The Five Biggest Bourbon Myths

Bourbon is undeniably on a major roll. Over the last few years, sales of the whiskey have shot up around the world. While we love that bars and stores now boast big selections of the spirit, we still hear plenty of misinformation about the liquor. So to set the record straight, we’ve debunked some of the most common bourbon myths. Cheers!

Jack Daniel’s is bourbon.

An easy bar bet to win is to ask your friends to find the word “bourbon” on a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. You’ll stump them every time, since the spirit is a Tennessee whiskey, not a bourbon. What’s the difference? Jack Daniel’s goes through a special charcoal-filtering process before it’s put into barrels.

All bourbon is made in Kentucky.

While most bourbon comes from the Bluegrass State (according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, 95 percent of the planet’s supply is born there), by law the alcohol can be distilled anywhere in the United States. And we’ve tasted bourbons from across the country, like those from Upstate New York’s Tuthilltown Spirits and Chicago’s Few Spirits.

Older bourbon is better.

Nearly every week, we’re asked about super-premium and super-old bourbons such as Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 Years Old and Eagle Rare 17-Year-Old. Though these bottlings are beloved by bartenders and drinkers, they are really the exception and not the norm. Older bourbon isn’t necessarily better: If the spirit spends too long in a barrel, all you’ll taste is the wood.

You can’t add ice & mixers.

Don’t let anybody tell you how to drink your whiskey. You should enjoy it any way you want. And in fact, a bit of water helps open up the bourbon just as it does Scotch. If you want to add ice, use a jumbo cube that chills thoroughly but melts slowly. Bourbon is also, of course, delicious in cocktails. We particularly like it in a simple and refreshing Presbyterian and the classic Mint Julep.

Bourbon is made from a secret recipe.

While there are many bourbons on store shelves, there are just three basic formulas for making the liquor. Knowing which ones your favorites employ will help you discover new brands that you’ll also like. Check out our list of recipes and corresponding whiskies, which we compiled with bourbon expert Bernie Lubbers.

Learn more about bourbon and get lots more cocktail recipes in our bourbon guide.

Locations: Kentucky, Tennessee

From our Friends

Discussion (32)

  • Autisun posted 1 week ago

    Not accurate.

  • kerby.rok.620bd posted 5 months ago

    Jack Daniels meets all legal requirements for a Bourbon. The company it self chooses not to be called a bourbon.

  • posted 5 months ago

    All true bourbons are from Kentucky. Others are not true because they are not Bourbon county whiskey.

  • jasonq posted 6 months ago "as no brand has ever tried to label a charcoal-filtered whiskey as bourbon."

    Ezra Brooks is a charcoal-filtered bourbon. Evan Williams Black Label is too - says so right on the label.

  • smallzie01.8a3e posted 7 months ago

    Bourbon is not charcoal filtered such as JD. The sugar charcoal filtering process is considered an additive. Additives are not allowed in bourbon. All bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon. I'm a former bourbon maker from the heart of bourbon country in Kentucky. Jack is good but Woodford rocks.

  • Lance_Steel posted 1 year ago

    Also as far as I know there is no regulation specific to bourbon prohibiting additives, charcoal or otherwise. What you may be confusing are the regulations prohibiting additives to American "straight" whiskey.

  • Lance_Steel posted 1 year ago

    By the way, Jim Beam Choice is a Kentucky charcoal filtered bourbon.

  • Lance_Steel posted 1 year ago

    Not true.

    These are the US legal requirements for bourbon designated for US consumption as defined by
    the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits (27 C.F.R. 5):

    1) Produced in the United States.
    2) Made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.
    3) Aged in new, charred oak barrels.
    4) Distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume).
    5) Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).
    6) Bottled (like other whiskeys) at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume).

    Jack Daniels fits into these criteria, regardless if their marketing department prefers "Tennessee Whiskey".

    To illustrate, all Tennessee Whiskies are bourbons, but not all bourbons are Tennessee whiskies.

    the "Lincoln County Process" (LCP) was a gimmick defined in a 1941 Internal Revenue Service ruling issued at the request of the Jack Daniel's distillery.

    The term Tennessee Whiskey does not have a legal definition in the U.S. Federal regulations that define the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits and NAFTA defines Tennessee whiskey is "a straight Bourbon Whiskey authorized to be produced only in the State of Tennessee" (this is also the same definition Canadian law recognizes).

    To illustrate that the LCP is just an capricious state definition used for marketing their beloved tax revenue cash cow, in 2013 the governor of Tennessee signed House Bill 1084, requiring the LCP to be used for whiskey produced in the state using the label “Tennessee Whiskey", but absolutely arbitrarily exempted another Tennessee Whiskey producer (Benjamin Prichard's) from having to conform to that definition.

    In any case it should be noted that the 2013 Tennessee state definition fully fits within existing legal requirements defined for bourbon production.

    To illustrate the artificial distinction of the Tennessee Whiskey definition, if the JD marketing department tomorrow decided to rebrand and label their product as a bourbon they could without violating any legal definition, state, federal, or international.

    Moreover charcoal filtration is not unique to JD, and is also used in the production of spirits other than bourbon.

    So if a consumer feels that their bourbon tastes better for having the words "Tennessee Whiskey" on the label more power to the JD marketing department, but to me it will always be an overpriced brand with a rabid cult following (especially within the military) that I best remember for cutting down their alcohol content to 80 proof from the original 90 for greed-driven marketeering.

  • Lance_Steel posted 1 year ago

    The thing to consider is that the legal definition of bourbon does not exclude Tennessee whiskies. As per my example if I convince lawyers, politicians, and regulators that dripping bourbon over a pyramid creates a new class of whiskey it doesn’t magically cease to be bourbon.

    Here’s a straightforward question to illustrate my point, if JD tomorrow decided to start labelling their whiskey as a bourbon would they be breaking any laws?

    So in the end JD is a bourbon in the general sense as it meets the minimum requirements for this definition, but most specifically it is a “Harmonically Attuned Spirit”, whoops I mean a “Tennessee Whiskey” because it interacts with charcoal chips prior to being barreled.

    This whole distinction started back in 1941 when the JD distillery requested the IRS to make a distinction of “Tennessee Whiskey” from bourbon based on the Lincoln County Process, but there is no such legal definition in the U.S. Federal regulations that define the Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits.

    In actuality the only legal definition of the term Tennessee Whiskey in U.S. federally recognized legislation occurs in NAFTA, which states only that Tennessee whiskey is "a straight Bourbon Whiskey authorized to be produced only in the State of Tennessee, and yet it doesn’t even require the use of Lincoln County Process.

    To illustrate just how arbitrary and capricious the definition is, in 2013, the governor of Tennessee signed House Bill 1084, requiring the Lincoln County process to be used for products produced in the state labeling themselves as "Tennessee Whiskey" and yet specifically exempted Benjamin Prichard's because they don’t use the process; nonetheless this was tacked onto, guess what, the existing legal requirements for bourbon production.

    Distillers use various materials to treat their product to remove congeners and still fit within the definition of their respective base spirits, the difference with JD is that they have solicited politicians to create a unique definition for themselves within the bourbon category to increase their profitability.

    I prefer not to play such semantics games, so JD is a bourbon with a history of politically influenced marketeering strategies.

  • Lance_Steel posted 1 year ago

    ...even if no other bourbon uses the mysterious "McClaine Process".

Are you smarter than
your bartender?

Think you know the booze?
Let’s start with some basics.