Minnick: Five Reasons Bourbon Outshines Vodka

Pop Culture
Bourbon barrels aging the spirit in a warehouse. (Public Domain image)

When you buy a bottle of vodka, you’re paying for the packaging, marketing and the hip celebrity endorsing it. You’re certainly not paying for flavor. The U.S. government defines vodka “to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color,” according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau (TTB), the federal arm that regulates alcohol.

Vodka is also partly responsible for knocking bourbon off its pedestal in the 1960s and 1970s, when the market shifted from consuming the good stuff to vodka. So, as a bourbon person, I joke vodka is the devil for this reason.

If you really like vodka, you should probably stop reading now (and go pick up a bottle of Belle Premium American Vodka, the official vodka of America’s Best Racing!), but here are five reasons I believe bourbon is better.

5. Unique

Congress declared bourbon unique product of the United States in 1964, making it more American than baseball and apple pie. Furthermore, when you buy a bottle of bourbon in Kentucky, roughly 60 percent of the average cost is tax, according to the Kentucky Distillers' Association. Kentucky bourbon has built a lot of schools and roads in the “Bluegrass State.”

4. Cocktail friendly

Vodka’s neutral nature makes the additional ingredients (cranberry juice, for example) stand out more. Bourbon, however, shines in a cocktail, bringing its caramel and vanilla essence through. If you don’t like bourbon neat, introduce yourself to a madly skilled bartender.

3. Barrel

All bourbon must be stored in new, charred-oak containers. The barrel gives bourbon all of its color and most of its flavor. After the barrel completes the distiller’s age requirements, it’s then shipped to Scotland to age Scotch, Mexico to age tequila, or to Louisiana to age Tabasco. That’s right, bourbon keeps providing succulent flavors long after the whiskey leaves the barrel.

2. Ice

Vodkas are not meant for sipping. Ice reveals flaws in alcohol, because the burn is watered down and you can taste flavors the alcohol proof hides. With bourbon, a couple pieces of ice open up the 100-proof and higher bourbons, revealing gorgeous notes of citrus, praline, and chocolate. Of course, it depends on the brand, but a little ice goes a long way.

1. Culture

Bourbon is more than what’s inside the bottle. It’s a culture of a good time. From Bourbon Women to Bourbon & Beyond, bourbon has dozens of independent organizations and festivals. And unlike the vodka in the Las Vegas club, the bourbon club isn’t just for rap stars and tight-pants wearing hipsters. The bourbon club welcomes all.

Fred Minnick is the editor-in-chief of the new magazine, Bourbon+.

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