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Questions about bourbon/American whiskey

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Questions about bourbon/American whiskey

Postby Aidan » Mon Apr 18, 2005 12:34 pm

Following on from another thread - when I refer to American whiskey, this includes bourbon

Is the rye in rye whiskeys malted?

Are American whiskeys made in pot stills generally? Are they all distilled just once?

Are all American whiskeys mautred in virgin oak? If not, are there any American whiskeys matured in sherry casks?
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Postby lexkraai » Mon Apr 18, 2005 12:54 pm

Hi Aidan

Is the rye in rye whiskeys malted?


With the exception of Old Potrero, the rye in American rye whiskies is not malted. The necessary enzymes are provided by the (malted) barley in the mash bill. Old Potrero is made from 100% malted rye; other rye whiskies from a mixture of grains containing >51% rye.

Are American whiskeys made in pot stills generally? Are they all distilled just once?


Normally, bourbons and ryes are distilled in a set of column stills. Exceptions are, again, Old Potrero, bourbons from the now-closed Michter's distillery in Pennsylvania (bottled under the A.H. Hirsch label and becoming increasingly rare), and some recent bourbon distilled at Labrot & Graham. However, as far as I know, this pot-distilled L&G bourbon has not been bottled separately from the column-distilled bourbon in the same distillery.

Are all American whiskeys mautred in virgin oak? If not, are there any American whiskeys matured in sherry casks?


By law, bourbons and ryes have to be matured in freshly-charred casks, which can only be used once. There is a sherry-finished Jim Beam on the market though and IIRC a few more such 'finished' bourbons.

Hope this helps!
Lex
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Postby Aidan » Mon Apr 18, 2005 1:04 pm

Thanks Lex

Actually, most of my questions were inspired by Old Potrero!

So if you matured grain spirit in refilled casks in America, what would it be called? Does the rule on virgin oak only apply to bourbon?
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Postby lexkraai » Mon Apr 18, 2005 1:09 pm

There is a brand on the market called 'Early Times'. It used to be a bourbon legally, but has in recent years been matured in casks that have been used before for bourbon maturation. So it can't call itself a 'bourbon', but is labelled as a 'Kentucky Whiskey'.

The regulations for corn whiskey for instance don't stipulate using barrels only once. AFAIK, there is no one specific category for American whiskey matured in re-used casks.

Cheers, Lex
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Postby Deactivated Member » Mon Apr 18, 2005 5:54 pm

I often see people say that Jack Daniels and George Dickel are not Bourbons. I know they don't market themselves as Bourbons, but can anyone tell me whether they actually are not Bourbons and, if they aren't, why they aren't? Genuinely curious.
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Postby lexkraai » Mon Apr 18, 2005 6:29 pm

The production process of George Dickel / Jack Daniels does not differ from that of any bourbon except for one step: GD/JD filter their stuff through a very thick pile of sugar maple charcoal before maturation. This is called the 'Lincoln Country Process' and sets them apart as 'Tennessee Whiskey'.

Cheers, Lex
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Postby DaveM » Mon Apr 18, 2005 9:01 pm

Nick, your question is a good one and the answer is not definite, since it has not stood the test of a legal court case (which would then make the answer definitive). Tennesse Whiskey has set itself apart from bourbon as a matter of Marketing more than anything. But as such, they are happy to grab on the coat-tails of bourbon. Go into any bar and ask for a bourbon and the first thing you'll get offered is a JD.

There are experts on both sides of the fence. Some claim TN whiskey IS INDEED bourbon (technically, albeit a subset) but you have to believe that the lincoln county process does not alter the flavor through the ADDITION of something (as per US regulations). The other side of the fence claims that Tennesee whiskies are NOT bourbon due to the lincoln county process. I would add... MOST bourbons in KY are indeed charcoal filtered to remove impurieties... whether or not this is advertised on the label is up to the distillery (or the brand itself). So... the answer is widely open to interpretation... and arguement.
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Charcoal filtering

Postby bjorn » Thu May 05, 2005 6:20 pm

DaveM wrote: I would add... MOST bourbons in KY are indeed charcoal filtered to remove impurieties... whether or not this is advertised on the label is up to the distillery (or the brand itself). So... the answer is widely open to interpretation... and arguement.


however, the charcoal filtering in the bourbons uses very small pieces-think of a water filtering pitcher, brita maybe. this is supposed to remove impurities. the lincoln county process, on the other hand, uses ten feet of large chunks of freshly burned charcoal. this is supposed to add flavor. the only bourbon that i suspect uses charcoal for flavor is jim beam's choice.

