As in Scotland, Ireland, and many other countries around the world, America has a serious history with whiskey. Our unique styles, production methods, and beloved producers have all made their signature marks on the whiskey world, working to form a powerful collective history throughout the American whiskey scene. These 11 whiskies have defined American history, each uniquely molding our present-day whiskey culture into what it is today. Travel through the history of American booze with our timeline of the 11 most important whiskies ever made in America.
1783: Evan Williams is the First Commercial Distillery in Kentucky
Founded on the banks of the Ohio river in Louisville, Evan Williams was the first commercial distillery in Kentucky. But back then, they weren’t yet making the bourbon that bears their name. Back in the day they were making moonshine. Heaven Hill now makes this whiskey.
1789: Elijah Craig “Invents” Bourbon
Although Elijah Craig is credited with inventing bourbon in 1789, the claim is widely disputed. The brand is named after Elijah Craig, a Baptist preacher. Currently, the whiskey is also distilled by Heaven Hill; they craft it in its inventor’s honor.
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1795: Jim Beam First Distills “Secret” Recipe
Now in its seventh generation, Jim Beam is considerably the most iconic bourbon family in America. This bourbon was first distilled in 1795. Its secret recipe, which has remained the same for over 200 years, produces one of the best-selling brands of bourbon in the world.
1810: Old Overholt Rye Begins Production
Considered to be America’s oldest continuously operating whiskey brand, Old Overholt was founded in Pennsylvania in 1810. Current production takes place at the Jim Beam distillery in Kentucky. During Prohibition, Old Overhold maintained a license to produce medicinal whiskey, while most other distillers went out of business. After Prohibition and the world wars, many Americans switched to drinking vodka and other spirits. Old Overhold remained the only nationally distributed straight rye whiskey!
1875: Jack Daniel’s Makes Tennessee-Style Whiskey
Invented in 1875, Jack Daniel’s has become one of the country’s most iconic whiskeys and is distinctly different from bourbon, thanks to the Lincoln County Process. JD is basically responsible for creating what is now known as Tennessee whiskey.
1937: Seagrams 7 Blended Whiskey Distillery Opens
The original distillery opened in 1937 during the week of the Kentucky Derby. At the time, it was the largest distillery in the world. For over 100 years, Seagrams 7 Blended Whiskey was the flagship product of Seagrams. When the distillery closed in 1983, the whiskey was made at MGP distillery, arguably the most important distillery for craft whiskey. Nowadays, MGP sources ingredients for a huge number of whiskey favorites across the board, including Angel’s Envy, Rough Rider, Redemption, and Whistlepig.
1958: Maker’s Mark Makes First “Premium” Whiskey
Arguably the first “premium” whiskey, at least when it comes to packaging, Maker’s Mark was created in 1958 with a trademark for its red wax seal filed that same year. The goal was to create the first-ever whiskey with a flavor profile that was more easy to drink. This was accomplished with a whiskey that played more toward the sweet and sweet-spice profile, rather than a sour or bitter one.
1972: Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon is Resurrected
Better known as Pappy, Old Rip was first distilled at Stitzel Weller — otherwise known as the cathedral of bourbon. The whiskey disappeared, thanks to Prohibition, but was resurrected in 1972 by J.P. Van Winkle, Jr. It has now become the most sought-after whiskey in America, largely due to its scarcity. Year after year, collectors search high and low for this coveted commodity.
1984: Blanton’s, First Single Barrel Bourbon is Released and Saves Bourbon Industry
Blanton’s, the first single barrel bourbon, was invented by Elmer T. Lee in the 1984 as a way to revive the American whiskey industry — and it did! The whiskey’s popularity has skyrocketed in the last five years, thanks to its status as Kevin Spacey’s signature drink of choice on “House of Cards.”
1987: Bulleit Bourbon Introduces High Rye Mash Bill to the Masses
One of the biggest and most well-loved bourbons on the market today, Bulleit’s significance finds its roots in the mash bill. Clocking in at 28 percent rye, Bulleit was one of the first bourbons to make a splash in the market with high rye mash bills for the masses.
2005: Hudson Baby Bourbon Resurrects Craft Whiskey Scene Outside Kentucky
Although Hudson didn’t necessarily start the craft whiskey movement outside Kentucky, the distillery is generally credited with the revival in other states. The idea that premium whiskey no longer had to come solely from Kentucky to be of quality remains prevalent in these bottles. Tuthilltown Spirits was purchased by William Grant & Sons in 2010.