Whisky and Bourbon in 19th century USA

Nov 2018
What kind of whisky was the most common in 1800s America? Was it something like wheat one, or corn? And was the difference between corn whisky and bourbon recognizd at that time?
I'm particularly interested in period of some 1840s-1870s.
I thought that it should have been corn one, but I didn't find any proofs and almost never heard about Bourbon Whisky in historical context (maybe just missed those mentions, I didn't explore many original sources yet).


Forum Staff
Aug 2016
There is an official definition for corn vs bourbon whiskey, but the definition was only established in 1964. Probably before that the two terms were interchangeable. Corn has always been the most common grain used to make American whiskeys. The official term 'Bourbon whiskey' came into use in 1840. Prior to that it was often called 'Bourbon County whiskey' or 'old Bourbon County whiskey' after Bourbon County, Kentucky. The old is a reference to the fact that Bourbon County's borders have changed over the years, and the heart of whiskey country is no longer in Bourbon County.

Key Points in the History of Bourbon in America


Forum Staff
Feb 2009
Eastern PA
Rye whiskey was more common in the NE in the early days of the nation. I would attribute this to the fact that the cereal grains have a shorter growing season than corn and will grow anywhere.
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Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
fermenting mash can be done with a wide variety of products ,
certainly the northernmost location would use the most common grain which could be spared