Before whiskey is bottled, isn't it cut with water to arrive at the desired proof?
If so does that mean that, straight from the vat, it's 100% alcohol? (i.e., 200 proof?)
A couple rookie questions, I agree, but I recently got into a slightly warm discussion with a friend about these points and need clarification. Thanks in advance.
By law, bourbon can come off the still at no more than 160 proof, and must enter the barrel at no more than 125 proof -- so it is diluted (with water only) even before barreling. Since it almost invariably increases in proof during aging, water again is added -- with exceptions for barrel-proof bottlings like Stagg, W. Larue Weller, Booker's and Rare Breed -- upon dumping to bring it to the stated bottle proof.
To add one thing to Tim's post (and hijack some of the WT101 thread) one of the differences you'll find among distillers and bottlers is what proof they choose for these operations. It impacts the flavor. If you distill at 115, barrel at 90 and bottle at 101 you add far less water than if you distill at 160, barrel at 125 and bottle at 90. Clearly water is cheaper in the bottle than Bourbon. It's only one factor but one it's good to be aware of. If you want to know what proof each distiller's product comes out of the barrel at, (this is just an indication) look at their barrel proof offering. Booker's (Beam) is 126, Rare Breed (Wild Turkey) is only 109! They are roughly the same age Bourbon. Beware comparing something that has been sitting in a barrel for 15-20 years as these have lost a lot more water (Stagg's current offering is 142!). It would be great if all distillers would publish this data but I suppose they think it adds to their mystique (or maybe they think nobody cares?)
Bottom line, as always, is to find what you enjoy, but it's fun it see if you can find trends to help identify "why".