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Whiskey Wisdom: 4 Whiskey Myths Debunked

Whiskey Wisdom: 4 Whiskey Myths Debunked

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Do you know your whiskey from your whisky?

Fred Minnick, author of Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey, pours forth the facts about the legendary brown stuff.

Myth: Whiskey is spelled with or without the “e” for a reason.
Fact: The spelling rules are arbitrary, and don't necessarily signify whiskey’s country of origin.

Canadian and Scotch distillers generally use the “whisky” spelling, while American and Irish brands typically go with “whiskey,” according to Minnick. However, exceptions abound, including American brands like Maker's Mark and Balcones that use “whisky” in their names.

Myth: Whiskey has always been a spirit favored by men.
Fact: Women have been drinking –– and making whiskey –– for hundreds of years.

Women and their love of whiskey dates back at least 500 years to the time of Queen Elizabeth I, who legend has it enjoyed her liquor, and to more ordinary members of the fairer sex, who started their days with "a piece of meat and a dram," Minnick says.

In the U.S., whiskey-making until the late 19th and early 20th century was considered women's work, along with churning butter, cooking, sewing, and other domestic chores. But when whiskey production became industrialized, men took over their roles.

Myth: Bourbon must be made in Kentucky.
Fact: Bourbon can be produced anywhere in the U.S.

Bourbon, which is defined by federal authorities as "whisky produced in the U.S.," became geographically protected in 1964 when Congress declared it "America's spirit," according to Minnick. Before then, Mexican producers marketed a cheaper whiskey as bourbon. Cognac, scotch, and champagne are three other examples of geographically-indicated alcoholic beverages.

Myth: Bourbon must be aged in an American oak barrel.
Fact: Bourbon can be made in any shape container with oak from any country, as long it's new, with no aging required.

According to the federal definition, bourbon cannot exceed 80 percent alcohol by volume, or 160 proof; must be produced from a "a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers."

However, for bourbon to be considered "straight," it must be aged at least two years, Minnick says. Further, any drink marketed as "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey" must be distilled in the Bluegrass State.

— Robert DiGiacomo, The Drink Nation

More from The Drink Nation:

The Shark Week Drinking Game
Two Breaking Bad IPAs Coming From Marble Brewery
Top 6 West Coast IPAs for IPA Day

One Shortage Actually Worth Worrying About: High-Quality Whiskey

There’s been a bit of panicky media hype lately about food shortages we’re sure you heard about the impending “shortages” of foods like Velveeta, Sriracha, chicken wings, and knishes.

But one shortage that you should pay attention to, and worry about, is high-quality whiskey. According to Ian Buxton, the whisky expert and author of 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die,The dirty little secret of the Scotch industry is they’ve become addicted to high prices, but they’ve run out of old whisky.

Why are we running out of whiskey? Esquire explains,

This severe increase in demand means that whiskey distillers are running low on their supply of high-quality, aged whiskey. They’re now wishing they could travel back to the 󈨞s and lay down more stock.

Distillers are seriously feeling the struggle—last year, Maker’s Mark tried to water down their bourbon, and Buffalo Trace warned of potential shortages.

David King, the C.E.O. of Anchor Distilling, which owns distilleries like BenRiach and The Glenrothes, tells Esquire,

So what should you do? Stick with established brands that won’t screw you over, open your mind and palate to younger and cheaper whiskey brands, and start hoarding like a crazy alcoholic.

Beer Before Liquor

The old saying goes, "Beer before liquor you've never been sicker. Liquor before beer, you're in the clear." This violates a rule I try to live by—never trust advice that rhymes—but it actually turns out that there is some evidence to support it. I spoke to Dr. Rueben Gonzales , a professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Texas, and he had some interesting things to say on the subject. The difference in alcohol concentration between beer (4 percent ABV) and hard liquor (40 percent ABV) is roughly ten-fold, give or take, depending on proof. Even in a mixed drink, you're probably talking 10 to 20 percent ABV. So if you start out drinking beer at a certain rate, and then continue drinking a mixed drink at the same rate, it's like driving slowly and then stepping on the gas. Your mouth may not know the difference in the alcohol concentration, but your body will. In contrast, if you start off drinking hard liquor, you're likely to be drinking at a slower rate and feel drunk faster. Switching to beer and then drinking at the same rate will result in a decreased stream of alcohol by volume.

There actually is a controlled study that lends some more credence to this one, which Dr. Gonzales sent me. The study, called "Alcohol concentration and carbonation of drinks: The effect on blood alcohol levels," was conducted in 2007 by the Universities of Manchester and Lancashire. The small, 21-subject test group reached some interesting conclusions. One finding was that diluted concentrations of alcohol will be absorbed faster than more potent blends. In other words, alcohol in a mixed drink enters the bloodstream faster than the equivalent amount of alcohol taken as a shot. From the study:

It is thought that in the absence of food in the stomach, small amounts of concentrated alcohol pass through the stomach at much the same rate as larger volumes of more dilute alcohol, allowing little time for gastric metabolism.

