more than once – Bourbon’s nose changes with each puff.
  3. Take a small sip and swirl it around in your mouth, leaving your lips slightly parted. Swirl and roll the Bourbon around your tongue and don’t miss any taste buds! This important step – or as we like to call it, the “Kentucky Chew” – acclimates your nerves to the alcohol so that the true flavor can come through. Look beyond the alcohol and notice what you taste.
  4. The finish refers to the feelings you get after swallowing the Bourbon. Does it linger for a while? It’s a long finish. Does it disappear quickly? It’s a short finish. Did any hidden flavors appear after swallowing it? Did you feel an unmistakable warmth after the Bourbon left your mouth? We call it a “Kentucky hug” and it’s a feeling you won’t forget.



Now… Kentucky Straight Bourbon. What is it?

Now, with this in mind, let’s talk about Kentucky Straight bourbon. This type of bourbon needs to follow certain guidelines to qualify as such.


First, we need to adhere to the rules of a Kentucky Straight Bourbon:

 It must be made in the United States (any state, not just Kentucky). Contain at least 51% corn in the mash bill. Must be distilled at no more than 160 proof. Encapsulate at no more than 125 proof. Must be placed in a new charred oak containers (not necessarily a barrel)  .

Bourbon barrels in a distillery

Second, in addition to following the guidelines for a Kentucky Straight bourbon, it must be aged in the charred oak barrel for at least two years. In case it has been aged less than 4 years, it is necessary to indicate it on the label.

Third, and finally, to classify as a Kentucky Straight Bourbon it is necessary to follow the guidelines of the Straight Bourbon and also to have been distilled and aged for at least 1 year in Kentucky.


How to taste a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey?

Although purists like to drink it neat at room temperature (no ice!), you can add a few drops of water to air it out and open up the bourbon aromas. To taste it this way, it is advisable to use a glass called a brandy snifter, a short-stemmed, balloon-shaped glass.


Some Kentucky Straight bourbon whiskey brands

Buffalo Trace

Four Roses

Heaven Hill

Jim Beam

Maker’s Mark

Wild Turkey

Woodford Reserve


Bourbon and Mixology

Bourbon is very versatile and can also be enjoyed in cocktails.




1 1/2 parts Kentucky Bourbon

1 part sweet vermouth

1 part Campari

Type of glass: rocks or double rocks

Garnish: orange or lemon peel


First, add bourbon, sweet vermouth and Campari into mixing glass with ice and stir until chilled.

Then, strain the content into your rocks glass.

Finish by garnishing your drink with a citrus peel and serve.


The Kentucky Mule – recipe by mixologist Bobby Neal


1.5 oz of Buffalo Trace Bourbon

0.5 ml of orange juice

4 oz of ginger beer


Garnish: orange slice

Type of glass: copper mug

Preparation: combine bourbon and ginger beer in the cup with ice. Add orange juice. Mix with a stirring stick. Decorate with an orange slice.


You can learn more about this spirit in the Kentucky Bourbon official website.


Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly.


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