The true definition of bourbon will explain what is necessary for a whiskey to be labeled a bourbon. Corn Liquor, moonshine, white dog, and Kentucky lightning are all terms for the clear alcohol that is the foundation for all Bourbons.  Kentucky has been producing outstanding bourbon for a very long time.  But exactly how did white lightning become the mellow amber colored liquor we enjoy today?

You see it is all about the barrel.  A new white oak barrel that is charred.  The charring process is captivating to watch but more amazing to understand.  Clear liquor enters the barrel and over time becomes bourbon.  Nothing artificial, no food dyes, no flavorings, just water, distilled grains, and a wealth of knowledge placed in a new charred barrel.

To be classified as a bourbon it must meet the following standards.

It is made in the United States

The mash bill is made from at least 51% corn

It is distilled no higher than 160° (Proof)

The distilled liquor is put into a barrel at no higher than 125° (Proof)

It is put into a new, charred oak container.


Pot Still at Willett Distillery Bardstown Kentucky


As you can see aging is not part of the legal definition of bourbon. It would be very challenging to get color and flavor out of a barrel without aging.  When defining Kentucky Bourbon and Straight Bourbon,  aging does play a part in these additional classifications.

Kentucky Bourbon must be produced and then aged in the state of Kentucky for at least one year.

Straight Bourbon must be aged for a minimum of 2 years.  If aged less than four years it must have an age statement on the label.

Two additional classifications that you will find in the marketplace are Single Barrel and Small Batch.

Single Barrel has no legal definition in the bourbon world. However, it is implied that all of the whiskey in a bottle labeled single barrel came from one barrel

Small Batch is another classification without a legal definition. Some distilleries will define how many barrels make up a small batch, but many do not.   Small batch could be 6 barrels from a small distiller and 200 barrels from a major distiller. The term became popular when Jim Beam launched their small batch collection in 1992.