Well, in brief we can’t really call it a bourbon, because like many things these days there’s a hefty legal definition lurking that has to be met to put that label perfectly on it. Let me tell you what we’ve done and give you the legal nitty-gritty; then hopefully you’ll agree we’ve been inspired by the delights that using grains like corn and malted barley can imbue a spirit with!
Before I crack on with that, I have to say, the whole Bourbon thing is peppered with spicy bits and if I put them all in, it would be too lengthy, so I have dropped them into a postscript for you!
Back to bourbon and what it actually is as a legal thing:
It has to start life as a grain mix of no less than 51% corn, the rest can be made up with rye, wheat or malted barley. Must be made in the USA (oops) - it is strongly associated with Kentucky - but can be made anywhere in the US. Must come off a still at no more than 160 US proof (80% vol). Must be aged in a new charred oak barrel. There’s no minimum time in the barrel! But if it's labelled straight bourbon the minimum ageing is two years. If less than four years, the label must specify how long it has been aged. When aged in a barrel the distillate must not exceed 125 US proof (62.5% vol) and when bottled its minimum strength is 80 US proof (40% vol). Prior to bottling you can only add water to the dis’ - nowt else! Finally, if labelled as say: Kentucky bourbon - it must have been distilled in that state.
There you have it. So where do we go awry? We are off to a good start, corn and malted barley, we distil thrice and it's been in an american oak barrel for two years. It's bottled at 40% vol, but how did we score on geography… well there are at least three Cornwall’s in the USA - Cornwall, New York, Cornwall, Pennsylvania and Cornwall, Connecticut… but the one I am sat in, along with the distillery, is in Cornwall, Cornwall, bugger! Got a U there!
That said, it's a delicious sip and we have truly enjoyed creating this thing that is our homage to Bourbon bourbon. We aren’t pretending it’s bourbon! It's just our version of that style of spirit.
How to sip? It is divine neat or over ice - a fireside friend indeed. But if you are warming up for the party season or simply love the sparkle of cocktails, the classics are a super place to start: The Old Fashioned - bourbon, sugar, Angostura bitters and a twist of some zest or other. The Mint Julep - a Kentucky Derby staple - bourbon, fresh mint, sugar and crushed ice - don’t forget your silver or pewter cup! The sensual and sophisticated Manhattan - bourbon, sweet vermouth and Angostura Bitters, with a cherry - on or off the rocks (you decide) and Whiskey Sour - bourbon, lemon juice (add some grapefruit too!) and sugar - and give it a silky frothy feel by shaking with an egg white. And it would be remiss not to include the Sazerac - one of America’s oldest cocktails - from New Orleans, bourbon, a sugar cube, Peychaud’s bitters (sweeter and more floral then Angostura) and absinthe (yippee!).
Time to grab a glass and friends!
All my seasonal best!
On my meander into the land of Kentucky, a few twinkling nuggets caught my eye. The State of Kentucky covers approximately 40,000 square miles and is the home to 4.5 million people and 5 distilleries, producing about 520m litres of bourbon per year.
The county of Bourbon (from where the product takes its name) is only 292 square miles, with about 20,000 people and less than 6 distilleries - if current web stuff is right!
Interestingly, the county of Bourbon gave its name to a whisky and the county had its name bestowed upon it as a token of thanks to the French aristocratic family The House of Bourbon. They supported the colonists during the American Revolutionary War against the Brits. When the county was given its name, Kentucky was part of Virginia and it was in 1785 when one of the nine counties forming the Kentucky District of Virginia was given this name! It wasn’t just the French helping the colonists with money, food, weapons and military support, they also happily wore the Brits out across the globe in mad warring romp, depleting their focus on the colonists.
At this time America was very different than today with just the 13 original states, a big slab of states-to-be called the Northwest Territory. Some unorganised territory and other bits acquired by Mexico and Spain (Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, California). Then we Spain with Florida and the Pacific Northwest in flux between PSain and the Brits. And pretty much everything else is inhabited and controlled by various Native American tribes.
I’m exhausted writing it, let alone thinking about it! But, just as a broader perspective in the early nineteenth century Europe was not what it is today either: Britain, France, Spain and Portugal were much the same, but there were clearly a few massive bumps in the road ahead! The Holy Roman Empire was a big thing - a collection of hundreds of semi-independent states, including the kingdoms of Bohemia and Bavaria, numerous principalities, bishoprics, and free imperial cities. Modern-day Germany and Austria were part of this entity. Italy was a collection of various states such as the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Papal States, and several duchies and republics. The Ottoman Empire controlled much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. Territories that are now Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. Denmark-Norway was a union under a single monarch. Sweden was on its own. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was a large state in Eastern Europe, but it was experiencing internal strife and was on the verge of being partitioned by its neighbours. Modern-day Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg were divided. The Dutch Republic was independent.
Time for a glass of Bourbon! (Cornish…. hehehe).