As the birthplace of bourbon, Kentucky lives and breathes
whiskey. The state’s 4.3 million residents are currently outnum-
bered by aging bourbon barrels (4.9 million); and they lead the
nation in bourbon consumption (181 cases per 1,000 adults). The
Kentucky economy depends on the spirit, not only because the
state’s ten distilleries employ so many people, but also because
two million visitors pass through its Bourbon Trail last year.
Americans’ fascination with American whiskey is part epicu-
rean, part curiosity. Who is Pappy Van Winkle? And Booker and
Elmer T. Lee, and what are their stories? Behind the labels are the
personalities of proud family legacies spanning generations. In
the early days, most distillers were also close friends, neighbors
and collaborators. In fact, the Beams (Jim Beam) and Samuels
(Maker’s Mark) families lived next door to each other for nearly
75 years; Bill Samuels Jr.’s godfather was Jim Beam himself. The
Beams are also part of the history of Heaven Hill, founded in
1934 with Joseph L. Beam as an investor and Master Distiller;
since then, all of Heaven Hill’s distillers have been members of
the Beam family.
Taken neat, bourbon aficionados enjoy the
high rye content and nuances of Port-barrel
finishing in Angel’s Envy. However, like all fine
bourbons, it also makes a great Manhattan.
lever spirits marketing has often trumped
authenticity, but the revival of American
craft distilleries as well as the classic
cocktail renaissance have pumped up the
bourbon category, a place where most brands have
been doing the same thing for centuries. In essence,
consumers’ thirst for genuine products made by real
people has led them right back to the founding spirit
of the United States.
BY BRANDY RAND