Is bourbon from Kentucky? Is Jack Daniels bourbon?

Many people believe that in order for whiskey to be a bourbon, it must be from Kentucky, because, supposedly:
(a) bourbon whiskey was invented there,
(b) in order for it to be legally called whiskey it has to be made in Kentucky,
(c) and that there is a place today called “Bourbon county, Kentucky” which matches a place with that name from the 1700’s.

So let’s address these ideas:

(a) bourbon whiskey was invented there. Nope.  Whiskey made in oak barrels, made of a mash bill of 51% or more corn, was common in many states and territories in the past.

(b) in order for it to be legally called whiskey it has to be made in Kentucky: Nope. The Kentucky Distiller’s Association itself says no

Does Bourbon have to be made in Kentucky? No, but 95 percent of the world’s Bourbon is – and we’d highly recommend it. A 1964 Congressional Resolution declared Bourbon an indigenous product of the United States, meaning it must be made in this country (hence the saying that Bourbon is “America’s Official Native Spirit”). In other words, no other country can make a product and call it “Bourbon.”

(c) There is a place today called “Bourbon county, Kentucky” which matches a place with that name from the 1700’s. I certainly thought so! – but apparently this isn’t quite correct. Mark Gillespie, Host and producer of WhiskyCast, writes:

the actual “Bourbon County” of the pioneer days no longer exists, since it dates back to when Kentucky was part of Virginia (along with West Virginia) during the colonial period. Today’s “Bourbon County” is named for traditional reasons only, and is actually a dry county with no distilleries. If Ozzie’s claim were to be correct, we would have no Bourbon whiskies today.

Historical Map of Bourbon County Kentucky

On a related note, Jack Daniels is really a charcoal filtered bourbon. In the United States of America, there are laws on how all spirits, including whiskeys, are classified. In the US Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) Chapter 4. Class and Type Designation  there are no designations for Tennessee Whiskey – rather, Jack Daniels falls squarely under the category of ‘bourbon’.

I’d write an article, but whiskey historian and author Chuck Cowdery already has done good investigatory work on this issue. In the following articles Chuck explains how Jack Daniels led their state to create a new name for their style of bourbon, for advertising purposes (which is perfectly fine.)

But just for the heck of it note that the United States legally declares that “Tennessee Whiskey is a straight Bourbon Whiskey” as part of international law – NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement.) See Chapter Three: National Treatment and Market Access for Goods, Annex 313 Distinctive Products

1. Canada and Mexico shall recognize Bourbon Whiskey and Tennessee Whiskey, which is a straight Bourbon Whiskey authorized to be produced only in the State of Tennessee, as distinctive products of the United States. Accordingly, Canada and Mexico shall not permit the sale of any product as Bourbon Whiskey or Tennessee Whiskey, unless it has been manufactured in the United States in accordance with the laws and regulations of the United States governing the manufacture of Bourbon Whiskey and Tennessee Whiskey.

NAFTA Annex 313 Distinctive Products

What’s in a Name? If It’s “Tennessee Whiskey,” a Lot, Chuck Cowdery

A Tennessee Whiskey History Lesson, Chuck Cowdery

Let’s Be Clear About This Tennessee Whiskey Thing, Chuck Cowdery

Tennessee Whiskey, Again. Chuck Cowdery

Finally, what happens if someone asks the the assistant master distiller at Jack Daniels, Chris Fletcher:

Jack Daniels is bourbon

Also consider their own official COLA (spirit identification paperwork), TTB ID 11018001000381, from 2011. They say that their Jack Daniels is bourbon.

TTB ID 11018001000381 By Brown-Forman for Jack Daniel Feb 15 2011 Bourbon


Some beautiful vintage Kentucky Bourbon ads

Old Taylor Kentucky Bourbon 1939


Crab Orchard Bourbon Circa June 1934





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