Open for the 2024 Season May 1st

With all the excitement about bourbon bars, many who are new to the “Bourbon Craze” may have some basic questions. The Old Mill started working on their Bourbon Bar a few years before it actually opened. The reason was, the Damascus Old Mill Inn wanted to give you a Bourbon Bar you would expect from a special place like ours.

For those of you new to bourbon bars, there a few terms you may want to understand that are related to bourbon. Let’s get started with a few basic questions we have been asked at the Damascus Old Mill Bourbon Bar over the last couple of years.  

What is the difference between bourbon and whiskey?

Bourbon is a whiskey similar to how champagne is a wine, so all bourbon is a whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon.

What makes it bourbon, and how is it made?

The U.S. Government has passed some very strict laws governing what can be sold as bourbon, so bourbon by definition is an American whiskey. Bourbon has to be totally made in the United States, so there is no such thing as a European Bourbon. Next, bourbon whiskey must be made using a grain mixture, which is at least 51 percent corn. Bourbon must also be distilled to no more than 160 proof (which is 80 percent alcohol by volume (ABV)). When placed in casks for aging, it can be no more than 62.5 percent alcohol and the initial casks must be new charred oak barrels. When bottled bourbon must have an ABV of at least 40 percent.

Where did the name bourbon come from?

This is not an easy question to answer. Some say that it comes from Bourbon County, Kentucky which was founded in 1785 and where some of the best bourbon distilleries are found. Others insist that it is from Bourbon Street in New Orleans. However, both of these names are believed to have come from the French Bourbon dynasty. Remember, the most important point is that bourbon is an American whiskey.

What does it mean to "finish" a bourbon?

Although all bourbon must begin the aging process in new charred oak barrels, after the initial aging process many distilleries “finish” or “double maturate” the bourbon in a different type of barrel. For example, “Angel’s Envy” is finished in 60-gallon port wine barrels from Portugal. This is just some of the magic that distillers bring to the bourbon experience.

Does bourbon continue to age in the bottle like wines do?

The simple answer is no. Whiskey is not like a wine that continues to age once bottled. With that said, don’t think that every wine should be aged in its bottle by design. In fact, it has been said that 90% of bottled wines are meant to be drunk right after bottling or at a maximum of five years after bottling. Bourbon is different. If properly stored, bourbon can last several lifetimes.

Is there a minimum time bourbon must be stored? What is "straight" bourbon?

Here the simple answer is also no, but with a special clarification. The legal requirement beyond a regular bourbon has to do with aging. If a bourbon is “younger” than four years, it must be disclosed on the label with an age statement of the bourbon’s distilling process. The legal term “straight bourbon” is reserved for bourbons at least two years old. Also, note that straight bourbon cannot contain any added colors or flavors.

What is a bourbon age statement?

There is no minimum rule for how long a distiller must age their bourbon in the new charred oak barrel. However, if it is aged less than four years, it must state so on the label. Age statements are optional for bourbons aged over four years.

What is a bourbon's "mash bill?"

The specific list of a bourbon’s grain ingredients is called the mash bill. All bourbons must contain at least 51% corn, but the other ingredients will vary. A distiller can include a mix of rye, wheat, and barley.

What is a "high-rye" or "wheater" bourbon?

If the second main ingredient of a mash bill after corn is rye the bourbon is called “high rye”, and if it is wheat it is called a “wheater”. High rye bourbons are usually spicier and richer in flavor, and heavily wheated bourbons usually taste a little bit sweeter.

What do "sour mash" and "sweet mash" mean?

Mash is the ingredients that were used to make the bourbon. Sour mash is when you add a portion of mash that was previously used into the new fresh batch of mash. This process tends to lower the pH of the batch and helps provide consistency from batch to batch. On the other hand, a sweet mash is when fresh yeast is added to a batch. This process leads to a higher pH and delivers a different array of unique flavors.

What does "cask strength" mean?

Cask strength is a legal term in the United States that has to do with whether the bourbon was diluted before being bottled. Bourbons can be diluted down to 40 percent ABV (80 proof). However, to be advertised as cask strength, the bourbon must come directly from the cash to the bottle without any dilution. The cask strength can vary from batch to batch using the same mash bill. This variance can be from a variety of reasons like the weather or even the place in the warehouse the cask is stored. The difference is due to the amount of alcohol that evaporates out during the aging process.

Are all bourbons made in Kentucky?

Not all, just most. Over 95% of all bourbon is made in Kentucky and there are actually geographic reasons given for the best bourbon coming from Kentucky. There are three key reasons that the Bluegrass State is called the bourbon capital of the world.

  1. Water: Kentucky water has a higher pH and is considered hard. The bedrock of Kentucky has a high amount of blue limestone, so when water flows through it picks up key minerals like magnesium and calcium and filters out bitter elements like iron. This aids the fermentation process necessary to create a crisp taste found in top Kentucky bourbons.
  2. Soil: Bourbon must contain 51% corn in the mash bill and Kentucky can boast some of the most fertile soil in the United States which is ideal for corn production. Since the late 1700s, Kentucky has been considered the corn capital, and every county in Kentucky produces the golden kernels.
  3. Weather: Kentucky enjoys the extremes of weather including cold winters and hot summers. These shifts in temperature affect the barrels and the hot barrels expand allowing the whiskey to seep in and cold barrels contract with the whiskey returning with the barrel flavor and golden color.

So possibly to your surprise, there are actually reasons why most bourbon comes from Kentucky. The Damascus Old Mill Inn has made it our objective to make the Damascus Old Mill Bourbon Bar one of the best bourbon bars found in Southwest Virginia. So come to the small town of Damascus, Virginia, and experience not only the world-famous Virginia Creeper Trail and Appalachian Trail, but visit the Old Mill’s 200-foot wide grist mill waterfall, and the Old Mill boutique hotel rooms and top-shelf bourbon bar. If you have any questions that we may be able to answer about our bourbon bar or things to do in Southwest Virginia, please give us a call at 276-475-3745 or contact us online.