Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Manifest Kentucky Destiny

October 07, 1998|CHARLES PERRY

To a Scotch drinker, Bourbon is a shock. Where Scotch has a smoky, peaty, gnarled quality, Bourbon is almost candy-like. It gets its flavor from the grain it's made with (by law, that must be at least 51% corn) and a minimum of four years' aging in charred oak barrels, which contribute vanilla and caramel flavors.

Nevertheless, Bourbon was largely created by Americans of Scottish ancestry. Along with schnapps-distilling Germans, Scots-Irish pioneers poured into Kentucky in the 1790s, partly to escape the taxes on whiskey that had led to the Whiskey Rebellion during George Washington's presidency.

In Kentucky, whiskey became more important than ever. Roads were so bad it was scarcely worth the trouble to haul your grain crop to town. On the other hand, whiskey was easier to transport and fetched a much better price. And Kentucky's limestone water was perfect for whiskey-making: friendly to yeast and free of iron, which spoils the flavor.

The pioneers had made rye whiskey back in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Corn grew better than rye in Kentucky, but corn whiskey was too sweet for their taste, so they would add some rye for backbone. Because Kentucky was a remote place, its whiskey spent longer in barrel than other kinds. As it happened, distillers would often char the barrels on the inside to sterilize them.

In short, by the 1820s, destiny had assembled the elements of Bourbon: corn and rye as the grains and charred barrel aging. It was only a matter of time before people recognized that a smoother, more richly flavored whiskey had been invented.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|