This past Monday evening I got to hear Michael Veach speak to the Bourbon Society of Indianapolis. The Bourbon Society of Indianapolis usually meets once a month. Due to our proximity to Kentucky, we have had the opportunity to have some amazing guest speakers in our first year, and this was another opportunity to hear from one of them. It just so happens that this guest is widely regarded as the foremost authority on the history of bourbon.
The Bourbon Society of Indianapolis has a bit of a partnership with Big Red Liquors. They are an Indiana based liquor store chain with 55 locations throughout the state. They host some of our monthly meetings at their headquarters on the south side of Indianapolis. They also allow us to tag along on some of their barrel selection trips and grant us access to special sales and allocated bottles.
Michael Veach is the former Bourbon Historian for the Filson Historical Society. The Filson Historical Society was founded in 1884 and is the oldest historical society in the state of Kentucky. Michael now operates as an Independent Bourbon Historian. The name of his company is Bourbon Veach LLC and you can find his current website at bourbonveach.com. Michael was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2006 as a historian and has also written two books, The Bourbon Tasting Notebook and Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey, which is currently used in classes at the University of Kentucky. Michael was also heavily featured in the documentary Bourbontucky (if you’re reading this and haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it).
He spoke about what factors are needed to make bourbon a bourbon, things like new charred oak barrels, at least 51% corn, bottled at a minimum of 80 proof, etc. He spoke about how bourbon came to be, that the earliest mentions of bourbon refer to it as “American Brandy made from corn.” He talked about how Elijah Craig was not the first creator or inventor of bourbon, much to the dismay of the people at Heaven Hill. He talked a bit about how there is no actual official documented evidence of how bourbon came to be called bourbon. One interesting fact of the evening was about how bourbon is one of the fastest growing products in the US and that the industry still hasn’t even caught up to the production levels of the 1950’s.
The most amusing bit of history from the night came at the end when he was discussing the Pappy Van Winkle brand. Apparently, the Pappy Van Winkle that Wine Advocate so famously rated 99/100 and ignited the meteoric rise in the popularity of the brand was sourced and wasn’t even a wheated bourbon as it is widely known to be! It was a barrel purchased by Julian Van Winkle. Michael also feels that the PVW over the last ten years is not nearly as good as it used to be and that the product to be released after 2017 will be considerably better and higher quality.
His presentation and delivery wasn’t riveting by any means, but he is a historian and not a Vegas entertainer. All in all, it was an interesting evening, and it was a chance to hear from someone with more knowledge of bourbon and its origins than most of us could ever even hope to have.