Kentucky’s Lasting Love Affair with Bourbon

Kentucky is the birthplace of Bourbon, crafting 95 percent of the world’s supply. Only the Bluegrass State has the perfect natural mix of climate, conditions and pure limestone water necessary for producing the world’s greatest Bourbon.

Picture of Bourbon Trail Map
Weary Kentucky settlers—daunted by the task of getting crops to market over narrow trails and steep mountains—put their heads together and landed upon an inspired solution. Converting corn and other grains to bourbon not only made the goods easy to transport and prevented excess grain from spoiling, but it provided settlers a welcome diversion from the rough and often tedious life on the frontier.
Established in 1785, Bourbon County is one of Kentucky’s oldest counties. As an early hub of the whiskey trade, farmers shipped whiskey in oak barrels stamped from Bourbon County down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, all the way to New Orleans. The long trip aged the whiskey, while the oak wood provided a distinct mellow flavor and amber color. As whiskey from Bourbon County grew in popularity, the liquor became known simply as “Bourbon”.

In 1964, Congress officially recognized Bourbon’s place in America’s history, and its future, by declaring it a distinctive product of the United States. Or, as we like to say, “America’s Official Native Spirit.” Today, Kentuckians continue the time-honored tradition of distilling Bourbon, perfecting the craft their ancestors developed centuries ago.

What Makes ‘It’ Bourbon

For a spirit to be considered bourbon it must adhere to six standard rules: It must be made in the U.S.; aged in new, charred white oak barrels; and be at least 51 percent corn. It also must be distilled at less than 160 proof (80 percent alcohol by volume) and entered into a barrel at below 125 proof. Lastly, there can be no artificial coloring or flavor (hence the reason Jack Daniel’s is a Tennessee whiskey: it’s filtered over maple wood chips before bottling). The darker the bourbon, the higher the alcohol content; and for a true taste of its complexities, open your mouth while sipping.

Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail is Born

The world got its first taste of the profound history and proud tradition of “America’s Official Native Spirit” when the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) established the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® in 1999, a road trip-style experience for bourbon lovers to visit the Bluegrass State’s signature distilleries. In 2012, the KDA created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® to complement the world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® experience. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® have drawn more than 2.5 million visitors from all 50 states and 25 countries in the last five years and have become leading educational and tourism attractions.