Corn's Role in Bourbon

Posted by Alayne Gardner-Carimi on

All bourbons are whiskies, but not all whiskies can be bourbon! Corn plays a central role in the legal definition, flavor profile and character of this iconic American spirit. Its sweet and mild qualities, along with its contribution to the overall balance of flavors, make it the essential element in the bourbon-making process.

Corn imparts several distinctive flavors to bourbon. Because it is naturally sweet, it gives bourbon its pleasant sugary character. While corn is the dominant grain in bourbon, its mash bill typically contains other grains, such as rye, barley, or wheat, in varying proportions. These additional grains can contribute their own unique flavors and characteristics to the final product, creating a well-balanced and complex whiskey.

Why Corn

As early European settlers arrived in the Americas, they brought their knowledge of distillation with them, along with the desire for these distilled products. In Europe, cereal grains such as wheat, rye and barley were fermented and then distilled to make whiskey. Corn, being native to the Americas, hadn’t been used. However, it was prevalent, easy to grow, harvest, and had a lot of carbohydrates available to ferment. While it is generally accepted that bourbon whiskey slowly evolved as opposed to a sudden invention, a preacher named George Thorpe from Pennsylvania is credited with being one of the first to distill corn into whiskey.

What is High Corn Bourbon

By federal mandate, bourbon must have at least 51% corn in its mash bill (a mixture of grains). High corn bourbon generally has a minimum of 80% in its mash; however, there is no upper limit to the percentage of corn. A high corn content can significantly impact the flavor profile of the bourbon when compared to bourbons with a larger variation in grain composition.

High Corn Bourbon Profile Differences:
In general, high corn (80%+) bourbons differ from standard minimun (51%) corn mash in four areas...

  • Sweetness-Tend to be sweeter due to the higher sugar content in corn. This sweetness is manifested as notes of caramel, toffee, and butterscotch. 
  • Vanilla-Compounds in the corn distillate react with newly charred oak barrels and create vanilla flavors. As high corn bourbons have more corn, they also tend to have more vanilla notes.
  • Creaminess-Tend to have a comparitively creamier texture. Corn can contribute a creamy and smooth texture to bourbon, making it feel velvety on the palate. This creamy quality enhances the overall drinking experience.
  • Balance and Complexity-Easy-drinking, sweet and mild smoothness is prioritized.

Flavors can vary depending on factors such as the type of corn used, the distillation process, and the aging conditions. The sugars caramelize during the distillation and aging processes. This caramelization adds depth and complexity and provides notes of caramel and toffee. Corn also contributes a creamy, smooth texture to the bourbon, making it velvety on the palate. 

It's important to note that while corn plays a significant role in defining bourbon's flavor, the final taste is also influenced by the other grains used in the mash bill, the yeast strain, the distillation process, and the aging conditions. The combination of these factors results in a wide range of flavor profiles within the bourbon category, from sweeter and softer to spicier and more robust, making bourbon a diverse and nuanced spirit.

Two Georges High Corn Bourbon Savings

Two Georges High Corn Bourbon hails from the bourbon capital of the world, Kentucky. It is hand-selected by vomFASS for its unique qualities and mash bill. This bourbon is sweet and savory due to its high percentage of corn (82%) with rye (15%). This whiskey can be enjoyed neat or over ice, but it is equally suited for your favorite bourbon cocktail. 

We welcome you to come in for a complimentary tasting of our Two Georges High Corn Bourbon, or any of our other specialty bourbons, including Two Georges High Wheat, White Corn and Sour Mash Bourbons as well as our Northern Plains Bourbon. Our friendly and helpful staff looks forward to serving you!

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