This is the rare article you will read this month — maybe in all of autumn — about bipartisanship, which seems to have gone the way of the Cuban ivory-billed woodpecker or the handshake. I stay away from politics in this column, but on the occasion of September drinking, it can’t be avoided. That’s because on Aug. 2, 2007, Congress ratified a bill that designated September National Bourbon Heritage Month. More notable, however, is that it passed unanimously. Thus, history shows that amid the countless issues and places and opinions that divide us, nothing unites Americans like bourbon.
The bill is a sequel, of sorts, to a 1964 act that declared bourbon “America’s Native Spirit,” making it the only spirit distinctive to the United States and creating legal provisions around how it’s produced and bottled. It also locked in bourbon’s geographic indication. To be called bourbon, it must be distilled from at least 51 percent corn (the rest can be a mix of other grains, like rye, wheat, or more corn), aged in brand-new charred American oak barrels, and bottled at no less than 80 proof (40 percent ABV). Flavor and color additives are prohibited.
Bourbon is just one type of whisky, a broad category defined as any spirit distilled from grains, and it’s often erroneously thought to be a product of Kentucky exclusively. Not so. As long as it sticks to the provisos, a whiskey made anywhere in the United States can legally be labeled bourbon.
According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., a trade group., bourbon sales generated almost $4 billion in revenue in 2019. And as of early 2020, there were more than 8.5 million barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky alone, or nearly two for every state resident. Seems there’s enough to get us through for a while. So, at this extreme moment when it seems like the nation couldn’t be more divided, I take solace in knowing there’s at least one American tradition that’s supported and celebrated outside the partisan lines. Just be sure to wash your hands if you’re sharing a drink with your socially distanced friends.
Liza Weisstuch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @livingtheproof.