I Think Louis-Philippe "Named" Bourbon Whiskey

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I Think Louis-Philippe "Named" Bourbon Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Mar 27, 2009 3:59 pm

I think I discovered the origin of the term "bourbon" in bourbon whiskey, or at least very persuasive evidence. Some years ago I read on this board of a theory that the term bourbon may be connected to the French Royal Family of that name, a family who had many interactions with America in the late 1700's and part of the 1800's. I believe Mike Veach and John Lipman had discussed this idea originally (correct me if I am wrong) but I don't recall or know more than that in terms of its genesis. The discussions related I believe to New Orleans and the fact of former French Royal rule there, including a link possibly to a seemingly similar drink (in some ways), Cognac brandy.

Periodically since then when discussing bourbon history on the http://www.Bourbon Enthusiast.com forum, this idea has come again about a possible connection to the House of Bourbon (historic French Royal family), as it did today (in jocular form in part) in another thread on BE dealing with different theories of how America's best whiskey got its name.

At lunch today I did some searching on Google Books to try to identify an actual connection between the French Bourbon Family and American whiskey. And I found one. It is from a book about Louis-Philippe, the last Bourbon king and earlier the Duke of Orleans. In 1797 Louis-Philippe, then in his early 20's, did a tour with his two brothers through, amongst other areas, parts of Tennessee and Kentucky following an itinerary suggested by George Washington when they visited Mount Vernon.

Benjamin Perley Poore wrote a book about Louis-Philippe in 1848 called "The Rise and Fall of Louis Philippe, ex-King of the French", a study of 316 pages. Here are extracts from the book:

"Pg. 85


.... Bidding adieu to the 'Cincinnatus of the West', the Princes mounted their horses, and took the road by Leesburg and Harper's Ferry to Winchester, where they stopped at the public house of Mr. Bush, a portly old revolutionary soldier, who considered the relations between the traveller and himself as a favor to the former. He was a native of Manheim on the Rhine, and Louis Philippe, thinking he had won his

Pg. 86

good graces by speaking to him in German about his 'fatherland', proposed that the meals of his party should be sent up into their room. Such a proposition had never been heard in the whole valley of the Shenandoah, and least of all in the mansion of our friend, Mr. Bush. The rules of his house, to which the laws of the Medes and Persians were but transitory regulations, had been attacked, and his professional pride wounded; and the recollections of Manheim, and the pleasure of his native language, and the modest conversation of the young strangers, were all thrown to the wind, and the worthy and offended dignitary exclaimed: 'If you are too good to eat at the same table with my other guests, you are too good to eat in my house - begone!'. And notwithstanding the deprecatory tone which Louis Philippe immediately took, his disavowal of any intention to offend, and his offer to eat wherever it would be agreeable to this governor of hungry appetites to decide, the young men were compelled to leave the house, and to seek refuge elsewhere.

Leaving Winchester and its democratic landlord, the Princes proceeded by Staunton, Abingdon and Knoxville, to Nashville. It was court week when they arrived there, and the compiler of this work once heard Louis Philippe narrate, with great glee, the crowded state of the inn, where they were all three forced to sleep in the same bed. On leaving next morning, says an eye-witness, they inquired if they should be able to procure any spirits during the day. Receiving a negative answer, Louis Philippe purchased a tin canteen, had it filled, and off they started, one of his brothers remarking: - 'This will cut a curious figure in history, the Duke of Orleans in the wilds of America with a canteen of whiskey around his neck.'

From Nashville they journeyed to Pittsburg via Louisville, Lexington, Maysville, Cbillicothe, Lancaster, Zanes-ville, Wheeling and Washington, in Pennsylvania....". [Some of the names may be misspelled in my transcription, I give the original source below].

While the whiskey procured by the "bourbon brothers" was from Tennessee, a few days later (according to other accounts I've now read) they arrived in Kentucky, possibly still with some of that whiskey. American whiskey then and now was not just made in Kentucky, it was made in Tennessee, too. Charred barrel aging, which did not initially characterize all bourbon I understand, would not have been unique to Kentucky (as e.g., Jack Daniels shows). Note that one of the brothers attributed historical importance to the spectacle of the Duke of Orleans carrying a tin canteen of American whiskey. Louis Philippe wrote a diary of his American travels which I've been able to search in snippet view, it was in translation from the French (this also on Google Books). There are three references that I found to whiskey but they seem to relate only to the brothers determining that whiskey was available here and there as a drink (in terms either factual or condescending): I did not find confirmation in the diary of the incident related by Poore. I tried to find other discussions of, or references to, this incident, but could not. Still, Poore's book is an impressive study - Louis-Philippe was living in the year of its publication, he died in 1850 - and should have credibility considering when it was written and by whom. Poore was an American diplomat who had represented the State of Massachusets in France. He also worked as a journalist in Paris for an American newspaper. Here is the reference to the full book:

http://books.google.com/books?id=5J4aAA ... s+Phillipe

Some information on Poore from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Poore

