The story behind your Bourbon Bottle is more than a utilitarian container to hold your liquor. Glass bottles or any type of glass vessel was often just for the very rich. In 1880 an automated process of blowing glass bottles was created. Before that date, glass bottles were made by hand and were extremely rare and expensive.
History indicates that the first known glass bottles were in South East Asia around 100 B.C. and the Roman Empire around 1 A.D. In the 1600’s the first American glass melting furnace was established in Jamestown, Virginia. Despite glass becoming available most purveyors of spirits sold directly from the barrel to a flask or a jug. These were brought in and owned by the customers. The problem was that the consumer was always at risk. Whiskey was often watered down or adulterated in ways to create more profit.
Despite the high cost of bottles, Old Forrester became the first bourbon to be sold exclusively in bottles. It was not the first bottled bourbon, and there is a great debate about the identity of what is the first bottled bourbon. Distiller Jacob Spears was known to bottle a product known as Old Bourbon in the early 1800’s.
In 1904 the automatic bottling machine was invented by Michael Owens. His machines could produce 240 bottles per minute which were a great leap in production capability. His invention lowered labor costs up to 80 percent. He went on to form the company Owens Illinois.
Today bourbon is sold in bottles that are easily recognizable such as Jim Beam White or Makers Mark with the dipped red wax. Two of my favorite decorative bottles are the horse racing-themed Blanton’s and the beautiful copper still profile of Willet Pot Still Reserve. Look for a future post on these elegant bottles that also contain very drinkable bourbons.
Your bourbon may be made with the flavoring grain of Rye or with the flavoring grain of wheat. It could be four years old or 23 years old. It may come from an old established distiller such as Wild Turkey, Jim Beam, or Makers Mark or it may come from some of the newer boutique distilleries such as Hartfield and Company. All bourbon has one thing in common is that it is sold in bottles.