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Bourbon is a type of American whiskey that is barrel aged and distinctively made with corn. Distilled since the early 18th century, the name “Bourbon” was not acquired till the late 1850’s and the Kentucky etymology was not introduced until the 1870’s. While bourbon may be produced anywhere within the USA, it is strongly associated with the South, Kentucky, and Tennessee in particular.
In 1964 the United States Congress recognized bourbon as a distinctive product of the US and noted that bourbon sold must be produced from at least 51% corn and stored in a new or charred oak barrel that must be distilled to no more than 80% ABV (160 poof).
The origins of bourbon as a distinct form of whiskey are not well documented, therefore making the history debatable but the distilling was most likely brought to present day Kentucky in the late 18th century by the Scottish, Irish and other settlers.
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, counties was Bourbon, established in 1785 and named after the French royal family. Located within Bourbon was the principal port on the Ohio River, Maysville, Kentucky, from which whiskey and other products were shipped.
As the distribution of bourbon out of this port began, they would stencil “Old Bourbon” on the barrels to indicate their port of origin. Old Bourbon was the first of its kind as whiskey was usually developed out of a variety of grains such as barley, rye, and wheat, whereas bourbon whiskey was the first corn whiskey most people had ever tasted.
Although many distilleries operated in Bourbon County historically, no distilleries operated there between 1919, when Prohibition began in Kentucky. Prohibition was devastating to the bourbon industry. With the ratification of the 18th amendment in 1919, all distilleries were forced to stop operating, although a few were granted permits to bottle existing stocks of medicinal whiskey. As time proceeded, a few distilleries were permitted to resume production due to the depletion of stock.
Bourbon is often described to contain rich flavor notes of tobacco, vanilla, caramel, and honey which are commonly suited with mixers such as cola, water, soda water and ginger ale.