In the 1960's and 1970's a biography in English was published on Louis-Philippe by a writer called Howarth (some details on Google Books), I searched whiskey and whisky in it in snippet view and could not find any references to these terms. Perhaps other sources will be unveiled referring to or discussing the incident of the three French royals carrying American whiskey with them on their trek from Tennessee to Kentucky.

One can conceive, especially considering how the Duke's brother characterized the incident (i.e., sensing historical and yet the mocking dimensions), that the term "Bourbon" quickly became attached to what was emerging as America's indigenous whiskey. 1797 was the perfect time for this to occur. What soon was called generally Bourbon was already in existence, perhaps not all of it then aged in new charred barrels, but the point being that good whiskey made from American grain acquired a kind of imprimatur from the French House of Bourbon. That would have facilitated its ascension since, then as now, anything Royals touch or do is gold. The name would have spread and I would regard the fact of bourbon later being shipped from Maysville in (as it then was) Bourbon County either a coincidence or a reinforcing aspect at best. It may be noted that my argument dispenses with the problem noted by Mike Veach that early bourbon advertisements did not call the whiskey "Bourbon County Whiskey".

I must record that I found after writing the above another book by Poore, reminiscences of social and political life, written clearly toward the end of his days. In this book he refers to bourbon as - Bourbon County whiskey! Does this weaken my argument? Maybe, but I think, first of all, Poore probably had forgotten by then what he wrote decades earlier about the "bourbon brothers"; second, he may not have realized himself the import of his remarks in his 1848 book.

http://books.google.com/books?id=iWG9Sn ... #PPA363,M1

Gary Gillman
Last edited by gillmang on Sat Mar 28, 2009 8:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: I Think Louis-Philippe "Named" Bourbon Whiskey

Unread postby bunghole » Fri Mar 27, 2009 5:20 pm

Very interesting, Gary.

Gary wrote "Leaving Winchester and its democratic landlord, the Princes proceeded by Staunton, Abingdon and...".

Winchester is about 100 miles north of me, and Abingdon some 150 miles south, but Staunton is just some five miles west.

The footprints of history puts a bookmark upon our lives.

The Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Me may be poor, but we are pretty!

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Re: I Think Louis-Philippe "Named" Bourbon Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Mar 27, 2009 6:02 pm

Thanks, Linn, and interesting to put some reality to the long-ago written words. I know what you meant, but I didn't write them, just reproduced them, they are from Poore's 1848 book. I haven't tried to trace a path of their trip, and I wonder if there may have been e.g., more than one Abingdon, but again good to know those places are still real.

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Re: I Think Louis-Philippe "Named" Bourbon Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Mar 27, 2009 8:33 pm

The appending of "Bourbon" to the whiskey of the people followed quickly, I surmise, after the Bourbon Princes were heard to have been drinking some native whiskey of Tennessee. Maybe they bought some too in Kentucky. In fact, when you read carefully what Poore is saying, it sounds like the brothers were in the habit of drinking whiskey on their trip. As young men, and of privilege, they may have engaged in a bit of a spree in this regard. That might put it too strongly but word would have spread of the Royals' visit and of any antics or noteworthy practices engaged in by these eminent vistors. I theorize that the people, after hearing the accounts via newspapers or word of mouth, dubbed their whiskey "Bourbon". The fact that the anecdote was thought worth relating many years later (by the "eye-witness" Poore cites, who might have been one of the Princes, or maybe a servant) suggests the canteen incident created notoriety in the heartlands of American whiskey at the time.

I have said the dubbing of the local spirit of Tennessee and Kentucky as bourbon might have been intended to dignify it, to recognize the royal "patronage" bestowed. That patronage was somewhat qualified judging by the mordant remarks of Louis-Philippe's brother. One might equally conclude that, amused by the Bourbon royals drinking a beverage of humble status (at the time), Americans played a joke on the family and named the beverage "Bourbon", i.e., the intent was sardonic. "Since our native spirit is good enough for these French eminences, let's call it BOURBON whiskey, it's something special now!". In any case, it is a common practice to name something after royalty who have had some connection with it.

