One Bourbon, One Shot & One Beer: Why So Many Americans Love Bourbon
Are you singing that song in your head now? If you’re not, Google it. It’s one of the great songs, highlighting America’s love of bar time comradery. And while John Lee Hooker (1966) and George Thorogood (1977) were singing about their woes, celebrating with spirits is more the American pastime. And of all the spirits to sip and celebrate with, American bourbon is among the absolute most favorite of all. But why?
What is it about a stout bourbon that makes it so iconic in our lives and culture? Actually, there’s a lot more to bourbon than just its husky hue. In fact, there are a whole host of reasons why so many Americans still love and at least widely respect this legendary liquor. Think about what makes it one of your favorites. Then see if any of these other reasons resonate with bourbon being the great American spirit.
It’s Kind of an American Thing
Probably the most obvious reason bourbon is such an American favorite is that, well, it’s American. Dating back to 1964, when Congress passed legislation naming bourbon the official spirit of the United States, it kind of makes it a legendary drink for Americans. Back then, they called it “America’s Native Spirit,” which does give you a sense of what Congress felt was important in the 60s.
American Ingredients and American Made
While many of the greatest bourbons hail from Kentucky, it’s not a requirement that a good bourbon be produced there. In fact, the only real prerequisites to creating an American-worthy bourdon include:
- It has to be made with 51% corn.
- It has to be aged in a new, white oak barrel that’s had the insides charred.
- It has to be free of any color or flavor additives.
- It has to be between 80 and 160 proof, meaning 40%-80% alcohol.
- It can only be diluted with water should the proof be too high.
And since we Americans made those rules and built distillery operations dedicated to preserving those rules, it just makes bourbon feel that much more American.
North American Bourbon Barrels
If you want to find a “new” American White Oak barrel, you’ll have to come to the United States. By law, each barrel is only used once. And they’re mostly found here, making them a great product for export. Some barrels, upon use for aging bourbon, will get shipped off to Scotland, for example, for use there in aging scotch varieties. But anywhere that makes bourbon is likely using American White Oak barrels from right here on U.S. soil. And it’s just another reason why bourbon carries strong weight among American spirit drinkers.
It Fueled Continental Expansion
Some say bourbon is so iconic in the U.S. because it played such a pivotal role in the rural expansion of the U.S. territories. It’s true, though. Lewis and Clark, with their great expeditions west, didn’t load up on water or wine to take with them. They did, however, pack 120 gallons of bourbon to sustain their two-year adventure toward the Pacific Ocean.
Famous U.S. People and American Bourbon
Making it even more iconic in history is the long list of famous and influential people who made bourbon their favorite beverage of choice. Some of these names should be more than familiar. And bourbon sipping is just one lifestyle preference that connects them all.
- Abraham Lincoln
- Andrew Jackson
- Ulysses S. Grant
- Walt Whitman
- Harry Truman
- Daniel Webster
- Jack London
- Henry Clay
- Mark Twain
- John Way,
- Anthony Bourdain
A Favorite Among the Military
Dating as far back as the U.S. has had an army, bourbon has been a staple. Remember, it was the increased taxation on distilleries that first fueled the American settlers to rise up against their British opponents. And when the Civil War split the nation, Abraham Lincoln reportedly used taxes on border state Kentucky’s distilled spirits income to pay for much of the Union’s efforts. So, in a way, bourbon played a role in the outcome.
Strong Kentucky Roots
There’s something rewarding about enjoying a fine spirit aged and prepared with Kentucky hands. When Congress passed that Resolution 57 back in 1964, declaring bourbon whiskey to be a “distinctive product of the U.S.,” they did mean Kentucky back then. And today, while other bourbon distilleries dot the American landscape, Kentucky does still have the biggest bourbon presence. Check out these stats:
- Kentucky has the highest consumption of straight whiskey, per capita, with more than 293 nine-liter cases consumed per one thousand adults.
- Bardstown, Kentucky, is the official Bourbon Capital of the World®.
- There are 11 distilleries in and around Bardstown, KY, alone. There are roughly 70 bourbon distilleries statewide.
What Makes Bourbon So Special?
Ok, so maybe all those historical and regional reasons make sense as an answer to why so many Americans appreciate their bourbon. But what is it about bourbon, really? What makes it so special to everyone, from the famous and influential to the average citizen grilling in the backyard? Part of bourbon’s allure is how it’s made. Unlike other spirits, all whiskey varieties are additionally aged during production. Every bourbon you sample is made from a fermented grain. It’s then precisely aged in those specialized barrels we mentioned before. Using different types of grain and different barrels will create the various flavors of whiskey you enjoy today.
