In August, 2007 the United States Senate declared that September be recognized as National Bourbon Heritage Month. While this may not have much impact with the average consumer, it is an honor for the craftsmen in the bourbon industry. The designation is designed to celebrate "America's Native Spirit" and the significant historical, economical and industrial role the bourbon industry has played in the country's history.
Because I'm a history buff, especially when it comes to the history of fine spirits and cocktails, I am providing a timeline of significant events in the history of bourbon whiskey. Throughout this month, I will feature and celebrate bourbon cocktails and discuss the intricacies of bourbon as it relates to other whiskies and what it truly is and is not.
1869- Ripy Family Distillery Opens
Lawrenceburg, Kentucky is home to what was originally called the Ripy Family Distillery, and what is now Wild Turkey Hill. The Ripy's began a long tradition of bourbon production on the site an their whiskey was chosen from a list 400 bourbons to represent Kentucky at the 1893 World's Fair. The distillery is now the home of Wild Turkey Bourbon.
1920-1933- U.S. Prohibition
The Temperance Movement finally got what they wanted when the U.S. Congress passed the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol. The entire adult beverage industry was shattered, hundreds of businesses were shut down and many went underground. The majority of bourbon distilleries were closed, many to never reopen, but a few, like the Samuels and Beam families, came back after the repeal of Prohibition and resurrected the craft of bourbon distilling. The government issued 10 licenses to produce whiskey for medicine during the time, only six of which were ever activated. One of those companies was Brown-Forman, who now produces Woodford Reserve Bourbon on the site of the Prohibition era distillery.
1964- "America's Native Spirit"
An act of Congress declared bourbon as "America's Native Spirit" and the country's official distilled spirit. At this time the current regulations defining what can be called bourbon whiskey were established.
1973- Outshined by Vodka
For the first time in history, more vodka was sold in the United States than whiskey. Many factors played a role, including James Bond and an increase in younger, female drinkers looking for a lighter drink.
2004- American Whiskey Trail Launches
The American Whiskey Trail is an educational trip to many of the distilleries and other historical sites in Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia, along with two rum distilleries in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The focus of the continental section of the trail is on the history of the whiskey distilling business, which has long dominated the area. The trail includes distillery tours of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and Maker's Mark, along with George Washington's Distillery at Mount Vernon and the Frauces Tavern where he gave his farewell speech.