This week, please welcome guest blogger Maria Ramos (@MariaRamos1889). She’s written an interesting guest post about the confluence of American craft spirits and modern entertainment media. Cheers! -SN
For millions of alcoholic beverage enthusiasts, bourbon is more than the sum of its grain alcohol ingredients. It goes beyond being merely a drink; passionate bourbon lovers would likely do anything for their favorite liquor and its homeland, the great state of Kentucky. Bourbontucky is a new documentary that brings bourbon lovers, distillers, and historians together to swap stories about the 200+ year history of bourbon in America. Detailing the rich history of this liquor, little-known facts about the manufacturing process and a few myths surrounding its origins, viewers will surely leave thirsty after watching it all the way through.
An Audience channel original film, you can catch the documentary on local DirecTV channels before it’s (hopefully) picked up for wider distribution. Bourbontucky was filmed in HD with beautiful cinematography, and the film features some great bluegrass music and plenty of warm Kentucky accents. Those in the know might remember the 1996 incident at Heaven Hill’s Distillery – Bourbontucky replays impressive aerial footage of the fire that was ignited by a lightning strike and responsible for the loss of seven full warehouses. It’s estimated that a total of 6% of the world’s bourbon was lost during that one event, and the film mentions the fact that Jim Beam generously donated whiskey to Heaven Hill following the incident. It then moves seamlessly to cover the bourbon craze of recent years; modern speakeasies and contemporary distillers are all given a chance to flaunt their craft. It’s clear that whiskey is experiencing a major renaissance.
In the colonial era, however, rum ruled the liquor cabinet. When trade stopped during the American Revolution, the Irish and Scots that settled in Pennsylvania and Maryland put their whiskey distilling skills to use and settlers began drinking more whiskey. Rye grain was prevalent in Pennsylvania, so most farmers used rye for their still houses. After the Whiskey Rebellion, many of the farmers moved to Kentucky and began to distil whiskey using corn, though rye was still more popular.
Corn-based whiskey evolved into what we know today as bourbon. For a whiskey to be bourbon, it must be created from 51 percent corn, and aged in oak casks that are charred to give it a unique taste. In the 19th century, Irish whiskey was so popular that Scottish distillers began shipping their whiskey to Ireland and selling it as Irish whiskey. During prohibition, most people drank Canadian whiskey that had been smuggled into the country. When prohibition was over, rye had lost its popularity, and more Kentucky distilleries produced bourbon. The popularity of Irish whiskey declined and it didn’t become popular again until the 1980’s and 90’s when the demand for vodka declined.
Bourbon regained popularity amongst craft spirit aficionados in part because of the popularity of Mad Men, even though its main character always drinks Canadian Club, a Canadian blended whiskey. It’s trendy to drink bourbon nowadays, as it was few years ago to drink martinis when vodka was in vogue. It’s been heralded as “the next big thing” because a younger generation of drinkers has embraced it as their own. Many young people love it, and identify with the “spirit” of the spirit itself. While some may still associate bourbon with Grandpa’s liquor stash, it’s time to look at bourbon for what it has become in recent years: a contemporary classic with vintage appeal.
New types of whiskey have garnered interest among spirit aficionados as well as the younger set of bourbon drinkers. Although rye had fallen out of favor for decades, it’s back and more compelling than ever. Distilleries of all sizes are releasing flavored ryes. One of the latest to hit shelves is Pow-Wow, a liquor with botanical infusions. Jim Beam, known for its excellent spirits, has also released its line of flavored bourbons, including “Kentucky Fire” and “Red Stag: Hardcore Cider”.
New distilleries are also making headlines. The Scottish company that produces Glenfiddich has acquired a distillery in Dublin, Ireland, and is producing an Irish whiskey under its new brand. Celebrities such as former soccer star David Beckham are also coming onboard and producing top-of-the-line whiskeys with upscale brands. Many restaurants are adding additional bourbon mixtures to their cocktail selections, and bars offer whiskey tastings to attract these younger drinkers. Australia has long had a reputation for being a beer-drinking culture, but recent years have seen the opening of whiskey-themed bars, especially in Melbourne. While some of Melbourne’s bars have an “old world” atmosphere, the clientele is younger and sophisticated. Whiskey-themed bars attract a lot of customers in their 20s and 30s – a large number of them female.
“America’s best spirit”, young people are increasingly drawn to the down-home charm of bourbon. The new documentary Bourbontucky will likely pique the interest of anyone who has tried the liquor before, but it also has the capacity to turn clear liquor drinkers into defectors. With hundreds of new whiskey-themed bars and speakeasies opening each year, the latest generation of bourbon fans won’t have to go all the way to the Bluegrass state to get their fix.
Maria Ramos (@MariaRamos1889)