As a beverage, bourbon is special because it’s one of the more approachable spirits available. It’s smooth and can come in a variety of flavors, including vanilla, fruit, oaky, spiced, and honey. There is something deeper about bourbon that makes it feel both simple to drink and complex to enjoy at the same time. And even if you’re not a fan of bourbon in general, you’re still likely to find at least one variety you don’t mind sipping on at a party.
Why American Bourbon Is Trendsetting Now
It’s not uncommon for socializing young adults to change trends about favorite spirits and cocktail-drinking habits. And if you haven’t been out and about in a while, you might not realize that bourbon is quite the trendsetter these days. Today’s bourbon continues to be high quality, appealing to premium-seeking consumers. Over the past five years, studies show that the sale of bourbon has increased by more than 135%. It’s inspiring a recent boom in bourbon exports, bourbon crafts, and traditional bourbon production. It’s estimated that more than 13% of all age-appropriate Americans are bourbon drinkers. Of those bourbon enthusiasts, 70% are men. But more women are adopting a classic bourbon as their favorite, shifting those metrics more towards female consumption.
There’s Something Classy and Refined About American Bourbon
Bourbon, over the decades, has earned a reputation for being a more refined beverage to enjoy sip by sip. It carries with it some degree of nobility and class for those who order it. And offering guests a premier quality bourbon means offering your best.
Among most circles, it’s also understood that drinking bourbon says more about you than just enjoying a classic spirit taste. Many believe those who drink bourbon are also fiercely loyal in nature. They’re often considered to be “old souls” for appreciating such a pillar liquor variety rooted in history.
If you’re enjoying bourbon-based cocktails, like the Manhattan, an Old Fashioned, or the Mint Julep, you’re just as classy. So, regardless of how you choose to enjoy your bourbon, as a stand-alone sipper or mixed with other flavors in a cocktail, you’re exuding some element of sophistication.
Know the Bourbon Rules
It’s not uncommon for any American pastime or favorite anything to also have rules. And to really become a connoisseur, you need to understand some of these other bourbon-related rules. In addition to the required pre-requisites mentioned above, in bourbon production, know these other bourbon guidelines to really impress your friends.
- Enjoy the premier bourbon with the first glass. Move to the common bourbon for the second since your senses aren’t as sharp or worthy of the premium bourbon. (There’s a reason why George Thorogood drinks bourbon before his second shot and third beer.)
- Bourbon is high society, but don’t be pretentious about how you or your guests enjoy theirs.
- Don’t judge a person by their bourbon choice. Even the more common, less-expensive varieties are sublime.
- Let the host determine which bourbon you’re drinking, and subsequently, allow them to guide your bourbon-drinking experience.
- Try every new bourbon neat first. You can explore other ways to drink it after you’ve sampled it in its most native form.
Anyone Can Enjoy Bourbon
Here’s the other reason why so many Americans love their bourbon. Bourbon is a spirit anyone can drink and everyone can enjoy. It’s classy without being a spirit snob. And it comes in affordable flavors as well as high-quality premium versions, speaking to nearly every liquor-sipping connoisseur’s preferences.
While there’s no right or wrong way to really enjoy your bourbon, there are four primary methods of consuming this golden spirit.
- Neat (Straight out of its original bottle, in a room-temperature glass)
- On the Rocks (Slowly poured over two ice cubes)
- Splash of Water (Just a splash, though)
- In a Cocktail (Thoughtfully paired with other incredible flavor enhancers)
And if you’re really a bourbon enthusiast, your friends might call you a “tater.” This is an endearing term meant to indicate you’re keen to perpetuate newly found hype and buzz, dwelling on new trends and emerging ideas. In other words, if you hear a particular bourbon has recently won an award or is being offered in a new variety, you’re a “tater” if you run out to be one of the first to try it. A “tater” is not so favorable, however, if you’re one of those people who race out to find rare bourbon finds, only to hoard them for purposes of snobbery or resale. So, if your friends are calling you a “tater,” make sure it’s for the right reasons.
American Bourbon Is More Than a Drink; It’s an Experience
There’s another reason Americans love their bourbon. Bourbon tends to be the spirit of choice for some of life’s most momentous occasions. Whether you’re celebrating a new job with friends or toasting with family over the new baby being born, bourbon is a fantastic partner for life-changing events. And while those momentous occasions resonate with us for years, so do the sights, smells, and tastes of those moments. Bourbon translates as an experience, not just a beverage.
If you weren’t keen on bourbon before, you might be eager to start sampling now. And if you have any plans to be in Kentucky, set up your distillery tour at one of the many incredible bourbon facilities! Let Distillery Nearby be your guide, and start seeing why bourbon is such an American favorite for yourself! And if you find yourself in a situation like John Lee Hooker or George Thorogood, ordering “one bourbon, one shot, and one beer,” take the time you need to savor that first one.
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