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Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey & Rye
Born in the USA Whiskies
"First Ya' Swaller....Then Ya' Holler...."
Among the first settlers who brought their whiskey making traditions to the US were the Scotch-Irish of
Western Pennsylvania. Although whiskey was produced throughout the colonies (George Washington was
among the noted whiskey producers of the time), these settlers of Pennsylvania are where bourbon's roots
began. To help finance the revolution, the Continental Congress put a tax on whiskey production. So
incensed were the settlers of Western Pennsylvania that they refused to pay. To restore order in the
ensuing "Whiskey Rebellion" of 1791, Washington was forced to send the army to quell the uprising. To
avoid further troubles with the tough and stubborn Scotch-Irish settlers, Washington made a settlement
with them, giving incentives for those who would move to Kentucky. The significance of this is that while
the earliest whiskies were made primarily from rye, this was about to change with their move and
"Bourbon" would be born.

The Governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, offered pioneers sixty acres of land in Kentucky if they would
build a permanent structure and raise "native corn". No family could eat sixty acres worth of corn a year
and it was too perishable and bulky to transport for sale; if it were turned into whiskey, both problems
could be solved. This corn based whiskey, which was a clear distillate, would become "bourbon" only after
two coincidentally related events happened. The French, having at that time their own territories in North
America, assisted in the War of Independence against the British. In acknowledgment of this, French
names were subsequently used for new settlements or counties. In the Western part of Virginia, the then
county of Kentucky, was subdivided in 1786. One of these subdivisions was named Bourbon County, after
the French Royal House. Kentucky became a state in 1792 and Bourbon one of its counties.

Although Evan Williams, in 1783, might have been the first commercial distiller in Louisville, Bourbon is
sometimes considered to have begun with the Reverend Elijah Craig from Bourbon County. The legend
goes that to save money he used old barrels to transport his whiskey to market in New Orleans. He
charred the barrels before filling them, thus after his whiskey made the long trip to market, it had
"mellowed" and taken on a light caramel color from the oak. Being from Bourbon County he started calling
the whiskey "Bourbon". Interestingly today, there is no whiskey produced in Bourbon County.

In 1964, a congressional resolution protected the term "Bourbon" and only since then has the product been defined. Bourbon must
be at least 51% corn. Generally 65% - 75% corn is used, together with about 10% barley and the balance rye or wheat (some, like
Makers Mark and Rebel Yell, use no rye at all). It must be aged for at least 2 years (but usually 4 years or longer) in charred new
American oak barrels. No colorants or flavorants are permitted, so, unlike Scotch, no caramel may be added. Kentucky is the only
state allowed to put its name on the bottle (95% of all bourbon is made there). All modern bourbons are made by the sour mash
process. Spent beer, or backset (residue liquid from the previous distillation) is added to the new mash in addition to yeast. This
helps ensure consistency - the characteristics of the previous batch are passed on - the same principle as using a sourdough
starter in baking. At some distilleries as much as 25% of the volume in the fermentation tubs is backset. Bourbon distilleries
generally use continuous stills. Straight bourbon is pure bourbon - as opposed to blended bourbon, which is at least 51% bourbon
blended with neutral grain spirits. Colouring etc is also permitted for blended bourbon.

Tennessee whiskey is essentially bourbon that has been filtered through Sugar-Maple charcoal before ageing (called the Lincoln
State Process, or colloquially "charcoal mellowing"). It takes the whiskey 4 days to leach through 12 feet of charcoal. It was
granted its own since 1958, only two: George Dickel and Jack Daniels.

Today, most rye whiskeys are made in Kentucky. Originally though their production was centered in Pennsylvania and Maryland -
but the industry there never recovered from the effects of Prohibition. A whole generation had to get used to drinking no alcohol
at all or, if they broke the law, something that was much lighter than their indigenous bourbon and rye. After Prohibition ended,
popular taste switched permanently to lighter spirits. Even today in Kentucky it is rare to find a straight rye whiskey in bars and
restaurants.

Just as American law states that bourbon has to contain a minimum 51 per cent corn in its mashbill, so the law says that straight
rye whiskey must contain at least 51 per cent rye. But whereas bourbon producers often take their corn percentage up to around
the 80 per cent mark, there is no matching tendency to take rye content up to such levels. First, rye is a lot more expensive to
buy than corn; second, it is more difficult to control; third, the powerful, intense nature of the grain means that distillers are
frightened that too much taste might frighten off customers.

If rye is an expensive commodity, then malted rye is even less of an economic winner. For that reason, all Kentucky rye mashbills
contain a similar percentage of malted barley, between 10 per cent and 12 per cent, to assist fermentation; the remainder is
corn. And the rye remains unmalted. The result is a whiskey with the oily heaviness in body of an Islay, but with the crisp, hard
fruitiness of an Irish pot still where another unmalted grain, this time barley, is used.

The rye gives the spirit a hardness that cannot be detected in bourbon, even though the corn character is usually not that far
behind. To taste, the contrast is even more marked: rye is sharper, sweeter and leaves an almost sour, unripened fruit residue;
the average bourbon, meanwhile, is flatter with less spice.
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