In other words, because it's larger in mass and volume, the mixed drink spends more time in your digestive system, which is where it gets absorbed. Makes sense. So, if you're filling your stomach up with beer and you're then upping the alcohol concentration by adding hard liquor, you're essentially making a mixed drink inside your stomach. It'll sit there for longer, getting you more liquored up. On the other hand, if you start with hard liquor, the solution in your stomach begins with a higher concentration of alcohol, and it will pass through you more quickly. You'll feel more drunk, and you'll probably be less likely to drink as much beer afterwards. Just pace yourself, you maniac!

Top Food Myths Finally Debunked

We have been eating food a long time — since the dawn of mankind, as a matter of fact. Through the years, we’ve created a whole boatload of food myths, many of which simply are not true. Here are some of the longest-lasting — and definitively untrue — food-based myths out there.

Photo By: Logan Bannatyne / LoLoStock ©2014, Logan Bannatyne

Photo By: Zsolt Nyulaszi ©Zsolt Nyulaszi, All Rights Reserved.

1. The 5-Second Rule

As much as you want something to be true, doesn’t actually make it true. This goes double for proponents of the "five-second rule," which dictates that it is fine to eat that slice of pizza you dropped on the floor, so long as it was on the ground for less than five seconds. We're not saying that you shouldn’t eat it — go ahead, but just know that science is not on your side.

2. Poppy Seed Bagels Are Laced with Drugs

Sure, heroin is derived from the humble poppy seed, but you’d have to eat a whole lot of them to test positive for it in a drug test. This means that bagel or muffin you ate this morning is not going to make you lose out on that dream job. You’d have to eat about 15 bagels to fail a drug test.

3. Twinkies Never Go Bad

Conventional wisdom (and zombie movies) indicate that Twinkies simply never go bad, thanks to some kind of amalgam of mystery chemicals. This is not true &mdash their shelf life is just 25 days. That&rsquos hardly enough time to survive the apocalypse.

4. Gum Stays in Your Stomach for 7 Years

Swallowing a piece of gum is one of the biggest no-noes of childhood, with many a playground lunatic asserting that gum stays in your stomach for seven long and lonely years. Guess what? That isn’t true. It’ll pass through your system in just a few days.

5. Pop Rocks and Soda Equals Instant Death

Another long-standing childhood rumor is that eating a bag of fizzy candy Pop Rocks and drinking a tall, refreshing glass of soda will make your stomach explode and kill you. Well, good news, worrywarts: These two products don’t interact at all, so go to town.

6. Red M&M's Cause Cancer

The story goes that red M&M’s caused cancer, thanks to a coloring agent called Red Dye No. 2. While Russian scientists did discover that the dye caused cancer in rats, red M&M’s never actually contained any of the stuff. Mars candy company discontinued the color anyway, just to sate public outcry.

7. Eating Before Bed Stops a Hangover

Many people swear by the “fact” that stuffing your gullet with fatty foods right before bed stops a hangover before it even begins. There is no evidence to support this, unfortunately. The food must be in your stomach before you start drinking for it to have any hangover-stopping effect. Eating before bed when you are drunk, however, is still really awesome and makes food taste better. That is fact.

8. Absinthe Makes You Hallucinate

Absinthe manufacturers have long traded on the urban myth that the stuff makes you hallucinate. While it can be ludicrously high in alcohol, it is no more likely to make you hallucinate than vodka, whiskey or any other spirit. Of course, it can make you intoxicated, so there’s always that.

9. Microwaving Food Kills Nutrients

Even the term "nuking" denotes the health-destroying capabilities of microwave ovens. But unless we're talking about the occasional nutrient like sulforaphane (found in broccoli), that is simply not true. Microwaving your dinner actually keeps most of its nutrients intact. The taste, however, is another story.

3. Natural Wine Is Just a Fad

Though it’s a buzzy category of late, natural wine has actually been around for thousands of years, since the first savvy, thirsty people decided to throw crushed grapes into a vat with yeast and see what happened. “The Romans weren’t spraying Roundup on their vines, and the Cistercian monks of Burgundy weren’t buying yeast to inoculate their fermentation,” says Danny Kuehner, the bar manager for Madison in San Diego. “This grassroots movement among wine enthusiasts will only continue to grow.” Just as organic produce, free-range poultry and whole foods have become part of our permanent culinary lexicon, natural wine is here to stay.

Bottle to try: 2017 Domaine Carneros The Famous Gate Pinot Noir ($90), which has been made for almost 30 years from 12 separate clones of pinot noir grown in certified-organic vineyards

Whiskey Wisdom: 4 Whiskey Myths Debunked - Recipes

Nestled amid the rolling hills of bluegrass and thoroughbred farms sits the historic Woodford Reserve Distillery.

One of Kentucky’s oldest and smallest distilleries, the present day Woodford Reserve Distillery is built on history, sitting on Kentucky’s oldest distilling site where Elijah Pepper began crafting whiskey in 1812. It was on these same hallowed grounds that years later Master Distiller James Christopher Crow perfected his whiskey-making methods, which today have become common practice, including the implementation of sour mash into fermentation.

The Distillery is home to a 500-foot-long gravity-fed barrel run, iconic copper pot stills, and 100-year-old cypress wood fermenters. “We also boast one of the only heat cycled barrelhouses in the world, ensuring every drop seeps into the charred and toasted white oak, giving Woodford Reserve its color and signature flavor.”

