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Issue 111 - Working with the grain

Whisky Magazine Issue 111
April 2013


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Working with the grain

We investigate the grains to produce whiskey in the USA

Various grains are used to produce different styles of American whiskey, including rye whiskey, malt whiskey and wheat whiskey, while Bourbon is distilled using a ‘mashbill' (ie. recipe of grains) which is corn, malted barley and either rye or wheat. Each grain contributes an individual flavour profile to the resulting whiskey. For example, corn gives sweetness and caramel, rye contributes spice, wheat provides honey, while malted barley lends biscuity notes. But before any grain can be distilled there's a cultivation cycle to be completed in the fields. It's traditional for distillers to use winter varieties of wheat and rye, meaning they are sown in the autumn and harvested the following autumn. Meanwhile, spring varieties of barley and corn are used, which are sown in the spring and harvested during the autumn of the same year. Whichever grain is cultivated, the ideal scenario is steady rainfall during the growth phase, and an absence of rain in the month preceding the harvest. Needless to say, the weather is a vital factor, and even within the same State weather patterns can vary greatly. Corn divides into different types depending on the colour, with the standard choice for distillers being yellow corn. “In Alabama they begin planting corn in late March, and in Iowa it's April, as the further north you are the longer you have to wait for the weather to warm up, and the later you plant,” says Brown- Forman grain buyer, Tom Neiheisel. Rainfall is vital during pollina...

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