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The United States of America is a country of great cultural diversity, influenced by migrating nations from across the world. As such, its whiskey industry is a fascinating and complex one, which represents the range of regional differences found there.
The Irish were the original pioneers of American whiskey, and when they emigrated in their thousands from the old country, they brought their skills, knowledge and distillation techniques with them, to give them something to remind each other of home in the New World. This is why American whiskey goes by the Irish spelling, with the additional ‘e’, and why many traditional American whiskies closely resemble the original Irish style.
Today, there are several different types of American whiskey, and the styles and production techniques are now set out in US federal law, cementing a set of characteristics and production methods to preserve and protect the industry.
Corn whiskey, which is made from a minimum 80% corn in the mash and aged for a short period, is probably the most historic of the American whiskey styles, but others like rye whiskey, which is made from a minimum of 51% rye and aged in charred barrels, are growing in popularity among a new generation of drinkers looking for something unique, interesting and independently produced. Alongside these styles, we find Tennessee whiskey, which uses maple charcoal for sweeter notes, the softer wheat whiskies, the world-dominating Bourbon whiskies, and others which are peculiar to specific states and regions.
Of all the spirits produced in the United States of America, whiskey is surely king, and no state is as closely associated with this spirit as Kentucky. The history of Kentucky whiskey stretches back to the beginnings of the 18th century, when Irish settlers in the state began distilling the corn and grains they were growing into spirits, partly as a way of using up their crops, and partly as a sweet reminder of the home they’d left behind. Over the following decades, the whiskey industry boomed, as the country as a whole developed a taste for Bourbon, and many of the distilleries we know and love today were first founded.
Kentucky Bourbon is now very much an international spirit, enjoyed in every corner of the globe by those seeking out authenticity and originality in their whiskey. In 1968, the American Congress officially recognized Kentucky Bourbon whiskey by declaring it a ‘distinctive product of the United States’, and new laws and regulations sprung up as a way of protecting and preserving the reputation the state and the spirit enjoyed. These included the rule that Kentucky Bourbon must be aged for a minimum of two years (with many aged for a great deal longer) in white oak barrels, and contain absolutely nothing other than a fine grain mash, yeast and water.