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Kentucky Bourbon

Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking

Henry G. Crowgey
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Kentucky Bourbon
    Book Description:

    Bourbon whiskey is perhaps Kentucky's most distinctive product. Despite bourbon's prominence in the social and economic life of the Bluegrass state, many myths and legends surround its origins. In Kentucky Bourbon, Henry C. Crowgey claims that distilled spirits and pioneer settlement went hand in hand; Isaac Shelby, the state's first governor, was among Kentucky's pioneer distillers. Crowgey traces the drink's history from its beginnings as a cottage industry to steam-based commercial operations in the period just before the Civil War. From "spirited" camp meetings, to bourbon's use as a medium of exchange for goods and services, to the industry's coming of age in the mid-nineteenth century, the story of Kentucky bourbon is a fascinating chapter in the state's early history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4416-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    Bourbon whiskey, for all the parochialism its name might imply, is most of all a distinctive national product, unique to its native land. On May 4, 1964, the United States Congress recognized it as such, and Senate Concurrent Resolution 19 makes this clear:

    That it is the sense of Congress that the recognition of Bourbon whiskey as a distinctive product of the United States be brought to the attention of the appropriate agencies of the United States Government toward the end that such agencies will take appropriate action to prohibit the importation into the United States of whisky [sic] designated...

  5. 1 Thirsty Colonists
    (pp. 1-20)

    The art of distilling was introduced into Europe in the twelfth century by way of Egypt and Moorish Spain and spread rapidly throughout the continent.¹ Its introduction into the adjacent British Isles during the thirteenth century has often been credited to that celebrated friar, Roger Bacon.² A familiarity with distilling, together with a penchant for the product, accompanied the colonists from England to the shores of America in 1607. The early Virginians, and indeed the settlers in all the Atlantic colonies, soon found ways to convert indigenous materials of fruit and grain into spirituous drink. A taste for alcoholic beverages...

  6. 2 Distillers Move to Kentucky
    (pp. 21-39)

    The first settlers of the Kentucky country arrived by one of the only two feasible routes. One of these routes, and by far the more frequently traveled during the early phase of settlement, was by way of the Wilderness Road which ran from the vicinity of Long Island (Kingsport, Tennessee) to Bean’s Station and into central Kentucky by way of the Cumberland Gap. Access to the Wilderness Road was through Sapling Grove (Bristol) to Long Island, or by way of Martin’s Station in the Powell Valley of southwestern Virginia. W. F. Dunaway states that the overland route was used almost...

  7. 3 The Product Improves
    (pp. 40-61)

    For the sake of sentiment and romantic tradition, it would be pleasant to record that a full-blown bourbon whiskey industry emerged from the limestone-layered soil of Kentucky at this time. However, the facts do not bear this out. The evidence suggests that, despite the taste of the early settlers for spirits, there was no such institution as a distinctive frontier beverage. The first few years of settlement were conspicuous for the introduction and use of a considerable variety of fruit and of grains other than the indigenous Indian corn. Accordingly, the distiller discriminated little in his choice of raw material...

  8. 4 As Useful as Money
    (pp. 62-82)

    As we have seen, the pioneer Kentuckian was both a zealous distiller and a glad partaker of his own product. In this he followed precedent, and in this and other aspects of those liquorous days, we can observe strong parallels with the attitudes and customs of an earlier time.

    We can reasonably assume, for example, that the builders of the frontier forts were inspired by, in addition to their fear of the Indians, occasional shots of hard liquor. In the spring of 1781, a new fort was constructed at a settlement which later became the town of Lexington. The expense...

  9. 5 A Hateful Tax
    (pp. 83-104)

    As we have seen, when whiskey came to Kentucky it already had a long history of involvement in American life. Government after government, surveying this frisky product, had sensed in its traffic a need of regulation. It was soon to show its capacity to justify and sustain a busy bureaucracy. Increasingly, the flowing bowl had been garnished with imposts, excises, licenses, and ordinances. Still, as any officeholder would have acknowledged, expensive wars had to be financed, statehouses and governors’ mansions had to be erected, roads and canals and schoolhouses were urgently needed—in short, nation-building was an expensive business. Liquor,...

  10. 6 Whiskey of Distinction
    (pp. 105-123)

    As we have seen, the first half-century of Kentucky distilling brought improvements in basic equipment—greater still capacity, the steam process, condensing chambers—all tending to increase the volume of production with a greater degree of efficiency. At about the same time there were numerous other developments in technique and a somewhat more sophisticated approach to advertising and marketing. Whiskey was becoming better and better. The genesis of a distinctive regional distillate—bourbon whiskey—was apparent for some time before the product acquired its name.

    To some extent, expediency had governed the initial phase of whiskey production in Kentucky, as...

  11. 7 Bourbon Whiskey: Miracle & Myth
    (pp. 124-144)

    The exceedingly vague background of the Kentucky distilling industry has encouraged the circulation of numerous fanciful and romantic interpretations; this applies equally to considerations of material, methods, and men. Several of the more conspicuous misconceptions have already been referred to in the preceding chapters and these, together with others of a similarly misleading nature, will be considered in the light of available documentary evidence.

    Not the least of the possible sources of confusion is in connection with the word “bourbon,” which was first applied to a newly created county of eighteenth-century Virginia and subsequently evolved into the definitive term denoting...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 145-164)
  13. Index
    (pp. 165-172)