Bourbon, America’s native spirit, traces its heritage to immigrants who brought their whiskey-making skills to the American colonies in the 18th century. Rye was the crop of choice for them, because it was easier to establish than the traditional barley. But when settlers pushed west to Kentucky, which had gained a reputation for fertile soil and pure spring waters, corn became the base material for their whiskey, and it established a style that Kentucky could call its own.
Some say this whiskey became “Bourbon” because it was shipped from Kentucky in barrels bearing the name “Bourbon County.” But Michael Veach, author of “Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage,” says that’s simply a legend and that the origins are unknown. In any case, Kentucky whiskey-makers gained a reputation for this fine quality spirit, and business grew until the rise of the temperance movement. Prohibition essentially dismantled the Bourbon industry for several years. By the time the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition in 1933, Americans no longer had a passion for the robust, flavorful whiskey of yore; instead, they preferred lighter versions of the spirit. It was not until decades later that Americans once again looked for bigger, richer Bourbons.
Although it’s historically affiliated with Kentucky, Bourbon today may be made anywhere in the United States, so long as producers follow a recipe and process that is set by law.