DELAWARE COUNTY, Ohio — Dr. Tim Berra spent half a century educating students not on bourbon, but biology.
- The three-time Fulbright fellow and OSU professor emeritus now schools others in the art and science of spirits
- He wrote a book called What the Educated Bourbon Drinker Should Know
- His 224-page book guides the reader through the bourbon-making process, helps clear up the misconceptions and lays out the facts about bourbon
“I'm a scientist and I've worked in Australia all my career, on weird Australian fishes,” said Berra.
The three-time Fulbright fellow and OSU professor emeritus now schools others in the art and science of spirits.
“I started playing with bourbons and tasting them, and that raised the issue in my head, how does this happen, how does this come about? And then I started educating myself, and it became a whole different tangent,” said Berra.
Berra's written a book on bourbon called What the Educated Bourbon Drinker Should Know.
The 224-page book guides the reader through the bourbon-making process, helps clear up the misconceptions and lays out the facts about bourbon.
Like where it comes from…
“Bourbon is an American product,” said Berra. “You can't make Australian bourbon or Canadian bourbon.”
What it's made from…
“It's gotta be a minimum of at least 51 percent corn, and many bourbons are 70 or so corn,” Berra said.
And even how it gets the distinctive color…
“100 percent of the color is determined from the barrel. 100%, because when you distill it, it goes, you get a clear fluid. It's when it goes into the barrel, that it pics up the color,” Berra said.
“Somewhere between 50 and 75 percent comes from the wood, it also comes from the grain recipe, and the yeast, and the other things that you've done,” said Berra.
Many people think whiskey and bourbon are the same, but they are not. All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.
“It may be aged in used barrels, or it may be blended with grain neutral spirits or something...so...not Bourbon,” said Berra.
He says that the key to selecting bourbons you like, is trying them and reading the label to identify key information.
“That's another thing the educated bourbon drinker should know,” said Berra. “You look at the label and read the fine print, the labeling. When you give an age of a bourbon, it has to be the age of the youngest bourbon in the bottle.”
In academic fashion, Berra collected over 50 books, toured distilleries and took classes at Woodford reserve and Moonshine University—yes, Moonshine University in Kentucky.
But beyond the academics, he simply loves bourbon...and whiskey too.
“I think it would be fun if I had unlimited funds, you know, I would like to have my own distillery. And create my own bourbon in the flavor that I want. But I don't have enough years of my life left. I couldn't do that. By the time I experimented with four or five things and age them for four years, I'll be dead. I wouldn't get to see them. So, never mind,” said Berra.
Berra might not have bourbon distilling plans, but he said his book is a way to help both new and experienced drinkers learn more in an easy but comprehensive way.
“It's amazingly complex. That's what I've learned in this little exercise of writing this book. It's enormously complicated, and I've tried to simplify it for the reader,” said Berra.
Although he knows all the rules of making bourbon, he says bourbon enthusiasts should experiment.
“Some bourbon snobs will say, oh, you'll never put ice in it, or never put water in it, never put it in a cocktail…that's nonsense,” said Berra.
And enjoy, in an educated fashion.
“There is no right answer to what you like. It's your decision, your mouth your taste, so you like what you like, and there's no rules for drinking bourbons,” said Berra.