“It’s not about the whiskey.
It’s about the lives you touch and the people you meet. The whiskey is a by- product of a good relationship”.
Recently a friend recommended I watch Neat: The Story of Bourbon and I’m super glad that they did. It may be obvious, but I enjoy a good glass of whiskey, scotch, and bourbon, but if I’m being honest don’t know nearly enough about any of them. So sitting down for an hour to watch a documentary focusing on bourbon wasn’t a hard sell.
Neat is a documentary that dives into the rich and storied world of bourbon. Exploring it’s colorful history, charismatic characters, and uniquely American process, the film is a celebration of the time, artistry, and relationships that make for America’s only native spirit.
Overall the documentary is really well done and I believe that anyone (even those crazy people who don’t like bourbon) will enjoy it and learn something new. David M. Altrogge, the creator of Neat: The Story of Bourbon, does a great job of mixing in stories of current distillers, the history of bourbon, and how bourbon is made to create a really interesting and engaging story that is sure to make you refill your glass a time or two (or five).
All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.
The rules of bourbon:
In order for something to be considered a bourbon it must be:
Bourbon is American made
Aged in brand new charred white oak barrel
At least 51% corn (leads to the sweetness)
Distillation, off the still, can’t be higher than 160 proof (higher the proof the less flavor)
Entry Proof: Going into the barrel must be 125 proof or less
Fill Proof: In the bottle, proof has to be 80 proof or above
Genuine- no additives allowed. No added flavor, no added color, Everything comes from the still and barrel.
Before watching Neat: The Story of Bourbon I didn’t know that bourbon had to be aged in new white oak barrels, or that it could only be made in the United States or that corn had to be the main product used to produce it. After each scene, I learned more and more about bourbon and the science behind distilling the perfect barrel.
If you decide to watch Neat: The Story of Bourbon you’ll not only learn what the technical definition of bourbon is, but also the distilling process. How the distillery goes about heating the mash in the still, how it turns to steam, cools, turns into a liquid and is distilled again to purify it even further. As it walked through the process I was able to really understand how everything comes together.
Distilling Bourbon: Lifelong process
Of all the things I learned while watching it, one concept that really stood out to me was about how long of a process it is to distill and age bourbon.
“If you started distilling in your early 20s, you’re going to release expressions of it, the last barrel at maturity you will be 45. You make another batch based on everything you learned from the first batch. By the time you go through the process again, and the last barrel reaches maturity, you’ll be 75 years old. In this industry what most people don’t realize is that most people never get to taste their third batch to its final maturity.
That’s what you leave for future generations.”
I found this entire concept fascinating. Think how important each detail of a batch is when you know you’re only getting one or two chances to do it right.
Drinking Bourbon: Go with what you feel
They made a special point in the documentary to explain that there isn’t a ‘right way’ to drink bourbon. You can add a flick of water, two flicks of water, an ice cube, chilled, poured over ice or over crushed ice, Each way of drinking bourbon helps to release different flavors allowing the drinker to enjoy it however they want.
Overall, I really enjoyed watching Neat: The Story of Bourbon and recommend you give it a shot. You don’t have to be a whiskey or bourbon drinker to enjoy it, but there’s a really good chance you become one afterward. It really helped me understand that bourbon’s story is unique and makes me appreciate each glass more knowing how much work and time went in to creating that batch.