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  1. #1
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    When Did Bourbon Become Bourbon?

    I have a question for you all. When, in your opinion, did bourbon become bourbon? Was it with the creation of the aging process in charred barrels? Was with Jame Crow and the improved standards of quality? Was it with the Pure Food and Drug Act that led to the Taft Decision? was it with the government regulations after Prohibition that created the standards used today? I have my opinion but I would like to hear yours.
    Mike Veach


  2. #2
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    May 2000
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    Wauwatosa, WI
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    Re: When Did Bourbon Become Bourbon?

    Mike,

    I don't think events would decide this for me. The question for me is when did bourbon start to taste like bourbon? When would we have recognized it or been able to differentiate it from moonshine or vodka?



    Andy

  3. #3
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    Re: When Did Bourbon Become Bourbon?

    Mike I think this is a fairly easy question to answer. Bourbon became bourbon when people asked for it by name. I would refer you to Chuck Cowdery's article in issue 1 of volume 3 of his "Bourbon Country Reader" - "How Bourbon Really Got It's Name". No matter what changes have occured since the fact is bourbon was bourbon when someone said "Hey gimmie some mo' o' that there bourbon".

    Linn Spencer

    Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
    Join Date
    Sep 1999
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    Chicago
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    12,622

    Re: When Did Bourbon Become Bourbon?

    Linn makes a good point--it was bourbon when people started to call it that--but I'm more in line with Andy. What people called bourbon didn't begin to resemble what we call bourbon until a little later, sometime between the 1820s Corliss letter Mike mentioned recently, and the 1849 Robert Letcher letter, which mentions Old Crow's red color.

    The last piece of the bourbon puzzle to fall into place, the dividing line between frontier "white dog" and what we now know as straight bourbon whiskey, is the practice of aging the spirit in new, charred oak barrels. This apparently was a known practice in the 1820s, which Pepper and Crow had made routine by the 1840s.

    The fact that Dr. Crow's whiskey is widely praised for its quality suggests that it was something different, that it had reached a level previous products had not. Not surprisingly, other producers began to copy Crow, so that by the Civil War or immediately thereafter, bourbon generally was being made in a way that we would recognize today.

    Mike, serious and responsible historian that he is, might not approve of the amount of conjecture and extrapolation I needed to reach that conclusion, but I'm pretty convinced. I know Mike also has his doubts about the "Old Bourbon" theory. Happily, the available facts aren't good enough for anyone to score a slam dunk.

    --Chuck Cowdery

  5. #5
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    Re: When Did Bourbon Become Bourbon?

    Andy,
    That is one way of looking at the question, but is it the only way? Like I said I have my opinions but I want to here yours. So when do you think bourbon started tasting like the bourbon we know and love today? And why do you think that?
    Mike Veach


  6. #6
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    Re: When Did Bourbon Become Bourbon?

    Linn,
    I am familiar with Chuck's article and if I remember right Chuck and I had some interesting discussion on the subject while he was writing it. So are you saying that it is the name alone that made bourbon, "Bourbon" in the modern sense of the word?
    Mike Veach


  7. #7
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    Re: When Did Bourbon Become Bourbon?

    Chuck.
    So are you saying that all "Bourbon" aged by Crow was in new charred oak barrels? Are you saying that this aging process is what makes bourbon "Bourbon"?
    Mike Veach


  8. #8
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    Re: When Did Bourbon Become Bourbon?

    Mike,

    In a big way, I have to agree with Linn; bourbon first became bourbon when folks started asking for "thet thar, whatchacall 'bourbon' whiskey". But it's only correct as far as the name goes. What they called "bourbon whiskey" was basically any American whiskey that wasn't rye. I think the bourbon we know today began with (please forgive me, Linn) the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms definitions after Prohibition. Before then, "Thet thar, whatchacall 'bourbon' whiskey" had degenerated to become just about anything you could drink that would make you dizzy. If was clear it was gin; if it wasn't, they dyed it brown with tobacco and prune juice, spiked it with fusel oil and pepper, and called it "Old Bourbon". Oh, there were indeed lots of distillers making excellent bourbon (maybe even better bourbon than today -- but I doubt it), and the fine whiskeymakers of today are nearly all their descendents. But they were in the minority. According to Edmund H. Taylor and John G. Carlisle, WAY in the minority. Congressional hearings in 1896 found that a little over 2 million gallons of bourbon that we'd call straight bourbon today was being sold annually... while 105 million gallons were used to mix up well over 900 million gallons of, well something. And that was sold as "bourbon", too! So now I have to disagree with Linn and say that it wasn't "bourbon" because the Plain Honest Distiller Folks made it. No, they just made good whiskey. Crooks made much more "bourbon" than honest distillers did. It was the nasty old Federal Gov'ment that brought about the bourbon we enjoy today.

    =John=
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

  9. #9
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    Re: When Did Bourbon Become Bourbon?

    Oh Boy Mike here we go! I am applying a standard sociological concept known as labeling therory. Humans interact symbolically with sounds (speech and other sonic signals) and through the written word. This is called symbolic interactionism. Words are labels. When the corn whiskey was shipped out for sale no matter where it ended up apparently people liked it and wanted more of that whiskey from Bourbon, Virginia. Eventually they simply asked for bourbon. No it wasn't the finely crafted and aged sour mash whiskey we know as bourbon today. People had to start calling it bourbon before the distillers put the term on their labels. The term bourbon had to be in fairly common usage before distributers could advertize that they had bourbon for sale. This is an example of a "trickle up" therory. The common man defines the term or label through common usage.

    Linn Spencer

    Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

  10. #10
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    Re: When Did Bourbon Become Bourbon?

    John you're reading much more into the question than what is there. When did bourbon become bourbon? Not "what happend to it after that?"! The answer to that question *IS* the book that Mike is trying to write.

    Linn Spencer

    Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

 

 

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