Either way, the fact of there being a hitherto unknown connection between Bourbon royal figures and American whiskey (as far as I know) suggests to me the name was applied not long after word got around about the Princes' travels. And how much closer can a connection be to a whiskey than actually drinking a quart of it or so on a ramble through the "wilds of America"?

If, as I now believe, this explains the origin of the term bourbon whiskey, it would leave in the dust a generally accepted explanation going back 150 years, i.e., that bourbon derived its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky. (Of course, the County was indeed named after the French Royal family, but that is a different and unrelated matter). Certainly that claim must be taken seriously. But even before there was an inkling of a direct connection between Bourbon royalty and American whiskey, some people had doubts about the Bourbon County theory. I know Mike Veach did. The fact that bourbon was produced in the original dimensions of Bourbon County, and its later versions at least for a time and e.g., that John Corlis lived there who wrote in 1826 to a distiller advising him to age his whiskey in charred barrels, lends a certain imprimatur to this theory.

But many of the persons said possibly to have originated Bourbon whiskey did not live in Bourbon County. Elijah Craig never did. Evan Williams lived and worked in Louisville. Some early distillers associated with bourbon did live of course in Bourbon County, Jacob Spears did and was reponsible for the shipping of whiskey to other parts which might have been called Bourbon whence the product came. (Although again it seemed never marketed as Bourbon County whiskey). The point being, since the whiskey with the hallmarks to be called bourbon - corn-based, barrel-aged if not always charred barrel-aged initially, is known to have been made outside Bourbon County and outside even Kentucky, why would Bourbon County be thought to inspire the nomenclature? The Old Bourbon theory is more attractive since the original Bourbon County, called later (goes the theory) Old Bourbon, encompassed areas associated with the whiskey, then and now, that later fell outside the final County lines, but even that theory has holes. Bourbon is an aged product. It would be natural people would call an aged product "old". Also, period literature regularly called "old", spirits and other alcohol products which were stored for a time. It would be a massive coincidence that a product that was old anyway would have been associated by the market with the historical, Old Bourbon area. Also, the style of whiskey that is bourbon whiskey has been associated with areas outside even Old Bourbon and outside even Kentucky. Tennessee and Virginia have long made quality whiskey which is, or is essentially the same as, bourbon whiskey - and they still do.

Thus, if Bourbon was being made in numerous places within and outside Kentucky and didn't "start" in Bourbon County whether historically viewed or as it is today, why should we accept that the County named the product? One explanation would be that the "best" bourbon came from Bourbon County, but I do not believe this. I have stated elsewhere that a late 1800's newspaper account states the best sour mash bourbon whiskey came from Owensboro (in far western Kentucky) as early as 1808. And no doubt many areas or distillers considered their whiskey "the best". One theory I have been toying with is that what MIGHT have come originally from the historical or final-boundary Bourbon County was a whiskey made from all-malted corn. One mid-1800's source I found defines bourbon as made from malted corn. But this would require accepting that the name got extended to bourbon that was made mostly from unmalted corn - as it is today - not to mention bourbon made with a dollop of rye or wheat in it - as it is today - which happens to make the best bourbon! So that theory doesn't go very far.

Why would Kentucky historians and others be "wrong" for 150 years or so? Because the origin of the name may have soon been forgotten after 1800. So often the reason for name attribution becomes lost with a little time and matters need to be re-interpreted from cogent available evidence. The documentary evidence of the Princes' visit issued during or shortly after the tour was made, if any there was, soon was forgotten. Poore's book, coming some 50 years later, probably wasn't read by people interested in American whiskey which in any case was still an emerging product in 1848.

A complicating factor is what may be a lucky accident: bourbon, already named due to the travelling Princes, later became associated with one of its early production locales, Bourbon County. Lucky because this association may have helped to ensure that the name endured. At the same time, the friendly hand extended by Bourbon County may have shadowed and then effaced the original reason for the name. But of all the explanations I have read: Bourbon County is the origin; "Old Bourbon" is the origin; Bourbon Cane sugar is the origin (my own earlier, somewhat fanciful theory); Bourbon Street in New Orleans is; the House of Bourbon of France is via its influence in Louisiana and the prevalence of Cognac there, I feel now that the proved association of the young Bourbon princes with American whiskey in 1797 is the most persuasive and logical explanation.

Gary Gillman
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Re: I Think Louis-Philippe "Named" Bourbon Whiskey

Unread postby cowdery » Sun Mar 29, 2009 10:33 pm

From the Talbott Tavern's web site:

"According to legend, figures straight from the history books sought lodging here during their travels; as a young boy Abraham Lincoln and his family stayed here, Gen. George Rogers Clark, Daniel Boone, and exiled French King Louis Phillipe and his entourage stayed here, even painting murals on the upstairs walls. There are noticeable bullet holes in the now faded paintings and Jesse James is said to be responsible for them."

