“I’ve found consumers struggle [with] understanding ‘whiskey’ is merely a categorical term that essentially means distilled grain aged in wood with subgenres of bourbon, Irish, Scotch, and Canadian whiskeys, among others,” says Fred Minnick, author of “Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey.”
But as if that’s not enough, there is also a lot of information out there about whiskey that’s inaccurate. Here are eight things you probably think are fact, but are actually not true about this spirit.
Myth 1: Older tastes better
Older bourbons often have an over-oaked flavor profile, Minnick says, and many old products sit on shelves because the flavor wasn’t there to begin with. “Blending and mingling older whiskeys takes incredible skill, so when you find a good older whiskey, cherish it, because there usually are not many bottles available,” he says.
Myth 2: All coloring is natural
By definition, bourbon and anything labeled “straight” whiskey cannot have added coloring — all those amber hues come naturally from the barrel it’s aged in. However, Scotch and many American whiskeys can have caramel coloring added.
Myth 3: Darker color means it’s aged longer
As you just learned, that hue may not be natural, so it doesn’t necessarily indicate the age. The color of Scotch (if it’s not artificially colored) is more reflective of the type of wood it’s aged in. American oak tends to impart a golden hue, while European oak lends a darker, more mahogany color. Darker bourbon, on the other hand, typically is a sign of a whiskey that’s been aged longer, Minnick says. The color can also be an indicator of the proof. “The more diluted with water, the lower the proof and the lighter the color,” Minnick explains.
Myth 4: All bourbon comes from Kentucky
According to a 1964 congressional resolution, bourbon is a unique U.S. product, which means it can come from any part of the country. There are distilleries in New York, California, Texas, and other states, though 95 percent of the spirit is produced in Kentucky, so it’s no wonder people get confused.
“I speak to about 20,000 consumers a year about bourbon, and every year a person gets in my face and tells me that it must be made in Kentucky,” Minnick says.
Myth 5: Jack Daniel’s is whiskey
“Technically it is bourbon, as it’s defined on several free trade agreements, but the brand chooses to be labeled as Tennessee whiskey, which does not have a federal definition,” Minnick says. According to a 2013 bill passed by Tennessee lawmakers, Tennessee whiskey is basically bourbon that’s aged in Tennessee and filtered through maple charcoal prior to aging.
Myth 6: Every drop in a bottle of 12-year whiskey was aged 12 years
“When you see an age statement, the stated age must be the youngest barrel in the batch,” Minnick explains. “So if you have nine 15-year-old barrels and one 5-year-old barrel, the age statement must be 5-year-old.” If there’s no age statement and it’s American whiskey, it’s likely at least four years old, because regulation states that anything under four years must have the age displayed on the label.
Myth 7: “Since 1855” means the brand was founded in 1855
“The whiskey brands perpetuate many myths themselves, but none are more prominent than the founding years found on the label,” Minnick says. New companies are starting to come out with brands named after historical figures, and then they’ll use the long deceased person’s birthdate and say “since 1855” on the label.
“Research has shown the consumers like history with whiskey, so the brands are essentially following marketing research,” Minnick explains. “But pretty much any bottle that says ‘since 17XX or 18XX, ‘ — the brand hasn’t been around since then.”
Myth 8: Bourbon has to be made with limestone-filtered water
Kentucky water is limestone-filtered, which naturally filters out iron and the unpleasant taste the mineral has. But because not all bourbon is made in Kentucky, not all bourbon is made with limestone-filtered water.