Today, I’m having a closer look at the “Double Oaked” expression: An interesting twist on Woodford Reserve‘s classic straight bourbon. The whiskey is first matured in new charred white oak barrels, as usual, but before bottling is transferred to special heavily toasted, lightly charred finishing barrel. It is then bottled at 43.2% ABV.

Nose: The Bourbon Holy Trinity is definitely here: Wood, Vanilla & Caramel. A sweet and heartwarming nose with brown sugar, molasses, pecan pie, caramel syrup and honey-glazed popcorns. It’s probably the first time I’ve said that around here, but this dram makes me feel like going to the cinema to watch some sort of Rom-Com starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence… Yeap, this expression is definitely a movie dram! I could already picture myself all wrapped up in a blanket on my couch with some Autumnal-scented candles around… #NoWorriesImOkay

Palate: Hey honey! This is quite bourbon-y around here… #NoShitSherlock. Burnt caramel, roasted pecan nuts, oak spices, dried fruits… The difference between this “double oaked” expression and your standard Woodford Reserve really shows on the palate. Of course, this is definitely what you would expect of a bourbon BUT with just the right twist and added depth that makes it turn from your everyday-whiskey to something interesting to sip and add to your whisk(e)y cabinet! Still remaining a perfect beginner whiskey as well for those that may be willing to get started on their bourbon discovery journey.

Blended Scotch Whisky

The majority of scotch sold is blended and it is preferred for scotch cocktails. They tend to be more mixable with a variety of ingredients and are often sold at a more reasonable price than the single malts.

The harder flavors of single malts are softened by blending them with grain whiskeys in a cask for several months after each has been aged separately. Scotch blends are an art and each scotch house has its own secret recipe and master blender.

While the exact blends are often unknown and very unique, it is not uncommon for 20 to 25 whiskeys to be used in a blend with around 20 to 50 percent of those comprised of single malt whiskeys. The higher-end blended Scotches will include more single malts, which leads to a deeper flavor.

When it comes to blended scotch, there is a great diversity among the brands. Some of the best-known include The Black Grouse, Chivas Regal, Dewars, and Johnnie Walker. You will not find it difficult to discover blended scotches at every price point, from around $20 to upwards of a few hundred.

Bourbon tales debunked: The truth behind seven bourbon myths

New bourbon distilleries seem to be opening almost every week.

Bourbon lists are expanding exponentially in bars and restaurants.

And some 6.5 million barrels of bourbon are aging in warehouses across the Commonwealth, which adds up to about a barrel and a half per Kentuckian.

In short, we are in the midst of a bourbon boom that the spirits industry is betting (to the tune of $1.1 billion dollars in capital investment in the last five years) will continue into the foreseeable future.

Indeed, you could say that the mantra of the moment, uttered by Mark Twain and often quoted in bourbon circles, is: “Too much of anything can be bad. But, too much good whiskey is never enough.”

Spend any time taking in the colorful and enjoyable tours at distilleries or reading the copy on bottle labels recounting the histories of various brands, and another aphorism often attributed to Twain will come to mind: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

There are scores of great bourbon stories. Some of them are even true. Many of them come courtesy of creative marketing staffs that start with a thread of history and weave a whole backstory tapestry.

Then, there is simply a certain amount of innocent confusion.

For example, how often have you heard (or perhaps asked), “What is the difference between bourbon and whiskey?” The answer is that bourbon is whiskey. It is one of many different types of whiskey styles in the world. Examples of others include rye, Scotch and Irish whiskies. All are made from distilled grains, but differ in what those grains are and in certain details of the distillation process.

So here, just in time for National Bourbon Heritage Month, are clarifications and corrections to some of the most frequently encountered bourbon misconceptions and, in some cases, tall tales. They are presented in no particular order.

Bourbon can be made only in Kentucky

Actually, bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States. Congress passed a resolution in May, 1964 in “…recognition of Bourbon whiskey as a distinctive product of the United States…”

This doesn’t negate the fact, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (, that 95 percent of all bourbon is made in Kentucky. It’s also important to note that while Bardstown fancies itself “The Bourbon Capital of the World” — and perhaps even the known universe — one third of all bourbon is made right here in Louisville. You can thank bourbon powerhouses Brown-Forman and Heaven Hill for that.

The whiskey is named after Bourbon County

Perhaps. The truth is that no one really knows how the name originated. One popular story is that whiskey traveling downstream for six months or more from Limestone (now Maysville), Kentucky, to New Orleans took on color in the charred barrels in which it was shipped. The cognac-loving (and cognac-deprived) French ex-pats in New Orleans developed a taste for “the red whiskey” with “Bourbon County, Kentucky” written on the shipping invoices.

Historian Michael Veach shed some light on this legend in his “Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage” by explaining that the port city of Limestone from which so much whiskey from central Kentucky was shipped, was part of Bourbon County (then still part of Virginia) for a very brief period. By the time the whiskey started to be known as bourbon, Limestone had been part of Mason County for more than 30 years.