(Emphasis mine.)

It's long-established that Bourbon County was so named by the Virginia legislature as an expression of gratitude to the French royal family for France's help during the revolution (ours, not theirs). A lot of other names arose from the same sentiment: Fayette County and the towns of Paris and Versailles, for example.

Louisville, on the other hand, was named by early French settlers. Vincennes, Indiana ; St. Louis, Missouri; Detroit, Michigan; and New Orleans, Louisiana, are examples of French names given by early French settlers.

Back when the enemies of America were the English and, especially, those feckless Canadians, we loved everything French. There were never a lot of French-speakers in or even on the fringes of the United States, but where there were they were along the major waterways, so if you were taking a flatboat from, oh, let's say Limestone, Kentucky, to points downriver, you would have run into a lot of French people, many more so than you would have traveling the same distances over land.

Try as you might, I don't think you're going to find a smoking gun as to the naming of bourbon whiskey, but when you consider the context of the very earliest exporting of whiskey from Kentucky, during the decades just after the American Revolution, it's not hard to imagine how a French name stuck to the whiskey of that region.

Plus we also have the history of Southern Comfort and we know that M. W. Herron, who was Irish himself, was trying to make the green spirits he was buying (maybe of local make, maybe from Kentucky or Tennessee) taste more like Cognac because Cognac was, in 19th century New Orleans, considered the pinnacle of the distilled arts.
- Chuck Cowdery

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Re: I Think Louis-Philippe "Named" Bourbon Whiskey

Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Mar 30, 2009 10:07 am

Gary,
The memory of that trip might have contributed to the name of bourbon, but I doubt it was the direct cause of the name. Since you don't see advertising before 1820, I suspect that the term started being used no more than 5 to 10 years before. Most likely even less time than that. I think bourbon was probably whiskey placed in the barrel before the 1812 tax (which was right of the still tax, forcing the distiller to sell immediately to pay the tax and not take a loss to whiskey being soaked into the barrel) and sold after the end of the war. It became popular by the end of the decade and other people started making it when the tax was repealed in 1817, and was being offered on the public market by 1820. i think you may have hit a more accurate cause with the Bourbon Sugar relationship.
Mike Veach
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Re: I Think Louis-Philippe "Named" Bourbon Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Mon Mar 30, 2009 10:41 am

Well, all this is possible and would point I know to a New Orleans connection and that would mean either Bourbon Street, Bourbon sugar or Bourbon rulers/Cognac as the explanation. Maybe, but why would you advertise "Bourbon" whiskey to the locals in Bourbon county...? I address this in my response in the other thread to Chuck's last post. That would be like advertising, say, locally made cheese in York County in Ontario in 1850 as "York County Cheese". Fair enough if the market is also selling other kinds. But was whiskey made outside Bourbon County being sold in the County in 1821? That seems unlikely to me since its towns surely were small and not of the scale say Louisville was then. What was the name of the firm that placed the ad, Stout and another name as I recall. Did they advertise other whiskey products I wonder, foreign ones?

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Re: I Think Louis-Philippe "Named" Bourbon Whiskey

Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Mar 30, 2009 11:36 am

Gary,
I agree that the answers may very well be located in New Orleans. I would like to find the earliest advertisements for bourbon in New Orleans and who was selling the bourbon.
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Re: I Think Louis-Philippe "Named" Bourbon Whiskey

Unread postby gillmang » Mon Mar 30, 2009 11:52 am

http://books.google.com/books?id=8eFSK4 ... #PPA103,M1

This is a useful link with a good short description of bourbon and Bourbon County (1992). The 1821 ad is described in some detail. Note that a bourbon distillery in Bourbon County had two brands, one just termed bourbon whiskey and the other Bowen's Old Bourbon. This seems to me to reduce the likelihood that "Old Bourbon" meant the original geographical area of Bourbon County.

I guess I am saying that right now at any rate, I think the term originated in 1797 and penetrated throughout the whiskey district, probably it was known by all distillers but some preferred to call it by the old name, old whiskey. It would only have been called Bourbon commonly once it was certain the market knew what that meant, which probably didn't happen until the 1850's or so. This interpretation suggests an "external" cause for the name - external to the Bourbon County name - which would explain better why the term was being used on its "home" turf. But so would a Louisiana origin. But the links heretofore to Louisiana seem more indefinite to me, Bourbon sugar included as intriguing as it sounded to me initially, than a proven actual interaction of Bourbon princes and Tennessee (at least) whiskey.

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