National Bourbon Day, celebrated annually on June 14th, is a day to raise a glass and honor the spirit of America: bourbon whiskey. First distilled in the late 18th century in Kentucky, this beloved American whiskey has become popular worldwide for its unique flavor profile and rich history – one deeply rooted in our nation’s past. So let’s take some time today to learn how bourbon became such an important part of American culture.
Bourbon whiskey is a type of American whiskey distilled from grain mixtures of at least 51% corn, the remainder typically rye, wheat, and malted barley. It must also be aged in new, charred oak barrels for at least two years – this helps give bourbon its signature flavor and color. The origin of the term “bourbon” is disputed, but there are two likely explanations. Originally, bourbon was named after Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it was first produced in the late 1700s; alternatively, it derived from the French family name of Bourbon, who were prominent in importing whiskey from Scotland to America.
The importance of bourbon whiskey to American culture can’t be overstated. It was a major staple during colonial times and eventually became an important currency source throughout many parts of the country. By 1820 bourbon had become so popular that almost half of all distilled spirits produced in America were bourbon whiskeys! Even during the American Revolution, when people began drinking less Cognac and Rum due to high taxes imposed on imported goods by Britain at the time, local distilleries stepped up production to meet the demand for more affordable options like corn-based liquors like whiskey—which became known as ‘bourbon’ due to its association with Kentucky county where it originated.
During the Prohibition era, bourbon distilleries faced significant challenges as the production, sale, and transportation of alcohol were banned. Many distilleries were forced to shut down, while others managed to survive by adapting their operations. Some obtained licenses to produce whiskey for “medicinal purposes,” which allowed them to continue limited production and maintain their facilities. Others diversified their businesses by venturing into producing non-alcoholic products such as soft drinks, malt syrup, or industrial alcohol. A few distilleries even stayed afloat by secretly producing and selling bourbon through underground channels. As a result, when Prohibition was eventually repealed, these resilient distilleries were able to revive their bourbon production and contribute to the industry’s resurgence.
In recent years bourbon has seen a resurgence in popularity – so much so that rare vintage bourbons have become highly sought after by collectors and connoisseurs alike, driving prices sky-high for certain aged bottles! This newfound popularity has led distilleries across America to keep up with demand by investing heavily in expanding their aging programs offering even more delicious ways to enjoy exquisite bourbons crafted specifically for those looking for something truly unique and remarkable. Scammers have even filled bottles with other products to try to re-sell the highly sought-after products that fall into the luxury bourbon category.
Why is June 14th significant? According to legend, it is said that bourbon was first produced by Reverend Elijah Craig on this day in 1789. The story suggests that Craig, who was already a renowned distiller, was either heating oak staves over a fire during barrel-making or charring a barrel previously used for storing fish to eliminate the odor.
Additionally, in 2007, celebrations around Bourbon expanded when the U.S. Senate designated September as “National Bourbon Heritage Month.” Introduced by Kentucky Republican Senator Jim Bunning, the bill encourages bourbon enthusiasts to honor their appreciation for the spirit responsibly and respectfully throughout the month of September.
Today, National Bourbon Day has become a way for us to honor this iconic spirit that has played an integral role in shaping American history and culture over centuries— so pour yourself a dram or visit us at Grey Hen Rx for one as we cheers to this great quintessential drink!