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Bourbon Doesn't Need to be Aged in American Oak Barrels, or in Barrels at All

Today Buffalo Trace announced a new bourbon aged in French Oak barrels. 

French Oak Experiment 2015Buffalo Trace (experimented with French oak by) creating two different barrel types, one made entirely of French oak, and another using French oak heads, but American white oak staves. The barrel staves were air-dried for six months and the barrels were charred for 55 seconds. Both of these experimental barrels were filled with the same bourbon recipe, known as Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #1. 

After 10 years of aging, these two bourbons have been bottled as part of Buffalo Trace Distillery’s Experimental Collection, and referred to as 100% French Oak Barrel Aged Bourbon and French Oak Barrel Head Aged Bourbon.

But wait, doesn't bourbon have to be aged in a new charred American oak barrel? No, no it does not, despite how often we're told that.

The US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) defines bourbon as: 

BOURBON WHISKY: Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers.

Want to make a bourbon aged in a sake masu box made from Brazilian oak ? Go right ahead, as long as you char it first. 


More info about the new Buffalo Trace bourbon:  These whiskeys retail for approximately $46.35 each (375 ml bottles) and will be available in May, 2015. They are both 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof).



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What happens if you age in second/third use barrels? Is this simply not allowed? Does it have to be called something else?

Camper English

If you age in other barrels it's not legally bourbon, though it can be called American whiskey.


What is the legality with aging a bourbon mash in used barrels initially and then finished off in new ok barrels. Essentially. Does it have to be new oak first and only new oak?

Camper English

@Andrew Yes I believe it is new and only new oak barrels in order to be bourbon. Now, you can age it in other barrels *after* it is bourbon but then it is no longer bourbon- for example bourbon finished in a wine cask is no longer bourbon but an American whiskey or a 'distilled specialty spirit' and brands can use "bourbon finished in a wine cask" as a description of the product on the label.

For your example where you age in a used cask first then a new barrel, I'm not sure if a brand would be allowed to use the word "bourbon" at all since it was never a bourbon.

Dominik - opinionated alchemist

I know - I am late with this comment...

However - you can age Bourbon in used barrels (most products are indicated with the type of barrel)...

It is still a Bourbon (or Rye or Wheat) - but it is then no more a STRAIGHT whiskey.

The “Straight” is the important distinction and is highly regulated.

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