Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: Great Myths of American Whiskey

American whiskey is filled with myths and legends that are often repeated and universally believed despite their fallaciousness. I've read so much debunking of distillery histories, much of it by Chuck Cowdery in his excellent newsletter, the Bourbon Country Reader, that I don't believe any claims made about distilleries on the back of the bottle anymore. But there are even more fundamental myths that continue to pervade the world of American whiskey. Here, we set out to debunk four of the most prevalent.

Myth #1 Bourbon Must be Made in Kentucky

I have debunked this myth in previous posts, but no matter how much I shout, I always seem to hear this myth repeated. I won't belabor it this time except to restate that Bourbon can me made anywhere in the United States. The micro-distillery movement may play a role in quashing this long-enduring myth once and for all. As new distillers start to make Bourbon all over the country, people will begin to realize that Bourbon is not a state-specific spirit.

Myth #2 Bourbon County, Kentucky is a Dry County

It would be a delicious irony that the county from which America's premier spirit took its name was dry, if it were true. It's not. You can, indeed, buy a Bourbon in the spirit's namesake county, though no Bourbon is produced there anymore.

Some of the confusion may be due to Bourbon County, Kansas, which remained a dry county after prohibition, all the way up to 1992. Of course, Bourbon County, Kansas has no historical connection to the whiskey of the same name. If you're looking for an actual dry county that produces booze, you need look no further than Moore County Tennessee, home to none other than Jack Daniel's.

Myth #3 Jack Daniel's is a Bourbon

Jack Daniel's is a Tennessee Whiskey. As I have explained, before, Tennessee Whiskey is essentially the same as Bourbon except that after being distilled, it is filtered through sugar-maple charcoal, a technique known as the Lincoln County Process. Serious whiskey geeks argue about whether JD should really be considered a Bourbon as it fits the regulatory requirements, but as a matter of tradition and industry usage, it is not considered Bourbon but rather, the distinct category of Tennessee Whiskey.

Myth #4 There Are Dozens of Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries

This is less a myth than a misperception. If you walk into a well stocked liquor store, you will see dozens of Bourbon brands. This leads many people to believe that there are many more Kentucky Bourbon distilleries than the nine that actually exist. This is in part because many of the distilleries have multiple brands which do not list the distillery names on the label and in part because independent bottlers also market multiple brands without stating that they only buy and bottle the Bourbon but do not distill it.

This has always been a pet peeve of mine about American whiskey and over the next few weeks, I will be doing a run down of the Bourbon distilleries, bottlers and brands to give everyone a sense, once and for all, of where their Bourbon comes from.

Next Wednesday: The Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries

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