The Historic Reason Kentucky Is The Bourbon Hub Of The World

There's no doubt that Kentucky is the bourbon hub of the world — it produced 95% of the entire world's supply of bourbon in 2022. As a distinctive product of the United States, bourbon must be made in the country, though there is no such requirement that it be made in a specific state. So just how did come to be that Kentucky became the undisputed bourbon capital that it is? History and geography.

In 1779, Virginia passed the "Corn Patch and Cabin Rights" Act, which promised settlers 400 acres of land in their Kentucky territory if they built a cabin and planted corn, a crop that grew abundantly in the fertile land of the region. This attracted German, Scottish, and Irish immigrants, who brought with them the knowledge of how to distill whiskey. Producing more corn than they could consume, or easily transport, many turned to distilling that corn into whiskey, in a distinctive form that eventually became bourbon. By the time of the Whiskey Rebellion, just two years after Kentucky became a state in 1792, there were already an estimated 500 distilleries in the state, whiskey historian Fred Minnick notes to History. Among those were strong families that remained involved in bourbon production for generations, weathering through downturns and helping the industry grow.

The ideal conditions for bourbon

Kentucky also benefits from ideal geography and climate. More than half of the surface rocks of the state are made up of limestone, which acts as a natural water filter.  As a result, Kentucky has the ideal mineral water for making bourbon — low in iron and high in magnesium and calcium. Kentucky also has the ideal weather for maturing bourbon — hot and humid summers and cold and dry winters that cause the bourbon to cycle in and out of the wood of the barrel as it's maturing.

Kentucky is also home to numerous rivers and waterways, making it easy to transport the bourbon for sale to key markets, such as the saloons of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, which some credit for giving bourbon its name (with the other main theory being that much of the bourbon was being produced in Bourbon County, Kentucky). The bourbon industry has only grown in Kentucky since then, becoming the $9 billion industry that it is today.