Bourban Production Process

The typical grain mixture for bourbon, known as the mash bill, is 70% corn with the remainder being wheat and/or rye, and malted barley.
The use of a mash bill that contains a relatively large percentage of wheat produces what is known as a wheated bourbon. The grain is ground and mixed with water. Usually, though not always, mash from a previous distillation is added to ensure a consistent pH across batches, and a mash produced in that manner is referred to as a sour mash.

Finally, yeast is added and the mash is fermented. The fermented mash, which is referred to as the wash, is then distilled to (typically) between 65% and 80% alcohol. Distillation was historically performed using an alembic or pot still, although in modern production, the use of a continuous still is much more common.


The resulting clear spirit is placed in charred oak barrels for aging, during which it gains colour and flavour from the wood. Changes to the spirit also occur due to evaporation and chemical processes such as oxidation. Bourbons gain more colour and flavour the longer they age. Maturity, not a particular age, is the goal. Bourbon can age too long and become woody and unbalanced.


After aging, bourbon is withdrawn from the barrel, usually diluted with water and bottled to at least 80 US proof (40% abv). Most bourbon whiskey is sold at 80 US proof. Other common proofs are 86, 90, 94, 100 and 107, and whiskeys of up to 151 proof have been sold. Some higher proof bottlings are marketed as "barrel proof", meaning that they have not been diluted or have been relatively lightly diluted after removal from the barrels. Bourbon whiskey may be sold at less than 80 proof but must be labelled as "diluted bourbon".

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