The Birth of American Whiskey and the Mint Julep
As far back as 200 AD concoctions were being used to treat illnesses and ills throughout Persia. They were often a combination of flower and herb extracts and alcohol. During the 9th century, these elixirs in the Mediterranean were modified to use the areas ample supply of mint, replacing the flowers typically used and were called julab or julapium.
In the 1700’s this Mediterranean elixir arrived in America, it was considered both a ‘preventative’ medicine and a kickstart to the day. It was a mixture of high proof rum or brandy and muddled mint. Some, who had access to such treats of the day, added peaches, pineapple and berries.
The import taxes Britain began to impose on molasses, sugar and rum soon fueled the inability of America to enjoy liquor such as rum and brandy. However, America did have a surplus of grains and farmers were making affordable whiskeys, Rye and Bourbon. These American staples became a reliable form of currency for early farmers. U.S. Treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton in 1791 urged Congress to tax the native liquors and build the nations money supply, which resulted a few years later in the Whiskey Rebellion. This resulted in a legal battle that united distilling farmer on the Kentucky frontier and Bourbon soon became much more than a poor man’s whiskey. Bourbon thrives in Kentucky because of the ample corn crops, and limestone water. The bourbon industry reported in 2019 an $8.6 billion contribution to the economy.
The Mint Julep has been a part of the Kentucky horse racing culture since the beginning and the Kentucky Derby would not be an exception. In fact, Meriwether Lewis Clark, who founded Churchill Downs in 1875, grew mint behind the club. The Mint Julep became the official drink of the Kentucky Derby in 1939. The association with horses and bourbon continues with Woodford Reserve Bourbon producing a commemorative bottle each year for the Derby.
Today, you can find Bourbon made in almost every state, however Kentucky will always hold the key to the history of this liquor. Many U.S. bourbons are now exported to a growing world market and an increasing U.S. market. Bourbon without a doubt is an ongoing legacy to the spirit of American ingenuity.