BOURBON COUNTY, Ky.—About 250 years in the past, farmers on the lookout for a option to make their surplus corn crop worthwhile determined to distill it. At present, that leftover grain has change into a billion-dollar business and a logo of the Bluegrass State’s id, economic system, and tradition.
“How bourbon happened is (what) … the American spirit appears to be like like: enterprise, independence, freedom, somewhat little bit of luck, and quite a lot of perseverance,” mentioned Justin Thompson.
Thompson and his colleague Justin Sloan are the proprietors of The Home of Bourbon, the world’s largest bourbon retailer, positioned on West Predominant Avenue in Lexington proper throughout from Mary Todd Lincoln’s childhood house.
And proper now, enterprise is booming.
Thompson and Sloan began amassing uncommon and classic bottles of bourbon 20 years in the past, when the drink was out of favor. Then, 4 years in the past, the state handed a legislation permitting the resale of distilled spirits and the duo opened their retailer, promoting not simply their stockpile however the historical past of the drink itself.
Bourbon is concocted from a strict formulation. “By legislation it must be made with a minimal of 51 p.c corn, aged in charred new oak barrels and saved at not more than 125 proof and bottled at at least 80 proof,” Thompson mentioned.
However its candy, wealthy taste was really born out of happenstance. Within the early days, one of the best marketplace for bourbon was on the East Coast, so farmers needed to ship their barrels down the Mississippi to Louisiana then round Florida and up the coast. The journey took months but additionally allowed the whiskey to age superbly.
“When retailers alongside the East Coast began marveling about this pink whiskey with its distinctive taste, that marked the start of the bourbon business,” mentioned Thompson.
In 1964, Congress deemed bourbon the nation’s native spirit, and there’s nothing extra American than having fun with a sip of the brown stuff in a basic cocktail like a mint julep or an Outdated-Normal on the Fourth of July weekend.
However it’s solely prior to now 10 years that America’s urge for food for bourbon has actually skyrocketed—and Kentucky tourism together with it.
Whereas bourbon can technically be crafted in any state, Kentucky makes 95 p.c of the world’s provide. The whiskey is now the state’s $8.6 billion signature business, producing 20,100 jobs with a mean wage of $95,000, an quantity that has climbed by 23 p.c since 2009.
In keeping with the Kentucky Distillers Affiliation, vacationers to the Kentucky Bourbon Path spend on common between $400 and $1,200 a visit—with greater than 70 p.c of tourists coming from outdoors the state.
“This business is a testomony to the American spirit of creating one thing from nothing, or making one thing from one thing leftover,” mentioned Kentucky state Senate Majority Chief Damon Thayer, a Bourbon County Republican.
Proper now, Kentucky has $2.3 billion in bourbon-related capital tasks deliberate, together with a large $1.2 billion growth at Buffalo Hint, the nation’s premier distillery courting again to the late 18th century. Buffalo Hint now crafts among the world’s most sought-after manufacturers, together with Elmer T. Lee, E.H. Taylor, and Pappy Van Winkle, which may retail for greater than $1,000 a bottle.
“Like artistic endeavors, they’re greater than doubtless snapped up by collectors and both stored for themselves or offered at extremely inflated costs,” mentioned Thayer.
However whereas some labels have vaulted into the realm of luxurious, the bourbon business as a complete would by no means have come about with out humble grit and ingenuity. Through the years, it has survived fickle client traits, pure disasters like flooding and drought, and authorities overreach within the type of Prohibition to change into a logo of our nation—and the pleasure of Kentucky.
“Kentucky has two distinctive signature industries, horses and bourbon. And no offense to different states, but when we don’t shield horses and bourbon when it comes to the financial impact of each, we’re West Virginia or Mississippi,” mentioned Thayer.
“And whereas these are high quality locations, now we have two issues which might be distinctive to Kentucky like nowhere else.”
Salena Zito has held an extended, profitable profession as a nationwide political reporter. Since 1992, she has interviewed each U.S. president and vp, in addition to high leaders in Washington, D.C., together with secretaries of state, audio system of the Home and U.S. Central Command generals. Her ardour, although, is interviewing hundreds of individuals throughout the nation. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman by way of the misplaced artwork of shoe-leather journalism, having traveled alongside the again roads of 49 states.
Views expressed on this article are the opinions of the creator and don’t essentially replicate the views of The Epoch Occasions.