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Andresky: America’s alcohol lexicon evolves

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Today small-batch bourbon means a whiskey distilled and aged for two years in charred oak barrels. The very best barrels are then selected as a reserve. Fifty-one percent of the grain used must be corn

George Washington won his first election to the House of Burgess on his third try in 1758 after providing the voters with 169 gallons of rum, wine, beer and cider. Washington was fond of Madeira wines and locally made beers. Back then, rum was the most popular drink of the day.

By the early 1700s, millions of gallons of rum were being made on American shores. Molasses came from the Caribbean and was distilled into rum. In Colonial America, many rum drinks were popular. “Blackstrap” was a combination of rum and molasses. “Flip” was a combo of beer and rum. Straight rum was known as “raw dram,” and “stonewall” was a combination of rum and hard cider. Some historians feel the rum drink called stonewall may have lead to the term “stoned.”

Rum soon lost favor in the American frontier to whiskey. This cheap, grain-based alcohol was best distilled when using corn or rye. Many of the hard-fighting frontiersmen of colonial America had Scottish or Irish ancestry. The Scots brought with them the technology to distill alcohol.

By 1850, Pennsylvania alone had 3,000 registered stills. Out west, bourbon whiskey had slang names like coffin varnish, Taos lightning and tarantula juice.

Because the entire new frontier was west of Gettysburg, Penn., pack horses were used on its sparse roads. A horse could carry about eight bushels of grain and bring 25 cents per bushel back then. The same horse could carry 24 bushels of grain if it was in the form of whiskey. The 24 bushels made about 16 gallons of whiskey and at $1 a gallon, the nominal haul of a $2 grain investment zoomed to $16 for whiskey. So went whiskey-farming economics along our frontier.

Bourbon whiskey must be matured for at least two years in charred oak casks. Small-batch bourbon really has no official requirements, although corn, limestone spring water and charred barrels are its cornerstones. Most are made from corn or rye or both. Bourbon’s name came from a county in Kentucky named for France’s royal family the House of Bourbon. The town of Maysville, Ky., situated on the Ohio River in Bourbon County acted as the clearing port for all those whiskey shipments. Bourbon County also is known for illegal moonshine or untaxed whiskey.

Speaking of moonshine, in the early 1800’s, it was illegal to sell liquor to Native Americans. Traders would hide small bottles of whiskey inside their boots to smuggle them, hence the expression “bootleg.”

• More about Andy Andresky: Owner of the 1776 restaurant in Crystal Lake, Andresky has written about wine for the NorthWest News Group since 1999. He is a wine consultant for area businesses and teaches wine tasting and appreciation classes. He is the co-host of the cable television show “Wine Talk,” and also is a board member of the McHenry County Health Department. Andresky can be reached through m his Web site, www.1776restaurant.com.

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