Early American whiskey making was an essential part of many colonial homesteads, not as a luxury item but rather as a necessary crop production product.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of early American whiskey production was the idea that they didn’t produce whiskey as a luxury item, but rather that its production was seen as a necessary aspect of the economics of successful farm life.
You made use of every bit of the fruit or grain crops you grew each year, lest you would be seen as losing a portion of your economic production, and that would not set well in the ledger of profits and losses.
Historic Locust Grove in Louisville, Kentucky is a time capsule of the early 1800s. It is a restored and functioning historical center, where colonial era re-enactments and educational opportunities concerning early American life may be had. Whiskey making is one of the recent additions – or re-additions – to Locust Grove.
John Townsend of Jas. Townsend and Son visits with Locust Grove’s Brian Cushing, who discusses the site’s new distillery and its rich history.
Cushing emphasizes that the distillery was an essential part of the farmstead’s production economy, as well as being a component that the community’s smaller farms may have used in much the same way that they used Locust Grove’s mill.
In the same manner that small farms from the surrounding area brought their grain crops to be milled at the Locust Grove mill, so too did they likely bring the surplus or a portion of their harvest to the distillery to be processed.
In addition to the history of the site and its whiskey production, Cushing goes through the actual start-to-finish process of making whiskey from grain in the original manner, using a beautiful colonial era still. This isn’t moonshine; it’s legal, new-make white whiskey stored in crockery jugs.
It’s a fascinating historical account of early American whiskey making and all of the social and economic ramifications of that product some 200 years ago.
Today we take whiskey – often a different product than was produced back then – somewhat for granted and we usually consume it in the context of an enjoyable pastime. Back then it was serious business for people who made their living from the land.
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