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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2000
    Louisville, Kentucky

    Bourbon history from Rootsweb

    I enjoy genealogy and receive a Kentucky oriented newsletter from Rootsweb. The most recent posting is the history of whiskey. This is going to be a long post but, I thought it would amuse you. I see several things I could dispute...particularly in the listing of whiskeys. Just proves "tee-totlers" should stick to what they do best... .

    Although I am a "tee-totler" when it comes to alcohol, whiskey distilling
    has always been an important commerce in Kentucky. It was logical since
    corn was the primary crop in Kentucky from the earliest times. But, there
    was an abundance of corn and the market value was not enough to sustain the
    settlers. When distilled, it was. Kentucky had difficult in shipping
    because of the mountains to the east; they couldn't ship south because of
    the Spanish control of the Mississippi River near Natchez. But distilled
    whiskey was desired and easier to transport. According to the Kentucky
    Encyclopedia, one mule could transport only four bushels of corn but as
    many as 24 bushels in the liquid form.

    One of the earliest recorded distillers was William Calk from Fort
    Boonesborough. In 1795 he settled at the fort and later moved to Montgomery
    County and brought his distillery equipment from back home in Virginia.
    Stephen Ritchie was on Cox Creek in what is now Nelson County and had a
    distillery. James E. Pepper operated a distillery in Lexington and sold
    "Old Pepper Whiskey". Evans Williams of Louisville was another very early
    distiller (see below). By 1810 there were 2,200 distillers operating in
    Kentucky as shown on the census records. Dr. James Crowe, 1835, was an
    Englishman who did experiments in Woodford County and from this was born
    "Old Crow" (see below).

    Kentucky distillers used the techniques they had learned in the Old World
    for making their whiskey. Scotland and Ireland were already well known for
    their ability to produce fine whiskeys and Kentuckians followed their
    techniques. The grains used are corn, rye and barley which was ground and
    mixed with water or stale beer. This produced a "sour mash". The mash was
    put in a tub and scalded while being stirred with a paddle. After mixing,
    it was left overnight where fermentation began and then malt (germinated
    grain) was added. Then came the yeast and another 72-hour fermenting
    period. When this was complete the product was known as beer or wash. This
    wash was poured into a copper-lined pot and put over an open fire to be
    distilled. After several phases, a clear liquid was produced than ran
    between 140 to 160 proof. In the earlier days, the distillers had no way of
    judging the "proof" of the batch produced which determined the strength of
    the whiskey. They just mixed whiskey and gunpowder and set it afire. If the
    gunpowder didn't explode, the whiskey was too weak! If the flame was blue
    and the burn even, it was just right. They said the whiskey was proved,
    from which came the term of proof.

    By 1860, there were only 207 distilleries in Kentucky; and after the Civil
    War, many home distillers were either forced out of business by cost, or
    merged with larger and larger companies. Moonshiners were flourishing
    throughout the state, cutting more into the profit of the legal
    distilleries. By 1880, new techniques were making their influence felt and
    production increased. Roll mills were built which broke the grain into
    uniform parts; companies began using copper-lined vats for more consistent
    fermentation. However, there was a depression in 1893 and saw many
    distillers reeling from the high taxes and lowering of sales. An act called
    the Wilson Act of 1890 helped the distillers somewhat as it placed the
    taxation under state rather than federal rule. Distillers were given eight
    years to pay their taxes on whiskey already produced; then the distiller
    could sell whiskey in bulk to retailers. In 1897 the Bottle-in-Bond Act
    came into effect as a federal law saying that the whiskey had to be aged
    for four years to be known as full-proof.

    Bourbon whiskey contained 51 percent of corn and earlier could be distilled
    to 160 proof. It was aged in charred oak barrels which is what gives
    bourbon it's distinctive color and taste. Early settlers making bourbon
    whiskey included Jacob Meyers and Jacob Froman from Lincoln County; Marshal
    Brashear of Jefferson County, Elijah Craig of Scott County; Jacob Spears of
    Bourbon County. Bourbon was likely named this for Bourbon County, KY. A
    Maysville, KY firm of Stout and Adams published ads in a Bourbon Co
    newspaper in 1921. In 1826 there were ads from Hughart and Warfield for
    Spears and Williams Best Old Whiskey - named for Solomon Spears and Samuel
    Williams. H. C. Bowen sold H C Bowen's Old Bourbon.

