Skip to main content

Straight bourbon probably isn’t what you think – here’s the truth

It has nothing to do with putting ice in your drink

straight whiskey
Zhivko Minkov/Unsplash

If you want to get into whiskey, there are a lot of terms you need to learn If you plan on ever having a conversation with a fellow whiskey drinker. These are terms like single malt, small batch, cask strength, proof, and straight. And while we could spend a long time explaining all the terms (and we did), today it’s time to learn about one of the more confusing phrases: straight.

In the whiskey world (specifically the bourbon world), novice drinkers might be confused by the term “straight”. This is likely because it has multiple uses. When someone says they’re drinking their whiskey straight, it’s another way of saying they’re drinking it neat, without ice or any mixers. It’s poured right out of the bottle into a glass and enjoyed as it was intended. But if the expression is labeled as a straight bourbon, that’s an entirely different thing altogether.

Whiskey
John Fornander/Unsplash

Bourbon rules

For those unaware, there are strict rules and regulations when it comes to making bourbon whiskey. The most important rule is that, to be considered a whiskey, it must be made in the United States. While 95% of all bourbon whiskey is produced in Kentucky, it doesn’t have to be made in the Blue Grass State. There are countless award-winning, notable bourbons from Texas, Washington State, Wyoming, New York, and beyond.

It also must be made from a mash bill of at least 51% corn. And while many distillers have more (many, much more) than 51% corn, the other ingredients can be any grains. Popular secondary grains are barley, wheat, and rye. It also must be distilled to a maximum of 160 proof, added to the barrel at a maximum of 125 proof, and bottled at least 80 proof and at most 150 proof.

The last very important rule is all about aging. To be considered a bourbon whiskey, it must be charred in new oak barrels. But there are even more rules when it comes to the straight bourbon designation.

Knob Creek
Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

Straight bourbon

A straight bourbon must be matured for at least two full years. If it’s over two years old, but less than four, it also must have an age statement. It also may not have any extra colorings, flavors, or adjuncts added to it.

Whiskey barrels
Josh Collesano/Unsplash

It’s all about aging

So, in the most basic terms, the use of “straight” on the bottle means you aren’t purchasing a bottle that barely spent any time in a barrel aging. If you don’t see the word, it might mean that bourbon was distilled and then spent as little as three months, six, or a year in charred oak before being barreled. Straight whiskeys have spent long enough aging to guarantee a more nuanced flavor profile of vanilla, caramel, spices, and oak.

So now that you know the difference between drinking whiskey straight and a bottle of straight whiskey, you can go into a bar and order a bottle of straight whiskey and drink it straight. Or, if you don’t want to confuse the bartender and everyone at the bar with your overuse of the word, you can order a straight whiskey “neat”. You probably should already be doing this to avoid confusion anyway.

Christopher Osburn
Christopher Osburn is a food and drinks writer located in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. He's been writing professional
The best new non-alcoholic drinks for a happy hour without the hangover
NA drinks are better than ever
Wilderton Aperitivo and citrus.

Within the vast realm of drinks, the most evolved as of late is arguably the non-alcoholic category. While we've seen exciting new cocktail trends and useful new beer hop varieties, it's the NA world that's made the biggest strides in the last couple of years. That means we no longer have to shutter when seeing things like zero proof on labels, as the options now are better than ever.

Why the upswing? A perfect storm, really. Wellness trends continue while tech continues to evolve, making the creation of such drinks all the easier. The non-alcoholic drinks sector has proven itself to be a major player in the marketplace, and the producers have responded accordingly, giving these beverages the TLC they deserve.

Read more
What you need to know before you bring wine to a restaurant
What is a corkage fee?
Person eating in restaurant with plate and white wine

A great meal is only as good as the wine being poured alongside it. Many restaurants tout impressive bottle and glass pour lists but sometimes you just want to bring your own special selection. Whether that wine is a favorite you've been cellaring for years or just a prized producer that's hard to find here, special bottles are often welcomed at restaurants, for a price.

Corkage fees tend to apply to higher-end wines, so while we have nothing against a good bargain wine, leave the Two Buck Chuck at home. The corkage fee alone could probably buy you a half case of that stuff. Instead, go with something great, as the whole point is to enhance the meal while still paying respect to the restaurant's wine program and use of its staff, glassware, service, and the like.
What is a corkage fee?

Read more
Aperol isn’t only for spritzes — try an Aperol Mist
Aperol and wheat beer? It's better than you think
Bartender making an Aperol spritz

With its distinctive orange color and crowd-pleasing flavors, Aperol is everywhere in the summer. And while the Aperol Spritz is the favorite way to drink this amaro by miles, it's not the only way to enjoy the bitter-sweet flavors. We've talked about alternative spritz recipes recently, but what about another alternative -- like an Aperol cocktail for the beer lovers out there?

Enter the Aperol Mist. Beer cocktails can be difficult to do well, because the lower abv of beer tends to carry less flavor than high-abv spirits, so mixed drinks with beer can taste watery or too sweet. But this genius recipe uses a hearty, substantial wheat beer rather than a lighter and more classic lager. Wheat beers have a thick, almost chewy texture and a heavy dose of yeast flavor, so they are almost like a liquid bread. And to me, that's no bad thing, as they add a hefty savory quality to this drink that balances out the sweetness of the Aperol.
How to make an Aperol Mist
The Aperol Mist isn't a fussy cocktail to make. In fact, you don't even need to shake or stir it with ice, because there is already plenty of water in the beer to carry the other flavors. You simply need to combine 1 oz of Aperol with 1 oz of freshly squeezed lemon juice for some zing, and pour these into a pint glass filled with a generous amount of ice cubes. Then top up with wheat beer.

Read more