A new piece from Smithsonian explores just how lucky bourbon was to morph from novelty experiment into legendary “American” liquor.

According to Reid Mitenbuler’s new book, Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey, a man named George Thorpe is responsible for the first bourbon trials in 1619 and creating what would ultimately become the ever-popular brown liquor:

In 1619, Captain George Thorpe — a well-connected lawyer back in England — moved to a plantation on the outskirts of Jamestown. Intensely interested in the New World that surrounded him, Thorpe sought out new crops that could be a potential cash source for the colonists. He struck gold with corn and, short on the ingredients to brew English beer, began substituting his new preferred grain into the distilling process.

While things didn’t end so well for Thorpe (he was bludgeoned to death), bourbon was born, and has gone on to burn happily down the throats of Americans every since.

Although, history has shown that most trials in the spirits world don’t end so well. Below you’ll find four “forgotten” American spirits that were all but abandoned by their audiences.


Originally crafted in France, Byrrh is a red wine-based apertif that combines quinine and mistelle (fortified wine) with red wine to create a rich, appetite-whetting drink. Sold in the U.S. until Prohibition, it made a surprising comeback to the scene in 2012, with revival attempts currently underway. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Peanut Lolita


A whiskey-based peanut liqueur crafted during the 1960s and 1970s, the drink was marked as a kind of nutty dessert wine that could be served with a number of sweets. (Photo: The Liquid Culture Project)

Kentucky Common BeerOertels-Common-ad-Kentucky-Irish-American-Oct-29-1904-680x226

A kissing cousin of California steam beer, Kentucky common beer was the super sour suds choice of the working class in and around Louisville, Kentucky during the 1800s. Much like Byrrh, some breweries are attempting to stage a comeback(Photo: Insider Louisville)

Creme Yvette


A beautifully purple-hued liqueur made from parma violet petals and blackberries (among other fruit and honey add-ons), Creme Yvette was produced in Philadelphia until the late 1960s when it all but vanished. Never fear, though: the company behind St. Germaine staged a large scale relaunch of the forgotten spirit in 2009 and is hoping for a revival a la creme de violette. (Photo: Drink Straight Up)