Bourbon: A Kentucky tradition

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Woodhouse Reserve Bourbon, made in Kentucky
Woodhouse Reserve Bourbon, made in Kentucky
backwoods of kentucky
backwoods of kentucky
More Kentucky scenery
More Kentucky scenery
Early Irish farmers settled in Kentucky
Early Irish farmers settled in Kentucky
One of the first crops grown in Kentucky
One of the first crops grown in Kentucky
Corn mash, used in the distilling of Bourbon was made from fresh corn
Corn mash, used in the distilling of Bourbon was made from fresh corn
Early settlers in Kentucky distilling whisky
Early settlers in Kentucky distilling whisky
White Oak barrels are use to ferment Bourbon
White Oak barrels are use to ferment Bourbon
Storing Bourbon
Storing Bourbon

Nothing says Kentucky like Bourbon.

An act of congress in 1964 declared Bourbon to be "America's Native Spirit" and its official distilled spirit. Most bourbons are distilled in Kentucky and it is widely believed that only Kentucky whiskey can be called Bourbon. Kentucky produces 95% of the world's bourbon, and to be called bourbon, it must be made in the US, contain at least 51% corn mash, and be distilled at 160 proof , then at 124 proof, then be put into charred white oak barrels for aging. The aging process takes 2 years. The resulting whisky is caramel in color with the flavor of vanilla and fruit. No other state can use the name Bourbon, even if it is made with sour mash, as the Kentuckians make it.

How it all began

Around 1780, early Scotch and Irish settlers and their descendants brought their whiskey making skills to America. Many of them settled in Kentucky and became farmers. They soon set about growing crops for their subsistence. Since corn was a native crop, it was grown abundantly in Kentucky, at that time. After a while, these frontier farmers began distilling their surplus corn and producing a new kind of whiskey. Distilling is the process of removing the alcohol from the corn mash by by heating it and capturing the vapor, which contains alcohol and flavor. According to legend, a Baptist preacher of Scottish heritage, who had come to Kentucky in 1786, aged his whiskey in barrels that had been charred on the inside. This whiskey had a better, smoother taste, along with a distinctive amber color.

One of the three original counties in Kentucky was Bourbon County, established in 1785 when Kentucky was still a part of Virginia. Bourbon was named after Bourbon County, where it was first distilled in 1789. Farmers soon began shipping it from the port on the Ohio River in Bourbon County, down the Mississippi River to New Orleans in Oak barrels, used as shipping containers. The whiskey aged during shipment and its flavor was mellowed by the oak wood. This Bourbon County corn whisky grew in popularity, and by the early 1800s, corn whiskey, produced in other parts of central Kentucky, came to be known as Bourbon whiskey.

A group of distillers became legendary in the area: "Jacob Beam brought his family from Maryland in the late 1780s and started his first distillery in Washington County. Dr. James Crow (Old Crow), arrived in Kentucky in 1823 from Scotland, developed the process of making Bourbon known as the “sour mash method” in 1835. Basil Hayden began distilling whiskey in Kentucky as early as 1796. T. W. Samuels turned his family’s Nelson County farm into a distillery in 1844. Elijah Pepper set up a still near Frankfort in 1778. A grand-nephew of President Zachary Taylor, Col. Edmund H. Taylor, Jr., who began his career in 1867, pioneered the “Bottled in Bond Act” which was passed by Congress in 1897." (taken from Buffalo Trace Distillery historical notes).


The modern distillation process
The modern distillation process
Branding Makers Mark Bourbon: Each bottle is dipped into red wax before boxing
Branding Makers Mark Bourbon: Each bottle is dipped into red wax before boxing
Mint Julep
Mint Julep
Pork flavored with Bourbon and Corn Mash
Pork flavored with Bourbon and Corn Mash
Barbecued Chicken marinated in Bourbon
Barbecued Chicken marinated in Bourbon
Chocolate-Bourbon cake
Chocolate-Bourbon cake
Chocolate Bourbon Balls
Chocolate Bourbon Balls
Bourbon-laced Sweet Potato Pie
Bourbon-laced Sweet Potato Pie


Mint Juleps

Kentucky takes pride in its traditional Mint Julep, made with Kentucky Bourbon. It is always made with fresh mint, bourbon and plenty of crushed or shaved ice. It grew out of Kentucky traditions and the Kentucky Derby. But, ever since plantation days when gentlemen farmers started the day with a similar sweet and herbal drink made with rum or whisky, many other southern states also lay claim to the drink, including North Carolina and Virginia. I am not fond of Mint Juleps. I don't drink, but even if I did, I wouldn't drink them. However: I do know how to make them and, if you'ld like to try one, here's a good recipe with a little history to boot.

Cooking with Bourbon

Today, Bourbon is used in many recipes. It lends a flavor of vanilla, caramel, charcoal and a light wood taste and works well with both sweet and savory dishes. Similar to brandy in flavor, a good well-aged bourbon can replace brandy in most recipes. Traditionally used in desserts and candy, it's also frequently used in barbecue sauces, marinade and many main dishes. Some popular uses are in the following dishes: candied yams, bourbon shrimp, bourbon barbecued chicken, beef, or pork, grilled orange/bourbon salmon, apple/bourbon baked ham, various sauces and marinades, sweet potato pie, chocolate/nut pie, coffee/bourbon ice cream shakes, chocolate/bourbon cake, and chocolate candy bourbon balls. Recipes for these dishes and more can be found on the Internet. Beverage and food recipes, using Bourbon, can also be found at The Woodford Reserve Distillery site.

