A Geographical History of Distilling in Nineteenth-Century Kentucky
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
While other industries chase after the new and improved, bourbon makers celebrate traditions that hearken back to an authentic frontier craft. Distillers enshrine local history in their branding and time-tested recipes, and rightfully so. Kentucky's unique geography shaped the whiskeys its settlers produced, and for more than two centuries, distilling bourbon fundamentally altered every aspect of Kentucky's landscape and culture.
Making Bourbon: A Geographical History of Distilling in Nineteenth-Century Kentucky illuminates how the specific geography, culture, and ecology of the Bluegrass converged and gave birth to Kentucky's favorite barrel-aged whiskey. Expanding on his fall 2019 release Bourbon's Backroads, Karl Raitz delivers a more nuanced discussion of bourbon's evolution by contrasting the fates of two distilleries in Scott and Nelson Counties. In the nineteenth century, distilling changed from an artisanal craft practiced by farmers and millers to a large-scale mechanized industry. The resulting infrastructure -- farms, mills, turnpikes, railroads, steamboats, lumberyards, and cooperage shops -- left its permanent mark on the land and traditions of the commonwealth. Today, multinational brands emphasize and even construct this local heritage. This unique interdisciplinary study uncovers the complex history poured into every glass of bourbon.
"Bringing his keen geographer's eye to a truly American topic, Karl Raitz examines the rich story of distilling in its Kentucky heartland and traces its maturation from a local craft to an enduring industry. This veteran scholar of the American scene brings to life the distilling landscape and links it to both the fascinating people and the ecological settings that made such an industry possible. Like a fine Kentucky bourbon, savor every sip of this delicious book!" -- William Wyckoff, author of How to Read the American West: A Field Guide
" Making Bourbon, a comprehensive analysis of Kentucky distilling's deep roots in ecology, heritage, technology, and place, exemplifies geographical thinking at its finest. Author Karl Raitz excavates the mythical whiskey landscape to fathom the work of nineteenth-century farmer-miller-distillers who assembled folk knowledge, raw materials, and technical innovation to produce, market, and ship whiskey -- processes that would shape a unique regional landscape for centuries to come." -- Joseph S. Wood, author of The New England Village
"Karl Raitz's Making Bourbon is a gem. The depth of Raitz's research and the breadth of his analysishave produced a masterful telling of the shift from craft to industrial distilling. And in telling us thestory of bourbon, Raitz also makes a terrific contribution to our understanding of America'snineteenth-century economy." -- David E. Hamilton, author of From New Day to New Deal: American Farm Policy from Hoover to Roosevelt, 1928-1933
"This is a wonderful trek across the geographical history of Kentucky bourbon landscape evolution. The familiar present has deep roots in the past. Raitz details with care and admirable clarity how the past remains present in the products and places of Kentucky's history and landscapes. He carefully traces the most important tangible characteristics while also highlighting the distillers' traditions, values, and practices. This will be a valuable sourcebook for all who are fascinated by this iconic American beverage." -- Stephen Birdsall, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill