The annual Whiskies of the World Expo rolled into Atlanta last week to bring together distillers from around the world to share their finest spirits and knowledge with whisky enthusiasts.
For many Southerners, there is only one type of whiskey: bourbon. Made primarily (but not only) in the South, bourbon is a point of national pride for American whiskey lovers. As such, a bourbon has to conform to several strict, government-mandated standards, the three most important being: that the whiskey is made exclusively in the good old U.S. of A.; is made from no less than 51% corn; and, is aged in charred oak barrels.
Bourbon gets its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where it originated. In the 18th century, many immigrants from Scotland and Ireland settled in Bourbon County, bringing with them the secrets to distillation. As they began new lives as farmers, they used excess corn and grain harvests and their knowledge to make early American whiskey. As a reference to its point of origin, whiskey bottles were stamped with ‘Old Bourbon Whiskey’ when was exported to other states and the name caught on. Around or after 1840, the drink was just referred to as bourbon.
While bourbon whiskey is by far the most famous kind of American whiskey, it’s not the only kind: Tennessee whiskey (another Southern invention) which is similar to bourbon, but uses a special method, and rye whiskey that must contain at least 51% rye, rather than 51% corn, are included as well.
All these American whiskies have one thing in common: near extinction. They were all almost wiped out by Prohibition in 1920. This full-on, nationwide ban on alcoholic drinks had a devastating effect on legal whiskey distilleries, with home whiskey distillation, speakeasies and moonshine runners ruling the day. When Prohibition was finally repealed in 1933, order was restored to the production of these great American whiskeys. Since then, the industry has exploded and today presents great competition for Scottish and Irish distillers.
Because we care so much for you, our readers, we endured countless tasting of Southern whiskies for you (tough job, right?). Here are the results of our endeavors:
While we received media credentials to attend the Atlanta Whiskies of the World Expo, all opinions expressed are our own.