How It's Made: Bourbon


bourbon whiskey is uniquely American the

US Congress officially recognized it as

a product distinct to the nation this

amber hue brew was first cooked up by

Scottish and Irish settlers in late

eighteenth-century Kentucky today

production continues there with the

approval of Congress the American

government regulates the making of

bourbon to keep this native spirit true

to tradition by law it must be made from

a grain mix that's at least 51% corn

distillers often use more for flavor

shakers sift out cobs or other foreign

material and the Colonel's head into a

grinder inside rollers crush the kernels

to release the flavor of the starch the

process leaves larger chunks of the corn

germ and husks once distilled these bits

will settle out in separate batches the

machine also grinds malted barley and

soft red winter wheat they cook the corn

and blend it with limestone rich iron

free Kentucky water they add the barley

winter wheat and a bit of mash from a

previous batch along with a special

yeast formulation the grain mash flows

into fermentation tanks made of cypress


after eight to ten hours the yeast works

its magic and the mash becomes a

bubbling brew the bubbling is caused by

the release of carbon dioxide gas as the

grains sugars ferment and become alcohol

after three days it has fermented into a

thick liquid they call distillers beer

they pump it into a column still which

boils off the alcohol leaving water and

other substances behind the alcoholic

vapor rises up to be condensed into

liquid after distilling it a second time

the alcohol concentration rises to a

strong 130 proof it's clear with no

noticeable color at this stage they call

it white dog once water has been added

to dilute the whiskey to 110 proof an

employee takes a sample and sends it to

the lab there a technician places a test

tube of the alcohol into a gas

chromatograph tester

it vaporizes the alcohol and then

analyzes the flavor compounds and

alcohol strength with approval from the

lab they're ready to barrel the batch

they pump it out of storage tanks and

into new oak barrels that have been

purposely charred on the inside charring

carmelize --is naturally occurring wood

sugars to add sweetness to the alcohol

as it ages it will also turn the clear

alcohol and amber color once corked with

the walnut stopper the employee rolls

the barrel into a multi-tiered warehouse

here the Bourbon will age for many years

partway through they'll move the barrel

to another level of the building due to

temperature variations this will make

the product more consistent after six to

seven years they uncork the stopper and

insert steel tubes to draw in ambient


this causes the Bourbon to flow freely

when tipped and it gushes into a trough

the alcohol has ripened to a sweet

caramel colored brew


after they add more water to make it 90

proof it's ready for bottling nozzles

fill the bottles with bourbon right to

the neck the bottles then circle over to

the cap applicators the applicators spin

metal caps

screwing them onto the bottles the

bottles then ride a carousel and a

device picks up and applies the labels a

brush smooth them to the bottles down

the line a two-person team retrieves the

bottles and dips the caps and hot wax

the wax quickly dries and solidifies to

give the Bourbon a better seal after

several years in the distillery this

Kentucky Bourbon has come of age and

that calls for a toast