Bourbon came into its own during the latter half of the 19th century as a fundamentally American spirit that capitalized on the young country’s most abundant crops. Fast forward to the end of Prohibition in 1933, and bourbon had supplanted rye as America's whiskey of choice–with presidents, celebrities, and everyday people alike making it their preferred pour.
In honor of the spirit’s defining place in the country's culture, we’ve assembled some of the most notable bourbon lovers in history here, from the 1800s through to today. We tip our rocks glasses to all of them.
While George Washington famously produced rye whiskey at Mount Vernon, Andrew Jackson became the first president (but certainly not the last, as you’ll see) to regularly enjoy a glass of whiskey himself, and his tipple of choice was bourbon. Like Washington, Jackson had his own whiskey distillery, this one in Tennessee.
Although later in life he famously fell in love with scotch, the young Samuel Clemens developed a taste for bourbon early on while growing up on the Missouri banks of the Mississippi River, the historical travel route of bourbon barrels on their way to New Orleans and its ports.
Ulysses S. Grant
The Union general and president was famous for his bouts of boozing, but most historians agree that it didn’t interfere with his acumen on the battlefield or in the White House. Grant preferred bourbon, and more specifically is said to have favored the most popular brand in the country at the time, Old Crow.
Here’s the president who proved that a mint julep can be considered a year-round cocktail. The 26th leader of the free world wasn’t a big drinker, but when he did take a tipple, it was almost always the cocktail now most associated with the Kentucky Derby. During his presidency, he grew his own mint for them on the White House grounds.
The early 20th century stage actress could drink many of her male contemporaries under the table, especially if bourbon was the drink at hand. Bankhead’s love of the whiskey lasted until her dying day: Her last words before succumbing to pneumonia at age 66 were reportedly, “'Codeine, bourbon.”
John Wayne was more than a casual bourbon enthusiast. Over the years he became a connoisseur with a vast collection. Wayne’s son would eventually launch a bourbon in honor of his father’s favorites, although the actor was said to prefer Wild Turkey above all others, even having it shipped by the case to his movie sets.
Truman loved bourbon so much that he woke up with it, taking a shot of the whiskey at breakfast every morning. From there, his dedication to the whiskey continued through the afternoon and evening. The 33rd president was purportedly partial to Old-Grandad and Wild Turkey.
The most bankable movie star of the 1930s and 1940s alternately enjoyed scotch, bourbon, and rye. In one notable instance, he rode 200 miles in a car with William Faulkner, from Calexico in Mexico to Los Angeles, passing a bottle of bourbon back and forth.
Especially when she spent time in New York and LA, the legendary comedian liked to have a pre-dinner bourbon or two. She wasn’t particular about how it was served–sometimes on the rocks, sometimes with soda, and sometimes mixed with a little water.
The pioneering soul singer liked to wind down with a whiskey, and touring musicians remember drinking bourbon with him during long stretches on the road. You can see a fictionalized version of Cook’s post-performance ritual in the 2020 film One Night in Miami, in which he is played by Leslie Odom Jr.
The legendary southern writer was another devotee of the mint julep—Faulkner’s personal recipe called for one teaspoon of sugar and a couple crushed sprigs of mint. Most writers, even the hard-drinking ones, typically stayed sober when it was time to get words on the page. Not Faulkner–he always had his bourbon at his side while writing.
Hunter S. Thompson
The gonzo journalist was an equal opportunity consumer of substances, but he did have his favorites, Wild Turkey at the forefront among them. He was known to frequently goad both interviewers and editors into having a glass or five with him.
The author of The Goldfinch grew up in a dry county in Mississippi, which didn’t stop the grownups from heading to the “package store” just past the county line to get their bourbon. As she grew up, Tartt followed in their footsteps. “Bourbon was what I drank on my first date with a boy, in the dark front seat of a Cadillac in winter, freezing to death in my silver-white evening dress,” she writes in an essay for Garden & Gun. “At school in New England, and in my early days in New York, I drank bourbon because I was homesick, and it smelled rich and warm like home.”
Country music and bourbon make easy companions, so it’s no surprise that Chris Stapleton is a devotee of both. That the country singer also grew up in Kentucky seemingly sealed the deal. Not that he hasn’t tried acquiring a taste for beer—that effort didn’t take, and Stapleton has concluded he’ll stick with bourbon for the long haul.
Sinatra maintained a lifelong devotion to Jack Daniels—technically a bourbon, but designated a Tennessee Whiskey. Still, Gay Talese opened his famous essay, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” with this line: “Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something.”