Manufacturing American bourbon whiskey involves the use of specific grain types and unique barrel wood for aging. While bourbon is made primarily in Kentucky, Bourbon can be distilled anywhere in the US.
Historian Michael R. Veach reveals the true story of bourbon in Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage.
Veach begins with the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, and traces bourbon history through the Industrial Revolution, the Civil War, Prohibition, the Great Depression, and up to the present.
Veach also explores the myths surrounding bourbon, separating fact from legend. Below are 6 bourbon myths revealed by Veach, courtesy of Details.com.
Myth No. 1:
Bourbon got its name from Bourbon County.
While Veach doesn’t disprove this outright, it seems more likely that it was named after Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where French people raised on Cognac preferred the charred-barrel-aged whiskey sold there.
Myth No. 2:
Elijah Craig invented bourbon as we know it.
The Baptist minister is often credited with being the first distiller of bourbon and the first to age his whiskey in charred barrels. Veach points out that the first reference to charring barrels doesn’t appear until 20 years after his death, and it wasn’t until 60 years after his death that someone claimed Craig invented bourbon. Further proof? In a toast to his accomplishments by a fellow distiller after Craig’s death, whiskey wasn’t even mentioned.
Myth No. 3:
Veach says nope: America’s first federal tax, imposed by George Washington, was on whiskey. Small farmer-distillers got a raw deal on it, so they tarred and feathered a few tax collectors and refused to pay. No battle was fought between these insurgents and the government troops sent to quash the rebellion, but many rebels fled south to Louisiana, not west to Kentucky. Plus, they were already distilling in Kentucky long before this incident.
Myth No. 4:
Evan Williams was the first distiller in Kentucky.
He wasn’t even in the country until the year after he supposedly first began distilling in 1783, and there are records of other people having stills in Kentucky in 1779. We don’t know who the first distiller in the state was (and probably never will), but it wasn’t Williams.
Myth No. 5:
Trying to cheat time is a modern thing.
Every start-up micro-distiller seems to be selling barely aged whiskey rested in comparatively tiny barrels to make it taste older faster. Some are even using modern methods like pressure aging and ultrasonic technology. But making younger booze taste older actually has a long history. Mid-1800s rectifiers added flavor-altering ingredients to whiskey to make it seem more mature, including tea, wintergreen, starch, and cochineal, a coloring made from ground-up bugs.
Myth No. 6:
Cherry whiskey was invented by Kid Rock.
With the massive success of Jim Beam’s four-year-old Red Stag black-cherry whiskey endorsed by Kid Rock, you’d think that nobody had thought to add fruit to bourbon before. But in the early days of distilling in America, flavorings were often added to whiskey to improve the taste; Cherry Bounce is just one of many liqueurs made from a bourbon base.
According to the USDA, almost 90% of the corn planted in the US is genetically engineered. And since by definition bourbon must be made with at least 51 percent corn, that means most bourbon is made with GM corn.
There are only two brands of bourbon that don’t use genetically engineered products: Wild Turkey and Four Roses. And according to Grist writer Twilight Greenaway, if it weren’t for the international market, GMO-free bourbon might not exist at all.
The Most Expensive Bourbon Whiskey
The most expensive Bourbon is the 16-Year-Old A. H. Hirsch Reserve, one of the few remaining examples of the Kentucky pot-still tradition.