Louisville, Kentucky is a great central location for enjoying the Bourbon Trail and Craft Distillery Tours. Get more information about the Tours:
Buffalo Trace: A Timeless Craft
Bourbon whiskey is a type of American whiskey, a barrel-aged distilled spirit made primarily from corn. The origin of the name Bourbon is widely disputed whether it was derived from the namesake Kentucky county or New Orleans street. Bourbon has been distilled since the 18th century but the name "Bourbon" was not applied until the 1850s.
The origin of bourbon is not well documented. There are many conflicting legends and claims. There likely was no single "inventor" of bourbon, which developed into its present day form only in the late 19th century. Essentially any type of grain can be used to make whiskey, and the practice of aging whiskey and charring the barrels for better flavor had been known in Europe for many centuries. The use of the local American corn for the "mash" and oak for the barrels was making use of local materials by European-American settlers. The late date of the Bourbon County has led Louisville historian Michael Veach to dispute its authenticity. He proposes that the whiskey was named after Bourbon Street in New Orleans, a major port where shipments of Kentucky whiskey sold well as a cheaper alternative to French cognac.
Distilling probably was brought to present-day Kentucky in the late 18th century by Scots, Scots-Irish, and other settlers who began to farm the area in earnest. The spirit they made evolved, and became known as bourbon in the early 19th century due to its historical association with the geographic area known as Old Bourbon.
When American pioneers pushed west of the Allegheny Mountains following the American Revolution, the first counties they founded covered vast regions. One of these original, huge counties was Bourbon, established in 1785 and named after the French royal family. While this vast county was being carved into many smaller ones, early in the 19th century, many people continued to call the region Old Bourbon. Located within Old Bourbon was the principal Ohio River port from which whiskey and other products were shipped. "Old Bourbon" was stencilled on the barrels to indicate their port of origin. Old Bourbon whiskey was different because it was the first corn whiskey most people had ever tasted. In time, bourbon became the name for any corn-based whiskey.
A refinement was the sour mash process, by which each new fermentation is conditioned with some amount of spent mash, the wet solids strained from a previous batch of fermented mash, which still contain live yeast. The acid introduced by using the sour mash controls the growth of bacteria that could taint the whiskey and creates a proper pH balance for the yeast to work.
As of 2005, all straight bourbons use a sour mash process. A resolution of the U.S. Congress in 1964 declared bourbon to be a "distinctive product of the United States. That resolution asked "the appropriate agencies of the United States Government... to take appropriate action to prohibit importation into the United States of whiskey designated as 'Bourbon Whiskey.'"
Since 2003, high-end bourbons have seen revenue grow from $450 million to over $500 million, some 2.2 million cases, in the United States. High-end bourbon sales accounted for eight percent of total spirits growth in 2006. Most high-end bourbons are aged for six years or longer.
In 2007, United States spirits exports, virtually all of which are American whiskey, exceeded $1 billion for the first time. This represents a 15 percent increase over 2006. American whiskey is now sold in more than 100 countries. The leading markets are the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, and Japan.
Bourbon's legal definition varies somewhat from country to country, but many trade agreements require the name bourbon to be reserved for products made in the United States.
On May 4, 1964, the United States Congress recognized bourbon whiskey as a "distinctive product of the United States". Bourbon may be produced anywhere in the United States where it is legal to distill spirits. But most brands are produced in Kentucky, where bourbon production has a strong historical association. Iron-free water that has been filtered through the high concentrations of limestone, unique to the area, is often touted by bourbon distillers in Kentucky as a signature step in the bourbon-making process.
On August 2, 2007, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution sponsored by Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) officially declaring September 2007 "National Bourbon Heritage Month", marking the history of bourbon whiskey. Notably, the resolution claimed that Congress had declared bourbon to be "America's Native Spirit" in its 1964 resolution. However, the 1964 resolution had not contained such a statement; it had declared bourbon to be a distinctive product identifiable with the United States.
As of 2013, approximately 95% of all bourbon is produced in Kentucky. The state has 4.9 million barrels of bourbon that are aging – a number that exceeds the state population.
Bardstown, Kentucky is home to the annual Bourbon Festival held each September. It has been called the "Bourbon Capital of the World" by the Bardstown Tourism Commission and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival organizers who have registered the phrase as a trademark. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is the name of a tourism promotion intended to attract visitors to the distilleries in Kentucky, primarily including Four Roses (Lawrenceburg), Heaven Hill (Bardstown), Jim Beam (Clermont), Maker's Mark (Loretto), Town Branch (Lexington), Wild Turkey (Lawrenceburg), and Woodford Reserve (Versailles).
Bourbon is served neat, diluted with water, over ice cubes, or mixed with soda and into cocktails, including the Manhattan, the Old Fashioned, the whiskey sour, and the mint julep. Bourbon is also used in cooking and was historically used for medicinal purposes.