Fall…Into Bourbon. A great time to enjoy a great American Spirit

When we think of Fall, specifically October, thoughts of turning colors, cool air, football and backyard fires may enter our mind. But lets add one more thought…enjoying those things with an American invention that has grown in popularity over the years. And that is Bourbon. Bourbon is America’s only native spirit, declared by Congress in 1964.

A few fun facts to kick off this article… In the 1780’s Thomas Jefferson gave Kentucky farmers 60 acres to grow crops of “native origins” in what is Bourbon County. The county was named in honor of the French for their contribution during the Revolutionary War. If you guessed that the crop was corn or grain, you would be correct. Today, Bourbon is an $8.6 BILLION industry. Kentucky holds the key to the Bourbon industry. There are over 7 million barrels currently aging in Kentucky today. That represents 2 barrels for each resident of the state. In 2017 Kentucky exported $425 million in Bourbon outside of the state. In 2020 more than 24,000 people will owe their livelihood to the distilling industry with an annual payroll of $1.2 Billion and $10 Billion in economic output. Kentucky’s contribution to the state’s property tax bill is $14 million annually.

While the specific origins of Bourbon are sketchy…one fact that is agreed upon is pointing to the great state of Kentucky as the birthplace of what we know today as Bourbon. The first commercial distillery was opened by Evan Williams in 1783 on the banks of the Ohio river in Louisville and is still in operation today. The oldest whiskey family (The Samuel’s) produces Bourbon under a name most if not all of us who enjoy it will recognize…Maker’s Mark, which today is led by the Great Great Grandson of the Founder. The distillery for Makers Mark is located at Samuels Depot, Kentucky. Many bourbons we enjoy today make their home in Kentucky…Elijah Craig, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace to name a few. How many distilleries are there? In Kentucky alone there are 68 distilleries…up form 8 only a decade ago. You may be thinking that there are more than 68 brands of Bourbons. And you are right. Some distilleries produce different brands.

Let’s look at our favorite “go to” Bourbon…Buffalo Trace. This is a Bourbon that no home beverage center should be without. But within the Buffalo Trace family, there are multiple Bourbons, the most iconic and difficult to find is Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve, named after the founder of the distillery Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr. Other easier to find brands include Eagle Rare (also on my bar), Blanton’s (yup, that’s there too) as well as 15 other Bourbon’ s in their portfolio.

What is Bourbon? And how did it get its name? Bourbon is an American type of Whiskey. The name Bourbon was first introduced in the 1850’s. Prior to that it was called Whiskey. And it so happens that there is a Bourbon County in Kentucky, as previously mentioned. Originally Bourbon County was comprised of 14 modern day counties. Today 95% of the Bourbon produced is done so in Kentucky. So back to the first question…what is Bourbon? The creation or distilling of this spirit is what is different and a little more complex. What it boils down to is how much corn/corn mash is used and the aging process. Bourbon, by definition, is produced with a minimum of 51% corn mash. Today, most distillers are using close to 75% corn. Corn is sweet. The more corn used, the sweeter the taste. Bourbon must also be aged in charred white oak barrels. And each barrel can only be used once. It is the aging in barrels that gives bourbon its taste. And it must be aged in barrels for two years in order to be called Straight Bourbon. Bourbon is also boittled between 80 and 160 proof.

Kentucky is not the only hone to Bourbon. What about our home state of Connecticut? Yes, we do have a number of distilleries here. One that comes to mind, which is simply delicious is Litchfield Straight Bourbon, distilled in Litchfield Connecticut by the Baker Brothers. Our local neighbor, New York also produces some fine Bourbon, Taconic Distillery and Tuthilltown Distillery (you guessed it, all on my bar home) are excellent examples.

If you like Bourbon and are already a fan, great. If you have not tried it and don’t know what to get or what to spend, here are some thoughts. And this is based solely on personal preferences. For me, even though there is a chill in the air, I enjoy a glass of Bourbon on the rocks. Typically, measuring two fingers with just enough to cover the ice. There are many tastes (again based on the aging) that appeal to me. What does a bottle cost? Well, there is a great bottle in every price range. I tend to enjoy Bulleit Bourbon (also on my bar) at the lower price range at $28.00. For a few dollars more I go up to Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare. If I really want to treat myself there is Blanton’s, around $50 -$52 a bottle. I have to be honest here…I have not come across a Bourbon I have not liked. And like Wine, it is all about what you like and not what you spend. There are over a hundred brands of Bourbon at various prices. They are crisp and refreshing, fun to sip and have an interesting history and compelling heritage.

At Val’s in Putnam and Glennville, we are here to help you with your selection. Check out our website for tastings and special events. And as always, if you purchase a bottle that you do not like, bring it back and we would be happy to exchange for something that you do. We have been a part of the Greenwich Community since 1957 and look forward to assisting you with all of your wine, cocktail and spirits needs. Please look to next months article on what to serve on your Thanksgiving table!

By Jeb Fiorita and Peter Olson. Jeb is the owner of Val’s Putnam Wines & Liquors with locations in Greenwich and Glennville. Peter is a lover of bourbons, fine wines and spirits.