Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery

History of Bourbon from Various Distillers compiled by Big4x4

1770 The birth of bourbon. Settlers in Kentucky distill corn whiskey and age it in charred oak barrels to give its rich, smoky flavor and distinctive amber color.
Old Rip Van Winkle Product Line Bourbon is America's native spirit, but with a history and tradition steeped in the cultures of the earliest settlers. This unique American product has continually evolved and been refined over the past 200 plus years. Among the first settlers who brought their whiskey making traditions to this country were Scotch-Irish of Western Pennsylvania. Although whiskey was produced throughout the colonies (George Washington was among the noted whiskey producers of the time), these settlers of Pennsylvania are where bourbon roots began.

To help finance the revolution, the Continental Congress put a tax on whiskey production. So incensed were the settlers of Western Pennsylvania that they refused to pay. To restore order to the ensuing "Whiskey Rebellion" of 1791 to 1794, Washington was forced to send the Continental Army to quell the uprising. This turned out not to be as easy as Washington thought it might be. To save the government from a potentially embarrassing political situation and to avoid further troubles with the very tough and stubborn Scotch-Irish settlers, Washington made a settlement with them, giving incentives for those who would move to Kentucky (at that time part of Virginia). The significance of this is that the early whiskey was made primarily from rye, this was about to change with their move and "Bourbon" would be born.

The Governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, offered pioneers sixty acres of land in Kentucky if they would build a permanent structure and raise "native corn". No family could eat sixty acres worth of corn a year and it was too perishable and bulky to transport for sale; if it were turned into whiskey, both problems would evaporate.

This corn based whiskey, which was a clear distillate, would become "bourbon" only after two coincidentally related events happened. The French, having at that time their own territories in North America, assisted in the War of Independence against the British. In acknowledgment of this, French names were subsequently used for new settlements or counties. In the Western part of Virginia, the then county of Kentucky, was subdivided in 1780 and again in 1786. One of these subdivisions was named Bourbon County, after the French Royal House. Kentucky became a state in 1792 and Bourbon one of its counties.

Although Evan Williams, in 1783, might have been the first commercial distiller in Louisville, Bourbon is sometimes considered to have begun with the Reverend Elijah Craig from Bourbon County. The legend goes that he was a might thrifty and used old barrels to transport his whiskey to market in New Orleans. He charred the barrels before filling them, thus after his whiskey made the long trip to market, it had "mellowed" and taken on a light caramel color from the oak. Being from Bourbon County he started calling the whiskey "Bourbon". Interestingly today, there is no whiskey produced in Bourbon County.

In 1964, a congressional resolution protected the term "Bourbon" and only since then has the product been defined. The basic elements of Bourbon are that it must be a minimum of two years old, distilled under 160 proof, and be made from a mash of at least 51% corn. It must be aged in charred new oak barrels. Though the law does not stipulate origin, 99% of Bourbon Whiskey comes from Kentucky. Most consider the unique limestone spring water found in Kentucky the only water with that "just right" combination of minerals suitable enough for the finest Bourbons.

The next stage for the Bourbon producers is how the elements of production, storage, aging and bottling are handled.

Our wonderfully varied selections of premium Bourbons vary in style, philosophy and approach to production. If the mix of small grains in the mash changes, or the yeast strain used is different, the product changes also. Many distill and age their whiskey at a different proof. Some crack the corn, some roll it. There are those that pay attention to every detail from the growing and preparation of the grain to the proper rack house barrel rotation. In all of our premium bourbons you can find a unique point of difference and it is these subtle differences in the end product that beg study and comparison.

It is also this great variety of possibilities that make Bourbon whiskey one of the most interesting classifications of distilled spirits to explore.

What's New

The Perfect Mint Julep
1 liter Maker’s Mark
Lots of fresh spearmint leaves
1 cup distilled water
1 cup granulated sugar
Powdered sugar for garnish
Mint sprigs for garnish

1. To prepare the mint extract, remove about 40 small mint leaves – wash and place in a small mixing bowl. Cover with 3 ounces of Maker’s Mark. Allow the leaves to soak for 15 minutes. Then gather the leaves in a clean, soap-free piece of cotton cloth and vigorously wring the mint bundle over the bowl of whisky. Dip the bundle again and repeat the process several times. Then set aside.
2. To prepare the simple syrup, mix 1 cup of granulated sugar and one cup of water in a cooking pot. Heat to dissolve the sugar. Stir constantly so the sugar does not burn. Set aside to cool.

3. To prepare the mint julep mixture, pour 3 1/2 cups of Maker’s Mark into a large glass bowl or glass pitcher. (Pour the remaining whisky from the liter bottle into another container and save it for another purpose). Add 1 cup of the simple syrup to the Maker’s Mark.

4. Now, begin adding the mint extract 1 tablespoon at a time to the julep mixture. Each batch of mint extract is different, so you must taste and smell after each tablespoon is added. You may have to leave the room a time or two to clear your nose. The tendency is to use too much mint. You are looking for a soft mint aroma and taste – generally about 3 tablespoons.
5. When you think it’s right, pour the whole mixture back into the empty liter bottle and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to marry the flavors

6. To serve the mint julep, fill each glass (preferably a silver mint julep cup) half full with shaved ice. Insert a sprig of mint and then pack in more ice to about an inch over the top of the cup. Then, insert a straw that has been cut to one inch above the top of the cup so the nose is forced close to the mint when sipping the julep.

7. When frost forms on the cup, pour the refrigerated julep mixture over the ice and add a sprinkle of powdered sugar to the top of the ice. Makes 26-30 servings.

Maker's Mark 1958 the Year Big Bob was Born The first bottle of Maker's Mark was dipped, sealed and introduced at $7 a bottle.

Here is a Nice List with a Map of All the Bourbon Makers in Kentucky! Tennessee Whisky or Jack Daniels is not Bourbon


Jim Beam History

  About Heaven Hill
Founded in 1935 after the repeal of Prohibition, Heaven Hill is the nation's largest independent, family-owned producer and marketer of distilled spirits products. Based in Bardstown, Kentucky, it is the second largest holder of Bourbon whiskey in the world.

The roots of history and the art of making America's true native spirit run deep at Heaven Hill. In the open-rick warehouses where the world's finest Bourbon ages in charred white oak, you can almost feel the presence of legends like William Heavenhill, the company's namesake, and Kentucky's Bourbon pioneers Evan Williams and the Rev. Elijah Craig.

Heaven Hill combines that heritage of craftsmanship, exemplified by the personal touch of the Master Distiller, with modern technology and a commitment to stability and sustained growth worldwide. Heaven Hill's diversified portfolio includes brands such as the full line of The Christian Brothers Brandies, Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Bourbon Whiskey, Burnett's Gin & Vodka, Cluny Scotch, Two Fingers Tequila, Irish Whiskeys, Canadian Whiskies, rums, cognacs, liqueurs, cordials, and dessert wines.

Contact Us:
Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.
1064 Loretto Rd.
Bardstown, KY 40004
Tour Times:
M-Fri. 10:30, 2:30, and by appointment.
Closed major holidays, last week of June and first week of July
Reservations required for tour groups greater than 20 people.
Motor coach parking available.
No charge