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Issue 97 - Filtering Out

Whisky Magazine Issue 97
July 2011

 

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Filtering Out

Ian Wisniewski asks what is the Lincoln County process, and what influence does it have?

The Lincoln County Process is a traditional element of producing Tennessee whiskey, and refers to filtering freshly distilled spirit through columns of charcoal, prior to aging the spirit in oak barrels. Charcoal acts as a natural filter, with the ability to absorb certain compounds from the spirit, which modifies the spirit character. This in turn has a significant influence on the flavour profile of the mature whiskey. Consequently, the Lincoln County Process is a key stage that differentiates Tennessee whiskies such as Jack Daniel's and George Dickel from other American whiskies, including bourbon, that don't use this process.
The first step is selecting hard sugar maple trees to produce charcoal. Being indigenous to the region, and available in plentiful supply, explains why this has always been the traditional choice, and consequently the only type of wood which has been used.
Sugar maple trees are a type of hardwood, as opposed to softwood. This is a primary way of dividing trees, the real difference is structural, as hardwood is porous whereas softwood isn't, with the further significance being that hardwood burns at a higher temperature which makes it more suitable for producing charcoal.
Felled trees are sawn into sticks which are allowed to air-dry for several months. This is a much slower process than kiln drying wood, which wouldn't produce the same result.
“Air-drying is best for charcoal production as the wood burns cleaner and hotter, which gives a better co...

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