The Story of Whiskey and its Many Battles: A Brief History of the Spirit in America

The story of whiskey is composed of long fought battles; it’s survived harsh winters, wars, prohibitions, negative advertisement campaigns,  and has proven to be quite stubborn, persistent, and just so darned good that it has emerged —despite all that—victorious on the other side. It persevered through centuries, battles, revolutions and uprisings and it remains a beloved and trusted friend when things get rough, when winters get cold, and when life has things worth celebrating. And in life, there is always plenty to celebrate.

The very source of its name—that comes from the Gaelic “water of life”— tells us a lot about this spirited liquor. Whiskey originated from mystical and rainy boglands of Ireland and Scotland (each country claims ownership) and it made its way across Europe and into the New World where revolutionary thinkers drafted the greatest Constitution known to man, which then gave birth to the greatest most prosperous country in the Western world.

So let’s start there.

From the foggy majestic lands of Ireland and Scotland, the drink made its way to the shores of the thirteen colonies, where European settlers cultivated, explored, deliberated, and worked to structure and found the United States of America.

The Early Signs

The early settlers of Plymouth and Jamestown brought from their native England more than just their quest for freedom. They brought plenty of ales and spirits, but when the supply eventually ran out, they were forced to brew their own beer. They also tried using honey to produce other types of drinks like mead and metheglin. Eventually, stills were established and the first liquors made here were made from various ingredients including berries, plums, potatoes, apples, carrots, and grains. The story goes that the first whiskeys made here happened around the mid 18th century.

George Washington himself knew all about distilling liquor, as he had erected stills in the 1770s to produce rum. Irish and Scottish settlers coming to the colonies and settling westward, along with German settlers, all contributed to the rise of whiskey in the American lands. Whiskey began being made in the middle colonies.

Whiskey Rebellion

When liquor and beer began to be taxed in order to pay back debt, many of the states felt unfairly targeted and were not too thrilled with the high rates. The tax was often imposed based on the alcohol level of the drink. There were uprisings and skirmishes throughout these states, but in Pennsylvania things really came to a head. Disputes continued between whiskey makers and tax collectors. Whiskey rebels that defied the law had their properties destroyed, their backs lashed, or were forced into collection centers.  After the army became involved and Washington established his authority as the country’s first president, pardon’s were offered for people who complied with the law henceforth. During the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania, many distillers fled to Kentucky and it was in this rich and fertile land that American bourbon was born.

The Kentucky Legacy

The love of bourbon and the establishment of distilleries grew in Kentucky. The natural lands were very friendly to the production of the drink because of the many trees. The first recorded commercial distillery was built by a man named Evan Williams in Louisville in 1783. Of course, it’s quite possible that before and during this time most whiskey producers were already selling and bartering their product. Many famous families helped the industry of whiskey rise to the top.

Whiskey at War

During the Prohibition era, whiskey, like all other alcoholic drinks, had to go into hiding. Of course, we all know that it was not completely vanished and that underground distilleries and alcohol barons continued the sale and distribution of some alcohol. So the drink continued to circulate. During World War II, whiskey played a big role in providing ‘southern comfort,’ so to speak, to American and British troops on the lines. The drink was often used to steady the nerves of troops going into battle and facing unprecedented enemy fire or having to undergo medical procedures without proper anesthesia or bear injuries that were difficult to tend in the field. Whiskey remained incredibly popular at home and saw a kind of ‘golden age’ the years following the war.

Enjoy Tradition every Wednesday

Whether you prefer traditional Irish whiskey like Jameson or the real deal American Kentucky bourbon—Jim Beam or Makers Mark —we have the spirit you need. Every Wednesday we celebrate the power of this fermented liquid gold by offering $4 whiskey.

Visit us at Crown and Eagle today.

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