September is National Bourbon Heritage Month and what better way to celebrate than relaxing on a beautiful and crisp fall day with a nice Old Fashioned or Manhattan in hand. However, before you savor the rich flavors of the popular spirit, take a moment to learn how Bourbon got its name. Or what six rules have to be practiced when distilling in order for it to bear the name Bourbon. To help you out in your quest for Bourbon knowledge, here is a brief history about America’s native spirit in 5 fast facts.
1. Will the real inventor please stand up.
The origins of who actually invented Bourbon are not really known. One of the most popular stories is that it came into being thanks to Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister and distiller from Kentucky. He is believed to have been the first to age corn whiskey in charred oak casks in the late 1700’s. However, there are no facts to back this up.
2. What’s in a name?
There are many legends as to how Bourbon got its name and it is widely thought that it came from Bourbon County in upstate Kentucky. However, this story doesn’t quite add up as it did not start appearing in print until the 1870s. Another popular belief is that it was named after Bourbon Street in New Orleans. The story goes that two French brothers settled in Louisville and started shipping local whisky to Louisiana’s bustling city. They targeted New Orleans because they knew the residents would like its similarity to cognac or “French Brandy.” Bourbon Street was the entertainment center and people started asking for ‘that whisky they sell on Bourbon Street’ which eventually evolved to ‘that bourbon whisky.’
3. Prohibition and WWII
Bourbon distilleries were shut down from 1920 to 1933 due to a little thing called Prohibition. Once they were able to open again, they weren’t up and running for long before World War II hit and converted the distilleries to make the recently discovered miracle medicine, penicillin. You might think, why were distilleries targeted? Because penicillin is created through fermentation so distilleries were the perfect place to make it in mass quantities.
4. America’s Native Spirit
In 1964, Bourbon was declared ‘America’s Native Spirit’ by an act of congress. This gave rise to the implementation of the current rules about what can bear the name of Bourbon Whiskey. In addition, because of the economic, industrial and historical role the Bourbon industry has played in our nation’s history, the United States Senate announced in 2007 that September will officially be National Bourbon Heritage month.
5. The six rules of Bourbon.
It is a popular belief that Bourbon has to be made in Kentucky. This is not true. Here are the six official distilling rules in order for whisky to be bear the name Bourbon:
- Must be made in the U.S. (but not limited to Kentucky)
- Must be at least 51% corn
- Must be distilled at less than 160 proof
- Must be entered into a barrel at below 125 proof
- Must not contain any artificial coloring or flavor
Now that you know the basic history of Bourbon, go celebrate National Bourbon Heritage Month the right way with a glass of America’s official spirit.