bourbon

Kevin Willis

Michael Veach is a man who knows his bourbon. Not just because he enjoys Kentucky's signature spirit, but because he's also one of the nation's foremost bourbon historians.

Veach is associate curator of special collections at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, and the author of the new book Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Tradition. In his recent interview with WKU Public Radio, Veach told us about the many tall tales he had to debunk surrounding the history of bourbon.

Here are a few web audio extras featuring Veach that we didn't have time to include in the interview we aired this week:

Kevin Willis

It's a golden era for Kentucky's signature spirit. Bourbon has never been more popular in the U.S. or throughout the world. Bourbon's colorful history is shrouded in mystery, with a lot of tall tales and legends popping up throughout the years.

Michael Veach put bourbon under the microscope and put his skills as an historian to work in his new book, Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage. Veach is the associate curator of special collections at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville.

He spoke to WKU Public Radio's Kevin Willis about how the term "bourbon" first became applied to Kentucky whiskey, where the idea of charring barrels came from, and who we should thank for the current popularity of bourbon:

There are a lot of legends surrounding bourbon that you have to debunk as an historian looking into the origins of Kentucky’s famous whiskey. One of those legends is that bourbon is named after Bourbon County, Kentucky. What did you find out?

“You know, I would love to have been able to prove that bourbon was named after Bourbon County, but the more I looked at it, the more I realized I just couldn’t do that.”

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Honored by National Geographic

Mar 5, 2013
Kevin Willis

Kentucky’s signature spirit is getting some love from a well-respected publication.

National Geographic has designated the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as one of its top 10 "Best Spring Trips."

The Kentucky tourism attraction is showcased along with excursions and festivals in New Zealand, India, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, South Africa and Argentina.

Only three American trips made the top 10.

The Bourbon Trail attracted more than 500,000 visitors in 2012, the first time the tour has broken the half-million mark since its creation in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers' Association.

A Daviess County restaurant and bar is on a quest to offer the world's largest selection of bourbons.

The Messenger-Inquirer reports Spirits at The Miller House in downtown Owensboro currently has at least 200 types of bourbon in stock on a daily basis. That's double what it had a year ago.

General manager Aaron King said that number puts it among bars with the largest selection of bourbons in stock. He said there are about 250 different bourbons.

"There are bars that claim they have 120 bourbons and say that's the largest collection and there are bars that say they have 250 bourbons," King said. "But when you go there, they aren't all in stock."

One of the world's most famous bourbons won't get watered down after all.

Maker's Mark announced Sunday in a Facebook post that the company is reversing course and will not change the alcohol by volume in its whiskey.

"(We) are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Maker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning," the company said in the Facebook message signed by Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels, and his father, Chairman Emeritus Bill Samuels.

A representative from Maker's Mark told WKU Public Radio that the company's website crashed at one point Sunday due to the massive amount of interest in Maker's decision to reverse course and maintain its current alcohol by volume.

The representative said the company was able to get the website back up and running later Sunday afternoon.

The decision to change the alcohol content of their product led to a backlash by many bourbon lovers, who flooded the Loretto, Ky., distillery with negative comments. Maker's Mark officials said the lower alcohol by volume wouldn't impact the bourbon's flavor, but that wasn't enough to quell the controversy.

Here is a copy of the Facebook message posted by Maker's Mark Sunday:

The Kentucky State Senate approved legislation Tuesday that would remove the prohibition of alcohol sales on election days while polls are open.

The bill wouldn't supersede the authority of dry counties in determining alcohol availability—but areas that wanted to continue the prohibition of election day alcohol sales could vote to do so.

One aim of the bill: Business that rely on alcohol sales—and also tourist destinations along Kentucky's Bourbon Trail—would be allowed to remain open on election days.

State Sen. Jimmy Higdon, a Republican from Lebanon, said keeping the Bourbon Trail fully operational on election days was a reason for his support.

The Chairman Emeritus of Maker's Mark blames himself for the company's recent decision to lower the proof of its famous bourbon. Bill Samuels Jr., the son of the founder of Maker's Mark, tells the Courier-Journal he failed to foresee the worldwide surge in demand for Kentucky's famous spirit.

Maker's Mark has announced it will dilute its bourbon from 45 percent alcohol by volume, to 42 percent, so that more whiskey can be bottled to meet demand.

"I was the forecaster in chief around here...I must have been asleep at the wheel," Samuels told the newspaper.

WKU Public Radio interviewed Samuels Jr. and his son, Rob Samuels, who took over as Chairman of Maker's Mark in 2011. Rob Samuels told us at the time he was looking to expand international sales of Maker's Mark, with India as a prime target.

Kentucky is bourbon country. Bar shelves in Louisville are stocked with a crowded field of premium bourbons; the city's Theater Square Marketplace restaurant alone carries close to 170 different brands. So when news trickled out that longtime distillery Maker's Mark plans to water down its bourbon, locals were stunned.

Bourbon has to be aged at least two years — and that's where Maker's Mark got in trouble. Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels says the company simply didn't make enough.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Sees Another Record Breaking Year

Jan 29, 2013
Kevin Willis

More than 500,000 people visited distilleries along Kentucky's bourbon trail in 2012, marking a 15% increase over the year before.

The Trail's director said the new attendance record was 509,292. It's the first time since the trail opened in 1999 that the number of visitors broke the half-million mark. Adam Johnson said visitors came from all 50 states and more than 50 countries.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a distillery tour that features Four Roses and Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg, Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Jim Beam in Clermont, Maker's Mark in Loretto, Town Branch in Lexington and Woodford Reserve in Versailles.

Kevin Willis

One of the big issues Kentucky lawmakers are expected to take up in the next legislative session is an overhaul of the state tax code. It's something that the commonwealth's bourbon distillers will have their collective eyes on, because a provision under consideration would create a new tax credit for manufacturers designed to offset a longstanding barrel tax.

"We pay a tax on every barrel that is aging in the commonwealth, as long as it sits in one of our warehouses. So if you're drinking a bottle of 18-year- old bourbon, it's been taxed 18 times," says Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers Association. "That makes Kentucky non-competitive in the global marketplace. We are the only alcohol manufacturer in the world that pays such a tax."

Tax legislation designed to help Kentucky's bourbon distillers has previously passed in the Senate, but has never made it out of the House. Gregory says distillers are sensing a renewed seriousness on the part of many lawmakers to get a tax code overhaul passed next year, either in the regular session that begins January 8, or during a special session.

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