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On the Subject (Heading) of Bourbon Whiskey

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Today’s post is guest authored by Michelle Cadoree Bradley, a Science Reference Specialist in the Library’s Science, Technology, and Business Division who has previously written – Rise of the Broom Brigade and Marie Curie: A Gift of Radium.

Star Whiskey Distilled and warranted pure by C.L. Dixon, Cynthiana, Ky. W.B. Crowell, Jr., agent, New-York .

Is it Bourbon or is it Whiskey?

“Not all whiskey is bourbon, but all bourbon is whiskey,” is the phrase that sums it up the best.  Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is distilled from fermented grain mash – rye, wheat, barley, and corn.  Bourbon has been around a long time, but it has changed and evolved over the years from being a cheap commodity to the “distinctive product of the United States” it is known as today.  Bourbon must be made with 51 percent corn, and by law, must be aged in a brand-new, charred white oak barrel to be called straight bourbon whiskey.

Searching the Library of Congress online catalog with the keywords, “bourbon” or “whiskey”, will produce a large array of items from the collections, but the astute researcher will want to use the Library of Congress Subject Heading (LCSH) for bourbon which is no surprise – “Bourbon whiskey.”

Although many people have consulted the subject headings created by the Library of Congress when using their college or university catalogs, most do not realize that they have done it. In fact, the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) is perhaps the most widely adopted controlled vocabulary in the world. It has been translated into many languages, and is used around the world by libraries large and small.  LCSH has been maintained since 1898 to catalog materials held at the Library of Congress and is growing with new subject headings being added monthly.  LCSH “Bourbon whiskey” was added in 2014 upon the request of Douglas A. Boyd, Director of the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Libraries, who is acknowledged in the Library of Congress Authority Record.  (See “An Oral History of Bourbon Whiskey (the Library of Congress Subject Heading” and Library of Congress Authority Record).

Bininger’s Traveler’s Guide Bourbon, A.M. Bininger & Co., New York.

Why “Bourbon whiskey”? Why not just straight “Bourbon”?  Why add “Bourbon whiskey” as a subject heading?  Problems occur when people use different spellings, different words or different languages to describe a subject. If you look in the Library’s catalog for a book on bourbon, you may not think to include whiskey in your search, but if you only put in bourbon, you will drown in a diluted blend of over 2000 bibliographic records, retrieving everything from the Bourbon Restoration to Bourbon County, Kentucky.  You’ll have worse luck if you only put in whiskey as a keyword, because you will get everything from “whiskey” to the “Whiskey Rebellion” to the “Whiskey Myers (Musical group),” and you will miss out on anything with the alternate spelling of “whisky”.  If, instead, you use the LCSH for “Whiskey,” you will find only the records for books that are about whiskey, and if you are using the LCSH, “Bourbon whiskey”, you know that the books are specifically about bourbon.

Why not “Kentucky Bourbon”?  You may have already noted that not all the bourbon labels that I’ve included in this post are from Kentucky.  Bourbon wasn’t always produced in Kentucky, and although the majority of Bourbon whiskey is produced in Kentucky today, the law only requires that it be produced in the United States.

Sugar Bowl Straight Bourbon Whiskey Label. Courtesy of the National Archives. Department of Commerce, Patent Office (1925-1975) files. (Rediscovery number 27556)

Is your glass half full?  Look for part two of this blog On the Subject of Bourbon Whiskey: Let me top you off with a little more, or all bourbon is whiskey.

Until then, here are some recent imbibings on this topic:

The Birth of Bourbon: A Photographic Tour of Early Distilleries by Carol Peachee

Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit by Dane Huckelbridge

Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey by Fred Minnick

Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker by Fred Minnick

Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey by Reid Mitenbuler

Buffalo Trace: Carving the Trail to Great Bourbon by David Toczko

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