Bourbon 101: The Complete Bourbon Guide (And Why Hosts Love This Holiday Gift)

The holiday season is all about making merry with friends and family to celebrate the year. So why not make this season extra special with a sophisticated spirit like bourbon: it’s sure to help bring a little holiday spirit into your home.

There is a ton of buzz around high-end spirits right now, and bourbon is among the most loved. One of the most talked about is a premium bourbon from south of the border that has only just become available in Canada. Kentucky’s Angel’s Envy is now permanently available across the country in large supply to meet the high demand for this sought-after expression and it’s the perfect sip for experts and novice bourbon drinkers alike. More on that later…

The world of bourbon is complex—in order to fully appreciate what’s in your glass, it’s a good idea to understand what it actually is (and how it is different from other whiskies), how it’s made, and what makes it so special. Read on for everything you ever wanted to know about bourbon and a bourbon recommendation for your holiday shopping list…whether it’s for yourself, an alcohol connoisseur or a beginner who is just starting to experiment with cocktails and mixology.

What is bourbon?

Despite its popularity, bourbon remains a bit of a mystery to many. The name derives from the French Bourbon dynasty, although the precise source of inspiration is still uncertain.

Bourbon is a distinct product that, according to the U.S. government, must be made in the United States (not just Kentucky, although the state does produce 95 per cent of all bourbon in the country). To be considered bourbon, the spirit must be distilled from a mash made primarily of corn (at least 51% corn) and aged in new, charred oak barrels, which are partially responsible for the sweetness—the caramel-esque and vanilla flavours—most closely associated with bourbon. There are also other rules about proof and labelling: bourbon must be bottled at 80 proof or higher, and the labels of blended bourbons must reference the youngest bourbon in the blend.

In order to be considered a “straight” bourbon, it must be aged for a minimum of two years, and contain no added colouring, flavouring, or other spirits blended in.

What is the difference between bourbon and whiskey?

While bourbon and whiskey are both popular brown liquors and might look the same sitting side by side on the shelf, they each possess unique characteristics. Before we break down the differences between the two, here’s a quick fun fact: all bourbons are whiskeys but not all whiskeys are bourbon.

The main differences between bourbon and whiskey are the kind of grain used and where the spirit is produced. As mentioned above, bourbon is strictly made in the U.S., must contain at least 51 per cent corn in its mash and is aged in new, charred-oak barrels. Whiskey, on the other hand, can be made anywhere in the world, can be made from a blend of grains (such as barley, corn, rye or wheat), and can have a variety of different production and aging processes.

What does bourbon taste like?

While some of whiskey’s flavour notes overlap with bourbon, whiskey tends to have a grainier, sharper taste than bourbon. Because bourbon is aged in new, charred-oak barrels, it’s typically described as having smoother notes of caramel, vanilla and oak. Its sweeter, smoother taste is also because it is always made from at least 51 per cent corn, which is naturally quite sweet.

Because bourbon tends to be smoother than whiskey, with a sweet-presenting flavour, it is often considered a good entry-level sipper for those new to whiskey.

A different kind of bourbon

If you’re looking to stock your home bar or give the gift of bourbon this holiday season, there is one Kentucky brand that has only recently become available in Canada although it’s already made a name for itself south of the border. Following the unprecedented success of its initial limited release, Angel’s Envy port-finished Kentucky Straight Bourbon is now permanently available in Canada in large supply, to meet the high demand for this sought-after expression. Launched in 2011, the Louisville-based craft distiller quickly won over whiskey lovers and rose to the top ranks of notable award-winning bourbons.

Why the hype? Quite simply, the brand is renowned for its high-quality ingredients and diligent process.

“The Angel’s Envy team possesses a deep respect for the craft,” says Georgene DaDan, the company’s vice president and general manager. “Everyone at the distillery is meticulous about the details and passionate about making quality American whiskey and Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Our dedicated team is always experimenting to bring unique and exciting whiskeys to its fans, so when we see a response like we did with the initial Canadian release, it’s a proud moment.”

The mash in Angel’s Envy is made up of 72 per cent corn, 18 per cent rye and 10 per cent malted barley. Each of the grains is locally sourced and non-GMO. In terms of the process, Angel’s Envy elevates the already strict process of creating bourbon with its unique double-maturation process. Each handcrafted batch starts its journey in new white American oak barrels and is aged for four to six years. The process becomes unique with a second key step: a secondary finish of three to six months takes place in French oak port casks imported from Portugal’s famed Douro region, adding a subtle fruity sweetness. It is then bottled at 43.3 per cent alcohol by volume (86.6 proof).

This premium liquid can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, yet is rich and complex enough to mix in your favourite cocktails—a true testament to the quality.

“It’s inspiring to see the brand grow and amass an international following. We’re excited to see what’s next as we continue to build, and we’re so happy to be able to make Angel’s Envy widely available in Canada,” says DaDan.

Because you’d never give just any bottle for the holidays

Looking for a gift this holiday season that is sure to impress the most discerning gifters and giftees? Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon can be purchased at the LCBO and select retailers across Canada for $79.95 (price may vary by province or retailer). For more information, visit www.angelsenvy.com.

Christopher Turner

AmongMen’s Editor-in-Chief is a well-respected fashion and style writer whose works have appeared in Fashionism, Fashion Television, MSN, DesignLines, the Kaboose Network, the Disney Family Network and Sun Media. He also has a collection of designer kicks that would make Imelda Marcos blush and lives in Toronto’s trendy east end. Follow him at: @Turnstylin.

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