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Issue 89 - Mix and mash

Whisky Magazine Issue 89
July 2010

 

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Mix and mash

Ian Wisniewski asks what the term ‘mashbill' means, and what significance this has for bourbon.

The mashbill is a ‘recipe' of grains from which bourbon is distilled.

Traditionally this comprised corn, rye and malted barley, with the vast majority of bourbons continuing to use these three grains. However, a minority of brands have a mashbill that includes wheat (in place of rye) together with corn and malted barley. Referred to as ‘wheated' bourbons, these include Maker's Mark and Old Fitzgerald.

“The mashbill is the foundation of building your flavour;” says Chris Morris, master distiller Brown- Forman Woodford Reserve.

The mashbill must include a minimum of 51 per cent corn, with the balance accounted for by ‘cereal grains,' which gives distillers a certain freedom of choice. There is no upper limit on the level of corn used, though it typically accounts for up to 80 per cent of the mashbill.

A particular variety of corn, No 2 Yellow Dent, is the usual choice as this is considered to give the best flavour and yield of alcohol compared to other varieties. Corn is primarily sourced either locally in Kentucky or from North Dakota, with South Dakota and Indiana secondary sources.

Although corn accounts for the majority of every mashbill, it's influence on flavour tends to peak in the freshly distilled spirit, and become less noticeable in mature bourbon.

“Corn is what makes the spirit taste the way that it does, with a corn and sweet grain taste really coming through in the new whiskey off the still. The other grains don't show up as much in the spirit as...

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