Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 14, 2011

Elijah Craig Bourbon (photo by Craig L Duncan)

June 14, 1789: Reverend Elijah Craig produces a new beverage in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Rev. Craig was born in either 1738 or 1743 in Orange County, Virginia. He was converted by David Thomas and was ordained a Baptist preacher in 1771. Two of his brothers were also ordained. Before the American Revolution, Craig – like most non-licensed preachers of the time – had been jailed at least once.  While preaching his gospel in 1777, he had the chance to discuss freedom of religion with future President James Madison.

Craig moved to Kentucky in 1781 along with his brother and their traveling church was made up of about 600 members. Craig purchased 1,000 acres in Scott County in 1782 and laid out the town of Lebanon which was incorporated in 1784. The town was renamed Georgetown in 1790. Craig continued to preach but he was also interested in education. He established the first classical school in Kentucky in 1787. The school was later linked to the Rittenhouse Academy, also founded by Craig.

He was not just a preacher and educator, he was also a businessman. Around 1789, Craig founded a distillery and improved on the locally made corn liquor and turned it into the smooth reddish beverage aged in barrels made of charred oak. The drink needed to be distinguished from rye-based drinks made east of the Alleghenies. The western corn-based drink became known as bourbon, named for the county in which it was made. The bourbon made today with his name on the label is his legacy.

Today, laws require what can and cannot be called “Bourbon.” The drink must be made in the US. It must be made of at least 51% corn and must be distilled to no more than 160 proof or 80% alcohol by volume. Like other whiskeys, it must be bottled at 80 proof or more (40% by volume). Bourbon must be placed in the barrel for aging at no more than 120 proof and must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. There is no minimum aging requirements. Straight Bourbon must be aged at least two years and have no added coloring, flavoring, or other spirits. If it has been aged less than four years, but still is Straight, the duration of the aging process must be on the label. Bourbon that is Blended may contain coloring, flavoring, or other spirits but it must still be at least 51% Straight Bourbon.

“How well I remember my first encounter with The Devil’s Brew. I happened to stumble across a case of bourbon — and went right on stumbling for several days thereafter.” – W. C. Fields

“The only way that I could figure they could improve upon Coca-Cola, one of life’s most delightful elixirs, which studies prove will heal the sick and occasionally raise the dead, is to put rum or bourbon in it.” –  Lewis Grizzard

“Between 9 and 10 AM the American radio is concerned almost exclusively with love. It seems a little like ending breakfast with a stiff bourbon.” – Dean Acheson

“I know folks all have a tizzy about it, but I like a little bourbon of an evening. It helps me sleep. I don’t much care what they say about it.” – Lillian Carter

Also on this day:
Which is Witch – In 1648,the first “witch” is hanged in Salem.
Early Computing – In 1822, Charles Babbage presented a paper on computing.

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