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.


  • smallzie01.8a3e posted 4 weeks 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 7 months 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 7 months ago

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

  • Lance_Steel posted 7 months 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 9 months 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 9 months ago

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

  • Lance_Steel posted 9 months ago

    If I take MGP bourbon and pass it over agate crystals housed in a pyramidal casing blessed by Shirley MacLaine I may call it “Harmonically Attuned Spirits”, but at the end of the day it would still meet the minimum requirements to be defined as a bourbon.

  • Lance_Steel posted 9 months ago

    I have also never heard of an upper limit on corn content for the definition of bourbon, and I believe the reason is that the claim is erroneous.

    On the other hand, the definition of Tennessee Whiskey is as follows: "[Tennessee whiskey] Must be distilled from a minimum of 51% corn, with a maximum of 79%. The primary difference in Tennessee whiskey over bourbon is a filtration process where the whiskey is allowed to slowly drip through 10 feet of sugar-maple charcoal, a process that can take up to 2 weeks for one batch. The whiskey is transferred to a charred barrel for aging, a minimum of two years."

    JD is a bourbon regardless if they choose not to report it that way on the label.

    If I take MGP bourbon and pass it over agate crystals housed in a pyramidal casing blessed by Shirley MacLaine I may call it "Harmonically Attuned Spirits", but at the end of the day it would still meet the minimum requirements to be defined as a bourbon.

  • posted 1 year ago

    Additives are not forbidden exactly, but according to federal rules (, any additives must be included in the spirit's name on the label (as in "straight bourbon whiskey with [whatever] added"), unless they are "harmless," which has a strict and complicated definition. We're not sure what, if any, additives are considered "harmless" for bourbon, but any spirit's formula, ingredients, production process and label must be specifically approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau before it can be sold. And to our knowledge, the TTB has never issued a ruling on whether charcoal-filtering is allowed for bourbon, as no brand has ever tried to label a charcoal-filtered whiskey as bourbon.

  • jseeber posted 1 year ago

    So in other words, JD is without a doubt a bourbon by definition, but they choose to call it by a fictional marketing name known as "Tennessee Whiskey."

    By the way, I don't see anywhere in the law that prohibits additives in bourbons, which is why some people claim that JD is not a bourbon, because somehow the charcoal thing counts as an additive. Can you point out where in the law additives are prohibited?

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