Veach went on to speculate that it might have been more likely that the name came from “… river travelers drinking the aged whiskey of New Orleans on Bourbon Street and starting to ask for that ‘Bourbon Street whiskey.’”

Bourbon has to be aged at least two years to be called ‘bourbon’

“How long does bourbon have to be aged to become bourbon?” This is a favorite, bourbon-tasting trick question. The answer is, “As soon as the clear, new-make whiskey off the still touches the oak of the barrel in which it is going to be aged, it is ‘bourbon.’”

The two-year age is often cited because, in order to be called “straight bourbon,” it must be aged for at least two years. As Fred Minnick explained in “Bourbon Curious — A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker,” “Distilleries are required to put an age on the bottle only if the bourbon is under four years old.”

Minnick also clarified that if barrels of different ages are mingled in a batch for bottling, then the age statement on the bottle must give the one for the youngest whiskey. Batch six, eight and 10-year-old bourbons, and what is put in the bottle has to be called “six-year old.” Of course, an age statement is optional here, since aging has gone on longer than four years.

At less than four years, it is not uncommon to see age statements such as “36 months.” This is especially true with bourbons from very small distilleries that need cash and cannot afford to sit long on their stock. Perhaps they are trying to make the whiskey sound older by using double digits. But even after a few sips, most bourbon enthusiasts can do the math.

Old Forester was the first bottled bourbon

Before the manufacture of glass bottles became reliable and economically viable, the common practice was to take your own container to the local grocer or saloon to fill it from a barrel on the premises. Obviously, there was a lot of opportunity with this arrangement for unscrupulous retailers to enhance their barrels if stock began to get low before a new barrel was scheduled to arrive.

The most benign alteration was simply to top up a dwindling whiskey supply with water. But that lowered the concentration of alcohol and lightened the color of the liquid. Common solutions to these dilutions included adding alcohol by pouring kerosene in the barrel and using darkening agents, ranging from tea to prune juice to creosote. Yum.

Enter whiskey salesman George Garvin Brown, who vowed in 1870 to sell his Old Forester brand bourbon only in sealed bottles, with its quality guaranteed by his signature on the label. This was effectively the founding of today’s Brown-Forman Corporation, which still makes Old Forester, as well as Woodford Reserve bourbon and Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey.

“The First Bottled Bourbon” is the tag line that appears on Old Forester’s labels today. But Michael Veach has a tiny little caveat, “Old Forester was the first bourbon sold exclusively in bottles.”

In an interview, Veach told me that Hiram Walker, the Canadian distiller, was selling his whiskey (admittedly, not bourbon) in bottles in the 1860s. Closer to home, a scrapbook from 1850 in the collection of the Filson Historical Society contains labels by a Louisville printer named Miller for “Old Bourbon Whiskey – Samuel Jacobs & Co., Louisville, Ky.” and “Superior Old Bourbon Whiskey – Geo. Welby, Louisville, Ky.”

“The existence of labels implies that there were bottles to put them on,” said Veach. He hypothesized that some stores sold a limited amount of whiskey in bottles so as “not to miss a customer” if someone arrived without his own container.

“What [George Garvin] Brown did was especially admirable because bottles were still handmade and expensive to produce. It wasn’t until 10 or 15 years later that they could be manufactured by machines.”


Brown took a gamble that consumers were willing to pay the premium for a bottled product that would assure them that they were getting unadulterated whiskey. He turned out to be right.

The Old Fashioned Cocktail was invented at Louisville’s Pendennis Club

The Old Fashioned, that lovely concoction of bourbon, sugar, bitters and a little fruit, is Louisville’s “official cocktail.” (Let us take a moment to be pleased and proud that we live in a city that has an Official Cocktail.) The reason for the Old Fashioned’s civic designation is that its creation is credited to the city’s Pendennis Club.

In his James Beard-awarded book, “Imbibe!,” cocktail scholar Dave Wondrich citesd a reference in The Chicago Tribune in 1869 to the “Old-Fashioned.” The Pendennis Club did not open its doors until 1881. Plus, Chicago bartender Theodore Proulx published an Old Fashioned recipe in his bar guide of 1888.

Faced with this timeline, the Louisville origin has been amended to say that it was the version created at the Pendennis that we know as the Old Fashioned today. But does that claim hold up?

Curious, I reached Wonderich by e-mail, and he sent me a lengthy reply expanding on his material in “Imbibe!”

“Martin Cuneo, the guy the Club credits for inventing their Old-Fashioned (the claim to inventing the original one having been proven untenable), was a hell of a bartender. Born 1875, began bartending by 1906 … and then at the Pendennis, by 1913. He worked there through Prohibition (was arrested there in 1930 for serving booze) retired from there between 1940 and 1942. Died 1943.

[Cuneo] was popular and made fantastic drinks in 1913, he was written up in the papers for the excellence of his Juleps. The Pendennis Club was also recognized as a center of mixology and contributed recipes to several books, ones which became well-known and popular. Unfortunately, they were the Julep, the Pendennis Cocktail (not an Old-Fashioned) and their Eggnog.

