Legal Definition of Bourbon

Bourbon by defination can vary from country to country, although various trade agreements require the name Bourbon to be reserved for products made in America.

American regulations for the labeling and advertising of Bourbon apply only to products made for consumption within the United States; they do not apply to distilled spirits made for export.
Canadian law requires products labeled as Bourbon to be made in the United States and to also conform to the requirements that apply within the United States. However, in countries other than the United States and Canada, products labeled as Bourbon may not adhere to the same standards. European Union regulations require products labeled as Bourbon to be made in the United States, but do not require them to conform to all of the requirements that apply within the United States.
The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits state that bourbon made for consumption within the United States must meet these requirements:
Only whiskey produced in the United States can be called bourbon.
Bourbon must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.
Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proofs (80% alcohol by volume).
Bourbon, like other whiskeys, must be bottled at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume.)
Bourbon must be entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).
Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period, although it must be aged at least briefly. However, the following definitions and requirements apply that relate to aging periods:

Bourbon that meets the above requirements, has been aged for a minimum of two years, and has no added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits may (but is not required to) be called Straight bourbon.

Bourbon that is labeled as Straight that has been aged for a period less than four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging.

Bourbon that has an age stated on its label must be labeled with the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle (not counting the age of any added neutral grain spirits in a Bourbon that is labeled as Blended, as neutral grain spirits are not considered whiskey under the regulations and are not required to be aged at all).

  • Bourbon that is labeled as Blended (or as ‘a blend’) may contain added
  • colouring, flavoring, and other spirits (such as un-aged neutral grain
  • spirits); however, at least 51% of such a product must be Straight
  • Bourbon.
In practice, almost all bourbons marketed today are made from more than two-thirds corn, have been aged at least four years, and do qualify as "straight bourbon"—with or without the "straight bourbon" label. The exceptions are inexpensive commodity brands of bourbon aged only three years and pre-mixed cocktails made with straight bourbon aged for two years. However, at least one small distillery markets bourbon aged for as little as three months.

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