On a recent visit to the Georgia's Lake Country between Augusta and Atlanta, we were very fortunate to experience Southern hospitality together with a taste of Bourbon. Bourbon is a type of whiskey along Scotch and Rye. Whiskey, spelt with an "e" is produced stateside, while many other countries call their product “whisky.”
American whiskey often celebrates individuals who represent idealized values—independence, pragmatism, and guts—of the American frontier. It’s a patriotic formula that markets well, even though many of the stories behind the brands are false. For example, Elijah Craig is occasionally credited with inventing bourbon and Evan Williams is often called Kentucky’s “first” distiller, even though historians have long dismissed the claims. Believe it or not, the first Whiskey Bourbon brand in America was of Jewish origin, created by a Jewish immigrant by the name of Isaac Wolfe Bernheim. Isaac's last name came from Bern, Switzerland, which his family fled for Germany in the fourteenth century. Then, 500 years later, Bernheim left for America. Along with his brother, they started the first Bourbon distillery in Paducah, Kentucky. The saga matched any frontier tale, but in spite of that Bernheim still felt that his ethnic surname would draw prejudice if he used it as a brand. He compromised by placing the Anglo-Saxon “Harper” after his own first two initials to create the I.W. Harper bourbon.
If you ever visit Heaven Hill distilleries, the largest family owned distillery and second biggest holder of bourbon stocks in the nation (behind Jim Beam), it is worth seeing the Bourbon Heritage Center that sits on the company’s grounds in Bardstown, Kentucky. Built into the architecture, the wooden rafters above the tasting room are held up by iron supports shaped like the Star of David. You have to look carefully for them, though. The gesture is subtle, even though it carries the weight of some of bourbon’s first and most famous names.
Bourbon, whose name comes from an area known as “Old Bourbon” in Kentucky, is distilled from corn. For a whiskey to be considered bourbon, the grain mash must be at least 51 percent corn. On top of that, by law, the mixture must be stored in charred oak containers and cannot contain any additives. From “Mad Men” episodes to modern nightclubs, neighborhood bars to interoffice gifts, bottles of bourbon have been popping up on our collective radar in the last several years.
Here are our few favorites and two cocktails we savored in the company of Southern charm that will do wonders for our internal temperatures this winter. Why not give Bourbon a taste this New Year?
Appearance: Clean, Brilliant Honey Amber
Nose: Heavy with rich Dried Fruit, hints of Mint and Oranges, covered with a dusting of Cocoa. Faint Vanilla and Tobacco Spice
Taste: Rich and Rounded, smooth with Citrus, Cinnamon and Cocoa
Finish: Silky Smooth, almost Creamy at first with a long, warm satisfying finish
Appearance: Deep, Dark Amber
Nose: Notes of Maple Syrup, Toasted Nuts and Oak
Taste: Silky Smooth, almost Creamy at first with a lingering warmth
Finish: Long and Smooth, with more kick than most
Appearance: Medium Amber in color
Nose: Gentle Spiciness and Sweet Oak Aromas
Taste: Mid-palate is smooth with tones of Maple, Oak and Nutmeg
Finish: Long, Dry and Satiny with a light Toffee flavor
Author: Aruña Chong Quiroga
Ref: "The Jewish Origins of Kentucky Bourbon" by Reid Mitenbuler, The Atlantic | May 2015
"The Real Difference Between Whiskey, Bourbon, Scotch and Rye", The Huffington Post | March 2016