Sunday, October 1, 2017

Bourbon and...Burgoyne

Blanton's Bourbon Whiskey
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Frankfort, KY

Have you enjoyed a Manhattan lately?  This simple cocktail made from Bourbon (preferably Blanton's), sweet Vermouth and a cherry is an elegant way to approach the evening.  Bourbon, always made from over 50% corn, is the quintessential native American spirit.  The Manhattan is the ultimate New York power cocktail, but it has a backbone made in Kentucky ("Ninety-five percent of the world's bourbon is made in Kentucky." Mitenbuler, Bourbon Empire,  Bourbon's name, however, can trace its roots to events that took place in the Empire state.

How exactly did Bourbon get its name?  You might be surprised to learn that the story involves Invasions of American territory that goes back to the American Revolution.  The man who deserves more credit for giving Bourbon its name is "Gentleman" Johnny Burgoyne -- an English general who led an ill-fated invasion of New York in 1777.

In the New York chapter of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil we wrote...

"The next year, 1777, became known as the year of the hangman due to the similar appearance of the number 7 and a gibbet. This year featured an invasion of New York that was, quite possibly, the most consequential in the area’s history.
Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne
Museum of the American Revolution
“Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne, an amateur playwright, led an invading army of over 7,000 troops from Canada that was made up of British, German, Canadian, and loyalist forces. George III personally ordered the use of Indian forces to supplement his Redcoats hoping that they would terrorize the Americans into submission.  British gold subsidized the Native Americans, who were paid $8 a head for rebel prisoners or scalps. Burgoyne’s aim was to drive south toward British-occupied Manhattan, cutting New England off from the rest of the rebellious colonies.
Burgoyne’s complicated plan relied on coordinated British action, with around 1,600 troops led by General St. Leger striking from the St. Lawrence into western New York. Lord Howe, with 16,000 men, would march north from Manhattan to rendezvous with Burgoyne at Albany.

American Soldier
Fort Ticonderoga, NY
All went well for Burgoyne at first. His forces scouted the crest of Mount Defiance, which looked down upon Fort Ticonderoga. His artilleryman, General Phillips, declared, “Where a goat can go, a man can go; and where a man can go, he can drag a gun.” General St. Clair, who commanded around 2,500 outnumbered and outgunned American defenders at Ticonderoga, was compelled to withdraw without a fight. General Phillip Schuyler, St. Clair’s superior and the commander of the Northern Department, was subsequently sacked by the Continental Congress and replaced by Horatio Gates. At this point, it seemed America’s founding fathers truly might be hanged on a gibbet, as Burgoyne and George III intended.
Bennington Monument
Bennington, VT
Even before Gates assumed command of the Northern Department, however, the tide began to turn. A reconnaissance into Vermont, led by Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum and his Brunswickers, ended disastrously at the battle of Bennington on August 15. Troops from New Hampshire, led by General John Stark, earned a crucial victory in a battle that was fought in New York but is commemorated today in Vermont...
Cannon Saratoga
But the most decisive actions of 1777 would be fought in September in the woods near Saratoga. On September 19, Burgoyne’s advance toward Albany was halted by American rebels, led by Benedict Arnold and Horatio Gates, at Freeman’s Farm on the Hudson River.  Burgoyne’s forces were repulsed again at Bemis Heights on October 7. Benedict Arnold, under the influence of rum, demonstrated conspicuous courage, and was wounded in the leg that day. Lord Howe, preoccupied with the capture of Philadelphia, had not left Sir Henry Clinton in New York City with enough troops to advance north to Albany. On October 17, 1777, Burgoyne, with many of his troops close to starvation due to their stretched supply lines from Canada, surrendered his army of 5,895.

Schuyler Mansion
Burgoyne was a prisoner here in 1777
Albany, NY
Burgoyne himself was briefly held prisoner at General Schuyler’s (another NY ancestor by marriage!  CRK) mansion in Albany. This decisive American victory was the turning point of the American Revolution, as it gave instant credibility to the rebel movement. Louis XVI’s France abandoned its neutrality and joined the war as an American ally directly as a result of the battles of Saratoga."(Source:

The French supported the American Patriot cause with troops, ships and financial support that would be critically important in the Yorktown campaign of 1781.  Cornwallis surrender at Yorktown elevated American independence from a dream to a reality.
The author with Manhattan
But what has any of this got to do with how Bourbon got its name?

Americans, grateful for the support of Louis XVI, began naming towns and counties on the western frontier.  Kentucky became an American state in 1792.  One city in the state became known as "Louisville" while a certain county was named in honor of the French king...Bourbon.

Bottoms up!
Bourbon Barrel
Note on sources:  I am grateful to Reid Mitenbuler's very entertaining Bourbon Empire, 2015, (  Also to the Buffalo Trace distillery which makes Blanton's (

Signed copies of America Invaded: A State by State Guide to Fighting on American Soil can now be found

Regular copies may be purchased from

Or on

1 comment:

ZaMusicHub said...

Blanton’s ‘Black label’ Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Blanton’s Bourbon for sale are no official differentiation between the black and the green (Special Reserve) except from a quote by John Shutt (International Sales and Marketing Manager for Blanton’s) “The “Red” and “Black” labels were created… specifically for the Japanese market. Red 93pf and Black 80pf are the same mash bills as their other Blanton labels with one difference….there is an 8 year minimum aged barrel selected. Their other Blanton labels require a 6 year minimum. Regardless, you won’t find an age statement on any Blanton label. They bottle by taste, not age,” says Shutt. An extremely rare bottling, a must have for any Blanton’s enthusiast.