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Bourbon Whiskey

Mistakes Everyone Makes When Drinking Bourbon

Everything starts with choosing the right bourbon — but that doesn’t mean you should pick a bottle based on the most aesthetically pleasing label or the most interesting name. Reading and understanding a bourbon label can tell you more about the classification, age statement, and cask strength, allowing you to pick a variety that best suits your drinking needs, whether it’s sipping or mixing (via Distiller).

Usually, the first thing that catches the eye is the name of the distillery where the bourbon comes from, like Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace, Blanton’s, or Knob Creek. Under or above the distillery name, you’ll likely find the bourbon classification, like single barrel, (American) single malt, bottle-in-bond, blended malt, and straight bourbon. Each bourbon classification is based on specifications for how it’s made, like a single barrel that is bottled from one 53-gallon barrel or a malt bourbon made with barley.

Some labels also say “small batch” or “handcrafted” — these traits aren’t based on any legal requirements and are determined by each brand. Some bourbons don’t include an age statement, but for those that do, this indicates approximately how long it’s been aged. This is different from the vintage date (which indicates when the bourbon was distilled) and the bottling date, per Distiller. There are dozens of other subtleties within bourbon labels that can hint at flavor profiles and uses, but understanding the basics makes for educated drinking.

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