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Bourbon History at the Capital City Museum

The Capital City Museum in Frankfort showcases some of what makes Kentucky and its history unique. For bourbon enthusiasts, there is plenty to see.

“It’s been one of the larger industries, almost since [Frankfort’s] founding,” says John Downs, Curator of Historic Sites for Capital City Museum. “We’ve had eight major distilleries over the last 150 years in Frankfort, one that stayed open even through Prohibition…Prohibition was really the death knell to our beer brewing industry, and to the liquor industry. Our big distillery here did stay open. They were able to make alcohol and medicinal liquor.”

Among the museum’s artifacts are a few bottles from that era with a prescription on them, written up by a doctor. Other items include bottles from brands that no longer exist, including Old Taylor and Hermitage.

Downs notes that bourbon’s popularity has been cyclical over the years. A generation ago, it wasn’t seen as iconic in Kentucky as it is today.

“It has become a bigger deal now I think for a variety of reasons,” says Downs. “One, advertising, and two, it is a uniquely American beverage. I think it has come full circle from being a big deal to not being a big deal, and now it’s very popular again.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life #2309, which originally aired on April 14, 2018. Watch the full episode.