How Long Does Bourbon Have To Age?

Did you know that whisky is classified as Bourbon only when it has 51% corn and is aged in a new charred oak barrel? Kentucky is one state that makes 95% of Bourbon and has the highest per capita consumption as compared to other states.

Are you one of those drinkers who prefer drinking whisky either on the rocks or in the form of cocktails? If yes, Bourbon is perfect for you as it has softer and smoother notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel.

When I say all Bourbons are whiskey, you agree with me, but not all whiskies are Bourbon. How does Bourbon get its taste and how long it has to age is one question that comes to mind while discussing this drink.

To get more detailed knowledge about Bourbon, read the article below. This article will help you understand Bourbon in a much better way.

How Long Does Whiskey Have To Age To Be Bourbon?

Unlike other drinks, Bourbon needs a significantly less maturation period. It has no specified duration for ageing, and some manufacturers even sell a three-month-aged product as Bourbon. Straight Bourbon is the only exception here, which requires two years of ageing. Hence, in a nutshell, we can say that a flavourful Bourbon needs two years of ageing.

On the other hand, some distilleries aged Bourbon for more than two years. They age the drink anywhere from 5-12 years for their unique group of consumers like a not-so-sweet Bourbon.

Bourbon aged anywhere above 12 years talked a sour and bitter flavour. Not all might be a fan of this flavour, but still, there are a few who enjoy this bitterness.

What Makes Bourbon Different From Other Whiskeys?

Who does not like the taste of Bourbon? It is sweet and has lots of other notes that attract whiskey drinkers. In general, a bourbon must age at least two years.

Bourbon has significantly evolved over the years. It is one of the drinks people love to consume both neat and in cocktails. What makes Bourbon taste like one is the oak barrel. It is here all the magic occurs.

  • 51% mash bill: Bourbon is different from other whiskeys as it has a mash bill of a minimum of 51% corn. This is a standard set by the US government. The mash bill can contain other grains like rye, wheat, and malted barley but only up to five percent.
  • Fermentation in Oak barrels: The fermentation and ageing process needs to be done only in a burnt oak barrel. The barrel itself gives the maximum flavour and brings richness in taste to the Bourbon. In enhancing the notes of this drink, oak barrels play a vital role.
  • Minimum ABV volume must be 80%: While the Bourbon is in its maturing phase, the separation process must not be more than 160 proof, which means that the alcohol-by-volume content must be around 80%. It will help to gain maximum spirit and become a perfect Bourbon.
  • Minimum 6.25% when entering barrels: While entering the barrel, it must be not more than 125 proof. As it inherits all the barrels’ spirits and grows in proof while ageing, the ABV must not be more than 6.25 %.
  • Minimum 40% ABV while bottling: Ensure that the Bourbon while being bottled must have a minimum of 80 proof that makes 40% ABV.
  • Age limit for two main types: Straight Bourbon must be aged up to a minimum of two years before being bottled. The minimum age limit for bottle-in-bound must be at least four years.
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Does Bourbon Get Bitter With Age?

Yes, it is true Bourbon gets bitter with time. The rule that “older is always better” does not apply to Bourbon. Making Bourbon in a burnt oak barrel is a must so that all its spirits come out well. In general, Bourbon has softer notes. But with age, it gets spicy and starts tasting bitter.

  • As the oak barrels tend to leach out tannins, it mixes with the Bourbon and tastes bitter. There is a considerable change in the taste of Bourbon that has high rye content. It gets smoky, bitter, and hotter after 12 to 13 years. The ones with more wheat content change their taste and get drier and saltier after 17 years.
  • In the US, Bourbon ages in almost six years. After six years, oak gets more controlling and changes the spirit’s notes with every passing year.
  • It also depends on the proportion of rye as after eight years, the actual flavour of Bourbon changes, and it is oak that one sips on.

Various Elements That Affect the Taste of Bourbon

  • The Bourbon’s age: When the Bourbon is between one to four, it tastes more spirit and tastes flavourful. It is much sweeter and smoother. But with time, the notes change drastically. From the age of five and above, the drink’s notes start to get spicier, and the wood character starts developing in it. Above eight years, the original flavour distinguishes, and it tastes grainy.
  • Preference of the drinker: the person who is drinking the Bourbon also decides whether he/she likes the taste of the drink or not. In general, many drinkers prefer drinking a wheat Bourbon that is 12 years old. On the other hand, many love drinking a rye Bourbon that is almost eight years old. Some drinkers prefer to get a balanced flavour of the original Bourbon but with a mix of oakiness.
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Facts About Bourbon People Are Not Aware Of

  • As we all know, Kentucky produces 95% of Bourbon. But it can be produced in other states like Ohio, New Jersey, and even Florida. According to the US government, it is legal to make Bourbon anywhere in the US.
  • According to the government, a Bourbon must contain mash grain of corn up to 51%. But, manufacturers can make this drink with 100% corn. The only thing that will change is its taste. It will be sweeter if distillers do not mix rye and wheat with it.
  • It is essential to let the Bourbon mature in charred oak barrels, but the barrel must only be of American oak. Other oak barrels can be useful in the ageing process of Bourbons like Japanese oak and French oak.
  • The way Bourbon is distilled is not that important; instead, the way it is aged is essential in making Bourbon. It must be made at the right temperature and must get the sweetness of corn, the wood’s smokiness in the right proportion.
  • It is due to bourbon barrels that Scotch gets its flavour. As we know, Bourbon needs to processing in a new burnt oak barrel. But, after Bourbon is over, the same barrel is used to store Scotch.
  • The law sets no limit for Bourbon’s ageing, apart from straight bourbon whiskey that needs to be aged at least two years. Many people ask: how long does Bourbon have to be aged not to give an age statement? The answer is that the government states that if the Bourbon is aged less than four years, the age statement must be there on the bottle label, so it has to be aged at least four years.
  • No caramel colour is required to make a bourbon-like one. The law nowhere mentions it. The oak barrel gives Bourbon its original colour.
  • Drinking a sour mashed bourbon will not necessarily taste bad and bitter. You do it to make the bourbon process economical.
  • The lowest alcohol volume of Bourbon must be at least 40% to be known as Bourbon.
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Frequently asked question

What are the best brands of Bourbon?

  • Old Grand-Dad is a perfect Bourbon whisky that makes fantastic cocktails.
  • Jim Beam is one of the best for those who want to consume it with beer.
  • Widow-Jane is perfect for those who have a budget constraint but wish to have a Bourbon.
  • William Laure Weller is one Bourbon with a great shelf life.
  • One of the most expensive bourbons is Michter’s

What is the age limit of the top bourbons?

  • Basil Hayden’s is almost eight years old. But after 2014, the label states that it is artfully old. It has an alcohol volume of 40% and has 80 proof.
  • Blanton’s is one of the best Kentucky Bourbons that is a single barrel Whisky. It does not carry any age limit statement or label. But being a single barrel whisky, it has a life of six to eight years.

Which is one of the oldest Bourbon Whiskey?

The final Reserve James Thompson and Brother Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey are one of the oldest Bourbon with a life of 45 years.


Bourbon is an extraordinary drink, unique in its way. It’s mild, sweet notes make it a unique whisky altogether. With 51 % corn as its main ingredient, it is essential to age in a new charred oak barrel.

The barrel is where the magic occurs, and Bourbon gets its colour and distinct flavour. Bourbon has its health benefits as it reduces the chances of dementia, cancer, and diabetes. With age, the quality of Bourbon improves. But, everything that is “older is better” is not the case with Bourbon. It can hit its sweet spot in either two, four, or six years, depending on the barrel it is ageing in.