Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Bourbon Law: Bourbon + Rye = What?
News came out recently that Wild Turkey is planning to release a blend of bourbon and rye. In the ensuing discussion on one of the forums, this question came up: If you add rye to bourbon, but the final mashbill is still at least 51% corn, can you call it bourbon?
The answer is no. Under the federal regulations, the definition of bourbon includes the mashbill of at least 51% corn, the new, charred oak barrels, etc. It also states that the definition includes "mixtures of such whiskies of the same type." 27 CFR § 5.22(b)(1)(i). Rye is not the "same type" of whiskey as bourbon, so once you add rye whiskey, it's no longer bourbon.
So what is it?
Well, if both whiskeys are straight, it's a "blend of straight whiskeys." 27 CFR § 5.22(b)(5)(i). If both whiskeys are not straight, there is no real category that covers it, other than the generic "whiskey."
Of course, the company could also describe the whiskey composition in the title, such as "Joe's Whiskey, a blend of bourbon and rye." This is what High West did with Campfire, another undefined category of whiskey. The heading on the label simply says "High West Whiskey" but there is a subheading that explains that the whiskey contains straight rye, straight bourbon and Scotch. This makes sense, since it informs the consumer of what is actually in the bottle, and that, after all, is the intent of all of these labeling regulations.