Main article picture


By now you have likely heard of ChatGPT. It’s an artificial intelligence (AI) language model that was developed by a company called OpenAI that was co-founded by Elon Musk and includes Microsoft as one of its investors. In recent months has drawn a lot of attention as it’s widely believed to be a significant breakthrough in the path towards advancing artificial intelligence. The potential power of this technology is believed by some to be on the same level of disruption as the internet itself.

In short, ChatGPT was given access to a massive amount of information, and uses what it learns to provide a conversational interface with users. It has been continually updated since its initial launch, and is notably in test mode whereby feedback is continually being evaluated and the programming is subsequently updated. Version 3.5 is currently free so anyone can try it, and if you want to use the most current version 4 you will need to subscribe.

We thought it would be fun to test ChatGPT’s level of knowledge when it comes to bourbon. We came up with 10 bourbon related questions we asked ChatGPT (specifically version 4, the most advanced version as of this writing), along with its responses and our assessment of their accuracy. To make the exercise more engaging, you can take the quiz to test your bourbon knowledge on those same 10 questions compared to ChatGPT before you read any further.


Q: What is bourbon?

ChatGPT: Bourbon is a type of American whiskey, a distilled spirit made primarily from corn. It has a rich, full-bodied flavor profile, which is typically sweet with notes of vanilla, oak, and sometimes fruit. The exact flavors can vary depending on the specific brand and how it's made.

Bourbon must meet several specific legal requirements to be labeled as such:

  1. It must be made in the United States. While bourbon is most commonly associated with Kentucky, it does not have to be made in Kentucky to be considered bourbon.
  2. It must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.
  3. It must be aged in new, charred oak containers.
  4. It cannot be distilled to more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume).
  5. It must enter into the container for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).
  6. It must be bottled at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume).
  7. It cannot have any added flavoring, coloring, or other additives.

If the bourbon meets all these criteria and has been aged for a minimum of two years, it may be called straight bourbon. If aged for four years or more, the label doesn't need to list the age, otherwise, the age must be stated on the label.

Bourbon's distinct flavor profile makes it a popular choice for sipping neat, on the rocks, or as a base for many classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Mint Julep.

CORRECT. ChatGPT nailed this one, and with some good supporting details too. Bourbon is defined as “Whisky produced in the U.S. at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers.” ChatGPT also got a key distinction between bourbon and straight bourbon correct, as well as age statement requirements.

Q: Does bourbon have to be aged in American oak barrels?

ChatGPT: Yes, one of the legal requirements for a whiskey to be classified as bourbon is that it must be aged in new, charred oak containers. However, the law does not specifically mandate that the oak be American. While most bourbon producers use American white oak, this is more a matter of tradition and local availability than a legal requirement. The key factor is that the barrels must be made of oak and they must be new and charred. The charring process caramelizes the sugars in the wood, which contributes significantly to the flavor profile of the finished bourbon. It's also important to note that since the barrels can only be used once for bourbon, many of them find a second life aging other spirits, such as Scotch or rum, which can use previously used barrels.

CORRECT. While the initial “Yes” is a bit confusing, the explanation that follows clears things up. Legally bourbon must be aged in “new charred oak containers” per the rules, which means once the container has been used to age bourbon it can never be used again unless it is for another purpose, such as scotch, rum, or some other allowable type of whiskey. It is also true that brands often advertise the fact that they use “American” oak, but it’s not required. If oak from another country was used the whiskey could still be classified as bourbon.

Q: By law, what is the maximum bottling proof for bourbon?

ChatGPT: There is no legal maximum proof at which bourbon can be bottled. The requirements specify that it must be distilled to no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume), and it must enter into the container for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume). However, it must be bottled at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume).

After aging, bourbon can be diluted with water before bottling to achieve the desired proof. This allows for a range of proofs on the market, from the minimum 80 proof all the way up to "barrel-proof" or "cask-strength" bourbons, which can be over 120 proof. These higher-proof bourbons have not been diluted after aging and offer a more concentrated (and generally more intense) flavor profile.

CORRECT. There are two maximums that apply to bourbon: the first is the distillation proof which is 160, and the second is the barreling proof which is 125. There is no maximum bottling proof and when bottled without any water added bourbon is typically referred to as “barrel proof” or “cask strength” of which there is no legal limit.

Q: What is the difference between bourbon and straight bourbon?

The primary difference between bourbon and straight bourbon is the length of time the whiskey is aged.

