Americans have been making whiskey since the mid-18th century, when waves of spirits-savvy immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and Germany moved into the colonial American frontier lands of western Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland. They worked up a mighty thirst in the process. Soon there were so many stills dribbling mash whiskey that Treasury honcho Alexander Hamilton, who was never at a loss for ways to make money for the Federal government, got the bright idea to impose a tax on them in order to pay off the Revolutionary War. The ensuing feuds between distillers and Federal "revenuers" became the colorful stuff of legend and comic strip.
Whiskey soon became America's spirit of choice, displacing rum, which had been the preferred tipple of earlier colonial Easterners. Even George Washington owned five copper pot stills, fired and tended by a Scotsman named Anderson. As evasive distillers moved even farther afield, Kentucky became and remained the spiritual and de facto center of the American whiskey industry. Today you might find an occasional deep-woods Kentucky moonshiner, but most distillers pay the Treasury its due, and then pass the cost along to the consumer.
Eagle Rare 10 YEAR OLD SINGLE BARREL ($25)
Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Single Barrel is the latest of the several bourbons (including such classics as Elmer T. Lee, Blanton's, and Ancient Age) that are made at Buffalo Trace, which has been the site of a distillery since 1787, although the first modern facility wasn't constructed until 1857. By the late 1880s, the place had a worldwide reputation for making the best bourbons in America. During Prohibition, it survived thanks to a government permit for making medicinal bourbon. (The incidence of ailments requiring a treatment of bourbon no doubt soared during these years.)