By Kasey Doyle/Staff writer

Nothing says Kentucky like the strong, amber colored liquid we call bourbon. With over 90 percent of the world’s bourbon supply produced in the state, Kentucky is known as the bourbon capital of the world. The hard liquor is celebrated as a symbol of Kentucky’s history and culture.

“Bourbon is seen as a fine product … It is a drink of character,” said Dave Pickerell, master distiller at Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto.

Pickerell said bourbon is a trendy beverage, and younger generations are picking up on the trend.

“You can never go wrong with bourbon,” said Tina Masters, a 22-year-old psychology major. “Someone got me a bottle of bourbon for my 21st birthday, and it was one of the coolest presents I have ever gotten.”

Doug Hatfield, general manager of Liquor World in Richmond, said bourbon is a popular drink among customers. Liquor World carries about 75 brands of bourbon, and Jim Beam is its most popular.

Even the government realized how important bourbon is to our culture. In 1964, Congress declared bourbon to be a distinctive American spirit and said it can only be called bourbon if produced in the United States.

According to Pickerell, the history of bourbon goes back to the founding of Kentucky.

Virginia’s Corn Patch and Cabin Rights Law gave settlers free land if they would grow corn and build a cabin. As settlers migrated to what is now Kentucky, they found corn easy to grow. Settlers used the corn in their production of whiskey, and when the corn was mixed with Kentucky spring water, it produced a different form of whiskey, one with a distinct taste.

According to the Kentucky Distiller’s Association, Kentucky spring water is purified as it flows over limestone rock formations. It is perfect for distilling bourbon because the water is free of minerals that affect taste.

Some historians say the Rev. Elijah Craig of Georgetown is the “Father of Bourbon.” In 1789, Craig supposedly filled a charred barrel with corn and rye whiskey and discovered bourbon.

Pickerell said the production of bourbon is also part of the early horse industry in Kentucky.

Barrels of bourbon were shipped on flatbed rafts down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. The rafts would be sold along with the bourbon because the rafts could not be brought back upstream. Proceeds from the sales were used to buy horses, and the horses were brought back to Kentucky and sold.

Bourbon gets its name after the county from which most of the bourbon barrels were shipped.

“Kentucky could not have been founded without bourbon,” Pickerell said.

Bourbon is a sub-category of whiskey, and federal laws govern the production of bourbon.

Bourbon must be made in America, contain at least 51 percent corn and include barley malt and rye or wheat. It must be distilled at no more than 160 proof. Bourbon must be aged at least two years in brand-new charred white oak barrels, and it cannot contain any artificial coloring or flavoring.

Although bourbon production must follow specific guidelines, each distillery has its own recipe to individualize its brands.

“Maker’s Mark was designed with taste in mind,” Pickerell said. “Everything we do is aimed at getting rid of the sour, bitter aftertaste.”

In the D. Marie Lounge on the 25th floor of the Galt House in Louisville, customers can sample over 100 brands of bourbon. The D. Marie Lounge claims to have more bourbon than any establishment in the world.

People can also sample different brands of bourbon while touring The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which attracts tourists from all over the world.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a tour of seven of the oldest and most popular distilleries in America. The trail allows visitors to tour Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Heaven Hill and Lobrot and Graham distilleries, as well as the more popular Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and Maker’s Mark distilleries.

The trail also includes a tour of the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown.

Pickerell said 55,000 people visit the Maker’s Mark distillery each year.

“It’s astounding how many people from all over the world visit (the distillery),” Pickerell said. “They want to see where their bourbon is produced.”

But whether you enjoy the taste of bourbon on the other side of the world or right in the backyard of one of its distilleries, the drink will always remain a symbol of Kentucky tradition.

Masters, who lives minutes from Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, says there is nothing like the smell of bourbon brewing on a dewy summer night.

“I like how (bourbon) smells,” she said. “You kind of run it under your nose and get a whiff, you get a sweet smell of down home.”

Reach Kasey at kasey_doyle7@eku.edu