Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage
Michael R. Veach
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On May 4, 1964, Congress designated bourbon as a distinctive product of the United States, and it remains the only spirit produced in this country to enjoy such protection. Its history stretches back almost to the founding of the nation and includes many colorful characters, both well known and obscure, from the hatchet-wielding prohibitionist Carry Nation to George Garvin Brown, who in 1872 created Old Forester, the first bourbon to be sold only by the bottle. Although obscured by myth, the history of bourbon reflects the history of our nation.
Historian Michael R. Veach reveals the true story of bourbon in Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey. Starting with the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, he traces the history of this unique beverage through the Industrial Revolution, the Civil War, Prohibition, the Great Depression, and up to the present. Veach explores aspects of bourbon that have been ignored by others, including the technology behind its production, the effects of the Pure Food and Drug Act, and how Prohibition contributed to the Great Depression. The myths surrounding bourbon are legion, but Veach separates fact from legend. While the true origin of the spirit may never be known for certain, he proposes a compelling new theory.
With the explosion of super-premium bourbons and craft distilleries and the establishment of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, interest in bourbon has never been higher. Veach shines a light on its pivotal place in our national heritage, presenting the most complete and wide-ranging history of bourbon available.
product used to preserve the wood of utility poles. Cochineal is a red dye made from the crushed, dried bodies of the female cochineal insect (Dactylopius coccus), which lives on cacti of Central America and Mexico. Not surprisingly, recipes for these imitation products were in great demand. One example of the books that began to appear on the market in response is Pierre Lacour’s ca. 1860 The Manufacture of Liquors, Wines and Cordials without the Aid of Distillation. Lacour gives recipes for
distillers were anxious to market their product before age ruined it but were unwilling to sell either their brand or their stocks, the license holders would act as intermediaries, holding the barrels in their warehouses, charging for labor and the material cost of bottling, and earning a modest commission (about $1.00 per case) on the sale. This arrangement obtained, for example, between A. Ph. Stitzel and W. L. Weller and the brands Henry McKenna, Old Charter, Cascade, and Waterfill and
International Corporation to handle the export of American whiskey and other spirits. Schenley also began expanding during this period. It acquired the New England Distilling Company (Covington, 96 The End of Prohibition and the Second World War James E. Pepper Distillery, Lexington, Kentucky, ca. 1900. (Courtesy United Distillers Archive) Kentucky) and its industrial rum business in 1935 and the Bernheim Distilling Company (Louisville) and its I. W. Harper, Old Charter, Belmont, and Astor
customer base that helped it retain its market share in the 1960s and beyond, even as other brands were losing theirs. Yet another marketing innovation to sweep the distilling industry in the 1950s was holiday packaging. Some of the best designers of the day were hired to create special bottles—more like decanters and often with stoppers that doubled as jiggers. The packaging was festive—although keeping within the industry’s self-imposed regulations for advertising—and often featured cocktail
records kept by the Bourbon County distiller John Corlis in the early 1820s that the price for whiskey in New Orleans was “40@43,” or forty gallons at $43, very close to the cost of whiskey in Kentucky.9 When the whiskey tax was repealed in 1817, therefore, there would have been a great incentive to age the spirit, making it more attractive to consumers and, thus, more profitable. It can further be inferred that it was probably not a distiller who invented bourbon whiskey but more likely a grocer