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A Closer Look at Bourbon’s Legal Definition

by James William

Bourbon, America’s native spirit, is a beverage steeped in tradition, history, and a meticulously defined legal framework. The term “bourbon” isn’t just a label; it’s a carefully crafted identity, protected by federal regulations that dictate everything from its ingredients to its aging process. In this exploration, we delve into the intricate legal definition of bourbon, unraveling the layers that contribute to its unique character. 

As we navigate through the legal landscape, our focus will also shift towards identifying the best bourbons under $100, a testament to the affordability and quality that this beloved spirit offers.

Defining Bourbon

To truly appreciate bourbon, one must understand its legal definition, as outlined by the U.S. Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits. According to these regulations, bourbon must meet specific criteria to earn its esteemed title

  1. Grain Mash Composition Bourbon must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn. This primary ingredient contributes to the sweetness and depth of flavor that distinguishes bourbon from other whiskies.
  2. Distillation Process Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume) and entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof. This process ensures that the spirit retains its essential flavors during maturation.
  3. Aging in New Charred Oak Barrels Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. The charred interior of the barrel imparts distinct flavors and colors to the spirit, resulting in the rich amber hues and complex taste associated with bourbon.
  4. Time and Patience To be labeled as straight bourbon, the spirit must be aged for a minimum of four years. This requirement contributes to the development of nuanced flavors and the smoothness that characterizes well-matured bourbons.

Best Bourbons Under $100

Now, let’s turn our attention to the best bourbon under $100, where quality meets affordability. These selections showcase the diversity within this price range, offering a range of profiles to cater to different palates.

1. Buffalo Trace Bourbon

Often praised for its exceptional value, Buffalo Trace Bourbon embodies the quintessential bourbon experience. Its mash bill includes corn, rye, and barley, creating a harmonious balance of sweetness, spice, and complexity. With a price tag under $30, it remains a top choice for enthusiasts seeking quality without breaking the bank.

2. Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage

Known for its consistency and rich flavor profile, Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage is a standout in the sub-$50 category. Each bottle is drawn from a single barrel, offering a unique tasting experience with notes of caramel, vanilla, and a hint of fruit. This bourbon delivers a sophisticated sipping experience without the premium price tag.

3. Wild Turkey 101

A high-proof option that doesn’t compromise on flavor, Wild Turkey 101 provides a robust and full-bodied bourbon experience. Priced around $25, it offers an excellent balance of sweet and spicy notes, making it a go-to choice for those who enjoy a bolder expression of bourbon.

4. Four Roses Small Batch

With a mash bill combining corn, rye, and malted barley, Four Roses Small Batch is celebrated for its complexity and versatility. Priced under $40, it offers a well-rounded flavor profile with floral and fruity notes, making it an ideal choice for both sipping and mixing in cocktails.

5. Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve

For those willing to stretch their budget to around $50, Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve delivers a premium experience. Bottled at a higher proof, this bourbon showcases a deep, rich flavor profile with a long, satisfying finish. The single barrel approach ensures a unique tasting journey with each bottle.

6. Maker’s Mark 46

Maker’s Mark 46, priced under $40, introduces a twist to the traditional bourbon experience. By finishing the bourbon with seared French oak staves, it imparts additional layers of complexity, including enhanced caramel and spice notes. This expression offers a sophisticated palate at an accessible price point.


In conclusion, bourbon’s legal definition acts as a safeguard, preserving the essence of this American spirit. The regulations ensure that every bottle labeled as bourbon adheres to a set of standards that have been meticulously crafted over the years. As we explore the best bourbons under $100, it becomes evident that quality and affordability need not be mutually exclusive. The selected bourbons exemplify the diversity within this price range, catering to both seasoned enthusiasts and those embarking on their bourbon journey. With each sip, these bourbons tell a story of craftsmanship, tradition, and the enduring legacy of America’s native spirit.