Comparatively unchained by customs and traditions, the great U.S. of A. boasts arguably the widest range of whiskey styles anywhere on earth. Having said that, bourbon remains the most emblematic, so much so that it is hailed as America’s national drink. In the same way that wine is part of French culture, bourbon is American history in a nutshell.
During the course of the extremely pious and religious 17th century, Irish and Scottish emigrants began settling down along the East Coast en masse, whether on adventure or in exile, bringing with them distillation know-how from the Old World. Back in those early days, corn and rye were the mainstay; where there was surplus, farmers would distil them into spirits, thereby turning subsistence crops into cash crops, for easy storage, transport and trade.
Numerous parallels can be drawn between America and France in the beginning of “the long 19th century”, as the American Revolution – a tax rebellion from the British perspective – can be seen as the precursor to the French Revolution. This apart, Napoléon Bonaparte was born into a winemaking family from minor nobility in Corsica in 1769, whereas after George Washington assumed presidency in 1789, indeed merely a week prior to the outbreak of the French Revolution, he remained one of the biggest rye whiskey producers stateside.
In his two terms as President, George Washington was faced with, inter alia, the Whiskey Rebellion, a popular protest against the so-called “whiskey tax”, which was the first tax in American history to be imposed on domestic products by the newborn Federal Government, with the purpose of repaying war debts incurred during the War of Independence – or rebellion, from the British perspective.
Britain and American are indeed two nations separate by a common language. Whereas His Majesty King George III’s taxmen drove Scottish distillers from the Lowlands to the remote Highlands and Islands, His Excellency President George Washington’s taxmen, mutatis mutandis, drove distillers from Maryland and Pennsylvania to Kentucky and Tennessee. Consequently, the Highlands became and remain the heart of scotch, whereas the erstwhile frontier states in Kentucky and Tennessee went on to become America’s whiskey centres.
Bright amber with ochre-tawny reflex, the aromatic nose offers rye bread, cinnamon, caramel and toffee. With a rounded mouthfeel, the pungent palate delivers granary toast, anise, muscovado and chocolate raisin. Medium-full bodied at 40%, the attractive entry continues through a plush mid-palate, leading to a dessert-like finish. This straight bourbon from Frankfort, Kentucky is reminiscent of a smooth ride on the buffalo.
Rich amber with copper-metallic reflex, the fragrant nose presents dried cherry, cocoa, bouquet garni and sherried oak. With a suave mouthfeel, the spicy palate supplies dried fig, crème brûlée, dried herbs and hickory smoke. Medium-full bodied at a potent 56.4%, the energetic entry persists through a piquant mid-palate, leading to a herbal finish. This straight bourbon from Lawrenceburg is akin to a wild turkey that kicks like a mule.
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain, France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages