Even with bourbon’s national distinction, its history is anything but defined. We know that bourbon is a full-bred American product, but exactly where, when, and how the delicious deep brown tipple got started is certainly up for debate.
The most widely circulated piece of lore regarding bourbon’s origin concerns Elijah Craig, whose name you might recognize from a mainstream brand of bourbon.
Mr. Craig was Baptist preacher, an educator, an entrepreneur and an integral part of the Fayette County community in Virginia, an area that would eventually become Kentucky.
He built and founded the county’s first fulling mill and its first paper mill. In Georgetown, where he lived, he founded the first lumber and gristmill. He even served as Fire Chief after helping establish the town’s first fire department. You might call him a Jack of All Trades. Some call him the inventor of bourbon.
Here’s the truth. Yes, Elijah Craig did, in fact, establish a distillery in an area that would eventually become Kentucky. And yes, he did start aging moonshine and corn whiskey in charred American Oak barrels.
But calling him the “Father of Bourbon” is more of a charming moniker than verifiable truth. His products were no different than what was being made by a collection of small farmer-distillers west of the Alleghenies.
It wasn’t even until the 1800s that the American spirit was starting to be called “bourbon.” In 1821, a newspaper in Paris, Kentucky called Western Civilization Newspaper ran the first known advertisement for the spirit. If you were wondering, a firm known as “Stout and Adams” had it for sale by the barrel.
After decades of being called “Bourbon County Whiskey” or “Old Bourbon County Whiskey,” the extra words were dropped from the name, and in 1840, America’s Native Spirit started being called “bourbon.”
When it comes to the history of bourbon, the accepted theory is that it wasn’t invented. It was developed. The signature spirit of the states was forged over years and years by the hands of many all across America. At this point, the only thing that actually matters is that you can order craft bourbon and have it delivered straight to your door.