Bourbon, a national treasure
Lisa Baxter Sajna notified me on Facebook that this is National Bourbon Heritage Month, and surely Americans have every right to take pride in having contributed our native beverage to the roster of the world’s distinguished distilled spirits.
A blog post at Smithsonianmag.com—with a handsome accompanying photograph of a Manhattan— chronicles the recent rise of bourbon from a period of undeserved obscurity during Prohibition and the decades immediately afterward. For some, of course, particularly in the South, and in bourbon’s natal state, Kentucky, the popularity never waned. And Kingsley Amis, one of the great British authorities on drink, warmly praises bourbon in the julep, the Manhattan, and, supremely, the old-fashioned.
The tradition that the Rev. Elijah Craig, a Baptist clergyman who established a distillery in the Commonwealth in the late 1780s, invented the process by which the raw corn liquor, aged in charred casks, is transmuted into bourbon has been called into question. Perhaps no one will ever know what anonymous hero of civilzation was responsible for this sublime alchemy. He deserves, at minimum, a statue.
Before September wanes you may still exercise your Twenty-First Amerndment rights and simultaneously commemorate this heritage. Until the frost gets at the mint, you have time to enjoy a julep. For a Manhattan, my usual tipple is Old Forester, and Maker’s Mark makes an excellent cocktail. Should you be in funds, a dram or two—make it two—of Woodford Reserve, Booker’s, Knob Creek, or one of the other premium brands should provide deep sipping satisfaction.
There are many bourbons—when the American Copy Editors Society convened in Louisville, the Galt House had a hundred varieties in stock in the top-floor bar—and some of them pose a hazard to the lining of your stomach, and perhaps the enamel of your teeth. If you are unaccustomed to grown-up drinks, as opposed to the candied confections that pass for cocktails today, let me suggest that you line up a [cough] reliable guide and adviser before you head out to the dramshop.