I decide to celebrate Independence Month by seeking out America's definitive spirit, bourbon whiskey.

In brief, bourbon is a distilled spirit made from at least 51 percent corn and aged in new charred-oak barrels.

There are a few other requirements for a whiskey to legally be considered bourbon - yes, there are federal laws about such things - but the corn content and the aging process are the most important in terms of flavor.

Compared to other grains used in whiskey-making, corn creates a smoother, sweeter liquor, and the use of only new barrels means the flavor of the oak is more prominent (Scotch, for example, typically uses barrels that have already been used to age bourbon, thus diminishing the influence of the wood on the flavor).

I start my weekend quest at The Sparetime for a glass of Belle Meade Bourbon.

In 2009, brothers Andy and Charlie Nelson reopened Nelson's Greenbriar Distillery, where their great-great-great-grandfather and grandmother had produced whiskey up until Prohibition shut them down in 1909.

The first release from the revived distillery is Belle Meade, which has quickly established itself among whiskey drinkers as a bourbon of choice. While corn is, of course, the primary ingredient, Belle Meade also has an unusually high rye content, creating a spicy, grainy palate.

This makes the taste experience more interesting, with a bold start and smooth finish. Available for a reasonable $8 at The Sparetime, it's highly recommended for anyone looking to expand their bourbon portfolio, and it's also accessible to the novice, as well.

For those willing to spend a little more, I suggest you head over to 22 Square at Andaz Hotel. Of the several premium bourbons available, I select Noah's Mill.

This bourbon is crafted in small batches at the Willett Distillery, family owned and operated since 1935. In the glass, Noah's Mill ripples with a deep gold, almost bronze color. This rich hue is due, in part, to the strength of the whiskey.

At more than 114 proof (bourbon is typically 80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume), bold is the best word to describe the flavor. Garron Gore, 22 Square's food and beverage manager, says Noah's Mill is "for the person who really wants to taste their bourbon."

That's a nice way of saying that it has a kick, though the drinker is rewarded with a surprisingly sweet finish. If the strength and the $14 bill doesn't dissuade you, you're probably a true whiskey fan, and Noah's Mill should be near the top of your list of what to try next.

I head over to Congress Street Social Club after I hear a rumor they have the largest bourbon selection in town.

While it's a great place for meeting people, I wouldn't have thought of it in my quest for fine whiskeys. It turns out I was mistaken. Behind the upstairs bar, Social boasts a selection of more than 100 bourbons, ranging from the commonplace to the expensive and rare.

As good as the selection is, Social's Monday night special is even better. More than 25 whiskies are available for only $2.50, many of them perfect entry points into the world of straight bourbon.

Barkeep Art Pickering pours me a solid shot of Evan Williams - sometimes derided for its low cost - into a small rocks glass. Know that price isn't always indicative of quality.

Evan Williams offers a traditional bourbon flavor that's relatively smooth, but with enough burn to feel the alcohol. I prefer Evan Williams to most brands at the average bar, and the special at Social makes it an easy selection.

At whatever price, straight bourbon takes a little practice to appreciate. Rest assured, though, that once you cross the threshold, you'll be rewarded with a flavor more complex than most other liquors.

And you'll earn the respect of the bartender who pours you one.

Zach Powers is a writer and novelist. When he's not busy imbibing, he helps run the literary arts nonprofit Seersucker Live. Get to know him at ZachPowers.com.