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What Is a Bourbon Distillery?

Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Updated May 17, 2024
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Bourbon is a type of alcoholic drink that is made in the United States. It is strongly associated with being made in Bourbon County, Kentucky, though it can be made anywhere in the U.S. and still be considered a bourbon. This spirit is made in a facility known as a bourbon distillery because the key ingredient, ethanol, is distilled through a specific boiling process. The main ingredient in bourbon is usually corn, though other fruits, vegetables, or grains can be used in a bourbon distillery operation. The spirit must contain at least 51% corn in order to be considered a bourbon in most countries.

The size of a bourbon distillery can vary significantly; in fact, some distilleries can be small enough to fit in one room, which means a hobbyist can distill his or her own bourbon as long as the operation adheres to local laws. Much larger bourbon distillery operations take up entire warehouses, as the stills for the process can be quite large if the company's output is very high. The amount of space will usually depend on the amount of equipment used in the process, as the number of large stills can affect how much space is required, as well as how many aging barrels are used. After the bourbon is distilled, it must be aged in oak barrels, which are usually stored on shelves or racks.

The aging process takes place within the bourbon distillery and it is monitored carefully by the distilling staff. Bourbon tends to gain flavor as it ages, though if it ages too long, that flavor can become unbalanced or otherwise too woody from the oak barrels. It is during this aging period that the bourbon also gains its color. Once the aging process is complete, the bourbon is usually combined with water to help cut the alcohol content; most bourbon whiskey is sold at 80% alcohol by volume, though other variations are common as well.

The bourbon distillery may also contain bottling facilities where the bourbon can be packaged for preservation and transportation. Bourbon is generally contained within a clear glass bottle to showcase the color of the whiskey, though many higher-end bourbons are then packaged in a tin or in a cardboard box to prevent light from affecting the quality of the spirit. The bottle is usually corked, or otherwise sealed with a screw top to prevent oxygen from affecting the flavor of the spirit.

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