Birth of Bourbon

In 1999, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association formed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® to give visitors a firsthand look at the art and science of crafting Bourbon, and to educate them about the rich history and proud tradition of the Commonwealth's signature spirit.

It began in the 1700s with the first settlers of Kentucky. Like most farmers and frontiersmen, they found that getting crops to market over narrow trails and steep mountains was a daunting task.

They soon learned that converting corn and other grains to whiskey made them easily transportable, prevented the excess grain from simply rotting, and gave them some welcome diversion from the rough life of the frontier.

Since then, generations of Kentuckians have continued the heritage and time-honored tradition of making fine Bourbon, unchanged from the process used by their ancestors centuries before.

So how did it get the name Bourbon? Well, one of Kentucky’s original counties was Bourbon County, established in 1785 when Kentucky was still part of Virginia.

Farmers shipped their whiskey in oak barrels — stamped from Bourbon County — down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. The long trip aged the whiskey, with the oak wood giving it the distinct mellow flavor and amber color.

Pretty soon whiskey from Bourbon County grew in popularity and became known as Bourbon whiskey.

In 1964, Congress officially recognized Bourbon’s place in our history — and our future — by declaring it a distinctive product of the United States. Or, as we like to say, “America’s Official Native Spirit.”

Today, Bourbon is a signature industry that employs nearly 10,000, generates more than $125 million in taxes each year and is a growing international symbol of Kentucky craftsmanship and tradition.

Bourbon tourism is skyrocketing too, with nearly 2 million visits from all 50 states and more than 50 countries to the world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® in the last five years alone.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail® is a registered trademark of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.