American whisky is rich in diversity, offering a vast and unique range of flavours, steeply contrasting that of its now distant British and Irish cousins. At the core, this deviation from its ancestry is directly related to different ingredients and techniques during the distillation and maturation process; however, to truly understand how American whisky came to be, you must delve into its rich history to the time of the earliest European settlers.
Distillation in the North America dates back the 17th century, when Scottish and Irish settlers needed a nostalgic tipple to reminisce about the homeland they left behind. It was made predominantly with grains imported from Europe, and was a raw, unaged spirit, with few of the distinctive characteristics of a bourbon or a rye, that we know and love today. However, economic necessity forced many to look to native grains and corns for distillation and this would ultimately lead to a whiskey revolution.
This revolution of sorts can be taken quite literally during the 1700’s when George Washington ‘mustered’ the troops with barrels of whisky to fight off the British imperialists and claim independence of a nation. By this stage barges with barrels of “Old Bourbon Whisky” would drift down the Mississippi River to and from New Orleans. By the 19th century bourbon and rye whisky had become booming industries across the Northern and Confederate states and the future looked golden for whisky.
Unfortunately, the early half of the twentieth century was not so for fortunate for the industry. With the enforcement of prohibition, and the advent of “dry states” in Kentucky and Tennessee, distilleries were forced to close their doors. It would not be until 1945 that North American whisky would re-emerge and become the diverse, powerhouse that it is today.
There are five distinctive styles of North American whisky, straight, bourbon, rye, corn and Tennessee whisky; each variation has its own unique flavours.