FORT SMITH — For those not familiar with bourbon, it’s an American whiskey made from three different grains — corn, rye and malted barley — and sometimes wheat. Compared with other whiskeys, it tends to have stronger caramel flavors, with notes of vanilla, coconut and sweet tobacco. And according to those make it, bourbon is one of the hottest spirits in America right now.
Bourbon has come a long way since the Beam family first started making it in 1795. Supporters of the Fort Smith Museum of History learned a lot about the art of bourbon-making and were privy to samples during a fundraiser Friday (April 20) at the museum.
Officials began starting heavy hors d'oeuvres and provided an open bar at 6:30 p.m., followed by bourbon tasting and an informational session with Greg Nichols, Arkansas manager for Beam Inc.
Among bourbon drinkers, 52-53 percent of them are women. Bourbon makers are also trying to reach young drinkers, those 21-30. There’s been a 5.5 to 6 percent increase in bourbon sales over the last three years, Nichols said.
He shared the history of the bourbons and the Jim Beam brands, including its origins back when Jacob Beam first started cooking up batches of bourbon in 1795. Since then, much has remained the same about the Kentucky bourbon through the seven generations who have led the company.
At the bourbon tasting, guests voted that Baker’s, one of Jim Beam’s small-batch bourbons, was the favorite among the bourbons tasted.
The $50 tickets included the cocktail hour beverages and food, along with the bourbon tasting. The proceeds will be used toward general operating expenses for the museum, according to Leisa Gramlich, executive director of the museum. “We kind of struggle to get through the year,” she explained. “If the bourbon tasting is successful, we may do it every year.”
Some facts about bourbon:
- Each barrel used to make bourbon makes 52 cases of bourbon.
- Once a barrel is used to make bourbon, it cannot be used again for bourbon making.
- The No. 1 hand-made selling bourbon is Maker's Mark.
- The longer a bourbon is left in the barrel, the darker the color the bourbon will be. Adding rye or winter wheat gives bourbon a different flavor.
- Bourbon is made with a minimum of 51 percent corn.
- The barrels are made of American white oak.