The history of National Bourbon Day

Grab a glass and some ice — this is a good story.

Two people clinking glasses of bourbon together.

Bourbon is the key ingredient to unlocking a barrel of fun. | Photo courtesy of Victor Sizemore

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Whether you’re a born + bred Lexingtonian or have just moved here, one thing that defines the city is our love for bourbon. In honor of today being National Bourbon Day, we decided to take a deep dive into the history of this beloved spirit.

What makes bourbon, bourbon?

Just after the American Revolution, a little place called Bourbon County, Kentucky became synonymous with a process already familiar with the European settlers of the region — taking corn, barley, or rye and aging it so it becomes whiskey. However, experts are still at odds about whether bourbon’s namesake came from the region.

Still, here in Kentucky, we take pride in differentiating the characteristics of whiskey vs. our crown jewel. It is a $9 billion industry after all. In order for a whiskey to be considered a bourbon, it must:

  • Be made in the US
  • Consist of between 51 percent and 79 percent Indian corn
  • Age for at least two years in an oak barrel

Some distillers in the area also claim that Kentucky’s limestone spring water also gives our bourbon its recognizable flavor.

The story of National Bourbon Day

Bourbon really made a name for itself around 1785, when distillers from Europe came to Kentucky armed with an encyclopedia full of distilling knowledge.

While the exact history of National Bourbon Day is up for debate, many claim that this was the time of year this migration occurred, helping bourbon evolve into what it is today.

Where to celebrate

Now that you’re equipped with all the bourbon trivia you need to know, the last thing to do is celebrate. Here’s some of our favorite spots: