Bourbon is a unique, truly American spirit which is surrounded with a lot of common myths perpetrated by the layman and experts alike. With 4th of July round the corner I decided to visit the unique world of Bourbon and tackle some of the myths and explore what makes the spirit so unique and delicious. Here’s wishing all my readers and friends from the United States, a Happy Independence Day in advance!
Myth 1: American whiskey is called Bourbon
While Bourbon is an American whiskey not all American whiskeys are Bourbons. You may notice a standard Jack Daniels bottle is marketed as “Tennessee Whiskey” not Bourbon. Jack Daniel’s is not Bourbon, if I had a penny for every-time I heard “JD is my favorite Bourbon”… I would probably buy a distillery 🙂 ! JD undergoes a charcoal filtering process which isn’t used in making Bourbon.
For a whiskey to be classified as Bourbon it must be made in the U.S with a grain mixture called “the mash” consisting of at least 51% corn . Bourbons also must be aged till at least 80 proof and can go up-to a maximum of 160 proof( bottled strength). Additionally, in the U.S rye whiskey is also quite popular, again that is not a bourbon.
Myth 2: Bourbon is named after Bourbon County , Kentucky
While arguably the best bourbons in the U.S come from Kentucky and many theories attribute it’s birthplace to Bourbon county Kentucky, Louisville based Historian Michael Veach in an interview with Smithsonian’s Food and Think disputes the claim. According to Veach ‘People started asking for ‘that whiskey they sell on Bourbon Street” ( a reference to New Orleans’ famed Bourbon Street) hence the name Bourbon. Interestingly enough in Bourbon county Kentucky, since prohibition in 1919 no distilleries operated till a small distillery popped up in 2014, a gap of 95 years!
Myth 3: Elijah Craig invented Bourbon
A common tale that I have come across among many whiskey connoisseurs involves the story of a 18th century Baptist Minister named Elijah Craig inventing Bourbon . This while being a good selling point for the Elijah Craig brand , is nothing but an urban legend. Elijah Craig was a early settler in Kentucky seeking religious freedom and is attributed to developing educational institutions, paper mills and a distillery in Kentucky which is said to have originated bourbon. However, American historians later studied that the whiskey Elijah Craig made wasn’t any different from his contemporaries in that region . Bourbons were already in production and made of corn to distinguish from the rye based whiskeys popular in the Eastern corridor of U.S. Though I must say Elijah Craig Bourbon brand’s products are not mythical, they are quite heavenly!
Myth 4: You need a special water from Kentucky to make Bourbon
Unlike the regulations governing production of Scotch where the water used must be from Scotland, U.S Federal trade regulations for Bourbon do not specify what kind of water must be used in the making of Bourbon. Makers of Bourbon often advertise that they have used the water filtered by a limestone shelf in Bourbon county, Kentucky, which is nothing more than a selling point.
Myth 5: Bourbon must be taken neat with no ice and mixers
The only person who decides how to drink bourbon is you! Some of the best cocktails in the world are made using bourbon. Do not let others influence you in this regard. If you ask my personal opinion, I take it with a splash of cold water and a single cube of ice.However, I do enjoy the Mad Men favorite Old Fashioned, Manhattan and Whiskey Sour . You can check out my twist on the classic whiskey sour .
Are there any other myths related to bourbon that you are aware of? Please do let me know in the comments, and be sure to crack open a bottle for 4th!