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10 things you didn't know about Kentucky & bourbon

Tuesday, 24 Sep 2013 | 4:32 PM ET
Image source: Cindy Perman | CNBC

Kentucky is where 95 percent of the world's bourbon is made and when you embark on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you'll learn a whole lot about bourbon— and the state of Kentucky along the way. Here are 10 things you probably didn't know about Kentucky and bourbon:

1.) All bourbon is whiskey is but not all whiskey is bourbon. The folks over at Jim Beam say, "Bourbon is kinda like whiskey's 'sweet spot' … because corn is a sweet grain. The more corn, the sweeter the whiskey. And to be called bourbon, it must be at least 51 percent corn. (Most distillers use 65 to 75 percent corn.)

2.) Bourbon, by law, must be aged in a brand-new, charred white oak barrel to be called straight bourbon whiskeythat means, a barrel can only be used once for bourbon. Where do they go after that? They get shipped to Mexico for aging tequila, Scotland for aging Scotch or elsewhere to store all kinds of things, including coffee, tobacco, beer and maple syrup. For the best infographic you'll see all day, check out Mutineer Magazine's, "The Secret Life of Bourbon Barrels."


(Read more: The Holy Grail for bourbon lovers: The Kentucky bourbon trail)

3.) Where does all the corn and other grain go after it's done making bourbon? It's known as distiller's grain or more charmingly as "slop" and when the distillers are done with it, it gets shipped off to farms to be used as feed for cows. Yep, that's the circle of life in Kentucky, friends.

4.) Nothing can be added to bourbon in the distilling process except water. So, that means that all the flavor comes from the charred oak barrels (the picture below shows the charring process at Brown-Forman). And, that's why when Wild Turkey wanted to add honey to their bourbon, it became Wild Turkey Liqueur and was later renamed American Honey. Jack Daniels? It's largely identical to bourbon except for one key difference: It's filtered through maple charcoal. That's why they call it a Tennessee whiskey not a bourbon.

5.) Bourbon is All-American. Whiskey may be made everywhere from Brooklyn to Scotland but in 1964, Congress declared bourbon "America's Native Spirit." That means to be called bourbon, it must be made in the U.S. But really, everyone knows that means Kentucky—95 percent of the world's bourbon is made in Kentucky.

6.) There are more barrels of bourbon than people in Kentucky. In fact, the folks over at Buffalo Trace (maker of Blanton's, Eagle Rare and Van Winkle, among others), say that if they stopped making bourbon right now, they'd have enough bourbon for the next 20 years!

(See more: Flaming barrels and Kentucky champagne: Photos of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail)

7.) Kentucky geographically is in the middle of the U.S. but it's a southern state. Kentucky is separated from Indiana by a river—and the Mason Dixon line. So, while Indianans are undoubtedly Midwestern, Kentucky is all kinds of southern, ready to serve up an extra helping of Southern hospitality. Ask any Kentuckian and they'll tell you proudly that they're from the South. Ask them about Indiana—well, that's an entirely different conversation.

Image source: Brown-Forman

8.) The angel's share. By law, bourbon must be aged in barrels for at least two years. As bourbon is "sleeping " in the barrel, it loses some to evaporation every year and that's called the "angel's share." A sign at the Buffalo Trace distillery explains why: "Because we like to think it is the bit of bourbon we are sharing with the angels."

9.) Why bartenders do multiple pours. If you've ever seen a bartender do a multiple pour when you order bourbon neat or on the rocks, you might think one of two things: 1) he mis-measured or 2) he really likes you because he just gave you an extra pour. In fact, it's because there's something known as "suspended solids" in a bourbon, so by doing multiple pours, you're actually shaking up the bourbon and rounding out the flavor.

10.) Marijuana and disco balls. In addition to the fact that 95 percent of the world's bourbon is made in Kentucky, the state's other exports include marijuana and disco balls. Ninety percent of disco balls made in the U.S. are made here (specifically in Louisville) and Kentucky is one of the top three marijuana-producing states in the country, along with California and Tennessee.

—By CNBC's Cindy Perman. Follow her on Twitter @ponyblog

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Contact Pony Blog

  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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