The South’s Thirsty Muse

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The South’s Thirsty Muse

by Brian Carpenter
Southern Cultures, Vol. 6, No. 1: Five-Year Anniversary Issue

"There are few revelations beyond what one might himself discover at the bottom of a shot glass, julep cup, or snub-nosed bottle."

Long before William Faulkner declared that civilization began with distillation, southerners knew it had achieved a genial and ruddy perfection in the South with the creation of that velvety smooth distillate of sour mash and sparkling limestone water known as bourbon. I refer not to the rot-gut, wildcat corn that every child of calamity ever raised to his lips in countless southwester tales, nor to the old “white mule,” or “baldface” John Barleycorn, or even the smooth-sippin’ Tennessee Black Jack that Faulkner kept within reach while he wrote, but to good “old bourbon,” the Kentucky thoroughbred, the crown prince of whiskeys, and the eponymous spirit of “Old Bourbon” County, Kentucky. The distinction is not a matter of mere connoisseurship, but of tradition. It is by now a cliché that any writer who may be regarded as being connected in any way with the Southby birth or by temperament or by earnest affectationthat is, any writer whom we may without hesitation call “southern,” must have, at the very least, a general acquaintance with, if not a genuine affection for, the peculiar charms of John Barleycorn’s genteel cousin. That is, if he have not the said spirits pocketed awaypresumably in Grandfather’s antique hinge-topped hip flasksomewhere on his very person right now.