Does the alcohol cook out?

Whether alcohol remains in a finished dish after cooking, and how much, depends on the cooking method. When foods are cooked on high heat for a long period of time, such as soups and stews, the majority of the alcohol evaporates out. Pure alcohol boils at 173 degrees F., a lower temperature than water (212 degrees F.). So, you will find that recipes, which intend for some of the alcohol to remain, will have instructions to add the alcohol near the end of the cooking process so it will not boil out. Obviously, uncooked recipes will retain the majority of the alcohol.

If you are worried about serving a dish cooked with alcohol to a child, alcohol is a naturally-occurring substance in many foods, particularly fruits with a high sugar content such as very ripe apples. The amount used in a recipe is usually very minimal and is spread out over a large volume of food, comparatively-speaking. It is a personal decision, of course, still, it is a good idea for those on anti-abuse medication for alcohol problems to avoid foods cooked with alcohol.


 

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Comments 23 comments

emohealer profile image

emohealer 7 years ago from South Carolina

Very nice! I never knew the actual history of bourbons, well depicted as well. I don't indulge in the alcoholic beverages, but have enjoyed the flavor it can add to cooking at times. Super information about the results from cooking, I've often wondered about that...Thanks!


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Yeah, I don't drink alcoholic beverages either, but living in Kentucky, you can't escape the existence and the history of it. I like it for cooking too.


maggs224 profile image

maggs224 7 years ago from Sunny Spain

An excellent hub very interesting and lots of lovely photos which I liked very much. It almost makes me want to taste some but I don't really like spirits so I will settle for reading this hub and maybe one of those chocolates.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Sounds good to me. You are talking to a t-totaler here. But I sure do love chocolate. Thanks for the nice comments.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

Not much of a drinker either, but I love cooking with sherry, wine and brandy - not all at once, of course! As for the spirits - In South Africa we have a tree called the marula which has abundant fruits. These have for many, many years been used to produce a liqueur. There are also chocolates with centres of marula cream - simply divine and quite the best way to have spirits, in my humble view!

Thanks for such an interesting Hub.

Love and peace

Tony


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks, Tony for the comments. Those chocolates with manula cream centers sound so good.


BrianS profile image

BrianS 7 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

I just wonder how they got on during the prohibition years, not a good time for anyone distilling whiskey, or perhaps it was.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Well, I think a lot of distilling went on during that era, but getting it to the customer may have required a bit of ingenuity. Thanks for the comment, Brian


SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

Wow I never knew all those things about bourbon. I am not a big drinker myself, but liquor is great for enhancing the flavors in cooking. The bourbon fried chicken sounds pretty yummy about now.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks, SP, for the nice comments. I could go for some of that chicken too. Just wrote an article of Examiner about Thanksgiving dinner and now I'm starving!!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

So informative. I don't know beans about whiskey and always wondered what was the difference between the whiskies. Now I know what bourbon is. (Love that bourbon chicken)


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

We have something in common: I love Bourbon Chicken too. Thanks for the comments.


ralwus 6 years ago

Excellent hub. I love my Bourbon almost as much as my Scotch. I will not drink adulterated with anything like mint or water.

Hey, I must tell you my Mom was born in Louisa and Dad in Wolf County not far from the Natural Bridge. Dad's family started out in Lower Troublesome Creek.


jj200 profile image

jj200 6 years ago from My Bedroom

Great info, I guess living in KY has really rubbed off on you! Great photos too, you made me want to visit and get some good home-cookin'!

I had no idea that the Irish and Scotch settled in KY, that's fascinating, and what a great story as to the birth of bourbon. I admit, I usually go overseas for my whiskey (Scotch or Irish whiskey), but Jim Beam was my introduction and Maker's Mark is certainly in my cabinet.

And yes, ralwus, it's best not to taint the flavor with anything but your own saliva! Neat or nothing.

Cheers


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks JJ, for digging up some of my favorite past hubs. This one was fun to write. I like historic articles that require a little research....you can learn a lot that way.


loriamoore 6 years ago

Growing up here, I forget that not everyone knows the history of bourbon. Thanks for the info. Good hub.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

You're welcome. Thanks for the comment.


mio cid profile image

mio cid 4 years ago from Uruguay

I loved this hub, specially since I just discovered bourbon due to a friend that talked to me so much about it that i decided to try it,I've enjoyed alcoholic beverages since I was about eleven years old, and I have tried almost all beverages known to man, but as far as my preference it has always been blended scotch on the rocks, but now I really have acquired a taste for real bourbon, so far I have tried Makers Mark,Knob Creek,and Woodford Reserve, each one is very distinct and different but I don't know at this point if I could say that one is better than the other.Great hub!!voted up, etc...


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 4 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Wow you started young.Glad you enjoyed the hub


mio cid profile image

mio cid 4 years ago from Uruguay

Well,you write interesting informative and engaging hubs so that makes for enjoyable reading.I started early, but I have always drank just enough to enjoy what I'm drinking,I wish it was the same with food so I wouldn't have to carry around thirty or forty extra pounds with me.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 4 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks for the compliment on my writing. And sorry about the 30-40 extra pounds LOL


shin_rocka04 profile image

shin_rocka04 3 years ago from Maryland

Really great history lesson and some great info on some of the most popular cocktails. Great hub. Bourbon and chicken? Sounds like a great dish to try out! =).


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 3 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

I like to cook with Bourbon, Sherry, wine, and even beer. It make whatever you add it to more flavorful. You just have to be careful not to overdo it. Thanks for the nice comment.

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