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History Center Dinner Series

Author Veach to discuss
Ky. bourbon book at dinner

The Louisville historian researched the bourbon story

LA GRANGE, Ky. (April 2015) – Bourbon has long been associated with Kentucky. Louisville author Mike Veach became so fascinated with this rich history that he penned a book about what has become an important part of Kentucky’s heritage.
“It’s been a very important part of the history, culture and economy of Kentucky from day one,” said Veach, 56. “It was the first real currency. When people used to barter, whiskey was part of the barter system. It brought a lot of money into the state of Kentucky.”

Mike Veach

In fact, Veach referred to an 1892 article that related the economic impact bourbon had on Kentucky during the state’s first 100 years. “It made up 40 percent of the economy,” he said.
In his book, “Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage,” Veach begins with the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, progresses to the Industrial Revolution, Civil War, Prohibition, Great Depression, ending with the present era. There are many theories as to how bourbon began in Kentucky, and he offers new evidence on the origin of bourbon in the state.
Veach believes two French brothers, Louis and John Tarascon, are possibly the inventors of bourbon. Around 1807, these two brothers from the Cognac region of France were aging and distributing some of the first whiskey in barrels in this region. It is known that they shipped barrels from Shippingport, Ky., to New Orleans.
No matter to whom the invention of bourbon can be credited, it cannot be disputed that Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon and produces 95 percent of the world’s supply.
Bourbon was declared American’s only native spirit by Congress in 1964. Requirements for its production call for a minimum of 51 percent corn, it must be aged in charred new oak barrels and stored at no more than 125 proof.
The Kentucky History Press contacted Veach about writing “a short, good history of bourbon,” said Veach.
At first he was hesitant, thinking he might not have enough time to devote to the book. It took him six years to write “Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage,” but it was worth the wait when the book finally came out in March 2013.
Veach will be giving a presentation about his book at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 16, at the Oldham County History Center, 106 N. Second Ave., in La Grange, Ky. This program is part of the 2015 Author Dinner Series and will be held in the Rob Morris Educational Building on the grounds of the History Center campus. Dinner and bourbon tasting will accompany this program. Must be 21 and over to participate. Reservations are required.
As a bourbon historical, Veach “has given bourbon tastings and talks to emphasize our Barnett Whiskey Jug Collection,” said Nancy Stearns Theiss, executive director of the Oldham County History Center. This collection is “one of the larger collections in the Untied States and contains whiskey jugs with local advertising which makes them a somewhat rare find today.”
Theiss went on to stress the importance of bourbon to Oldham County’s history. “Bourbon is an important part of our local culture,” she said. “One theory about bourbon’s origin was that moonshine “aged” into bourbon as it sat in oak barrels when harvested in the fall, waiting for the Ohio River to rise so it could be shipped to New Orleans.”
Like most Kentucky counties, Oldham County had its share of local distilleries, said Theiss, particularly before Prohibition.
The Filson Historical Society in Louisville has a large collection of documentation on the history of bourbon in Kentucky, said Deputy Director Judy Miller. The collection contains memorabilia, journals and newspapers.
Veach conducts two Bourbon Academies a year for the Filson Historical Society. These are one-day “learning experiences,” said Miller. He also conducts a Bourbon Salon once a month for the organization and bourbon tastings throughout the year centered on certain events.
He has a way of making fun the experience of learning about bourbon. “Most of the time, everything he does has an element of learning to it,” Miller said.
“He has the ability to teach as well as entertain.”
She said Veach’s book is now in its fifth printing, which is “pretty significant.” Veach worked at the Filson Historical Society as the associate curator of Special Collections, and now works on a contractual basis with the organization.

•  Tickets are $15 for members of the Oldham County Historical Society and $18 for non-members. For more information, call  (502) 222-0826.  

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