WHISKEY 101

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Meaning

The meaning of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a bit of a rabbit hole question to answer because the phrase is a combination of 3 different highly regulated phrases: “bourbon whiskey”, “straight whiskey”, and “Kentucky…whiskey/bourbon/straight whiskey/straight bourbon whiskey”. Most American Whiskey phrases & definitions are legally defined and regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), so the use of these phrases on a whiskey label must meet the legal definitions. In a nutshell, Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a bourbon which qualifies to be called a straight bourbon which is also fully produced in Kentucky with at least one year aging in a barrel in Kentucky.

Let’s take a trip down the rabbit hole starting with the foundational phrase “bourbon whiskey”.

Bourbon Definition

Let’s start with one of the most common sayings about bourbon…all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. By law, according to US Trade Legislation “Bourbon Whiskey” must be all of the following:

  • Must be distilled and aged in the United States (any state, not just Kentucky or Tennessee)
  • Must have a mash bill of at 51% – 80% corn
  • Must be stored in new charred oak barrels (never in used oak barrels)
  • Distilled at a maximum of 160 proof
  • Barreled at a maximum of 125 proof
  • Bottled at a minimum of 80 proof
  • Must contain no additives or colorings

Straight Whiskey Definition

The legal phrase “straight whiskey” can apply to a variety of whiskeys including Bourbon Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Wheat Whiskey, Malt Whiskey and Rye-Malt Whiskey. To be labeled “Straight Whiskey” the law requirements include:

  • Must be distilled within a single state (but can be from different distilleries in a single state)
  • Must be distilled from a fermented cereal grain mash (usually with a high percentage of corn, rye, wheat, malt, or rye malt) to no more than 160 proof
  • Must have a mash bill with at least 51% of a single grain (corn, rye, wheat, malt, etc)
  • Must be barreled at a proof of no more than 125 proof
  • Must be aged for a minimum of 2 years in new charred oak barrels
  • If aged less than 4 years in the barrel, then an age statement must be declared which reflects the youngest whiskey in the bottle
  • Must contain no additives or colorings
    • The only allowed modifications to straight whiskey before bottling includes:
      • Particulate filtering
      • Chill filtering
      • Adding water to lower the proof
      • Combining barrels of different straight whiskeys (including from different distilleries) from the same state
        • Batching from different states disqualifies it as a straight whiskey and it is instead called a “Blended Whiskey”.

It’s important to note that a “straight whiskey” doesn’t have to be from just one batch or recipe. It can be multiple batches or barrels so long as they all meet the qualifications of being a straight whiskey, which includes being from the same state but not necessarily from the same distillery.

These regulations apply to all American straight whiskeys for consumption in the United States. These regulations do not necessarily apply to American straight whiskey that is made for export.

Straight Bourbon Whiskey Definition

So, putting that all together, the laws for a “Straight Bourbon Whiskey” include that it:

  • Must be distilled and aged in the United States (any state, not just Kentucky or Tennessee)
  • Must have a mash bill of at 51% – 80% corn
  • Must be stored in new charred oak barrels (never in used oak barrels)
  • Distilled at a maximum of 160 proof
  • Barreled at a maximum of 125 proof
  • Bottled at a minimum of 80 proof
  • Must contain no additives or colorings
  • Must be aged for a minimum of 2 years in new charred oak barrels
    • If aged less than 4 years in the barrel, then an age statement must be declared which reflects the youngest whiskey in the bottle
    • The only allowed modifications before bottling include (needed to qualify a bourbon as a straight bourbon):
      • Particulate filtering
      • Chill filtering
      • Adding water to lower the proof
      • Batching from barrels of different straight whiskeys (including from different distilleries) from the same state
        • Batching from different states disqualifies it as a straight whiskey and it is instead called a “Blended Whiskey”

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Definition

Finally, we are at the bottom of the whiskey definition rabbit hole! In order to use “Kentucky” in conjunction with any of the defined phrases above (such as Kentucky Bourbon, Kentucky Straight Whiskey, or Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey) it must first meet the standards for that phrase as listed above.
And in addition, to use Kentucky with any of those phrases the whiskey:

  • Must be distilled in Kentucky
  • Must be aged for at least 1 year in Kentucky (but still needs a minimum of 2 years aging in the US to qualify as a straight whiskey)
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Ken Common
1 month ago

Love bourbon. Thanks for info.

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