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Issue 66 - The Tennessee question

Whisky Magazine Issue 66
September 2007


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The Tennessee question

In the latest in our series looking at whisky terminology,Dominic Roskrow considers the letters k and l and in particular The Lincoln County Process

When is a bourbon not a bourbon?

When it's a Tennessee whiskey.

And depending who you're talking to and where you're doing the talking, the likes of Jack Daniel and George Dickel are either barred from the bourbon club because they've messed with the rules, or they have added a quality process that makes their spirit better than that produced by the boys up in Kentucky.

The key difference between the two is a process known as the Lincoln County Process which Tennessee law insists on and is frowned upon in Louisville.

Known also as charcoal mellowing or leaching, the Lincoln County Process has been used in the State of Tennessee for generations, and its exact origins are not totally clear, though it is often attributed to Alfred Eaton, a distiller operating in the region in the early 1800s.

It's the process of passing the new make spirit – known as white dog in America – through three metres of hardwood charcoal before it can be filled in the barrel. It's a process that requires great care. Quality wood, often from the maple tree, is used to ensure the best mellowing and a great deal of effort is put in to burning the wood just so to produce the right level of charcoal.

This process is not used when making bourbon, though you will find bourbon bottles with the words ‘charcoal filtered' on them. In these cases the whiskey is filtered through charcoal after it has matured in the barrel, removing impurities and debris from the finished whiskey. In the Lincoln County P...

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