Keepin’ It Old School: Kentucky Distillery Making New Bourbon Using Over 200-Year-Old Recipe

by Lauren Boisvert

Sometimes we want our bourbon made with traditional methods. Nothing wrong with that. But there are just traditional methods, and then there are 200-year-old methods. The 200-year-old methods and recipes of a woman, no less.

Bourbon was usually a man’s game, but in 1995, the Carpenter family donated a collection of family papers to the Kentucky Historical Society. Among the letters were Catherine Carpenter’s recipes for both sour and sweet mash whiskey. The recipes were dated 1818, and now distillers at the Brown-Forman distillery Woodford Reserve are making small batches of the antique bourbon.

Brown-Forman is planning to release the small-batch whiskey in 2026 to commemorate the War of Regulation and the Battle of Alamance, the last battle during the North Carolina uprising in 1771.

Did Catherine Carpenter Really Write Those Bourbon Recipes?

According to the papers, Catherine Carpenter couldn’t read or write; it’s unlikely she actually wrote the recipes down. But, it is very likely that she used them to keep her farm afloat, as a twice-widowed mother of 12. Eventually, Catherine became a wealthy landowner by becoming the head of her household and chief businesswoman of the family’s endeavors. One of which was spirit distilling.

According to the tax list for Casey County in 1845, Catherine was worth well over $13,000. That’s equal to $467,943 today.

Because she couldn’t read or write, Catherine often hired attorneys or had her children write letters and business proposals for her. Among the family papers are many recipes and weaving patterns written in a neat cursive hand; it’s possible Catherine wrote these recipes through dictation, saying aloud to another person what she wanted written down.

The Best Whiskeys, According to The New York World Wine & Spirits Competition

The New York World Wine & Spirits Competition (NYWSC) proceeded this September 2021, and the results are in for the best whiskeys. Judges look for “refinement, finesse, and complexity,” according to the competition’s website.

Just like the dog show, the highest honor is the “Best in Show” award. Smaller subcategories win “Best in Class.” In the competition, there is first a blind tasting, then the medals are awarded, and then the highest honors.

The Best in Show whiskey was 10th Street Distillery’s Peated Single Malt Whiskey from California. The distillery is small, only founded in 2017 by two engineers, but one of the founders is a self-taught distiller. For them to win Best in Show is a huge feat.

Best in Class winner Uncle Nearest Master Blend Edition Bourbon from Tennessee won in the specific subcategory “Best Tennessee Whiskey.” Bespoken Spirits Rye Whiskey Batch X from Indiana won for “Best Rye Whiskey.”