This is a guest post by Roberta Kyle. Roberta was an enthusiastic bourbon drinker in the days of her mis-spent youth. In maturity her drinking habits have moderated, but her gusto for American whiskey remains un-changed. She still thinks Kentucky bourbon is the drink of the gods.
These days, Roberta roams the internet and various social media sites as Pinkpackrat and contributes to several blogs. Her personal blog is PinkPackRatAtPlay
More than the spelling changed when whisky became whiskey in America. The first record of a distillery is found in the Jamestown colony around 1620. An Englishman named George Thorpe figured out he could make a fermented mash out of Indian corn and wrote a letter about it to his cousin in England. Homemade beer and distilled spirits were very common in the American colonies as life was hard and water borne diseases common. Outbreaks of cholera and typhus were routine. Even children drank beer rather than water because it was safer. European visitors to Colonial America were often shocked at the amount of beer and home brewed whiskey consumed in the colonies . Americans are still among the world’s heaviest consumers of distilled spirits, though the 21st century American drinks only half as much as his 18th century counterpart did. Sometimes we still shock visiting Europeans though:-)
Rum was the drink of choice in New England, while whiskey made from maize or rye( both of which grew more easily in the New World than barley)was the choice of early Scots and Irish settlers. Many of these hardy independent Scots and Irishmen settled in Kentucky and Tennessee,where the best American whiskey is still made today.
A still was as routine a part of farm life in colonial times as a barn or a pigsty. What the family didn’t drink could be sold for much needed cash. Though corn and rye whiskeys were ,and still are, produced in many states, and there are still individual farmers producing their own “white lighting” or “moonshine”( albeit illegally), these days American whiskey production is highly standardized, regulated and highly taxed.
The best American distilleries turn out a fine product with a smoky, uniquely American bouquet and a sophisticated taste. Bourbon whiskey has a well deserved reputation for excellence. Straight Rye whiskey was popular a hundred years ago, but only a few brands are still made, the most famous of which is Old Overholt.
American Drinking Customs
Ideally, good whiskey should be drunk neat, without ice, but very few Americans drink it that way. We love ice and our cocktails and will mix good whiskey with the most amazing variety of other ingredients. While Mint Julips and Manhattans are quite delicious, some other American combinations are simply atrocious. Coca cola and Seven Up were never meant to be mixed with good bourbon in my opinion. But many of my compatriots disagree. Bourbon tastes best “on the rocks” with a twist of lemon and maybe just a splash of water. Savored this way it is a most pleasing tipple, whether at a cocktail party,as a pre-dinner libation, or a post prandial nightcap. Bourbon for breakfast is not recommended. However, it is far from an unknown American custom.
Recommended American Distilleries
Most American whiskey is classified as Bourbon and is made in Kentucky or Tennessee. The requirements for Bourbon whiskey are set by law. It must be made in the United States and must be, among other things, at least 51% corn and 80% alcohol by volume. Here is a highly subjective list of the best Bourbons and the distillers who make them.
Jack Daniels Sour mash bourbon, oak-aged and deep smoky taste.
Wild Turkey The best American bourbon since 1855
Jim Beam bourbon with a sweet, golden taste. This distillery also makes Old Overholt rye whiskey
Four Roses Less expensive, less subtle in flavor but very good quality
Makers Mark a boutique bourbon carefully made and sold in square, wax sealed bottles