Cuneo’s Old-Fashioned recipe, which he gave to the Works Progress Administration in 1941 or thereabouts (he had retired) and claimed he developed, used lump sugar, not syrup, and had the fruit (orange and cherry) as a garnish, not muddled in — thus contradicting two of the three things the Pendennis nowadays maintains characterize its claim to the cocktail (the other is the use of Angostura bitters, not other types).

Now, the slice of orange already appears in the Hoffman House’s (New York’s best bar, 1870-1913) Old Fashioned from 1905. Angostura bitters appear variously, but are common in the drink by 1912. As far as I can tell, the muddled-fruit Old Fashioned didn’t come into play until the 1950s or even 1960s.

I don’t have any beef against the Pendennis Club: Its claim to the drink — the original version — was asserted in 1931, and not by the club, but in the book “Old Waldorf Bar Days.” “Back then, there was no way of disproving it, and it was well known that they made good drinks at the club. With modern research tools, however, the claim is easy to disprove. I wish that they would admit it in good grace, claim the great drinks that they did make and celebrate Martin for his skill, rather than trying to crawl through the eye of a needle to prove a claim that was never grounded.”

So there we are. But I’m still happy that Louisville has officially embraced the Old Fashioned.

The Manhattan cocktail was invented at New York’s Manhattan Club

The Old Fashioned is not the only whiskey cocktail that has been subject of myth-making. For the real story about the Manhattan, I called Albert Schmid, Director of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management at Guilford Technical Community College outside Greensboro, North Carolina, and the author of “The Manhattan: A Modern Guide to a Whiskey Classic.” He was quick to debunk the received origin story.

“The most common idea about the drink is that it was created for a dinner at the Manhattan Club to honor Samuel Tilden’s election as governor of New York. Lady Randolph Churchill (Jennie Jerome) was supposed to have been the hostess. But she couldn’t have been.”

Schmid explained that the dinner indeed took place at the Manhattan Club, but it was in November 1874. Lady Randolph was in England and on the 31st of that month, she gave birth to her son, Winston. It took five to six weeks to cross the Atlantic via ocean liner, so she couldn’t have been in New York.

“Probably the story about Jennie Jerome got started because she was an American and that her father at one time owned the building that was the headquarters of the club,” explained Schmid.

“The other common story is that a member of the Manhattan Club, Judge Charles Henry Truax, was instructed to stop drinking martinis so he could lose weight. Supposedly Truax asked the club bartender to mix an alternate drink, and the Manhattan was the result. Unfortunately, the two cocktails have exactly the same number of calories.”

Schmid thinks the most likely story is about a bartender named Black who named it after the island. “It’s ironic,” he mused, “since the Native-Americans who were trading with the Dutch colonists gave it that name because it meant ‘The place where we become intoxicated.”

Well, that certainly seems appropriate.

Distilling is returning to Louisville’s Whiskey Row for the first time since before Prohibition

This has been the rallying cry for several recent projects along West Main Street. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience led the way with a micro-distillery. Peerless Distillery and Angel’s Envy Distillery are larger operations that are both making whiskies (both bourbon and rye). Old Forester is scheduled to start distilling soon in the same block where the company once had offices. And the city has created a Bourbon District, complete with historical markers along the corridor.

But, in reality, Whiskey Row never had any actual distillers.

“Whiskey Row had warehouses and distillery offices and other bourbon-related businesses, but whiskey was not distilled there,” says Carla Carlton, who blogs as “The Bourbon Babe” and has a new book, “Barrel Strength Bourbon – The Explosive Growth of America’s Whiskey.”

“Whiskey Row certainly deserved its name,” Carlton continued, “Virtually every distillery in Kentucky had offices there to see to the marketing and shipping of their products.”

Indeed, a check of the City Directory from 1890 shows that there were more than 125 businesses associated with the bourbon industry. Not only offices and warehouses, but whiskey wholesalers, grain merchants, label printers, trade publications, bottle manufacturers and others. So it might be more appropriate to simply applaud the fact that distilling has finally come to Whiskey Row.

Carlton agreed and is certainly pleased to see the historic recognition and new buzz around the multi-block stretch she says was once known as “The Wall Street of Whiskey.” •

Susan Reigler is the author of books including “Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide,” and is co-author of “The Bourbon Tasting Notebook” and “The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book.”


Distilling was most likely brought to present-day Kentucky in the late 18th century by Scots, Scots-Irish, and other settlers (including English, Irish, Welsh, German, and French) who began to farm the area in earnest. The origin of bourbon as a distinct form of whiskey is not well documented. There are many conflicting legends and claims, some more credible than others.

For example, the invention of bourbon is often attributed to Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister and distiller credited with many Kentucky firsts (e.g., fulling mill, paper mill, ropewalk) who is said to have been the first to age the product in charred oak casks, a process that gives bourbon its brownish color and distinctive taste. [7] In Bourbon County, across the county line from Craig's distillery in what was then Fayette County, an early distiller named Jacob Spears is credited with being the first to label his product as Bourbon whiskey.

