The manufacture of intoxicating liquors by methods of distillation does not seem to have been understood by thee ancients. It is said to have been first invented by the barbarian nations of the North of Europe. and by them was made known to the inhabitants of the more civilized countries of Southern Europe. It was formerly manufactured entirely from malt, and unmalted barley or rye, but is now made largely from rye alone. Indian corn, potatoes, molasses, and other articles. All the juices of plants which can undergo vinous fermentation, and all vegetable matter which contains starch can be made to produce distilled liquors.
A large proportion of the substances used for food may be thus applied to the production of ardent spirits. Sugar-growing countries produce rum, lands where the vine flourishes produce brandy, and in grain-growing countries distilled liquors are made in the form of whisky and gin. The Chinese manufacture a distilled liquor from rice, and the inhabitants of Kamschatka from mushrooms. A great deal of whisky was formerly made from the potato.
The production of whisky has been very large in the United States. Soon after the Revolution, its manufacture was carried on to a large extent in Western Pennsylvania, and one of the first serious troubles the Government encountered was the whisky insurrection of 1791-1794, growing out of an attempt to collect an excise tax in this region. The distilleries of the United States were formerly much behind those of Great Britain in the perfection of their machinery, and the wonderful capacity of the production of single establishments; but improvements in late years have put them on an equal, if not a superior, footing. The States now largely interested in the production of whisky are New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri. Of the counties in Kentucky largely engaged in the distilling business, Daviess ranks among the first. Distilleries existed here in a very early day, but it is only within the last few years that the business has been increased to anything like its present proportions. There are at present (1883) eighteen distilleries within the county. With few exceptions, more grain is grown here than in any other county in the State. This fact accounts for the abundance and cheapness of material. The Ohio River furnishes shipping facilities of an unequaled character, and the railroad running south from Owensboro is always ready to carry freight on reasonable terms. It is mainly for these reasons that the large distilling business, of the county has been carried on so successfully, while it has languished and died in other sections of the country.
But it is not only in regard to quantity that Daviess County distilleries are celebrated. The county has the reputation of producing as good an article of whiskey as can be found in the United States. A very large proportion of the whiskey manufactured in Kentucky is in sweet-mash distilleries, which produce an inferior article in comparison with the product of sour-mash distilleries. Several of the distilleries are the largest in the State. The claim is justly made that the sour-mash distilleries of Daviess County produce the best whiskey in the United States, and this is a fact that is being rapidly appreciated in the market.