What comes to mind when you think of Kentucky? Is it horses? The Kentucky Derby? Bluegrass? Or is it Kentucky's biggest export... Bourbon? From Jim Beam to Makers Mark it's all made in Kentucky, primarily between Louisville and Lexington. Nearly all bourbon is made there: 95 percent, according to the Kentucky Distillers Association. The connection between the state and the spirit is undeniable. Why is this so? Here are the 5 biggest factors to the secret of Kentucky's greatest contribution to the world.
Kentucky sits on a bed of gorgeous blue limestone, which makes the ideal building block for bourbon. When water flows through the rock, it picks up minerals that add personality and flavor. Limestone also acts as a filter, eliminating bitter elements such as iron.
The water in Kentucky is hard — meaning, it has a high pH and a high proportion of minerals, including calcium and magnesium. These elements are optimal for distilling. The yeast in bourbon adores those minerals. They aid the fermentation process and create the distinctive, crisp Kentucky bourbon we know and love.
Kentucky boasts some of the richest, most fertile soil in the country, ideal for growing the major ingredient in bourbon: corn. Bourbon must contain at least 51 percent corn, and Kentucky is up to the task. The state has been corn country since its earliest days in the late 1700s. It’s so committed to the golden kernel that it grows corn in every county. Could any state top that for sheer dedication?
Hot in the summer, cold in the winter: Kentucky enjoys its weather extremes and so does its bourbon. These shifts in temperature impact the wooden barrels, which expand and contract as they age. As the barrel expands, the whiskey seeps in, absorbing the properties of the charred wood. As the barrel contracts, the whiskey flows back out, laden with flavor and golden amber in color.
The area was first settled by immigrants from Ireland and Scotland, who brought with them the whiskey-distilling skills of their homelands. Those skills were handed down from generation to generation — sowing the seeds for what would become bourbon country.
I personally found these facts interesting because I will be traveling to that area next week and I hope to sample some of the fine bourbons.