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Where Does Bourbon Come From?

Posted by Colonel Bourbon on

 We have seen the questions:

  • Where does bourbon come from?
  • Where is bourbon made?
  • Where was bourbon invented?

In short:  We have some answers, albeit wrapped in myth and legend.

Bourbon is a unique product of the United States 

This was made official by a U.S. Congressional Resolution in 1964, for the purposes of international trade. It's like Champagne which, to be called Champagne, must be from the Champagne region in France. Otherwise it must be called anything but, like sparkling wine.


As per the above resolution, bourbon whiskey can be made anywhere in the United States of America, but 95% is made in the state of Kentucky.

There are several reasons why Kentucky is #1.

  • The limestone water adds minerals and most importantly filters out iron, which they say can give the whiskey a bad taste.
  • Kentucky's hot summers and cool winters is said to be perfect for aging the charred oak barrels, the change between the seasons expanding and contracting the wood in the barrels.

Where does bourbon come from?

(Bourbon County Courthouse, located in Paris, Kentucky, built in 1902. Photo credit Creative Commons, W. Marsh.)

After the Revolutionary War, Americans thanked France by naming many geographical locations with French names, like Paris and the Bourbon dynasty.)

Is Jack Daniels bourbon?

Tennessee whiskey is arguably bourbon, but when Jack Daniels applied to make their bourbon, the request was denied by the government because their whiskey included the "Lincoln County Process" (a county in Tennesse), where the whiskey was finished by filtering through charcoal, resulting in its distinctive taste.

Where was bourbon invented?

Them's fighting words, or at least an opportunity to wag your tongue with some myth and legend. Truth is, we all don't really know the whole truth

There are a couple claims to being the "father of bourbon":

Elijah Craig

A Baptist minister in Kentucky who it is said first aged his charred new oak barrels (around 1789), which today is one of the key requirements for the definition of bourbon. One story is that those charred barrels of new oak was from an accidental fire -- so, what do we do with those damaged barrels now?

Elijah Craig

(Woodcut image depicting Elijah Craig,  considered an "inventor" of bourbon, distilling it in 1789, decades before the name of the "bourbon" whiskey became generally known by E.H. Taylor Jr. and others. Photo in public domain.)

Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr.

Colonel  Edmund Taylor is considered a father of bourbon because, decades after Craig, he was a distillery who established the definition of bourbon, with the Bottled in Bond Act. Before that, whiskey or whiskey was just a catch-all name for all matter of whiskey or swill.

"Here are the Bottled-in-Bond rules:

  • Has to be from one master distiller, in one distillery, from one season.
  • Aged in a federally-bonded warehouse for at least four years.
  • Bottled in glass at 100 proof"

Other inventions of lore

There are so many stories, which is half the fun in drinking America's copper- colored spirit. Distilled in Kentucky and thereabouts, the commodity would be shipped down the Mississippi River, being sloshed back and forth in the wooden barrels, soaking up all those tasty flavors, caramel, vanilla, spicy rye... The supply being on its way to Bourbon Street, New Orleans, from Bourbon County, Kentucky.

Further origins of bourbon

The bottom line is that many immigrants from Europe, ie from Scotland and Ireland, came to the new world, with their distillery talents. They used what was plentiful: CORN 🌽🌽. Today, bourbon, the distinctive product of the USA must be made from at least 51% corn.

Here are the rules that make it bourbon.

  • Must be made in the USA. In 1964, Congress mandated that bourbon had to be made in America to be called bourbon. It doesn't have to be in Kentucky, but it has to be in the US.
  • Has to be aged in new charred white oak barrels. This is what gives the juice its caramel, vanilla notes, and other flavors.
  • At least 51% corn
  • Not higher than 160 proof. The higher the proof, the more the flavors are removed. Think of vodka at 190; no flavor.
  • 125 proof into the barrel
  • 80 proof or higher into a glass bottle
  • Genuine, no additives or flavors.

Fast forward to 1964:

The United States, in an Act the bourbon world regards today as akin to the Declaration of Independence, declared bourbon to be America's native spirit.

Could bourbon or a kind of bourbon, be made anywhere else.

It is a good question. The hot summers and cool winters in Kentucky, the limestone water... Some folks have tried sloshing the aging whiskey around in the ocean -- check out Jefferson Ocean Aged at Sea.

The answer is part of the wonderful myths and legends. It is at the heart of our love for bourbon and our passion to create the best bourbon whiskey inspired t-shirts at Colonel Bourbon. 

"Our tees are distilled from the finest textiles, featuring the history, legends and myths of bourbon, America's whiskey. Pull up a chair, grab a glass, and mull over our selection."

Here's a video on bourbon, America's native spirit:

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