I am many things, but a chemist is not one of them…or a geologist for that matter. The most that I know about rocks, is that the term “on the rocks” actually did start with rocks, not ice. The Scots used to put cold river rocks in their whisky to keep it from getting warm in the summer time. With that said, you’re going to have to bare with me as I try to walk you through what I loosely understand about the geology of north america.
Limestone. It’s a rock. Kind of a cool one if you ask me. It comes in many types, from marble to chalk. It forms in lots of different ways too, one of them being at the bottom of bodies of water where algae, clams, and other shellfish all live and die, leaving behind layer upon layer of calcium and carbon (calcium carbonate, CaCO3, is the typical chemical compound of Limestone). So, way back in the day (as in 420 million years ago) during the Silurian Period, Kentucky and much of the southern United States would have been covered in warm, shallow seas not too different from the modern day Florida Keys. This means that Kentucky, Tennessee, and other mid continent states, have layer upon layer of sedimentary rock, that in modern times, is helping to keep the water clean.
This is where my chemistry knowledge fails me a bit. (proof)
As best I can tell, when water flows through limestone (limestone being porous and letting water do shit like that) and the water happens to be particularly acidic (like water that has been super deep under the earth and perhaps has a large amount of sulphur in it) the Calcium Carbonate breaks down and begins to neutralize the acidic water. In this process the calcium and CO3 separate from each other in a kind of effervescent fizz. This process helps to speed up the oxidation of iron in the water, making the iron ferric instead of ferrous, which makes it more likely to get snagged in the tiny passageways through the rocks pores (this is what causes the colored bands found in marble) and THUS (don’t worry if I’ve lost you): The water that comes out on the other side of the limestone, is high in calcium, and low in iron and sulphur, making it a particularly good candidate for growing yeast.
Are we on the same page now?
It’s winter. We’re in Kentucky. We’ve got some hard water and some happy yeast. We’ve also got a metric ton of grains that are going to go bad if we don’t figure out something to do with it. With a basic knowledge of how alcohol works, we are now ready to start making…
BOURBON: It’s like Scotch, without the smoked-dirt flavor!!!
Now, some of you might say, “Well, limestone water is great and all, but you can find it all over the place. Kentucky isn’t special for having it.
True. I cannot argue that Ken-tuck has a monopoly on good water. But they did have the upper hand when it came to grain production, loose government control compared to New England, and they held out longer than many other southern states when the prohibitionists came to town. (Four Roses was once an Atlanta, Georgia company, but moved to Kentucky because of Georgia’s early adoption of prohibition. Whoopsies)
No matter what the reason for its location, regardless of the fact that bourbon could be made anywhere in the United States by definition, ninety-seven percent is reportedly made in Kentucky.
When it comes to drinking it, all I ask is that you don’t mix it with coke, or Dr. Pepper, or Redbull, or whatever the fuck kids are doing to ruin everything that soldiers fought to protect. Do you hold nothing sacred?
For this particular night, I recommend drinking it either neat or on the rocks. I have a set of soapstones that I use in place of ice for when I want to drink spirits straight, this is an ideal situation to do something like that. Bourbon does make a good cocktail (manhattan, old fashioned, mint julep to name a few) but those are for another time and place. If you’ve never given bourbon an honest try, there’s never a better time than now.
I don’t know. Poutine maybe?
Or go buy this book and whip up anything that Kevin Gillespie has to offer. He’s a talented master of his craft and you should do what he says.