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"Stills For Sale," advertisement from an 1809 issue of the Kentucky Gazette. Courtesy of Lexington Public Library Kentucky Room.

Early colonists brought ales and wines with them to the New World. They continued to import, but also began producing locally. Distillation – the process of boiling a liquid to separate the components – is a process that has been used worldwide since ancient times. Distillation of fermented solutions such as beer, wine or mead results in a product with a higher alcohol content. Distilled alcohol can be stored longer than beers and wines, so producing distilled beverages became a good way for farmers to use excess grain to produce a marketable product. Through the mid-18th century, most spirits were produced by small farmer-distillers. There were no laws to limit production and excess product was easy to store, transport, trade and sell.