To be classified as bourbon, the whiskey must meet several specific requirements as defined by U.S. law, including being made in the U.S. from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, being aged in new, charred oak containers, and meeting certain requirements f r proof at distillation, entry into the barrel, and bottling.

Straight bourbon must meet all these same requirements, but it must also be aged for a minimum of two years. If a straight bourbon has been aged for less than four years, its age must be stated on the bottle. If it has been aged for four years or more, the age does not need to be stated.

Also, straight bourbon cannot have any added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits added. Regular bourbon also cannot have added coloring or flavoring, but in some cases may have small amounts of other spirits blended in, as long as those spirits also meet the requirements to be classified as bourbon.

INCORRECT. Alright to be fair we are being sticklers on this one, it is mostly correct. The key element is accurate, which is that straight bourbon has a 2 year minimum age requirement as compared to (non-straight) bourbon. However ChatGPT leaves out the second main requirement that straight bourbon may only contain straight bourbons originating from a single state. Additionally, the explanation gets a little confusing with respect to bourbon allowing for additional spirits - as long as they meet the requirements to be classified as bourbon - blended in. Multiple bourbons can be blended together and still labeled bourbon, and multiple straight bourbons, as long as they all originate from the same state, can be blended together and still be labeled straight bourbon.

Q: Can straight bourbons originating from multiple states be blended together and still labeled "straight bourbon"?

Straight bourbon whiskey must meet certain requirements according to U.S. federal law. These include being made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, being distilled to no more than 160 proof, being aged in new, charred oak containers, and being aged for at least two years.

If these requirements are met, then technically, straight bourbons from different states could be blended together and still retain the designation of "straight bourbon". However, if a state name is included in the label, such as "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey", then all of the distillation must occur within that state.

When blending straight bourbons from multiple states, it would not be permissible to include a state name in the label unless all the bourbon was distilled in that state. The resulting product, while still straight bourbon, would not be tied to a specific state in its labeling.

It's important to always check the most current regulations for the most accurate information, as alcohol labeling laws can be complex and subject to change. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, this is the correct interpretation of the rules.

INCORRECT. Alright, we thought ChatGPT deserved a chance to clarify this requirement specifically, but this is a tough one. In addition to its 2 year minimum age requirement that elevates straight bourbon beyond standard bourbon requirements, to be labeled straight the bourbon must be the product of a single state. This is very specific, if straight bourbons from multiple states are blended together, it is no longer “straight bourbon” but rather “a blend of straight bourbons” which is a different classification entirely. The most notable difference is that a blend of straight bourbons allows for the addition of up to 2.5% harmless coloring/flavoring/blending materials as detailed here.

Q: Does bourbon aged less than 4 years require an age statement?

Yes, any bourbon that has been aged for less than four years requires an age statement on the label, according to U.S. federal standards. This rule applies whether the bourbon is straight bourbon or not. The age statement must indicate the age of the youngest whiskey in the product, as bourbon can sometimes be a blend of different barrels with slightly different aging time.

For straight bourbon that has been aged for four years or more, an age statement is optional. However, some producers choose to include it anyway, particularly for products that have been aged significantly longer than four years, as this can be a selling point.

CORRECT. Let’s pause and give ChatGPT a slow clap for this one. This rule is commonly misunderstood and even violated by bourbon producers who either believe the rule only applies to straight bourbon, or include an illegal age statement such as “aged less than 4 years” on the label basically because others are doing it. It should be noted that this rule is fairly closely followed for straight bourbon, but when not labeled straight it can go off the rails. It is also worth noting that if aged 4 years or more, neither bourbon or straight bourbon requires an age statement.

Q: Can unique grains such as quinoa, rice, or amaranth be used to make bourbon?

ChatGPT: Yes, unique grains such as quinoa, rice, or amaranth can be used in the production of bourbon, but they would have to be used in conjunction with a majority of corn in the grain mixture. By U.S. law, to be classified as bourbon, the whiskey must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn.

The remaining 49% can be a mixture of other grains, traditionally rye or wheat and malted barley. So, theoretically, one could use quinoa, rice, or amaranth as part of this portion of the grain mixture. However, these are not common ingredients in bourbon, and using them would likely lead to a flavor profile quite different from traditional bourbon.

It's also worth noting that any whiskey made from a grain mixture that is 51% or more of a grain other than corn would not be classified as bourbon. For example, a whiskey made from a grain mixture that is 51% rye would be a type of rye whiskey, not bourbon.