Although still popular and often repeated, the Craig legend is apocryphal. Similarly, the Spears story is a local favorite but is rarely repeated outside the county. There likely was no single "inventor" of bourbon, which developed into its present form in the late 19th century. Essentially, any type of grain can be used to make whiskey, and the practice of aging whiskey and charring the barrels for better flavor had been known in Europe for centuries. [8] The late date of the Bourbon County etymology has led Louisville historian Michael Veach to dispute its authenticity. He proposes the whiskey was named after Bourbon Street in New Orleans, a major port where shipments of Kentucky whiskey sold well as a cheaper alternative to French cognac. [1]

Another proposed origin of the name is the association with the geographic area known as Old Bourbon, consisting of the original Bourbon County in Virginia organized in 1785. This region included much of today's Eastern Kentucky, including 34 of the modern counties. [9] It included the current Bourbon County in Kentucky, which became a county when Kentucky separated from Virginia as a new state in 1792. [10] [11] [12]

When American pioneers pushed west of the Allegheny Mountains following the American Revolution, the first counties they founded covered vast regions. One of these original, huge counties was Bourbon, established in 1785 and named after the French royal family. While this vast county was being carved into many smaller ones, early in the 19th century, many people continued to call the region Old Bourbon. Located within Old Bourbon was the principal port on the Ohio River, Maysville, Kentucky, from which whiskey and other products were shipped. "Old Bourbon" was stencilled on the barrels to indicate their port of origin. Old Bourbon whiskey was different because it was the first corn whiskey most people had ever tasted. In time, bourbon became the name for any corn-based whiskey. [12]

Although many distilleries operated in Bourbon County historically, no distilleries operated there between 1919, when Prohibition began in Kentucky, and late 2014, when a small distillery opened – a period of 95 years. [13] [14] Prohibition was devastating to the bourbon industry. With the ratification of the 18th amendment in 1919, all distilleries were forced to stop operating, although a few were granted permits to bottle existing stocks of medicinal whiskey. Later, a few were allowed to resume production when the stocks ran out. Distilleries that were granted permits to produce or bottle medicinal whiskey included Brown-Forman, Frankfort Distillery, James Thompson and Brothers, American Medical Spirits, the Schenley Distillery (modern-day Buffalo Trace Distillery), and the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery. [15]

A refinement often dubiously [16] credited to James C. Crow is the sour mash process, which conditions each new fermentation with some amount of spent mash. Spent mash is also known as spent beer, distillers' spent grain, stillage, and slop or feed mash, so named because it is used as animal feed. The acid introduced when using the sour mash controls the growth of bacteria that could taint the whiskey and creates a proper pH balance for the yeast to work.

A concurrent resolution adopted by the United States Congress in 1964 declared bourbon to be a "distinctive product of the United States" and asked "the appropriate agencies of the United States Government . [to] take appropriate action to prohibit importation into the United States of whiskey designated as 'Bourbon Whiskey'." [17] [18] Federal regulation now defines bourbon whiskey to only include bourbon produced in the United States. [19]

In recent years, bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, which is sometimes regarded as a different type of spirit but generally meets the legal requirements to be called bourbon, have enjoyed significant growth in popularity. The industry trade group Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) tracks sales of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey together. [3]

According to DISCUS, during 2009–2014, the volume of 9-liter cases of whiskey increased by 28.5% overall. [4] Higher-end bourbon and whiskeys experienced the greatest growth. [4] Gross supplier revenues (including federal excise tax) for U.S. bourbon and Tennessee whiskey increased by 46.7% over the 2009–2014 period, with the greatest growth coming from high-end products. [4] In 2014, more than 19 million nine-liter cases of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey were sold in the U.S., generating almost $2.7 billion in wholesale distillery revenue. [4] U.S. exports of bourbon whiskey surpassed $1 billion for the first time in 2013 distillers hailed the rise of a "golden age of Kentucky bourbon" and predicted further growth. [3] In 2014, it was estimated that U.S. bourbon whiskey exports surpassed $1 billion, making up the majority of the U.S. total of $1.6 billion in spirits exports. [3] Major export markets for U.S. spirits are, in descending order: Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, and France. [3] The largest percentage increases in U.S. exports were, in descending order: Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Bahamas, Israel, and United Arab Emirates. [3] Key elements of growth in the markets showing the largest increases have been changes of law, trade agreements, and reductions of tariffs, as well as increased consumer demand for premium-category spirits. [20]

Bourbon's legal definition varies somewhat from country to country, but many trade agreements require that the name "bourbon" be reserved for products made in the United States. The U.S. regulations for labeling and advertising bourbon apply only to products made for consumption within the United States they do not apply to distilled spirits made for export. [21] Canadian law requires products labeled bourbon to be made in the United States and also to conform to the requirements that apply within the United States. But in countries other than the United States and Canada, products labeled bourbon may not adhere to the same standards. For example, in the European Union, products labeled as bourbon are not required to conform to all the regulations that apply within the United States, although they still must be made in the U.S.

