Bourbon is American born. But despite its native origin, there’s no unanimous accord concerning how to enjoy it. The only general agreement that bourbon drinkers seem to reach is that the stuff is awesome. Floral aromas and the smokey bite of black pepper. Hints of dark fruit, pear and rose; a note corn, cedar and butterscotch. There’s so much to love, and even more to learn about this uniquely-American liquor. We’re celebrating National Bourbon Heritage Month with this, our love letter to bourbon, an article that’s all about a spirit that was born right here in the U.S.A.
Does it have to come from Kentucky?
Sometimes there are rules. Rules like, sparkling wine can only truly call itself champagne if it comes from a specific region in France and made with very specific grapes.
But this is America! Where the exception is more exciting than the standard and the rules that revolve around craft spirits were made to be broken. Bourbon doesn’t have to come from the state of Kentucky, or even more explicitly, Bourbon County, Kentucky, to be called bourbon.
The U.S. government’s Code of Federal regulations includes a subpart called the Standards of Identity. It’s an entire section dedicated to the labelling and advertisement of distilled spirits. And designates what each spirit is. Or is not.
According to the Standards of Identity, bourbon is defined as, “whisky produced at not exceeding 160° proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, or malted rye grain, respectively, and stored at not more than 125° proof in charred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies of the same type."
Nowhere in that classification is there made any mention of Kentucky. Or Bourbon County. Or anyplace else. So long as a spirit meets those specifications, you could bottle it on the moon and still legally call it bourbon. Mmmmmm. Moon Bourbon.
Who Invented Bourbon?
Elijah Craig was a Baptist preacher who settled in the area of Virginia that would eventually become the state of Kentucky. But Craig was more than just clergy. He was something of an entrepreneur and impresario.
Elijah Craig built Kentucky’s first fulling mill and it’s first paper mill. He built the first lumber and gristmill in Georgetown, where he lived. And even served as fire chief after helping to establish the town’s first fire department.
Some claim he’s also the inventor of bourbon. Upon more careful examination though, that boast is likely more of charming legend than verifiable truth.
Dubbed “The Father of Bourbon”, Craig did in fact establish a distillery around 1789. He was a maker of corn-based whiskies. But his product was no different to what was being made by many small farmer-distillers west of the Alleghenies.
Claims that his distillery was located in Bourbon County aren’t true either. It was located in what was then Fayette County. Which later became part of Woodford County. And then Scott County.
There is zero historical evidence corroborating Craig’s claims of being the first to age the distillation in charred oak barrels. And the first publication alluding to Craig as bourbon’s baby daddy wasn’t printed until 1874. Sixty-six years after his passing.
What’s The “Right” Way To Drink Bourbon?
Some folks insist that there is a “right” or “proper” way to enjoy bourbon. That it should only be taken neat. Sipped. Allowed to roll across the tongue. Breathing out through your nose and mouth together to get the full flavor.
That’s a great way to experience the malty-cinnamon marvelousness of a quality craft bourbon. But bourbon also happens to be one of the most versatile spirits out there. So, there’s no limit to the ways you can enjoy it.
Add a splash of water to mellow the sweetness. Pour over ice. Bourbon is great with mixers like soda or bitters. And there are scads of beautiful cocktail recipes that call for bourbon.
Bourbon is special. But it’s like any other spirit, in the sense that there are no rules for how to drink it written in stone. So, celebrate National Bourbon Heritage Month any way you want with a bottle from BigFish Spirits that retains a unique character while tasting distinctly American.
Shop the biggest selection of craft bourbon in Illinois with BigFish Spirits here