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Monday, May 1, 2023

What’s in a Name?

Who invented bourbon?  Who knows?  Wait, that’s not true, the Elijah Craig website knows.  Their use of convincing language like, “Others say,” “Some claim,” and “However it happened,” has finally put this age-old question to rest once and for all.  There’s one thing, however, we do know for certain:  bourbon is called bourbon.  In order for bourbon to be called bourbon, an interesting series of events had to take place.

Bourbonnais was, at one time, a province in the middle of France.  This is where the word “bourbon” originated.  The name’s connection to royalty began in 913, when the first Lord of Bourbonnais was asked by Charles the Simple to oversee the region.  The House of Bourbon ruled France (minus that little blip known as the French Revolution) for over 200 years, from 1589 to 1848.  During that period of time, the French were both friend and foe to the British.  The Seven Years’ War (1756-63), a massive global conflict, saw them pitted against one another.  In North America, the French took a real beating.  They lost all their holdings east of the Mississippi River to the British.  The British may have won the war, but it came at a huge financial cost.  Taxes were raised at home and abroad to pay off the debts incurred.

The Scotch-Irish immigrated to what’s now America in the 17th and 18th centuries.  They were Presbyterians.  When the Crown insisted they become Protestant (Church of England), many crossed the Atlantic hoping a find a more “tolerable” life.  The New World brought with it a new set of challenges.  All the good land was either spoken for or too expensive, giving them little choice but to move westward into uncharted territory.  Many had a background in distilling.  They adjusted their methods to best suit the grains available to them:  rye in the north, corn in the south.  It’s important to note, whisky was more than just an inebriant at the time, it was a cure-all, and (for the most part) safer to drink than water.  Many drank it as though it was water.  The average colonist knocked back 22 litres of alcohol each year.

Two years after the Seven Years’ War, the cash-strapped British passed the Stamp Act.  The colonists now had to pay a tax on virtually every printed item, even playing cards.  This was followed by the Townshend Acts which placed duties on essential goods like glass, paint, and tea.  “No taxation without representation” became the rallying cry throughout the land.  The Revolutionary War began in 1775.  Knowing they couldn’t fight the British alone, the Americans asked the French for help.   Thanks to some savvy diplomacy by Ben Franklin, the French supplied the Americans with money, arms, and troops.  Almost half the soldiers who fought for Washington’s Continental Army were of Scotch-Irish descent.  They, like the French, loved the idea of sticking it to the British.  Once the war was over and the Americans were victorious, parcels of land were given to the Scotch-Irish soldiers as a thank you for their service.  The French were honoured with place names throughout the country like Louisville, Lafayette, and Bourbon County.

One day, you might hear someone at a party say, “I wonder why bourbon is called bourbon?”  If/when that day comes, simply tell them:

“When the Revolutionary War broke out, the French, ruled by the House of Bourbon, sided with the Americans as a way to get back at the British for taking their North American territory during the Seven Years’ War.  A fair amount of soldiers in the American army were of Scotch-Irish descent.  They left Britain for America to flee religious persecution at the hands of the British.  Once the war was over and the Americans won, the Scotch-Irish were given parcels of land on the frontier (now Kentucky) as a thank you for their service.  They farmed the land.  Corn was the dominant crop at the time.  Surplus corn was commonly distilled and used as currency.  Somewhere down the line, they started calling it bourbon.  If the French didn’t help the Americans gain their independence, it probably would’ve been called something else.”

In 1792, those parcels of land on the frontier became the State of Kentucky.  Sazerac-owned Barton distillery started the 1792 range in 2002.  If you go to the 1792 website and click on the Small Batch link, you’ll find a masterclass in marketing buzzwords:

“Unmistakable spice mingles with sweet caramel and vanilla to create a bourbon that is incomparably brash and bold, yet smooth and balanced.”


They’re not lying when they say it’s big on spice, vanilla, and caramel.  1792 Small Batch drinks a tad on the underwhelming side, but I don’t think they intended this to be a standout sipper.  It’s not going to blow you away, but you’ll find yourself reaching for it again and again.

Happy dramming,


Instead of dying she shall merely fall into a profound slumber that will last a hundred years. -  Charles Perrault,  The Sleeping Beauty in ...