Needed “Pure” Bourbon Whiskey

Today, obtaining needed medicine is relatively easy, but during the Civil War years and beyond, few medicines were available. Aspirin, which was discovered in 1849, still would not be used medically until the end of the 20th century. Doctors therefore relied on liquor such as brandy or whiskey to ease pain or disinfect a wound. It was many times the only anesthetic available. Whiskey could be purchased in large barrels but as a recent acquisition for the Department of Library Special Collections highlights, the quality of both brandy and whiskey for medical purposes was being questioned. Dr. William Cutter, of Louisville, KY was sent a “Circular to Physicians and Others, (January 1, 1862)” and it was also placed in such journals as the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. The New York physicians were asking for assistance to obtain “pure” bourbon whiskey from Kentucky as they could not find the unadulterated product in their area. Cutter promised to provide a “pure article of copper-distilled bourbon whiskey, which [he] trusts will fully meet the requirements of your letter.”
Bourbon, an American corn-based whiskey, is on the rise in popularity, now not as medicine but as a favored beverage. A recent edition of Restaurant News noted, “Bourbon is one of the fastest-growing categories in the beverage alcohol world. According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, bourbon and Tennessee whiskey exports topped $1 billion in 2015 for the third straight year.” In 2016, the figure had risen to $1.56 billion.
See this latest acquisition and many other interesting bourbon related items in the Kentucky Research Collections. For more information email or call 270-745-5083.

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