Straight Bourbon: Distilling the Industry's Heritage

Straight Bourbon: Distilling the Industry's Heritage


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The story of bourbon production is a tale of American innovation, industry, and craft. Join photographer Carol Peachee on a visual journey from farm to bottle, with stunning images of the distilleries, farms, copper, brass, and steel works, cooperages and stave mills, and barrel warehouses that transform corn into liquid gold, while former Maker’s Mark President Bill Samuels Jr. and whiskey historian Carolyn Brooks trace the impact of historical industries and production methods on the modern bourbon brand. From the ruins and rusted machinery of early distilleries to the flames of a modern barrel factory, 280 full-color photographs of Straight Bourbon offer a rare glimpse into the creation of America’s native spirit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253029478
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 09/04/2017
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 588,244
Product dimensions: 7.90(w) x 10.10(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Carol Peachee is author and photographer of The Birth of Bourbon: A Photographic Tour of Early Distilleries and photographer of Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide.

Read an Excerpt

Straight Bourbon

Distilling the Industry's Heritage

By Carol Peachee

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2017 Carol Peachee
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-02947-8


Carol Peachee's remarkable distillery photographs can be appreciated on many levels — as documentation of the enduring repetition of centuries-old processes; as a glimpse of industrial equipment seen as eccentric contemporary sculptures; or as moving tales of abandonment and renewal. They are unique aesthetic statements as well as documents that inform about the inner workings of the distilling industry in Kentucky. As a group, they provide much detailed information about the ingredients, equipment, processes, and buildings involved in whiskey production. Not coincidentally, the adjectives that one might use to describe the photos — rich, warm, intense, and saturated in the colors copper, amber, and gold — are among the adjectives often used to describe the very best straight bourbon whiskey for which Kentucky is so famous.

The photographs remind us of the complex web of support industries, products, and people that have been necessary to make the distilling industry tick over time. From the early days of relatively simple whiskey making in Kentucky, farmers, millers, coppersmiths, coopers, and builders have all played a critical role in provided the raw ingredients, the equipment, and the buildings necessary for whiskey production. As the industry matured in the second half of the nineteenth century and the years leading up to Prohibition in 1920, this list grew enormously. Bottling became an important part of the industry beginning in the late 1880s and a requirement after the repeal. Supplies for bottling and shipping ran the gamut from the bottles themselves to corks, caps, labels, paste, and the wooden boxes and later many varieties of cardboard containers used for shipping. Architects and engineers specializing in distillery design and construction; tank makers who fashioned enormous cypress fermenting vats; expert still makers capable of making voluminous pot stills as well as column stills many stories high; pump, filter, boiler, and slop dryer manufacturers; and stencil and burning brand makers were just some of the many specialists supplying the distilleries.

The 1890 Louisville city directory lists more than 125 Louisville businesses serving the industry. A year later, on January 1, 1891, the Louisville Courier-Journal published a long article titled "Kentucky Whiskies: A Product in Which This State Is Conceded to Lead All Others." An additional subtitle reads "A Great Employer of Labor, It Also Provides a Market for Many Products." The article singles out corn, rye, malt, coal, staves, hoop iron, cattle, hay, straw, labor, and railways as those products particularly benefiting from the industry. The cattle, hay, and straw have to do with the extensive livestock operations run by most distilleries before the common use of drying equipment as a way to deal with the nutrient-rich by-product of distillation commonly referred to as "slop." Yeast and barrels, two unmentioned products in the article, were frequently made by the individual distilleries at this date.

The photographs in the book for the most part coalesce around three stages in the production process — the preparation of the raw materials from which the bourbon is created; distillation itself, during which these raw ingredients, by this point in the form of a "mash," are transformed into alcohol; and the aging process, which starts with filling barrels with newly distilled whiskey and then placing those barrels in various types of warehouses to age into fine bourbon. The photographs show historical as well as contemporary processes and products from each of the stages. Of all the photographs, it is the images of the stills, both old and brand-new, that tie the book together. The still is the heart of a distillery through which everything circulates. And it is the copper works and workshops, large or artisan, that make the stills possible.

The stills made by Vendome Copper and Brass Works of Louisville, Kentucky, are pictured in a number of images. Remarkably, Vendome has been in the business of manufacturing and maintaining stills and other distillery equipment for more than one hundred years and is perhaps the only pre-Prohibition still maker remaining in the business. All the new craft distilleries represented in this book take tremendous pride in displaying their stills, the signature piece of their equipment, to great advantage.

Peachee's photographs invite us to see through the eyes of many observers — industrial archaeologist, chemist, engineer, distillery worker, artist, photographer, lover of tradition, tourist, and bourbon aficionado. The visual pleasure these images provide will enhance the enjoyment of all who savor the beverage they celebrate.

Carolyn Brooks December 2016


Excerpted from Straight Bourbon by Carol Peachee. Copyright © 2017 Carol Peachee. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Bill Samuels
Introduction by Carolyn Brooks
Artist Statement: Distilling the Bourbon Industry's Heritage
1. Grains and Mills
2. Copper
3. Barrels

What People are Saying About This

Susan Reigler

" Straight Bourbon is a visual parade celebrating the intricate convergence of technology and nature—the intersection of copper, grain, fire, water, and wood from which bourbon emerges. Peachee's elegant photographs reveal the unexpected beauty in the art and science of whiskey making. Bourbon lovers will surely savor this book every bit as much as their favorite glasses of amber elixir."

Chairman Emeritus, Maker's Mark Distillery, Inc. - Bill Samuels Jr.

"Carol Peachee has done a magnificent job of capturing the places and processes that most whiskey lovers never see, but need to understand in order to have a true appreciation for the labor of love that goes into every drop of bourbon."

Albert W. A. Schmid

"Carol Peachee's photography highlights the art, the science, and the beauty of bourbon.This book is a fitting follow-up to her first book and is an instant classic. Every bourbon enthusiast should own a copy ofStraight Bourbon."

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