The history of bourbon is a little foggy and mysterious. Its creation can be traced back to nearly 200 years ago, but unfortunately, the origin of the spirit was not well documented. Many hold conflicting opinions about its true home — was it named after Bourbon County, Kentucky or Bourbon Street, New Orleans? While no one knows for sure, here’s what experts claim.
The short story is that the distilling of bourbon likely started in the 1700s in Kentucky. Farmers struggled to transport crops over narrow trails and steep mountains and often wasted a lot of corn and grain. They discovered that converting the corn and grain into whiskey prevented a lot of it from rotting and going to waste and created a drink for the frontiersmen to enjoy. While the process of making whiskey had been practiced in Europe for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until this time that Americans discovered the trick to make it into bourbon. When farmers shipped the bourbon from one of Kentucky’s original counties — Bourbon County — down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, the long trip in oak barrels aged the whiskey and gave it a distinct mellow flavor and dark amber color. Whiskey from Bourbon County became increasingly popular and was eventually called “bourbon whiskey.”
The long story is that after its discovery, bourbon distilleries popped up all over Kentucky. Louisville (formerly known as “Dunmore’s Island”) hosted a group of soldiers and settlers, one of which was George Rogers Clark, an influential American military officer during the American Revolution. In 1778 while Clark and other soldiers set off to rid Illinois territory of the British, settlers stayed back to plant corn. They had a bountiful crop and this led to the renaming of the land to be “Corn Island.” This bustling area eventually became Louisville and was home to multiple distilleries.
While Louisville was distilling, so was another prominent city in Kentucky. Bardstown, the second-oldest city in the state, became home to distillers like Jacob Beam. Nelson County’s limestone-rich springs brought a large number of people to the area and distillers settled there as well. Frankfort and Owensboro were other towns that drew distillers. Kentucky slowly became the Bourbon State.
A distiller named Elijah Craig built a distillery that made bourbon a little differently. He charred the inside of the barrels before pouring in the whiskey and letting it age. No one really knows how he came up with this idea; some saying it was an accident after a batch of barrels were burned in a barn fire and Craig decided to use them anyway. Others think he simply used old barrels to save money and charred the inside to clean them out. No matter what caused him to use charred barrels, Craig changed the bourbon making process for the better, an act that earned him the title as the “father of Bourbon.” After his bourbon success, Craig went on to build a hemp factory, create the first rope walk, construct the first paper factory, and start the first wool mill.
Years passed and bourbon was growing in popularity. More and more distilleries opened until 1919 when Prohibition began in Kentucky. Amazingly, it wasn’t until 2014 that another distillery opened, a whole 95 years later! Even more astonishing, it took Congress until 1964 to officially recognize bourbon as a distinctive product of the United States. It’s even considered to be America’s official native spirit. In fact, the bourbon industry alone helps create nine thousand jobs and generates more than 125 million in tax revenue each year.
Regardless of how bourbon came to be, there is no better place to sip America’s native spirit than BLEND. You can learn more about how one of our favorite spirits is made in our previous blog post, “Creating Bourbon: America’s Native Spirit,” and you’re always invited to stop by and enjoy premium cigars and bourbon with us.
BLEND Bar • Cigar with Davidoff Cigars® is Indianapolis and Nashville’s premier cocktail lounge and cigar bar. BLEND’s selection of premium cigars is second to none, and our walk-in humidor is one of the largest in the US. BLEND is the only appointed merchant for Davidoff cigars in Indiana, so cigar aficionados are sure to find what they are looking for.