Bourbon

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Whiskey in etymological meaning takes its place alongside aquavit, both meaning the water of life. Technically, it is a highly alcoholic beverage distilled from fermented grain. In the American South the abundant grain was corn, and thus came corn whiskey. Thomas Amy wrote of corn in 1682 that the Carolina settlers “have lately invented a way of making with it good sound Beer; but it’s strong and heady. By maceration, when duly fermented, a strong spirit like Brandy may be drawn off from it, by the help of an Alembick.” The name Bourbon came about later. Elijah Craig’s mill in Georgetown, Bourbon County, Kentucky, furnished ground corn for a liquor called Bourbon County whiskey, and the name soon was applied to all whiskey distilled partially or wholly from corn. Today, the mash must be 51 percent corn to carry the name Bourbon. The term sour mash refers to yeast used in fermentation; no less than one-fourth of the yeast used must come from a previous fermentation. It is analogous to the sour-dough bread process, and its adherents are equally loyal. (Tennessee whiskey is not necessarily made from a majority of corn mash; wheat or rye may predominate, but it is always distilled in Tennessee.) Two famous southern drinks are based on corn whiskey: one, the julep, draws on the English heritage; the other, Sazerac, on the French.