It’s never too soon to decide how to mark National Bourbon Day. Celebrated on June 14 (that’s Friday), this I’m-not-quite-sure-it’s-official holiday commemorates the day in 1789 that the Rev. Elijah Craig is said to have first distilled whiskey in Kentucky.
Now, if you’ve poked around in bourbon lore at all, you’ve come across the Rev. Craig. The Baptist minister is widely credited with creating what would become known as bourbon, and also with being the first person to have aged whiskey in charred barrels – barrels made from staves he salvaged from a fire, one story goes.
His name is memorialized on the label of a premium bourbon produced by Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, Ky.
The bourbon is legit – particularly the limited-edition barrel-proof version released earlier this year. But the story is less so.
In his excellent book “Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage,” also released earlier this year, bourbon historian Michael Veach notes that “no contemporary source tying Craig to the invention of bourbon whiskey has ever been found.” Mike should know; as associate curator of special collections at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Ky., he has spent years poring over all manner of records related to the evolution of bourbon production.
Further, it’s highly unlikely that barrel staves would burn only on one side in a fire, isn’t it? That seems obvious, but I’d never questioned the story until I heard Mike shoot holes through it at his Bourbon Academy, an all-day seminar held several times per year.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of attending the Academy, I encourage you to enroll. Until then, reading Mike’s book is a close approximation. It doesn’t quite capture his personality – he can get almost giddy when dispelling myths – and no bourbon samples are included. But this is no dry history tome (pun intended). Like the Academy, the book takes you on a fascinating journey from the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s to the bourbon boom of today, commandingly demonstrating the spirit’s inexorable tie to the history of Kentucky. Each chapter is a fine mix of conversational narrative, historic documents and photos, and pull-out boxes of trivia.
Around here, every day is Bourbon Day. So to make Friday special, I’m going to give away two copies of “Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey.” Everyone who reblogs this post, retweets it on Twitter (@carlacarlton) or shares it on Facebook by the end of the day on June 14 will be entered in a random drawing; the two winners will be selected over the weekend. I might even be able to persuade Mike to autograph the books. Good luck!