Bourbon Whiskey is an American, distilled spirit that is made from American grain, and is usually produced in Kentucky. Whiskey was first created in the 1700s. It is said that, at that time, it was probably created in order for Kentuckians to use the corn that neither they nor their cattle could eat.
This corn-based spiritís name was derived from Old Bourbon, the town in which the spirit was transported to the market via its river port. Although it may seem as if Bourbon Whiskey has had its name forever, it has actually only been so since 1964. On May 4, 1964, Bourbon Whiskey was recognized by U.S. Congress as a product characteristic of the U.S.A. Guidelines called the Federal Standards of Identity were created for the spirit. Therefore, in order to be an actual Bourbon, strict standards must be followed.
The grain mixture used to create Bourbon must contain a minimum of 51 percent corn. When distilled, the end product can be no more than 80 percent ABV or 160 proof. The spirit created must be completely, 100 percent natural, meaning that only water can be added. When aged, it can only be done in charred oak barrels that are new.
Any bourbon that is aged for at least two years has the possibility of being named Straight Bourbon, although it is not a requirement. It is necessary for those aged under four years to have a label announcing how long it was aged.
Typically Bourbon is created using a grain mixture called mash that contains 70 percent corn, with the remaining percentage containing malted barley, rye and/or wheat. During what is referred to as the sour mash process, the mash is fermented and a particular amount of previously distilled mash is added in order to make sure that each batch has a consistent pH. Once the mash has been fermented, it is distilled to create a spirit that is clear. The final productís color comes from the aging process in charred oak barrels. Once the aging process is complete, it is removed from the barrel, water is added to dilute the spirit, and then it is bottled.
There are also high-end versions of the spirit, and those are aged for at least six years.
Today Bourbon is a staple in many bars, pubs, and home liquor cabinets. Revenue from the sale of the high-end spirit has risen to more than $500 million from $450 million since 2003. In fact, in 2006, these sales were responsible for around eight percent of the rise.
Although Bourbon Whiskey is an American spirit, its popularity has grown in other countries. It can now be found in stores in over 100 countries, although the United States is still among the leading markets. Considering how popular Bourbon Whiskey is in the United States, it is no surprise that the spirit has been given the huge honor of having its own month of recognition. In August 2007, U.S. Senate declared September 2007 to be National Bourbon Heritage Month.
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Bourbon is America's native spirit, but with a history and tradition steeped in the cultures of the earliest settlers. This unique American product has continually evolved and been refined over the past 200 plus years. Among the first settlers who brought their whiskey making traditions to this country were Scotch-Irish of Western Pennsylvania. Although whiskey was produced throughout the colonies (George Washington was among the noted whiskey producers of the time), these settlers of Pennsylvania are where bourbon roots began.
To help finance the revolution, the Continental Congress put a tax on whiskey production. So incensed were the settlers of Western Pennsylvania that they refused to pay. To restore order to the ensuing "Whiskey Rebellion" of 1791 to 1794, Washington was forced to send the Continental Army to quell the uprising. This turned out not to be as easy as Washington thought it might be. To save the government from a potentially embarrassing political situation and to avoid further troubles with the very tough and stubborn Scotch-Irish settlers, Washington made a settlement with them, giving incentives for those who would move to Kentucky (at that time part of Virginia). The significance of this is that the early whiskey was made primarily from rye, this was about to change with their move and "Bourbon" would be born.
The Governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, offered pioneers sixty acres of land in Kentucky if they would build a permanent structure and raise "native corn". No family could eat sixty acres worth of corn a year and it was too perishable and bulky to transport for sale; if it were turned into whiskey, both problems would evaporate.
This corn based whiskey, which was a clear distillate, would become "bourbon" only after two coincidentally related events happened. The French, having at that time their own territories in North America, assisted in the War of Independence against the British. In acknowledgment of this, French names were subsequently used for new settlements or counties. In the Western part of Virginia, the then county of Kentucky, was subdivided in 1780 and again in 1786. One of these subdivisions was named Bourbon County, after the French Royal House. Kentucky became a state in 1792 and Bourbon one of its counties.
Although Evan Williams, in 1783, might have been the first commercial distiller in Louisville, Bourbon is sometimes considered to have begun with the Reverend Elijah Craig from Bourbon County. The legend goes that he was a might thrifty and used old barrels to transport his whiskey to market in New Orleans. He charred the barrels before filling them, thus after his whiskey made the long trip to market, it had "mellowed" and taken on a light caramel color from the oak. Being from Bourbon County he started calling the whiskey "Bourbon". Interestingly today, there is no whiskey produced in Bourbon County.
In 1964, a congressional resolution protected the term "Bourbon" and only since then has the product been defined. The basic elements of Bourbon are that it must be a minimum of two years old, distilled under 160 proof, and be made from a mash of at least 51% corn. It must be aged in charred new oak barrels. Though the law does not stipulate origin, 99% of Bourbon Whiskey comes from Kentucky. Most consider the unique limestone spring water found in Kentucky the only water with that "just right" combination of minerals suitable enough for the finest Bourbons.
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