Barrels of Woodford Reserve bourbon age in a rickhouse in Versailles, Kentucky.
Barrels of Woodford Reserve bourbon age in a rickhouse in Versailles, Kentucky. - 
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During the course of writing his book, “Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of American Whiskey,” Reid Mitenbuler learned a lot about “America’s native spirit,” as it’s known.

According to Mitenbuler — contrary to what you might assume from looking at bottle labels — today’s bourbons aren’t all made by bearded men wearing overalls.

“By the year 2000 you have eight companies, 13 plants, and they make about 99 percent of all the whiskey in America,” Mitebuler says.

Today, even with what Mitenbuler calls a craft distillery boom, smaller distillers only make about five percent of the whiskey in America.

But Mitenbuler says bourbon made by a big company isn’t necessarily bad bourbon.

“This is, for me, where the story really began, because those corporations, they actually do a very good job,” says Mitenbuler. “And they’re sort of an outlier in the food world and a lot of the popular conceptions we have about food where small is best.”

So, as a bourbon expert, what’s Mitenbuler’s advice for bourbon novices?

"It doesn’t have to be expensive to be good. Older isn’t necessarily better. It really kind of finds its sweet spot in the middle somewhere, where it's accessible, affordable and easy to find,” Mitenbuler says.  

To hear Reid Mitenbuler take Marketplace’s Adriene Hill through a bourbon tasting (and to hear a couple of his recommendations) click play on the Soundcloud player below.

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Follow Adriene Hill at @adrienehill