For a shot of courage, George Washington would give whiskey to his Continental Army troops. From morale booster to taxable commodity, whiskey has been part of American history since day one—like it has been a part of world history for thousands of years. Bourbon is another story; bourbon is the distinct product of American resourcefulness and ingenuity.
Distilled from corn and aged in sealed barrels, bourbon has its origins in Kentucky. Maybe bourbon was the God-given brainchild of Baptist minister Elijah Craig, or maybe the good Reverend leant his name to soften the legal knife of Prohibition. Either way, with sales of super premium bourbons up 104% over the past five years (Plotkin, 2015), more people are coming to bourbon than ever before.
Here are three beginner-friendly bourbons (which can easily be found on store shelves) to wet your novice whistle:
This old school bourbon has been around since the beginning when Basil Hayden Sr. started distilling it in Kentucky when Washington was still president. It’s a mellow 80 proof, amber, honey-flavored bourbon with a high rye mash bill. A sip will leave you with very little aftertaste and next to no unpleasant nostril burning. Basil Hayden's was my gateway bourbon, and I keep a case on hand to use as hostess gifts throughout the year.
Hudson Baby is distilled from 100% corn as opposed to the mix of corn and rye used in other bourbon whiskeys, (though by law all bourbons must be at least 51% corn-based). The all-corn approach is historical—corn being the top Kentucky agricultural commodity in the early days of the state. The tone leans predominantly sweet, with occasional detections of oak, metal, and vanilla associated with the barrel itself. As a new bourbon drinker, you are obligated to try a 100% corn bourbon. Plus the distillery, Tuthilltown, sources 90% the material prima within ten miles of their site.
Peach Street Distillers in Palisade, CO craft their bourbon ‘from grain to glass.’ Unlike non-distiller producers, Peach Street chooses Colorado corn and pure Rocky Mountain water to finesse their high vanilla, homespun bourbon locally in a Christian Carl brandy pot with a column still. The barrels rest onsite for 2 to 5 years before bottling. If you want to try a true Colorado bourbon, Peach Street’s hooch is the real Colorado deal.