Bourbon and Barrels

Whiskey is the stuff of song, movies, and of legend. We can envision well-dressed gentlemen sipping it in clubs, or rough-hewn cowboys tossing it back in saloons.  Your reality is  more likely that glass of light brown liquid from a short glass in front of a fire, at an oak-y bar, or from a flask that you sneaked into some venue. If you’re an aficionado of whiskey you probably know the difference between the various types, say Bourbon from Scotch. But if not, believe us, there is a difference and we’d like to explain that to you.

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All Bourbons are a whiskey, not all whiskey is Bourbon.

There are a few styles of whiskey, but while they all fall under the category, they are not at all the same.  Whiskey is a spirit that is made from fermented grain mash. Bourbon is a special category of whiskey because it’s not 100% grain. To be called Bourbon there must be 51% corn in the mix.¹ It’s that corn that gives Bourbon a sweeter flavor than it’s whiskey cousins.

Another requirement for the liquor to be called Bourbon is that it must be stored in a new, unused white  oak barrel that has been charred on the inside. The charring on the inside of the barrel is what gives Bourbon that rich brown color and rounds out the smoky-sweet flavor. Nothing can be added to the mash or to the bourbon once it comes from the barrel, making it an “honest” or pure spirit


Oak barrels are used because it is a more “pure” wood without resin canals like pine. Typically oak trees that are at least 90 years old are used to make the barrels.²The barrels used to make bourbon cannot be reused unless it is to make Scotch whiskey or something other than bourbon. Many barrels are shipped to Scotland after use here in the U.S.

Other facts

Weather can actually affect the flavor of the bourbon being made. Temperatures can either expand or contract the wood of the barrel. If it’s warm, the wood opens up and imparts more flavor.

For it to be legally called bourbon, the spirit must come from the U.S. It is commonly thought that bourbon comes only from Kentucky, however, bourbon can be made anywhere in the country.

So many to choose

Knowing that this drink is uniquely made only in the U.S. under strict regulations helps add to its legendary status. 1920 Tavern offers 39 different bourbons for you to try. Come in and sample what we have to offer and get acquainted with an American original.

If you want to know more about the science of oak barrels and how they provide the best environment for whiskey, read here.