The Rules of American Whiskey

American Whiskeys are legally defined and regulated by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Here are some simple definitions.

Bourbon Whiskey:

  • Must be made in the United States (can be any state)
  • Must be made of a mashbill that’s at least 51% corn grain
  • Must be distilled to no higher than 160 proof off the still
  • Must be aged in new unused charred oak barrels
  • Must enter the barrel at no higher than 125 proof
  • Must be bottled at minimum 80 proof
  • The label must display an age statement if any of the whiskey is under 4 years old
  • If multiple ages of whiskey are mingled in a bottling, the age statement must reflect the youngest bourbon in the mix
  • The label must display the state of distillation if the whiskey was bottled in a state other than the one where it was distilled
  • Cannot contain any added flavoring or coloring

Straight Bourbon Whiskey:

Bourbon Whiskey that meets the definition of “Bourbon Whiskey” with these additions may, but is not required to be labeled “Straight”:

  • Must be aged a minimum of two years, but still requires an age statement if less than four years old
  • Mixtures of straight bourbon are allowed to be called straight bourbon, as long as all the components are straight and distilled in the same state. if not, must be called “bourbon whiskey” or “a blend of straight whiskeys”

Kentucky bourbon

Includes the definition of “Bourbon Whiskey” but additionally:

  • Is required to be aged at least one year if “Kentucky” is used on the label

Rye Whiskey

Similar to the definition of Bourbon Whiskey, but:

  • The mashbill must be made up of at least 51% rye grain
  • Is allowed to have colorings and flavorings if not designated as “straight”

Straight Rye Whiskey

Includes the definition of “Rye Whiskey” but additionally:

  • Is aged a minimum of 2 years
  • May not contain any flavors or colors
  • All the whiskey in the bottle must be distilled in same state

Bonded Whiskey (any type, aka “Bottled in Bond”)

  • Must be aged aged at least 4 years, up to 20 years. Prior to 1958 the maximum bonding period was 8 years.
  • All the whiskey in the bottle must have been distilled in the same calendar year, at the same distillery
  • Must be bottled at 100 proof

Finished / Flavored Whiskey

  • Must state they type of whiskey and “with ___ flavorings” or “finished in ____” etc. For example, Angel’s Envy is labeled as “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Barrels”

Wheat Whiskey

  • Similar to the definition of “Rye Whiskey,” but made from a mashbill containing at least 51% wheat grain

Corn Whiskey

  • Must be made from a mashbill containing at least 80% corn grain
  • Uniquely, must be aged in used or uncharred oak barrels