31 Aug 2023

The Bourbon Effect: Chemistry, Sustainability and Life Cycle Analysis of Kentucky Bourbon

Jamie Young Wise and Idoia Meaza, University of Louisville

When you hear “Kentucky,” what are the first two words that come to your mind? For many people, it is bourbon and bluegrass. While Kentucky, the Bluegrass State, is a leader in both, bourbon was “born” in Kentucky. Generally, the invention of bourbon is credited to Elijah Craig, a Baptist minister and distiller, who in 1789 in Fayette County, Kentucky, came up with the most brilliant idea of aging corn whiskey in charred oak barrels – and bourbon was born! Since then, the science of bourbon has been studied and manipulated by countless distillers, chemists, businessmen and home brewers. Today, approximately 95% of this Bluegrass State-born beverage comes from Kentucky. Interesting trivia factoid: Bourbon is the only spirit the United States claims as its own. In fact, approximately 13 years before the first Star Wars movie even came out, May the 4th was a special day! It was on this day in 1964 that bourbon became America’s only official native spirit.

There are rules that make bourbon – well, bourbon – and as long as those rules are followed, everything else is fair game. Today, scientists are even studying the DNA of bourbon! Importantly, the science of bourbon reaches far beyond the actual beautiful beverage we can enjoy neat (pure drink, no ice) or on the rocks (ice, please). At the front end of the process is the grand White Oak, whose sustainability is essential to the bourbon industry. On the back end is the use and recycling of the spent water (also known as stillage) that is released as a byproduct of the process. And then there is everything in between. From sustainability to chemistry to pure enjoyment, our session, “The Bourbon Effect: Chemistry, Sustainability and Life Cycle Analysis of Kentucky Bourbon and Other Spirits,” will engage participants in the science of bourbon, from beginning to end, and cover sustainability and history, while providing a unique, well-rounded introduction to a follow-on experience at the Frazier History Museum (Editor's note: The Frazier History Museum Tour is sold out). Just a short walk from the convention center, the museum is the official start of the famous Bourbon Trail. Here, you’ll enjoy a guided tour of Spirit of Kentucky® Bourbon Exhibit followed by a bourbon tasting. Afterwards, you’ll have time to explore the rest of the museum on your own.

Author's contact: [email protected]