CORRECT. While bourbon’s mashbill must contain at least 51% corn, and most mainstream bourbons also contain malted barley along with rye or wheat as the additional grains, the only legal requirement that applies is that the mashbill must be at least 51% corn. The other grains can be anything, and while uncommon, unique releases such as Buffalo Trace’s E.H. Taylor Amaranth Grain of the Gods is an example of this.

Q: Can any bourbon brand dip their bottle in wax and let the wax drip down the neck of the bottle?

ChatGPT: Maker's Mark, a well-known bourbon brand, is recognized for its signature red wax seal that drips down the neck of the bottle. The company has been using this distinctive packaging since it was founded in the 1950s. In 1985, Maker's Mark successfully registered the dripping wax seal as a trademark.

In 2010, Maker's Mark sued another distillery, Diageo, and its subsidiary Casa Cuervo, for trademark infringement because they were using a dripping red wax seal on bottles of their tequila. The case went to court, and in 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of Maker's Mark, confirming the company's exclusive rights to use the dripping wax seal on liquor bottles.

So while a bourbon brand could potentially use a wax seal on their bottle, they would need to ensure that it does not infringe on the trademark held by Maker's Mark. The distinctive dripping wax seal is legally protected and recognized as a unique feature of the Maker's Mark brand.

CORRECT. Maker’s Mark has a trademark on wax dripping down the neck of a liquor bottle in a “freeform irregular pattern,” which is what makes their telltale red dripping wax so unique as a brand identifier and which has been upheld in court as ChatGPT identified. Ever wondered why the wax on other bourbon bottles isn’t dripping down the neck, after all it does seem like a pretty good idea if you want your bottle to stand out. Instead, you may see wax on some bottles that covers the cork but is specifically NOT dripping down the neck. Notably, Blanton’s is a bourbon with dripping wax, but the drip is very carefully designed to be off the bottle’s neck based on the bottle’s specific shape.

Q: Is Jack Daniel's bourbon?

ChatGPT: Jack Daniel's, which is a Tennessee whiskey, meets all the criteria to be considered a bourbon under U.S. federal regulations. It's made in the United States, it's distilled from a grain mixture that's at least 51% corn, it's aged in new charred oak barrels, and it doesn't have any additives.

However, Jack Daniel's does not label itself as a bourbon. Instead, it's called a Tennessee whiskey, a regional variation of bourbon. What sets Tennessee whiskey apart is an additional step in the production process called the Lincoln County Process, where the whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal before it's put into the barrel for aging. This process is believed to give the whiskey a smoother, more mellow character.

In conclusion, while Jack Daniel's meets the legal requirements to be a bourbon, it's identified and marketed as a Tennessee whiskey due to this additional step in its production process.

CORRECT. ChatGPT got this one. While the question can be a contentious one among whiskey enthusiasts, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey meets the legal requirements to be classified as bourbon, and if the company wanted to label it bourbon, they could. However, the additional Lincoln County Process and the state of Tennessee’s “Tennessee whiskey” designation arguably make Jack Daniel’s something more, which we discussed with master distiller Chris Fletcher in a recent Jack Daniel’s article. So there you have it.

ChatGPT’s score: 8/10

Just for fun, we asked ChatGPT one more question (not part of the quiz).

Q: What is Breaking Bourbon?

Breaking Bourbon is a popular online resource for bourbon enthusiasts. The site provides a wealth of information about bourbon and other types of whiskey, including detailed reviews, articles, and news about the industry.

The reviews on Breaking Bourbon cover a wide range of products and are known for their depth and detail, often including information about the appearance, nose, palate, and finish of the whiskey, as well as an overall rating.

The site also features a release calendar, which tracks upcoming releases of bourbon and other whiskeys, making it a valuable resource for enthusiasts looking to stay up-to-date with the latest products.

As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, Breaking Bourbon is run by three individuals – Nick, Eric, and Jordan – who share a passion for bourbon and started the site to help others navigate the world of whiskey.

Right on. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

Written By: Nick Beiter

May 12, 2023
photo of author
Do you know more about bourbon than ChatGPT?
Also Check out
Articles by this author
Recent IN-depth Reviews
Recent Articles
  • Exclusive Content
  • new content summary
  • bourbon in the news
  • social media roundup
Terms of UsePrivacy PolicyEthics PolicyCommenting Policy