A History of Bourbon
When we left off in our story about whiskey, George Washington was stocking up on rye to warm his troops at Valley Forge in preparation for a long campaign against the British. There was another part of this story, happening across the Atlantic, that would eventually lead to a lovely sauce called bourbon.
When you think of bourbon, you don't usually think about guys like Louie. But you should. Because bourbon was named after him. Louis XVI was King of France from 1754 to 1793. Yep, right at the same time George Washington and Paul Revere were lighting the lanterns and packing the muskets. Louie turned out to be one of our greatest allies in the Revolutionary War. No, he wasn't a huge American Idol fan, he just hated the British. After all he'd just lost Louisiana and most of his West Indian colonies to Spain and England in the Seven Years' War. He saw the American Revolution as a handy way to get some quick revenge. He began secretly sending arms and supplies to Washington's army in 1776. In 1778 he officially joined the fight by signing the Treaty of Alliance. The rest is history.
Louie's family was The House of Bourbon. After the revoluion, a huge swath of southwestern Virginia territories across both sides of the Ohio River was named Bourbon County in appreciation of Louie's help during the war. Seven years later, in 1792, the State of Kentucky was formed, and Bourbon County split off from Virginia to become northeastern Kentucky. That large region was later cut up into many smaller ones, and the original territory became known as "Old Bourbon".
Git Us S'more O' That Old Bourbon
The main trading point in the country at this time was New Orleans. Barrels of whiskey came from all over the country to New Orleans. The barrels being made in Bourbon County, Ky., had "Old Bourbon" stamped on the side. They also had another unique feature. They spent weeks or months slowly drifting down the Ohio River sitting in charred oak barrels. By the time they got to The Big Easy, they were warm and mellow and very drinkable. People started asking for this whisky by name. First "Old Bourbon" and then just "Bourbon."
What Is Bourbon?
To be called "bourbon", whiskey must fill the following criteria:
Made from a grain mixture that is at least 51 percent corn
Aged in new, charred-oak barrels
Distilled to no more than 160 proof (80 percent)
Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof (62.5 percent)
Bottled at 80 proof or more (40 percent)