Hey, Kentucky, try some Rhode Island bourbon. It’s National Bourbon Day Friday, June 24, and get a taste soon of the Ocean State competition.
Bourbon has a strong following in Peace Dale at the Sons of Liberty distillers, whose tasting room draws many bourbonists – and not the French political kind – asking for it, said Bryan Ricard, marketing director.
Here in small Rhode Island, there’s growing demand for someone to compete with the corporate big boys from the south with a local brand as unique as clam chowder. The commemoration is born of legend and lore, but has some ties to an Act of Congress and a push to cement whiskey in the American culture.
While all bourbon is whiskey, not all whiskey is bourbon.
“There’s a lot of popularity to bourbon because it’s easily available and its sweet taste makes it a start for trying some of the other whiskeys, such as scotch and rye,” Ricard said, adding that bourbon invites a variety of ways to make the quintessential Old Fashioned cocktail.
The popularity of this champion in the whiskey family follows a surge in attention to its lineage. According to the national Distilled Spirits Council, America’s native spirit has been enjoying a resurgence in recent years. In 2018, over 24 million 9-liter cases of American whiskey were sold in the United States, generating over $3.6 billion in revenue for distillers.
So why all this attention to bourbon? Whiskey is as old as America and has a history just as deep, say distillers and long-time drinkers of the liquor.
With its long and storied history in America, bourbon was designated a “distinctive product of the United States” in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, who signed an Act of Congress. It also has been called the “Official Spirit of America.”
In addition to a variety of grains, real bourbon mash by federal regulation must be at least 51 percent corn. At Sons of Liberty, all the corn comes from Rhode Island fields and farmers. And corn is an important part of the story.
As a bumper crop, heavily supported by the U.S. government, the act gave excess corn a ready use in a mandated U.S. government official recipe and branding.
To be called bourbon on American liquor-store shelves, federal law requires it can only be made in America. If not U.S. distilled, it is designated the lower-class hooch cousin, plain corn whiskey. Genuine American bourbon requires, as well, not just any cask, but a new, charred, oak barrel for each batch.
There are also federal requirements for alcohol content when entering both barrel and bottle, and no additives can be put in a genuine bourbon-branded mix.
“I’ve got lots of people who want it and I want to give it to them,” said Ricard, adding that his bourbon supply at the distillery is tapped out – though his products can still be found on shelves of local package stores.
“People really like it and we just didn’t make enough to meet all the demand,” he said.
Although Sons of Liberty has depleted its bourbon supply, homage to the spirit can still paid in the cask room. This cement-walled section of the Kingstown Road distillery stores nearly 1,000 gallons of the smooth and sweet tasking liquor, in aging barrels.
Like sniffing over a neat pour from a Glencairn glass tapered to capture aromas and funnel them upwards, that same smell drifts up the nostrils of anyone walking into the storage area of stacked wooden casks.
So, bourbonists, mark your calendars for some time early next year when once again bourbon will be back to pour, pick, sip and mix, Ricard said.
He admitted that some aficionados may be disappointed if they can’t enjoy a bourbon on Friday at his distillery, which opened in 2011 and also makes whiskey, beer, vodka and other related alcohol products. But Ricard has a bourbon backup plan that he hopes will interest whiskey drinkers.
Sons of Liberty plans a party to introduce a brother of bourbon. Called heavily peated American single malt whiskey under the Sons of Liberty name, it’s coming just in time to celebrate Father’s Day on Sunday.
However, Hallmark has a bigger claim on Father’s Day than poor bourbon has with any day other than May 4, 1964, when the official designation was signed. But Party Excuses, though, enjoyed a shot or two of the old stuff to claim a day, and even set up a website called nationalbourbonday.com.
“Many of the dates chosen do not seem to have any specific history or rationale. Sometimes the ‘holiday’ is celebrated on more than one day. Nothing wrong with any of this as it all contributes to more party excuses - we just wanted you to know. Have Fun & Party Responsibly!,” Party Excuses cheerfully explains in its own excuse for listing dates real and imagined.
So, bourbon lovers, enjoy your one day of semi-official recognition.
Party Excuses Network next month is on to National Tequila Day July 24, National Scotch Day July 27, National Rum Day August 16, World Gin Day was just last week and National Bootleggers Day was January 17.
But, as Ricard from South Kingstown’s Sons of Liberty put it, “Every day is whiskey day here.”