At the height of the Revolutionary War, and France was proving to be an important ally in our war with our previous Anglican and British overlords. In 1780 the county of Kentucky in the Western region of Virginia was subdivided. One of these subdivisions was named Bourbon County, to show an appreciation for the French Royal House of Bourbon’s support.
Tomas Jefferson who was then serving as the Governor of Virginia (1779–1781), offered citizens sixty acres of land in Kentucky if they would migrate there, raise native corn, and turn it into whiskey. Not only was whiskey worth more than the corn it came from, but British blockades had cut off rum supplied from the Caribbean prompting the need for a American made spirits.
Any frontier farmer who raised more grain than he could eat or feed to his livestock could distill whiskey at home. If he didn’t own a still, he found a neighbor who did and gave him a portion of the whiskey as payment.
Whiskey had a patriotic flavor. It was an all-American drink, made in America by Americans from American grain, unlike rum, wine, gin, Madeira, brandy, coffee, chocolate, or tea, which had to be imported and were taxed.
All preaching and no play makes for dull frontier life, so Craig and company took Jefferson up on his offer and moved his Traveling Church to Bourbon County. It is rumoured he transported his whiskey in old charred barrels to New Orleans, and marked all of the barrels with the word ‘Bourbon’ (as in Bourbon County).
By the end of this long trip the Bourbon County Whiskey had taken on the charred oak color and flavor that the French residents of Louisiana loved. Reverend Elijah Craig’s barrels became known as ‘Bourbon Whiskey’, and thus bourbon had gained its name. In 1789, Elijah Craig founded his distillery and became the first Bourbon Master Distiller in history.