While it’s no secret bourbon can legally be made in any American state, there’s an indelible link between Kentucky and America’s native spirit. Distillers in the Bluegrass State filled an incredible 1.7 million barrels with bourbon in 2019, taking the total number of casks currently aging in the state to 7.5 million. Even using conservative calculations, that’s enough to fill more than 1 billion bottles (or mix at least 13 billion Old Fashioneds).
Despite the fact the lion’s share of production takes place in Kentucky, many of the companies that own the leading bourbon brands are based out of state. Some even have their global headquarters on different continents. Confusing matters further, many of the bottles that appear to compete for shelf space in liquor stores are actually owned by the same company.
For example, Four Roses and its iconic Lawrenceburg, Ky., distillery are owned by Japan’s Kirin Brewery Company. As for that bottle of Pappy Van Winkle you’ve never set eyes on, let alone tasted? That’s produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfurt, Ky., which is owned by the New Orleans-based Sazerac Company. Van Winkle is just one of the company’s 17 bourbon brands. Then there’s Heaven Hill, which is based in Kentucky and owns no fewer than 10 bourbon brands. Among them are bottom-shelf staples like Evan Williams, and rarely seen unicorns such as Old Fitzgerald.
To help make sense of the dizzying landscape, VinePair produced this infographic showing who owns what in the bourbon world. To make things somewhat simpler, we’ve left out independently owned brands — not only because there are too many to fit on one page, but also because many source rather than distill their own whiskey (although some of the brands in this graphic have, at some point, sourced juice from other distilleries.)