Why is Bourbon Called Bourbon? The Surprising Origins!

Bourbon is one of the most popular types of whiskey in the world. It is a uniquely American drink, with strict production regulations and a rich history that dates back over two centuries. One question that many people wonder about is: Why is bourbon called bourbon? In this article, we’ll explore the surprising origins of bourbon and dig into the history of this beloved spirit.

The Origins of Bourbon Whiskey

According to legend, Bourbon whiskey was first made in Bourbon County, Kentucky, in the 1800s. However, the truth is a bit more complicated than that. Bourbon County was named after the Bourbon dynasty of France, which was ruling at the time of the county’s inception. When settlers in the area began making whiskey, they gave it the name “Bourbon” as a nod to the county’s namesake.

The Role of Corn in Bourbon

Corn plays a key role in the production of bourbon, and it’s one of the reasons why the drink has such a distinct flavor. Unlike other types of whiskey, which use a variety of grains in their mash bill, bourbon is required by law to be made up of at least 51% corn. This gives the whiskey a sweet, buttery flavor that is unique to bourbon.

The Distillation Process

Another factor that sets bourbon apart from other types of whiskey is the distillation process. To be classified as bourbon, the whiskey must be distilled to no more than 80% alcohol by volume (ABV). This helps to preserve the flavors of the mash bill and gives bourbon its distinct taste. Once the whiskey has been distilled, it is aged in charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years.

The History of Bourbon

While the origins of bourbon can be traced back to the early settlers of Kentucky, it wasn’t until the 1800s that bourbon began to gain popularity on a national scale. At the time, rye whiskey was the most popular type of whiskey in America, but bourbon soon began to overtake it in popularity. One factor that helped to spread the popularity of bourbon was its use as a form of currency. Whiskey was often used as collateral for loans and was sometimes even accepted as payment for goods and services.

The Prohibition Era

The Prohibition era in the United States (1920-1933) dealt a severe blow to the bourbon industry. With the sale and production of alcohol banned, many distillers were forced to shut down or switch to making other products such as vinegar or fuel. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the bourbon industry began to make a comeback, and it has been growing in popularity ever since.

The Birth of Bourbon Tourism

In recent years, Bourbon tourism has become a major draw for visitors to Kentucky. Distilleries such as Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, and Woodford Reserve offer tours and tastings, and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has become a popular destination for whiskey enthusiasts from around the world.


Bourbon is a uniquely American whiskey with a rich history that dates back over two centuries. Its origins can be traced back to Bourbon County, Kentucky, but its popularity has spread far beyond the borders of that region. Whether you’re a whiskey enthusiast or just someone who enjoys a good drink, bourbon is definitely worth exploring.

Most Common Questions about Bourbon

  • What is bourbon whiskey?

    Bourbon is a type of American whiskey made from a mash bill that is at least 51% corn. It must be distilled to no more than 80% ABV and aged in charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years.

  • Why is bourbon called bourbon?

    Bourbon is named after Bourbon County, Kentucky, which was in turn named after the Bourbon dynasty of France.

  • What makes bourbon different from other types of whiskey?

    Bourbon is made from at least 51% corn and is aged in charred oak barrels. It also must be distilled to no more than 80% ABV.

  • What are some popular brands of bourbon?

    Some popular brands of bourbon include Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, and Buffalo Trace.

  • Can bourbon only be made in Kentucky?

    No, bourbon can be made in any state in the United States. However, many of the most popular and well-known brands of bourbon are made in Kentucky.


  • “What is Bourbon?” The Bourbon Review, https://www.bourbonreview.com/whiskey-101/what-is-bourbon/. Accessed 15 June 2021.
  • “Bourbon Whiskey.” Epicurious, https://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/bourbon-whiskey-article. Accessed 15 June 2021.
  • “The Surprising History of Bourbon.” History.com, https://www.history.com/news/the-surprising-history-of-bourbon. Accessed 15 June 2021.

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