The Myth of Elijah Craig

The story of Elijah Craig becoming the “father of bourbon” is a great story. And that’s what it is…a story.

It goes like this…Craig opened his distillery in 1789, and according to legend his key contribution to the development of Bourbon was the introduction of charred oak barrels. There are two tales- The first is that the barrels were scorched in an accident, and Craig made his convenient discovery by using the charred barrels anyway. The other is that the Reverend Elijah was trying to recycle used barrels by charring the insides. It is amusing that these tales both portray Craig as a miserly cheapskate, and in either scenario it is hard to imagine Craig as being especially concerned with the quality of his whiskey.

Either way, the French had been aging their cognac in charred barrels. No barn fire needed. Elijah Craig’s contemporaries were making similar style whiskies. When the brand was launched in 1986, the brand carried on the legend, perhaps to rub it in to the temperance union that a Baptist preacher made good whiskey!

In the late 18th century, the making of liquor was considered an honorable business. Even the reverend wouldn’t have thought anything shameful or disreputable about distilling or drinking whiskey. “Oddly enough, until 1854,the Baptists were reputed to have expelled from the church any member who joined a temperence society.” (Oscar Getz) Of course the mob mentality of the Anti-Saloon League would change all that…