Bourbon Heritage Month: Discover the American Spirit

Words: Crush

September is officially America’s National Bourbon Heritage Month, celebrating the uniquely American history of the spirit.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), as part of its “Cheers! Spirits from the U.S.A” campaign, has been introducing South African adult spirits consumers to the diverse range of American spirits for several years now.  The local market is growing as South Africans discover the variety, quality and versatility of Bourbons available. Whether you sip it neat, on the rocks, with a simple mixer or at the heart of a cocktail, Bourbon delivers complex, satisfying flavours rich with history.

bourbonBuilding on the market initially created by globally recognised American Whiskey brands such as Jack Daniels, Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, and Bulleit Bourbon, growing numbers of small Bourbon producers, such as Whistling Andy, B-Bird, Flag Hill and Golden Moon distillery’s Gunfighter Bourbon are also well received in South Africa.

Learning More about Bourbon

Bourbon was officially recognised as a distinctive product of the United States in 1964 with an act of Congress. In 2007, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution officially declaring September as “National Bourbon Heritage Month,” celebrating the uniquely American history of the spirit. Since then, enthusiasts have come together to appreciate the craftsmanship, history, contributions and achievements made within the Bourbon industry.

What makes it special?

With a history dating back to the 18th century, Bourbon is an American whiskey with deep roots in the state of Kentucky, where distillers perfected the art of ageing corn whiskey in new, charred oak barrels. Bourbon was born of a corn mash, since corn was the grain most widely available in the region at that time.  In addition to corn, distillers may add other grains such as rye, wheat and malted barley to give the spirit more complex flavours.

Adding to its unique complexity, flavour and aroma are the charred oak barrels it is aged in. Since Bourbon may not contain artificial colouring or flavouring, the charred oak naturally adds spice, sweetness and amber colour.

When is a whiskey classified as Bourbon?

To be considered Bourbon, the spirit must be distilled in the United States, consist of at least 51% corn, aged in charred, new oak barrels, and contain no colouring or flavouring additives. Bourbon may be produced in any state in America. To be designated ‘straight Bourbon whiskey’, it must be aged in new charred oak barrels for at least two years.

What does it taste like?

Depending on the mash bill, distiller and ageing process, the flavour notes in various Bourbons will vary considerably. However, aficionados will often identify notes of cereal, vanilla, caramel and spice.

Bourbons in South Africa

A number of globally recognised American Whiskey brands are widely available in South Africa, including Jack Daniels, Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Bulleit Bourbon, Woodford Reserve and Knob Creek.

A number of smaller, craft distilleries entering the market are adding subtlety and nuance to this rich American tradition:

Whistling Andy

A Straight Bourbon Whiskey comprising 60% corn, 17.5% barley, 17.5% wheat and 5% rye, this award-winning and complex Bourbon is aged for three to four years.


bourbon Baker Bird Winery and B. Bird Distillery is the oldest commercial estate winery in the United States and is also the only winery that survived the Civil War. Owner, Dinah Bird, expanded the winery to include a Bourbon distillery as a nod to both the rich cultural history in Kentucky and the heritage of the Baker Bird Winery.

“The original owner, John Baker, was an indentured labourer from Germany and learnt distilling while under contract in the US. He went on to set up distilling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and distilled throughout the Whiskey Rebellion. Here at B.Bird Distillery , we pay homage to the cultural heritage and history of Kentucky by continuing the tradition of Bourbon distilling.” Dinah Bird, Owner of B. Bird Distillery

B.Bird Distillery’s young Bourbons recognise historic distillers who did not have time to age Bourbon. B.Bird’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey, aged for two years, is described as fruity, with notes of ripe berries, dates, sweet corn, vanilla and oak.

Flag Hill Distillery

Flag Hill Distillery’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey is distilled and aged in New Hampshire, where ever-changing weather impacts the complexity of the spirit. It develops soft, warm notes of butterscotch and toffee, with layers of earthy flavours.

Gun Fighter

bourbon gunfighter

Golden Moon Distillery is a unique, craft distillery based in Colorado. Their Golden Moon Distillery’s Gun Fighter American Bourbon – Double Cask is aged for a minimum of six months in new American oak casks, and then finished in used French oak casks that previously held California port-style wine. This gives the whiskey a unique smoothness and complexity.

“If you’re new to Bourbon, chill it over one block of ice or try it in a signature American cocktail, like an Old-Fashioned or a Manhattan.” Stephen Gould, Master Distiller for Golden Moon.

Looking for some classic cocktail recipes? Try out these citrus forward classic American cocktails

To learn more about American Bourbons and distilled spirits and to find classic cocktail recipes with good old South African twists, follow: 

Instagram | Facebook

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>