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Postby Admiral » Thu May 05, 2005 10:51 pm

the lincoln county process, on the other hand, uses ten feet of large chunks of freshly burned charcoal. this is supposed to add flavor


Interestingly, JD use the term "mellow" or "mellowing" to describe the effect that charcoal filtering has. This suggests to me that they believe the process to 'remove' flavour elements, rather than add them.

However, I can't say I agree with it. You could pour ANY beverage you like over columns of thick, burnt sugar maple (vodka, water, beer, wine, orange juice, etc). Surely you will taste an extra or added flavour as a result!

Cheers,
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"Mellowing"

Postby bjorn » Fri May 06, 2005 5:57 am

Interesting, Admiral...I never equated "mellowing" to strictly mean "flavor removing." It does make a certain deal of sense, but I suspect they're just saying that it's smoother.
Just my $.02

-Bjorn
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Postby Admiral » Fri May 06, 2005 8:09 am

If it's "smoother", then they must be removing the harsher (and no doubt flavour-full) elements! :)
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Mellowing

Postby bjorn » Sat May 07, 2005 7:06 pm

Well, there probably is a reason that the term is alternately called "leeching"...still, I'll take a "less flavorful" bottle of George Dickel over a "more flavorful" bottle of Old Crow anyday...but that's just me
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Postby Ed » Sun May 08, 2005 12:01 am

Hello All,
Hello Bjorn,
I have never tried either the Old Crow or the George Dickel so I can't say myself. But no serious bourbon drinker likes Old Crow at all. Many of them enjoy George Dickel though.
Ed
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I don't do the Bourbon thing... not yet anyway

Postby JimHall » Sun May 08, 2005 10:36 am

I have decided to dedicate my month of june to Bourbon. Why :?: purely as a educational venture and also to try to eliminate my prejudice towards it. Yes i have to admit I have turned my nose up at Bourbon and that is probably through ignorance or bias to Scotch.
June it is!!! and with an open mind :roll: I will be tasting various American Bourbon. What should I include then? What should I leave out? Water?
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Postby Ed » Sun May 08, 2005 11:57 am

For some reason something I posted showed up twice.
Ed
Last edited by Ed on Sun May 08, 2005 5:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Ed » Sun May 08, 2005 11:57 am

Hello All,
As to Early Times, I think that only a relatively small amount is aged in used cooperage. I think it is 20%, the remaining 80% is straight bourbon. BTW, there are two different expressions of Early Times here in Japan, a yellow label and a brown label, they are both straight bourbons 40 % abv no age statement. It is not bad stuff, not my favorite pour but drinkable and it is cheap, also it is available in the bars. Here that is.
Ed
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June bourbon fest

Postby Ed » Sun May 08, 2005 5:10 pm

Hello All,
Hello JimHall,
As a bourbon drinker who also enjoys scotch I am happy to hear that you are going to give my favorite whiskey a fair go. I hope you learn to enjoy it, though, of course, you may find that you don't much care for it. Whatever floats your boat! However, I am confident that you will find something you like among the many fine bourbons available.
As to what you should try I am not really sure. I don't really know what whisky you like. Smoky Islays? Sherry monsters? Grassy Speyside malt? Also, are you planning to buy a few bottles or bourbon or are you going to be trying things out in a bar or buy minis or some combination of the above?
Anyway, here goes. I think you should try something from each of the major distilleries. Not as daunting a task as it may first appear. There are relatively few distilleries, though you wouldn't guess that from the labels. A good resource for determining where a bourbon is made is StraightBourbon.com's bourbon database. Here is the link. http://www.straightbourbon.com/brands.p ... e=bottling

Here is my basic advice.
Try something from Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam and Wild Turkey.

Buffalo Trace is my favorite distillery. Whatever you do, try some Blanton's Single Barrel. Any expression will be fine. It is all good. Gold is probably better than Silver, Silver better than Special Reserve etc. Higher proof is better than lower proof. I don't think I have ever had the 40% abv. If all you did this June was to buy a bottle of Blanton's I would say you had given bourbon a reasonably fair trial.

Other Buffalo Trace whiskies that I think well of include, Buffalo Trace, Elmer T. Lee, Ancient Ancient Age 10 year old. They also make Old Charter in various ages. I have tried the 8 year old. It is a very different bourbon from those listed above. The mashbill is very high in corn, low on rye and barley malt. Smooth and sweet from the corn and the time in the wood. I like it. Oh, and Buffalo Trace makes the George T. Stagg.

