Robin Barwick looks at Louisville's bourbon heritage as the second round of the USPGA Championship gets underway in Kentucky
No less than 95% of the world’s bourbon is produced in Kentucky. In other parts of the United States, a genuine bourbon bar needs to stock around a dozen different bourbons, but in Louisville, Kentucky’s primary city and where the 2014 USPGA Championship is being played this week, a serious bourbon bar stocks at least 50.
Key to Kentucky’s bourbon heritage is its prolific corn productivity. Back in the 18th century, when Kentucky’s first settlers established vast arable farms, there was so much corn surplus that rather than see it go to waste, farmers set about distilling the corn into whisky. Kentucky bourbon was non-perishable, easy to store and easy to sell, so it fast became a staple of the state’s economy.
At the turn of the 19th century, Kentucky boasted a roaring trade of 200 distilleries, but when Prohibition was introduced in 1919, in an attempt to convert the United States into an alcohol-free nation, Kentucky’s bourbon trade was brought to its knees.
“Prohibition was a failed social experiment and it nearly wiped out the entire industry,” starts Stacey Yates, of Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It lasted 13 years, and during that time only four distilleries in Kentucky kept their licence to distill bourbon, which was for medicinal purposes. You could get a doctor’s prescription to take one tablespoon of bourbon a day, and that is why today in the United States, we still sell alcohol in our pharmacies. Back then you didn’t go to a saloon for bourbon, you went to the drug store.”
What distinguishes bourbon from other whiskies, by the way, is that bourbon must be made from at least 51 percent corn, and it also has to be distilled in previously unused charred-oak barrels.
Today, Louisville is in the midst of a bourbon boom, and visitors can embark on its ‘Urban Bourbon trail’, which maps out over 30 bars that each serve at least 50 bourbons. One such bar, the Down One Bourbon Bar on Louisville’s Main Street, is even set-up like a Prohibition era ‘speak-easy’ bar, where visitors must knock on a door and utter a password for entry.
Robin Barwick travelled to the PGA Championship courtesy of Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz is the official car of the PGA Championship