- Historic Sites
The American Spirit
Bourbon whiskey has had a long, rugged ride from the frontier to the top shelf
May/June 1998 | Volume 49, Issue 3
With the multiplication of new top-shelf brands, is bourbon, after two centuries, winning the kind of serious respect people give to single-malt Scotches? It looks that way from the evidence of bars like Reservoir, in New York, where a blackboard lists eleven premium bourbons above the eight single malts offered. And the people at the Brown-Forman Corporation, owner of Early Times, Old Forester, and Jack Daniel’s, certainly think so. In 1995 they refurbished and reopened the former Old Oscar Pepper Distillery. Built in 1812, in Versailles, Kentucky, it is the place where Dr. James Crow first brought bourbon making out of the dark ages. As the Labrot &C Graham distillery (the name it had after 1878), the new operation is a sort of microdistillery, using pot stills from Scotland rather than a continuous still and producing a fully handcrafted bourbon that won’t begin to be ready for several more years (an early version called Woodford Reserve, distilled and partially aged elsewhere, is already available regionally). Whereas most distillers turn out hundreds of barrels a day and Maker’s Mark eighteen, Labrot & Graham will make only three. The company is betting on a connoisseur’s market for very expensive bourbon made in extremely small quantities. It seems just possible that bourbon is coming to be recognized as America’s cognac—even in America.