How to distill whisky.

How to distill whisky.

How to distill whisky.

explains the process of distilling a variety of whiskies from across the globe, including bourbon, Tennessee rye, blended American, maize, and Canadian whiskies from North America, as well as Scotch and Irish whiskies from Europe.

Whiskey has expanded the most throughout the globe of all the main categories of spirits, establishing a regional and stylistic variety unparalleled by any other form of distilled drink. The traditional whiskies of Scotland and Ireland emerged from the fundamental grain-based distilled spirits of ninth-century Ireland, Scotland, and northern Europe.

These spirits, in turn, inspired distillers in the newly colonized North American colonies to create what would become modern rye whiskey, followed by corn, bourbon, blended American, and Canadian whiskies in quick succession.

All of these now-classic whiskey genres have provided stylistic inspiration for a slew of new whiskies throughout the globe in recent decades, from Germany to Australia and everywhere in between. Some of the new whiskies are inspired by classic styles.

Japanese whisky distillers, for example, have drawn inspiration (as well as malt and, in some cases, water) from Scotland. Others, notably among the emerging generation of American artisan distillers, are taking big steps in new directions.


In the early 1700s, a wave of emigration from Scotland and Ireland was sparked by a combination of difficult economic conditions and religious turmoil in Great Britain against the Anglican Church.

These Scots, Irish, and so-called “Scotch-Irish” (Protestants from Ulster, Northern Ireland) brought their faith, suspicion of government authority, and whiskey-making skills to North America.

This influx, which was supplemented by German immigrants of similar religious and cultural beliefs, proceeded through the coastline colonies, settling in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and western Virginia at first.

They rapidly adapted to planting rye because of its hardiness, and Native American corn because of its high yields in the western counties. Because grain was difficult to transport to East Coast markets due to inadequate roads, many farmers began distilling their harvests into whiskey.

In Pennsylvania, rye whiskey predominated; farther west and south, corn whiskies predominated. The first commercial distilleries were founded in what was then the western Virginia county of Kentucky at the conclusion of the American War of Independence in 1784.
They started off making corn-based whiskies.


Initial and foremost, the first waves of British immigrants in North America were a thirsty group of people. It is claimed that the Pilgrims opted to make their last landing in Massachusetts, rather than their intended destination of Virginia, largely because they were running low on beer at the time of their arrival.

Beer was the first alcoholic beverage to be produced in the area, however, the restricted availability of barley malt was regularly augmented by a variety of other ingredients ranging from spruce tips to pumpkin.

In the following years, distilled spirits became popular, with rum produced from imported Caribbean molasses prevailing in the northern colonies and a variety of fruit brandies ruling in the southern colonies.

The first federal excise tax on distillers was levied in 1794 by a cash-strapped federal government. In western Pennsylvania, the farmer-distillers reacted violently to the situation. Angry crowds attacked and murdered federal tax officers in the line of duty.

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An force of 15,000 militiamen, headed by George Washington, was sent by the federal government to put down the uprising, and order was restored at last. It was decided that the ringleaders should be hung, and they were. Eventually, though, calmer heads prevailed, and they were pardoned and freed after serving their term in prison.

This situation did provoke a new migration of settlers through the Cumberland
Gap and into the then-western frontier lands of Kentucky and Tennessee. In
these new states, farmers found ideal corn-growing country and smooth
limestone-filtered water, two of the basic ingredients of bourbon whiskey.

The name bourbon comes from a county in eastern Kentucky, which in turn
was named for the Bourbon kings of France, who had aided the American rebels
in the Revolutionary War.

Bourbon County was in the early nineteenth century a
center of whiskey production and transshipping. (Ironically, at the present time,
it is a “dry” county.)

The local whiskey, made primarily from corn, soon gained a
reputation for being particularly smooth because the local distillers aged their
products in charred oak casks. The adoption of the “sour mash” grain conversion
technique further distinguished bourbon from other whiskey styles

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By the 1840s, bourbon was widely recognized and marketed as a distinct American style of whiskey, rather than as a regionally specific spirit originating in any particular region. Despite the fact that the sole legal criterion for naming a whiskey “bourbon” is that it be made in the United States, bourbon is now manufactured in Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia.

As more craft whiskey distilleries come online, the production of bourbon is progressively spreading to other states in the United States. In the beginning, bourbon was produced in pot stills, but as the twentieth century advanced, the new column still technology became more popular. In 1992, the last old-line pot still plant closed its doors in Pennsylvania, but the technology was brought back to life in Kentucky in 1995 when the historic Labrot & Graham Distillery was refurbished and reopened with a pair of new copper pot stills manufactured by Scottish craftspeople. Pot stills have become more popular among the new breed of artisan whiskey distillers in recent years.

The temperance movement, a social phenomena fueled by a strong mix of religious and women’s organizations, arose in the late nineteenth century and lasted into the early twentieth century.
Temperance groups, such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Anti-Saloon League, were active across the country, but they were especially prominent in the Southern states during this time period.

In time, the idea of temperance gave way to a proclaimed desire for total prohibition, and during the course of the remainder of the century, a variety of states and counties implemented prohibition for varied durations of time and degrees of severity. Because it interfered with the production and aging of whiskey stocks, this jumble of legal restrictions caused havoc in the bourbon industry.