Why Bourbon County Didn't Produce Its Namesake Spirit Until 2014

At some point in your life, you've probably had some overconfident man at a party explain to you that bourbon can only be made in Bourbon county, Kentucky. It's a common misconception, likely fueled by the famous tenet that champagne can only be made in the Champagne region. In fact, like champagne, the name Bourbon comes from France, and various legends claim the whiskey got its name from either Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Bourbon County in Kentucky, both named for the French royals known as the Bourbon Dynasty (per Smithsonian).

Bourbon is a type of whiskey aged in new, charred oak barrels, with a grain mix containing a minimum of 51 percent corn. According to Whiskey Raiders, bourbon can be made outside of Kentucky, though the state's climate and high levels of limestone in water make it an ideal place for aging and filtering bourbon, and result in the liquor's distinctive smoky, sweet, and spicy flavor. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, but about 95 percent of bourbon production still takes place in Kentucky, where heavy hitters like Jim Beam and Wild Turkey are headquartered (per Barrell Craft Spirits).

Not one of these distilleries, however, is located in Bourbon county. Seems a bit funny, doesn't it?

Prohibition took the bourbon out of Bourbon county

It's difficult to trace the exact origins of bourbon since rural Southerners had likely been privately distilling various forms of whiskey throughout the 18th century, but according to Difford's Guide, the first record of a distillery in the Bourbon area dates to 1783. Bourbon continued to evolve over the following century, but regulation solidified a version closer to what you're now familiar with thanks to the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 (per Food & Wine).

Barely two decades later, though, this local tradition would disappear for nearly a hundred years. In the year 1919, when the Volstead Act signed Prohibition into law, a whopping 26 bourbon distilleries in Bourbon county closed their doors, never to reopen (per Eater). Time Out confirms that there were no active bourbon distilleries in Bourbon county from then up until 2014, when a little distiller by the name of Hartfield & Co. arrived in Paris, Kentucky. At the time, it went by the name The Gentleman, which was later changed over a trademark issue (per Cask Cartel). Their small-batch bourbon is designed to come as close to Pre-Prohibition styles of bourbon distilling as possible in an effort to return Bourbon county to its traditional roots (via Hartfield & Co.).