Cigar Society of Chicago

Tuesday, May 5, 2020, 5:30-7:00 pm CDT

There will be a Q&A session after the lecture. Audience participation is invited.
Be sure to have your cocktails and cigars at ready hand.

Register for this event.

Whiskey distilling is as American as apple pie. George Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon was by 1799 producing nearly 11,000 gallons of whiskey a year, making it one of the largest distilleries in America at the time. Andrew Jackson was distilling whiskey just outside of Nashville, Tennessee at the same time. Farmers often distilled whiskey because it was far easier to transport alcohol to market by horse and wagon than their bulky grain harvests. The first Federal excise tax, the so-called Whiskey Tax (by then treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton), was so despised by farmers that it led to the Whiskey Rebellion. The militia were required to suppress the uprising and Thomas Jefferson eventually abolished the law in 1802. 

Tax-free whiskey production experienced incredible growth. Meanwhile, American farmers were crossing the Appalachian Mountains and settling in an area now known as Kentucky. The natural resources of the region were uniquely positioned for the distilling industry - limestone-filtered water, fertile soil that yielded exceptional corn, vast oak forests to be used for the construction of barrels, and easy access to rivers to ship whiskey by flatboat to St. Louis and New Orleans.

Bourbon became the type of whiskey produced in the region. It’s uniquely American with unique whiskey characteristics - high corn in the mash for subtle sweetness, water that enhances fermentation and barrel interaction, and the contribution of wood-derived flavors in the finish. And thus, the Kentucky Bourbon industry was established. However, over the years, the industry experienced considerable quality control issues, business consolidations, fires and mishaps, changes of distillery ownership, and a decline of consumer interest in bourbon. And, of course, prohibition got in the way. But now, in the wake of the successful craft brewing revolution, state laws have slowly changed, and small distilleries have sprung up. Products from these micro distillers helped to revive an interest in all distilled beverages. And bourbon has again become extremely popular. This has led to a vast array of new whiskey products from both the old legacy distilleries and the small new upstarts.

This presentation, will explore the history of American whiskey, distilling in Kentucky, the production of bourbon, the different types of stills and how they work, the various types of whiskey and bourbon, The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, traditional bourbon distilleries, new micro distilleries, bourbon in the market, evaluating bourbon, and the blending of a barrel of bourbon. Whew! So grab a cigar and your favorite whiskey glass, pour a double, find a comfy chair, sit back, and enjoy. And keep that bottle of bourbon nearby!

Ed Bronson has been an active member of the Cigar Society for almost 20 years. As a bioengineer, he formed a startup to do computer-based pharmaceutical drug testing. Upon retuning to Purdue University, he earned a PhD in electrical engineering specializing in artificial intelligence and parallel computing. After a National Science Foundation postdoc in molecular biology, he worked at Bell Laboratories on digital signal processing for speech recognition. He then moved on to Oracle to build and run a telecommunications and speech processing laboratory.

Ed has always had a strong interest in beverages. Serving as a certified beer judge for over 30 years, he has judged beer competitions across the country. He studied brewing and distilling at the prestigious Siebel Institute of Technology and was the brewmaster for the Taylor Brewing brewpub in Naperville. More recently, he was the first to complete the Illinois Craft Distillery Trail and has finally blended a barrel of Woodford Reserve Bourbon.

About the Cigar Society of Chicago

ONE OF THE OLDEST AND greatest traditions of the city clubs of Chicago is the discussion of intellectual, social, legal, artistic, historical, scientific, musical, theatrical, and philosophical issues in the company of educated, bright, and appropriately provocative individuals, all under the beneficent influence of substantial amounts of tobacco and spirits.  The Cigar Society of Chicago embraces this tradition and extends it with its Informal Smokers, University Series lectures, and Cigar Society Dinners, in which cigars, and from time to time pipes and cigarettes, appear as an important component of our version of the classical symposium.  To be included in the Cigar Society's mailing list, write to the secretary at