The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, codified under 27 CFR §5.22(b)(1)(i), states bourbon made for U.S. consumption [21] must be:

  • Produced in the United States and Territories (Puerto Rico) and the District of Columbia [22]
  • Made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn[23]
  • Aged in new, charred oak containers [23] to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (80% alcohol by volume) [23]
  • Entered into the container for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume) [23]
  • Bottled (like other whiskeys) at 80 proof or more (40% alcohol by volume) [24]

Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period. [25] Products aged for as little as three months are sold as bourbon. [26] The exception is straight bourbon, which has a minimum aging requirement of two years. In addition, any bourbon aged less than four years must include an age statement on its label. [27] [28]

Bourbon that meets the above requirements, has been aged for a minimum of two years, and does not have added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits may be – but is not required to be – called straight bourbon. [29]

  • Bourbon that is labeled as straight that has been aged under four years must be labeled with the duration of its aging. [30]
  • Bourbon that has an age stated on its label must be labeled with the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle (not counting the age of any added neutral grain spirits in a bourbon that is labeled as blended, as neutral-grain spirits are not considered whiskey under the regulations and are not required to be aged at all). [27]

Bottled-in-bond bourbon is a sub-category of straight bourbon and must be aged at least four years.

Bourbon that is labeled blended (or as a blend) may contain added coloring, flavoring, and other spirits, such as un-aged neutral grain spirits, but at least 51% of the product must be straight bourbon. [31] [32]

"High rye bourbon" is not a legally defined term but usually means a bourbon with 20–35% rye. [33] High wheat bourbons are described as more mild and subdued compared to high-rye varieties. [34]

Bourbon that has been aged for fewer than three years cannot legally be referred to as whiskey (or whisky) in the EU. [35]

Geographic origin Edit

On May 4, 1964, the United States Congress recognized bourbon whiskey as a "distinctive product of the United States" by concurrent resolution. Bourbon may be produced anywhere in the United States where it is legal to distill spirits, but most brands are produced in Kentucky, where bourbon production has a strong historical association. [36] The filtering of iron-free water through the high concentrations of limestone that are unique to the area is often touted by bourbon distillers in Kentucky as a signature step in the bourbon-making process. [37]

On August 2, 2007, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution sponsored by Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) officially declaring September 2007 to be National Bourbon Heritage Month, commemorating the history of bourbon whiskey. [38] Notably, the resolution claimed that Congress had declared bourbon to be "America's Native Spirit" in its 1964 resolution. [38] However, the 1964 resolution did not contain such a statement it declared bourbon to be a distinctive product identifiable with the United States (in a similar way that Scotch is considered identifiable with Scotland). [17] [39] The resolution was passed again in 2008. [39]

As of 2018, approximately 95% of all bourbon is produced in Kentucky, according to the Kentucky Distillers' Association. As of 2018, there were 68 whiskey distilleries in Kentucky, this was up 250 percent in the past ten years. [40] At that time, the state had more than 8.1 million barrels of bourbon that were aging – a number that greatly exceeds the state's population of about 4.3 million. [41] [3] [42] [43]

Bardstown, Kentucky, is home to the annual Bourbon Festival held each September. It has been called the "Bourbon Capital of the World" by the Bardstown Tourism Commission [44] and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival organizers [45] who have registered the phrase as a trademark. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is the name of a tourism promotion program organized by the Kentucky Distillers' Association that is aimed at attracting visitors to the distilleries in Kentucky, particularly Four Roses (Lawrenceburg), Heaven Hill (Bardstown), Jim Beam (Clermont), Maker's Mark (Loretto), Town Branch (Lexington), Wild Turkey (Lawrenceburg), and Woodford Reserve (Versailles). [46]

Tennessee is home to other major bourbon makers, although most prefer to call their product "Tennessee whiskey" instead, including giant Jack Daniel's. It is legally defined under Tennessee House Bill 1084, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and at least one other international trade agreement as the recognized name for a straight bourbon whiskey produced in Tennessee. [47] [48] It is also required to meet the legal definition of bourbon under Canadian law. [49]

Although some Tennessee whiskey makers maintain that a pre-aging filtration through chunks of maple charcoal, known as the Lincoln County Process and legally mandated since 2013, [A] make its flavor distinct from bourbon, U.S. regulations defining bourbon neither require nor prohibit its use. [25] [47] [52] [53]

Bourbon also was and is made in other U.S. states. [54] [55] [56] The largest bourbon distiller outside of Kentucky and Tennessee is MGP of Indiana, which primarily wholesales its spirits products to bottling companies that sell them under about 50 different brand names – in some cases, misleadingly marketed as "craft" whiskey, despite being produced at a large wholesaler's factory. [57] [58]

To be legally sold as bourbon, the whiskey's mash bill requires a minimum of 51% corn, with the remainder being any cereal grain. [2] A proposed change to U.S. regulations will expand allowable "grains" to include seeds of the pseudocereals amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa. [59] A mash bill that contains wheat instead of rye produces what is known as a wheated bourbon. [60] [61] The grain is ground and mixed with water. Usually mash from a previous distillation is added to ensure consistency across batches, creating a sour mash. Finally, yeast is added, and the mash is fermented. It is distilled to (typically) between 65% and 80% alcohol using either a traditional alembic (or pot still) or the much less expensive continuous still. Most modern bourbons are initially run off using a column still and then redistilled in a "doubler" (alternatively known as a "thumper" or "retort") that is basically a pot still. [62]

