Bourbon whiskey plays an important role in the life of my protagonist, Dr. John Welles. Bourbon is the souvenir of choice for John and his two best friends, Sam Feldman and Claude Willoughby, as they spend a bachelors’ weekend in Kentucky watching the Derby and celebrating Sam’s upcoming marriage. Later in my novel, John employs the contents of this special bottle of bourbon to drown the guilt he endures for his part in a secret cover up regarding the death of a child.
I chose bourbon as John’s drink of choice after a trip to Kentucky with my brother and sister-in-law in 2010. They completed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail the year before and knew which distilleries we would enjoy visiting. Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill, and Maker’s Mark rounded out our initial bourbon experience.
I loved every minute of it. From the heady aroma emanating from the enormous vats of sour mash, to the dusty, blackened rickhouses, to the generous samples imbibed in the tasting rooms, our tour was an education steeped in the warm glow of bourbon. While I’m partial to Elijah Craig 18 Year-Old Single Barrel, Parker’s Heritage Fifth Edition Cognac Barrel Finish, Woodford Reserve, and Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, we’ve also discovered several other bourbons worthy of purchase. Don’t miss Willet Pot Still Reserve or 1792 Ridgemont Reserve.
The history of bourbon is as rich as the copper color of the drink itself. Baptist preacher Elijah Craig has been credited for the invention of bourbon whiskey although the tale may be a little on the tall side. We were told during one distillery tour that the charred oak barrels used in making bourbon whiskey came about as the result of an accident in which the barrels were burned. Preacher Craig, either too poor or too cheap to replace the barrels, used them anyhow and bourbon first received its signature color.
Whether or not this is true, bourbon whiskey is an all-American beverage. Strict requirements must be met before the whiskey can be labeled and advertised as bourbon. The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits state that bourbon made for U.S. consumption must be 1) Produced in the United States, 2) Made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn, 3) Aged in new, charred oak barrels, 4) Distilled to no more than 160 (US) proof, 5) Entered into the barrel for aging at no more than 125 proof, and 6) Bottled at 80 proof or more.
Impressive standards for an impressive drink.