    Some of the early whiskeys produced early and still in production include
    the following:

    Blantons: A "single barrel bourbon." Each bottle comes from a single barrel
    and is never blended with whiskeys of other ages.

    Wild Turkey: Thomas McCarthy, Sr., then head of Austin Nichols Company, a
    grocery company founded in 1855, joined a group of businessmen each year
    for a turkey shoot; McCarthy brought along his own special bourbon to the
    event. This tradition resulted in the preservation of wildlife, since shots
    of bourbon were usually the only ones taken. Hence, Wild Turkey was named.

    Kentucky Gentleman: Produced in Bardstown by Barton's Distillery.

    Very Old Barton: Produced also in Bardstown since the early 1800's.

    Jack Daniels: Produced since 1866 when Jack Daniel established America's
    oldest registered distillery. Aged in unheated warehouses which develops
    the color and taste.

    Woodford Reserve: No date found, produced in Versailles, Kentucky, has a
    reddish amber color, a hint of vanilla, caramel, fruit and oak flavor.

    Four Roses: Named possibly for a romantic story where a young man was going
    off to fight in the Civil War. He had proposed to a shy young lady and she
    replied that if her answer was yes, she would wear four red roses in her
    hair at the next ball. Produced in 1888, known for it's unusual full-bodied
    taste by being fermented in cypress tubs centuries old and aged in white
    oak barrels.

    Evans Williams. Reportedly the oldest bourbon in Kentucky. Evan Williams
    came to Kentucky from Virginia about 1781 and settled at the Falls of the
    Ohio River. He opened his distillery in Louisville in 1783 and the bourbon
    is still produced using a 200-year-old recipe.

    Elijah Craig: This was originally made by the Rev. Elijah Craig in the
    earliest days of Kentucky. He aged the bourbon in charred bottles which he
    felt enhanced the flavor.

    Jim Beam: This bourbon began in 1788 with Jacob Beam who followed Daniel
    Boone's path through he Cumberland Gap from Virginia. Beam's Distillery was
    founded in 1795. His grandson, James, entered the business in 1880, naming
    it for himself.

    Maker's Mark: This distillery used winter wheat instead of rye as a
    flavoring. Seven generations of the Samuels family have been producing
    Maker's Mark in Loretta, KY.

    Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey: Produced in Franklin Co
    Kentucky, no origination date found.

    W. L. Weller: William LaRue Weller began bottling his bourbon in 1849 using
    corn, malted barley and wheat.


    A whiskey rebellion in 1791 led to moonshining. The rebellion was the
    result of higher and higher taxation on the Kentucky distillers as noted
    above and led to the closing of many home-run distilleries. Moonshiners
    took the place of many distilleries and the moonshiners became heroes to
    many. They were well known for their ability to hide from the "revenuers"
    They were simply unlicensed distillers on a smaller scale. In 1862 another
    excise tax was imposed by the federal government and the moonshiners were
    hunted down and prosecuted.

    The federal government attempted to give them a blanket pardon in 1878 if
    they promised to stop the manufacturing. The moonshiners agreed, filled the
    courthouses waiting to sign the agreement - and then went out and made more
    moonshine! In 1881, 102 illegal stills were raided and closed. By 1914, 214
    were raided and closed. But it was a profitable business and during World
    War times, a good moonshiner could make up to $300 a month. During the
    prohibition time of 1920-1933, the moonshiners became the prey and partner
    many times of the racketeer with the racketeer taking most of the profits.
    It might be noted that the infamous Al Capone bought moonshine (whiskey)
    from eastern Kentucky and Golden Pond whiskey from western Kentucky. With
    the repeal of prohibition, the moonshiner's business came to a grinding
    halt. Most has disappeared from Kentucky and some turned to a new lucrative
    business, marijuana.

    Crowgey, Henry G, Kentucky Bourbon, The Early Years of Whiskey Making,
    Lexington, KY 1971.
    Downard, William L., Directory of the History of America Brewing and
    Distilling Industries, Westport, CT, 1980.
    Kentucky Encyclopedia, University of Kentucky, 1992, Betty B. Ellison.

    (c) Copyright 17 October 2002, Sandra K. Gorin, All Rights Reserved.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2000

    Re: Bourbon history from Rootsweb

    Hi Brenda,

    Thanks for sharing that piece from rootsweb. Amusing despite few errors.



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