Walker Percy wrote that “bourbon does for me what the piece of cake did for Proust.” Distillers have been appealing to this feeling—something visceral and personal that transcends price points or mash bills—for years. It connects to the collective cultural consciousness: the myths of tax rebels sticking it to Alexander Hamilton; or outlaws at their stills, deep in the hollers of Kentucky; or Junior Johnson outrunning the law on the back roads of North Carolina, packing illegal hooch in the trunk. It is the stuff of cowboy saloons and city dive bars and a thousand country songs. This narrative, of course, is told in the codes of (largely white) masculinity—and aimed at and perpetuated by the kinds of drinkers, mostly men, I suspect, who hope that their poison of choice tells a story about them, and who are worried that it might not be the right one. Bourbon seems like a sturdy marker of a freedom-loving American identity, but that narrative is mostly a pleasant fiction. The truth of the tale lies in mergers and holding companies and transnational distribution rights. George Jones never sang about any of that. The real story of the modern whiskey industry is less romantic but no less American. The country’s “native spirit,” as bourbon is often called, is one of capitalization and consolidation.