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Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey
An American Heritage
by Michael R. Veach

The University Press of Kentucky, 2013

This book is a history of the bourbon industry, beginning with its foundations in the small pot stills of American farmers in the late 1790s. It follows the growth of large distillers and rectifiers and the booms and busts of the beverage's market through wars and Prohibition, concluding with the emergence of craft distillers returning to small stills of the whiskey's origins.
Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey

"What made bourbon famous was the aging process employed by its distillers, one that took place in charred oak barrels," historian Michael R. Veach explains. "It was known at lease as early as the Roman Empire that water and wine stored in oak barrels charred on the inside stayed fresher longer. By the fifteenth century the process had been appropriated by the French to flavor and color brandy and cognac. And at some point in the early nineteen century it was adopted by Kentucky distillers and allowed them to produce a whiskey with a sweet caramel/vanilla flavor and a red color."

While the dating of bourbon's rise
is fairly clear, the names of the first bourbon makers and the origin of the "bourbon" label is still shrouded in history. Some believe "bourbon" refers to Bourbon County, Kentucky, where many of the state's earliest distilleries were located; others suggest it was named for the French royal family and was used as a marketing tool to make the whiskey more appealing to the large French population in New Orleans.

"Whatever its origins, bourbon gave Kentucky a reputation for making fine whiskey," Veach points out.

Extra-Aged Bourbons

Aged bourbons have been available since the 19th century, but in the early 1990s they took the whiskey market by storm, according to Veach's history.

"Their resurgence can be attributed to the foresight of Julian Van Winkle III, the grandson of Julian 'Pappy' Van Winkle of the old Stitzel-Weller Distillery. He joined his father in the business in 1977 and, after Julian Jr.'s death in 1981, added Old Rip Van Winkle, ten years old and at 90 and 107 proofs, to his portfolio of brands.

"Old Rip Van Winkle was made mostly with whiskey purchased from the old Stitzel-Weller Distiller, but Julian also purchased whiskey on the open market from other distilleries. One of these whiskeys was a twenty-year-old bourbon that was the last of the whiskey in the warehouses of the Old Boone Distillery in Jerfferson County, from which Julian created the brand Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve, bottled at 90.4 proof. The brand immediately won acclaim and was followed by a twenty-three-year-old version."

The bourbon industry was caught off-guard by the surge of interest in superpremium brands and the growth of the bourbon market in general and supply has had some trouble keeping up with demand.

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