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Bourbon History Timeline

Times Remembered, Times Disputed


1869- Ripy Family Distillery Opens

World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, (Chicago World's Fair), 1900.
Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
Lawrenceburg, Kentucky is home to what was originally called the Ripy Family Distillery, and what is now Wild Turkey Hill. The Ripy's began a long tradition of bourbon production on the site an their whiskey was chosen from a list 400 bourbons to represent Kentucky at the 1893 World's Fair. The distillery is now the home of Wild Turkey Bourbon.

1870- Shipping Revolution

Bottles of Maker's Mark on the assembly line after filling.
Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham
It was in this year that the first jugs of bourbon were shipped from the Ohio River ports. The decision to bottle bourbon was a matter of convenience for the consumer as jugs were a more attractive and portable vessel than barrels.

1872- A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery Established

Replica of a circa 1864 army whiskey barrel. Whiskey was used to treat wounds and disease.
Phil Cardamone / E+ / Getty Images
It was not until the early 1900's that the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery becomes significant in bourbon whiskey's history. Julian P. Van Winkle, Sr., or "Pappy," and a partner acquired the distillery, which was known for it's excellent sour mash whiskey. Just before Prohibition Pappy began producing Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon and he later became oldest active distiller at age 89. During the country's dry period the Stitzel-Weller Distillery held one of the few licenses to produce medicinal whiskey and when the country was once again wet, they produced brands like Old Fitzgerald, Cabin Still and Rebel Yell. It was not until 1972 that Pappy's son, J.P. Van Winkle, Jr., resurrected the original Old Rip Van Winkle brand, which lives on today.

1920-1933- U.S. Prohibition

An antique voting machine used as an example for those voting for the repeal of Prohibition.
Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham
The Temperance Movement finally got what they wanted when the U.S. Congress passed the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcohol. The entire adult beverage industry was shattered, hundreds of businesses were shut down and many went underground. The majority of bourbon distilleries were closed, many to never reopen, but a few, like the Samuels and Beam families, came back after the repeal of Prohibition and resurrected the craft of bourbon distilling. The government issued 10 licenses to produce whiskey for medicine during the time, only six of which were ever activated. One of those companies was Brown-Forman, who now produces Woodford Reserve Bourbon on the site of the Prohibition era distillery.

1964- "America's Native Spirit"

Aerial view of downtown Louisville and the Ohio River, Louisville, Kentucky, 1950s.
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images
An act of Congress declared bourbon as "America's Native Spirit" and the country's official distilled spirit. At this time the current regulations defining what can be called bourbon whiskey were established.

1973- Outshined by Vodka

Vesper Martini Cocktail
Thomas Barwick / Digital Vision / Getty Images
For the first time in history, more vodka was sold in the United States than whiskey. Many factors played a role, including James Bond and an increase in younger, female drinkers looking for a lighter drink.

2004- American Whiskey Trail Launches

Outside the Still House at Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky Distillery
Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham
The American Whiskey Trail is an educational trip to many of the distilleries and other historical sites in Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Virginia, along with two rum distilleries in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The focus of the continental section of the trail is on the history of the whiskey distilling business, which has long dominated the area. The trail includes distillery tours of Jim Beam, Jack Daniels and Maker's Mark, along with George Washington's Distillery at Mount Vernon and the Frauces Tavern where he gave his farewell speech.

2007- National Bourbon Heritage Month

American Whiskey Legends Seminar - 2009 Tales of the Cocktail
Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham
In August, 2007 the United States Senate declared that September be recognized as National Bourbon Heritage Month. While this may not have much impact with the average consumer, it is an honor for the craftsmen in the bourbon industry. The designation is designed to celebrate "America's Native Spirit" and the significant historical, economical and industrial role the bourbon industry has played in the country's history.
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