CHEERS | American whiskey

Whiskey, Rye
& American Pie*

The market for bourbon is growing in leaps and bounds. Covid-19 proved to be something of a boon with many bored, locked down folk turning to the internet to educate themselves about all things American whiskey. 

Kentucky is the heartland of American bourbon. Something like 95% of all bourbon hails from the state. Bourbon is big business and worth billions to Kentucky. State governor Andy Beshear said the local spirit industry invested $2 billion (R40 billion) in the state in 2022. And things are only going to get better pundits say. According to research and forecasts the global bourbon market, currently valued at $7.8 billion (R156 billion), is predicted to grow to $12.8 billion (R256 billion) by 2030.

With restrictions on movement such an integral part of the coronavirus lockdown, people just want to get out and see and do stuff. It’s why national parks throughout the United States have seen unprecedented visitor numbers – and are having to put up the ‘Full – no room at the Inn’ signs. Bourbon Country is no exception. There’s been a 370% surge in people visiting the Kentucky bourbon trail over the past decade, with more than 2 million visitors logged in 2022 alone. Research quoted in an article on showed that bourbon tourists spend between $400 and $1200 per person on their trip and stay longer than the average visitor to Kentucky.

The growth in bourbon consumption and attendant tourism is one of the reasons Buffalo Trace spent $1.2 billion (R22 billion) upgrading its visitor facilities as well as ramping up and doubling its production by commissioning a new still that produces 60 000 gallons (227 100 litres) of spirit a day. But Buffalo Trace is not alone in gearing up for the bourbon boom. Woodford Reserve announced in 2021 that it was doubling the number of pot stills for distillation of its triple-distilled spirit from three to six, adding new grain handling and storage facilities and doubling fermentation tanks in order to keep up with increased and anticipated demand. Quite something for a brand that has only been around since 1996! “Woodford Reserve has enjoyed exceptional growth over the last decade, maintaining a double-digit net sales growth rate,” Brown-Forman CEO Lawson Whiting said in 2021.

That everyone is bullish about bourbon’s prospects is obvious. After all, Buffalo Trace has seen boom and bust times before. In 1992 its annual production had slumped to just 12 000 barrels of bourbon. Last year it produced 200 000 and by 2026 that figure is predicted to rise to 550 000 barrels!

For those wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to this quintessentially American spirit, here’s the definitive answer according to ChatGPT, the AI which has everyone talking. It was posed a question by, an influential website. Writer and one of the founders of the website Nick Beiter said the AI pretty much nailed it.

When asked the question “What is bourbon?” it answered: “Bourbon is a type of American whiskey, a distilled spirit made primarily from corn. It has a rich, full-bodied flavor profile, which is typically sweet with notes of vanilla, oak and sometimes fruit. The exact flavors can vary depending on the specific brand and how it’s made.

“Bourbon must meet several specific legal requirements to be labelled as such:

  1. It must be made in the United States. While bourbon is most commonly associated with Kentucky, it does not have to be made in Kentucky to be considered bourbon.
  2. It must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.
  3. It must be aged in new, charred oak containers.
  4. It cannot be distilled to more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume).
  5. It must enter into the container for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% abv).
  6. It must be bottled at 80 proof or more (40% aby).
  7. It cannot have any added flavoring, coloring, or other additives.

“If the bourbon meets all these criteria and has been aged for a minimum of two years, it may be called straight bourbon. If aged for four years or more, the label doesn’t need to list the age, otherwise, the age must be stated on the label.

“Bourbon’s distinct flavor profile makes it a popular choice for sipping neat, on the rocks, or as a base for many classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Mint Julep.”

See? Nailed it! also asked a tricksy question of the AI: Is Jack Daniel’s bourbon?

ChatGPT: “Jack Daniel’s which is a Tennessee whiskey, meets all the criteria to be considered a bourbon under US federal regulations. It’s made in the United States, it’s distilled from a grain mixture that’s at least 51% corn, it’s aged in new charred oak barrels, and it doesn’t have any additives.

However, Jack Daniel’s does not label itself as a bourbon, Instead, it’s called a Tennessee whiskey, a regional variation of bourbon. What sets Tennessee whiskey apart is an additional step in the production process called the Lincoln County Process, where the whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal before it’s put into the barrel for aging. This process is believed to give the whiskey a smoother, more mellow character.”

It doesn’t take any Artificial Intelligence to see that bourbon’s time to shine has come. Expect to see more of the smooth American spirit on a shelf near you soon.

*  Spoiler alert: there’s no mention of American Pie in this article.