How long does it take to make bourbon whiskey?

Answered by Michael Weatherspoon

When it comes to making , time is a crucial factor. The length of aging plays a significant role in developing the flavors and characteristics that we associate with this iconic American spirit. While there are legal requirements for the minimum aging period of bourbon, many distillers choose to go above and beyond to create exceptional products.

The aging process for bourbon starts with the selection of . In order to be classified as bourbon, the spirit must be aged in new barrels made of white oak. This is an important distinction, as the use of new barrels imparts unique flavors and allows the whiskey to interact with the wood more intensely. The inside of these barrels is also charred, which further enhances the flavor profile of the bourbon.

The minimum aging requirement for bourbon is two years. This means that the spirit must spend at least 24 months in the barrel before it can be legally labeled and sold as bourbon. However, many distillers choose to age their bourbons for much longer periods of time to achieve desired flavors and complexities.

Premium bourbons often fall within the range of 5 to 12 years of aging. During this time, the whiskey undergoes a transformation as it absorbs flavors from the wood, undergoes chemical reactions, and matures. The longer the bourbon ages, the more time it has to develop rich flavors and aromas.

Some distilleries even produce bourbons with exceptionally long aging periods. These rare and highly sought-after expressions can be aged for as long as 27 years. The extended aging allows the bourbon to take on deep and complex flavors, with notes of caramel, vanilla, oak, and spice. These aged bourbons are often considered to be luxurious and are prized by collectors and connoisseurs.

It is important to note that aging bourbon is not a linear process. The interaction between the whiskey and the wood is influenced by various factors such as temperature, humidity, and the specific characteristics of the barrels used. Each batch of bourbon may age differently, even if it is stored in the same warehouse. This adds an element of unpredictability and uniqueness to each bottle of aged bourbon.

As a sommelier and brewer, I have had the privilege of tasting bourbons aged for various lengths of time. I have found that the extra years of aging can truly make a difference in the flavor profile of the spirit. The extended maturation process allows the bourbon to mellow and develop a smoothness that is unparalleled. The flavors become more pronounced, the aromas more inviting, and the overall drinking experience more enjoyable.

The length of time it takes to make bourbon whiskey depends on the desired flavor profile and quality that the distillery aims to achieve. While the legal minimum aging requirement is two years, many distillers choose to age their bourbons for longer periods to create exceptional and highly sought-after expressions. The aging process allows the whiskey to develop complex flavors and aromas, making each bottle of bourbon a unique and cherished experience.