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How To Read A Bourbon Label

Wed, Mar 01, 23  |  spirits blog

Next time you visit Colonial, head for the Bourbon aisle and take a look at a bottle. What’s on the label, and what’s not on the label, can help you decide whether the Bourbon inside matches your tastes. Here are a few tips on deciphering what you read. We’ll use three of Old Grand Dad’s Bourbons for our demo.

  1. Proof, or alcohol by volume, determines a lot about the juice inside the bottle: flavor profile, mouth feel, aroma and overall strength. Distillers can’t legally sell 100 percent alcohol as Bourbon, so they dilute it with water to the desired ratio. The proof changes slightly while the Bourbon is in the barrel and some evaporation occurs.

    Old Grand Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey = 80 proof (40 percent alcohol)

    Old Grand Dad Bottled in Bond = 100 proof (50 percent alcohol)

    Old Grand Dad 114 = 114 proof (57 percent alcohol)

  2. Mash bill tells you the type of grain the Bourbon is made of. To be Bourbon, whiskey has to contain between 51 and 80 percent corn; distillers augment the corn with various amounts of malted barley, wheat and/or rye, This Bourbon has the phrase “high rye” (although no percentage is stated.) It’s fair to say that Old Grand Dad would be a good choice if you like a spicy dram.

  3. Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a good substitute phrase for an age statement, which many labels don’t have. Straight Bourbon must be aged no less than two years in new charred oak barrels.

  4. Bottled in Bond Bourbon is required to age at least four years, using the same ingredients and aging methods as other Bourbons. It has to be the product of one single distillery and one distilling season.

Some other Bourbon label terms that you may encounter are Single barrel, a designation reserved for Bourbon from one barrel, not blended with other barrels and Small batch, meaning that a particular Bourbon was made blending fewer barrels than the distillery’s other Bourbons.


Consider this your invitation to come over and check out the many Bourbons we have. Lots of variety and lots of Celebration Specialists to guide you to the American Spirit that matches your taste buds!

By Clark Trim