We Can Thank Old Forester's Founder For First Bottling Bourbon

For fans of bourbon, that distinctly American drink, it's pretty easy to just grab a bottle from your favorite local liquor store or even your neighborhood grocery store (depending on the state you live in). You can add that bottle to your home bar to enjoy or to collect, give it as a gift, or take it with you to a dinner party to share with others. It's convenience that probably most of us take for granted. Turns out, we have Old Forester's founder, George Garvin Brown, to thank for that.

The exact origins of bourbon are unclear, with some saying Baptist minister and distiller Elijah Craig came up with it in the late eighteenth century while others say Dr. James Crow, credited with coming up with the sour mash method, was the one who invented bourbon in the early nineteenth century. Still others say the Samuels family started producing bourbon in 1783, though not commercially until 1840, which was also when bourbon became the official name for bourbon whiskey. Whatever the case, bourbon wasn't actually always available in a convenient bottle.

George Garvin Brown and Old Forester changed everything

In the early days, bourbon was only sold in large barrels, casks, and kegs to bars and shops, which often led to issues of inconsistent quality, especially since the bourbon was sometimes watered down before being resold to consumers, explains the Kentucky Historical Society. Although the water-downed bourbon and inconsistent quality may not have had that much of an effect on the average consumer, it did have a big impact for one group: doctors, who were using or prescribing the bourbon as medicinal whiskey.

George Garvin Brown, who started working as a pharmaceutical rep in the mid-nineteenth century, heard those complaints from his doctor clients and decided to do something about it. In 1870, he came up with his own Old Forester bourbon, made with batches that he sourced from three local distilleries, and sealed the spirit in glass bottles as a guarantee of quality and consistency, according to the Old Forester website. The rest is history, and to this day, the registered trademark "America's first bottled bourbon" still appears on bottles of Old Forester.