Heaven Hill makes an enormous range of whiskey. Evan William's 7 year old is a good, affordable, every day bourbon. Well thought of in the bourbon community. I had some 12 year old tonight. The extra time in the barrel made it a much better pour, IMHO. There are vintage Single Barrel expressions as well.

My favorite bourbon from the Hill is Elijah Craig. I love the 12 and the 18 year old, too. The Twelve is on my "always have an open bottle" list. It is not to everyone's taste, however.

Jim Beam has several super premium bourbons, too. Booker's is great. Very high proof. It varies from barrel to barrel but 63% seems to be normal. Age varies, too. Around eight years old is standard.

Knob Creek is very good, too. 9 years old 50% abv.

Jim Beam Black Label is good, too. Affordable, well thought of. A little light for my tastes. Give the White Label a miss. The Green Label is reputed to be inferior to the Black, but I haven't tried it. Old Crow is a Beam product. I haven't tried it. It is supposed to be pretty bad.

Wild Turkey. Great distillery, great bourbon. Don't get the 40% abv. It is probably okay, but why bother? The 101 proof is much better. In Japan it is 8 years old. In the States I understand that it often contains younger whiskey. There are a number of premium bottlings, too. I love the Rare Breed barrel proof, for example. But the WT 101 is really excellent bourbon.

One more recommendation. The Van Winkle bourbons are very highly thought of. They use wheat rather than rye as the flavor grain. This makes for a smoother whiskey. Rye can burn on the way down. Maker's Mark is also a wheatie. So, if you can't find a Van Winkle you can try that. I have only tried one VW expression, the Rip Van Winkle 10 year old. Love at first sip!

As to water. None for me thank you. My advice is try it neat first then add water to taste.
Ed
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Postby bernstein » Sun May 08, 2005 6:08 pm

Hello Ed,
the way you write about bourbon impresses me again and again. Thank you for that! Your erudition tempts me to call the year 2006 (or 2007? or 2008?) my ‘year of the american whiskey’. :D

I’m still in the middle of my ‘year of the scotch’ (it lasts for 17 months or so by now :roll: ), so it might take some time. But hey, what is time in a world, where you’ll find ‘ancient ancient age’ whiskeys. And that is what you call the ‘new’ world? Ay, come on! :D
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Postby JimHall » Mon May 09, 2005 12:30 pm

Ed
Thanks for taking the time to point me in the right direction with that excellent post. I won't be buying a bottle of each. A combination of bar tastings and purchases will have to do. I will come back to you at the end of June and let you know how it goes.

cheers Jim
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Postby Ed » Mon May 09, 2005 3:00 pm

Hello All,
Hello Bernstein,
Hello Jim,
Thank you both for the kind comments.
Bernstein, I hope you don't wait till 2008 to have a pour of bourbon! And seventeen months is surely a short time to spend getting to know scotch. I suspect that you will be spending decades exploring that rich field. I have more than a little work/play to do in that area as well. For one thing I have to get to some of those open bottles before they go off.
Jim, if you were to buy one of each of the bourbons I mentioned in my post you would need more than a month to get through them! Try a few in the bar and then chose a couple to buy. If you are feeling adventurous, buy one that you didn't like much in the bar, not something that you felt was too thin or lacked character, but something that was too heavy, too strongly flavored. I think we can all remember a dram that we didn't like at first, but that later grew on us because we had a bottle of the stuff on the shelf and we had to either drink it or pour in down the drain. Anyway, enjoy your bourbon and let us know what you make of it.

By the way, I want everyone to know that I am not trying to convert scotch drinkers to bourbon drinkers. I would like scotch aficionados to know that bourbon is a potation worthy of serious consideration, worthy of connoisseurship. Whether or not you would want to take the time or effort to attain the lofty title of Bourbon Connoisseur. (Not that I myself have, far from it. I just really like the stuff.) It is a whiskey of distinction with a rich history, great variety and offers the discerning palate hours of pleasure. And, as an added attraction, it gets you drunk! Er, I mean it delivers alcohol...
Ed
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Postby bourbonluva » Tue May 10, 2005 5:31 pm

The most common bourbon recipes consist of at least 51% corn, with the remainder being barley, malt, rye or wheat. The oak barrels are charred on the inside to provide the distinct bourbon caramel color. Also, the bourbon has to age for a minimum of two years, but most age well beyond that.
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