Until the early 20th century, Bourbon was the predominant choice of the American drinker. The Scots, Irish, and other immigrants had adapted their distilling skills to American corn and the unique soil, climate, and limestone waters of Kentucky.
However, two events in US history devastated the Bourbon industry, the first of which was Prohibition. As smugglers brought in the lighter styled blended Scotch and Canadian Whiskies, American tastes changed. When Prohibition ended, Bourbon slowly began to regain its foothold in the market.
The entrance of the US into WWII interrupted this, though, causing American distilleries to halt spirits production and begin producing industrial alcohol for the war effort. After the war, Bourbon had a difficult time reclaiming its place at the forefront as, once again, Scotch and Canadian Whiskey had become the consumer's choice, particularly in the high-end category.
Thanks to the efforts of the Samuels family at Maker's Mark in the late 1950s and 1960s, Bourbon began its comeback. They bucked industry trends, believing the market was ready for a more expensive, well-crafted Bourbon and they were eventually proven correct.
Now, small-batch, single-barrel and other such categories fill the market and well-made Bourbon is in great demand. So sit back, relax, and grab your sipping glass to enjoy the renaissance with one of our fine Bourbons.
Bourbon is made from a mashbill of corn, malted barley, and rye or wheat as a flavoring grain. Federal standards state Bourbon must be:
- made from grain at least 51% corn (most marketed today are at least two-thirds);
- aged in new charred oak barrels (most today are aged at least 4 years);
- distilled to no more than 80% alcohol by volume;
- entered into barrel for ageing at no more than 62.5% alcohol by volume; and
- bottled at 40% alcohol by volume or more.
Bourbon meeting these standards; aged at least 2 years; and containing no added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits may be called Straight Bourbon. If an age is stated on the bottle, it is of the youngest whiskey in the bottle.
This act in 1897 was established to guarantee a whisky's authenticity at a time when spirits could be a blend of who knows what. To be labeled as bonded:
- Produced in one distillation season by one distiller at one distillery.
- Aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof.
- The label must specify where it was distilled and bottled.
- Must be produced in the U.S.
Tennessee Whiskey is basically Bourbon that has undergone the "Lincoln County Process" of maple charcoal filtering before being aged in barrel.
In the past decade or so, there has been a tremendous growth in new whisky and bourbon brands. Many of the smaller companies are "NDP's", non-distilling producers, that is, they source their product from somewhere else. Some may age, blend and bottle, others nothing at all, others somewhere between. Very few admit this, and some are very misleading. With only a few exceptions, our bourbons are not NDP's, but are distilled, aged and bottles by who is on the bottle. For a thorough list of distillers and bottlers, see Sku's Recent Eats (recenteats.blogspot.com).