The resulting clear spirit, called "white dog", is placed in charred new oak containers for aging. In practice, these containers are generally barrels made from American white oak. The spirit gains its color and much of its flavor from the caramelized sugars and vanillins in the charred wood. Straight bourbon must be aged at least two years, and blended bourbon must contain at least 51% straight bourbon on a proof gallon basis (i.e., most of the alcohol in the blend must be from straight bourbon). [63] The remainder of the spirits in a blended bourbon may be neutral grain spirits that are not aged at all. If a product is labeled merely as bourbon whiskey rather than straight or blended, no specific minimum aging period is prescribed – only that the product has been "stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers". [63] Bourbons gain more color and flavor the longer they age in wood. Changes to the spirit also occur due to evaporation and chemical processes such as oxidation. Lower-priced bourbons tend to be aged relatively briefly. Even for higher-priced bourbons, "maturity" rather than a particular age duration is often the goal, as over-aging bourbons can negatively affect the flavor of the bourbon (making it taste woody, bitter, or unbalanced).

After maturing, bourbon is withdrawn from the barrel and is typically filtered and diluted with water. It is then bottled at no less than 80 US proof (40% abv). [24] Although most bourbon whiskey is sold at 80 US proof, other common proofs are 86, 90, and 100. All "bottled in bond" bourbon is 100 proof. Some higher-proof bottlings are marketed as "barrel proof", meaning they have not been diluted or have been only lightly diluted after removal from the barrels. Bourbon whiskey may be sold at less than 80 proof but must be labeled as "diluted bourbon".

After processing, barrels remain saturated with up to 10 U.S. gallons (38 liters) of bourbon, although 2–3 U.S. gallons (8–11 liters) is the norm. [64] They may not be reused for bourbon, and most are sold to distilleries in Canada, Scotland, Ireland, Mexico, and the Caribbean for aging other spirits. Some are employed in the manufacture of various barrel-aged products, including amateur and professionally brewed bourbon-barrel-aged beer, barbecue sauce, wine, hot sauce, and others. Since 2011, Jim Beam has employed barrel rinsing on a large scale to extract bourbon from its used barrels, mixing the extract with a 6-year-old Beam bourbon to create a 90-proof product that it sells as "Devil's Cut". [65]

The bottling operation for bourbon is the process of filtering, mixing together straight whiskey from different barrels (sometimes from different distilleries), diluting with water, blending with other ingredients (if producing blended bourbon), and filling containers to produce the final product that is marketed to consumers. By itself, the phrase "bottled by" means only that. Only if the bottler operates the distillery that produced the whiskey may "distilled by" be added to the label. [66]

Labeling requirements for bourbon and other alcoholic beverages (including the requirements for what is allowed to be called bourbon under U.S. law) are defined in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. [67] No whiskey made outside the United States may be labeled bourbon or sold as bourbon inside the United States (and in various other countries that have trade agreements with the United States to recognize bourbon as a distinctive product of the United States).

A 2016 experiment by Louisville craft distiller Jefferson's Bourbon suggests that in the era before whiskey was routinely bottled at the distillery, Kentucky bourbon developed a superior taste because it was shipped in barrels, using water transport wherever practical. To test this theory, Jefferson's cofounder Trey Zoeller sent two barrels of the company's signature product to New York City via barge, first down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and then along the Intracoastal Waterway. As a control, he brought a batch of the same whiskey that had remained in Louisville during the same period. According to Popular Mechanics writer Jacqueline Detwiler, who documented the test, the sample that made the waterborne journey "was mature beyond its age, richer, with new flavors of tobacco, vanilla, caramel, and honey. It was some of the best bourbon any of us had ever drunk." It was theorized that the action of gentle sloshing of the whiskey in barrels for a period of 2 to 4 weeks during the barge trip led to a dramatic improvement in smoothness and taste. Chemical analysis of the two samples revealed significant differences in molecular profiles, with the sample transported by water having a greater diversity of aromatic compounds. [68]

Bourbon is served in a variety of manners, including neat, diluted with water, over ice ("on the rocks"), with cola or other beverages in simple mixed drinks, and in cocktails, including the Manhattan, Bourbon Smash, the Old Fashioned, the whiskey sour, and the mint julep. Bourbon is also used in cooking and was historically used for medicinal purposes. [2]

Bourbon can be used in a variety of confections such as a banana bourbon syrup for waffles, as a flavoring for chocolate cake, or in fruit-based desserts like grilled peach sundaes served with salted bourbon-caramel or brown sugar shortcake with warmed bourbon peaches. It is an optional ingredient in several pie recipes traditional to American cuisine including pumpkin pie, where it can be combined with brown sugar and pecans to make a sweet and crunchy topping for the creamy pumpkin pie filling. [69] It can also be used as a flavoring in sauces for savory dishes like grit cakes with country ham served with bourbon mayonnaise, Kentucky bourbon chili or grilled flank steak. [70]

8. You can OD on edibles.

McDonough says: “There’s a lot of controversy over the word overdose, which has a connotation that it’s a fatal condition. With edibles there’s no such thing as a fatal overdose. It’s impossible—you𠆝 literally have to eat nine pounds of hash. If you have an alcohol overdose, you throw up and you have the spins. You’ve poisoned yourself essentially, but just because you didn’t die doesn’t mean it’s not an overdose.”

Photo courtesy Elise McDonough

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