Originally By Tony Ackland
A Short History Of Kentucky Bourbon
Although Bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States, it is typically produced in Kentucky; and it is indigenous to America. So indigenous that, in 1965, Congress passed a resolution making Bourbon whisky a distinctive national product, a unique American product.
The proclamation, as welcome as it was, did nothing more than affirm the over 200 year history of Bourbon whisky. It has been part of this nation's history, and dates to Colonial times.
Large numbers of Scotch-Irish fled England in the early 1700's for various reasons; some to practice a religion independent of the Anglican Church, others to avoid retribution for debts, and a number to escape poverty and difficult farming conditions. Many settled in the vast regions of Virginia and Pennsylvania, parts of which eventually became the state of Kentucky.
Initially, a large tract of land that would later become Kentucky was set aside by America's first Congress and named Bourbon County, honoring France's rulers, the House of Bourbon, in homage to the French who had provided valuable assistance in the Colonial struggle against the British. But frontiersmen needed motivation to venture west of Williamsburg and Philadelphia and to colonize the area. And, during the late 1700's, America needed a sturdy mechanism to nurture the independence her freedom fighters had won. The motive became land ownership.
Thomas Jefferson encouraged expansion and property ownership in this newly annexed territory. While Governor of Virginia, he offered 60 free acres in Bourbon County to any man, provided he would plant corn, a native American crop that flourished in the region's rich limestone shelf. The area also had abundant reserves of spring water, a naturally pure supply that had filtered through limestone deposits and was low in iron and other minerals that affect the taste and quality of water. A number of people seized the opportunity and moved-westward settling in Bourbon County.
Corn's Frail Economy: Necessity and Invention
The Scotch-Irish, accustomed to whisky in their native land, distilled rudimentary spirits for the end of the long day. But what really drove the beginnings of the Bourbon trade was not demand for whisky, but an economic standoff between corn and corn spirits.
Once they had harvested it, the farmers found their corn to be too weighty and costly to transport over the hilly terrain that divided Bourbon County from its eastern neighbors. Corn was also perishable, and many farmers simply could not risk losing all their income if the corn spoiled before it arrived at the market.
By producing a distillate from the corn, much the way their ancestors had produced Rye from rye and Scotch from barley, they could eliminate problems of perishability and the high cost of shipping all that bulk. Distilled, lighter concentrates of the corn could be hauled to markets. Shipped in standard size barrels, it didn't spill (or spoil), making it more convenient for merchants and other buyers, whose concerns included storage and barter, and reimbursement. All of a sudden, buying corn as distillate became as easy as buying commodities like sugar or flour.
Economic necessity had paved the road for entry into the whisky business. And corn mash made a fine whisky.
Kentucky Grows, Along with Independent Distillers
Gradually, demand developed for the corn whisky from Kentucky. It was smooth and mellow. And no doubt, the pure spring water helped as much in those early days as charred wood barrels. We know that Bourbon whisky became an acceptable beverage and form of barter. Correspondence from the late 1700's and early nineteenth century indicate that barrels of corn whisky were exchanged for everything from transportation services to slaves.
Beyond that, we know surprisingly little. Not because the frontiersmen were busy or illiterate, as some might think; but because a number of records were destroyed as the temperance movement emerged in the late 1800's. Many families, protecting themselves from law enforcement officials, eliminated valuable documentation on the whisky trade.
Bourbon Comes of Age Quickly
In spite of the loss of numerous records, we know a number of important facts. Old newspapers ran ads in the mid 1700's for fine Bourbon whisky. Other ads featured sheet copper for stills and instruments for "proofing," or determining the alcoholic content of distilled spirits. Distilling procedures manuals were advertised as well. As techniques improved, efficient and superior production drove the business.
By the end of the eighteenth century, the Bourbon business had evolved so rapidly, and become so lucrative, that President Washington invoked the Excise Tax of 1791. Aimed at Kentucky spirits, it helped reduce some of the national debt that the U.S. had amassed to finance to finance the Revolution.
Bourbon was a huge business. The river port of Frankfort, Kentucky flourished in part because of Bourbon. Fortunes were made, and horse breeding and racing, the sport of kings, evolved in the state on a similar curve from similar beginnings. Limestone, after all, nourished the Kentucky bluegrass and cornmeal which, when eaten, strengthened the bones and subsequent speed of the horses.
Prohibition in 1920 brought the Bourbon business to an abrupt halt; but when the Volstead Act was repealed, Bourbon became synonymous with the South. Most Bourbon today is consumed in the South, in its most sublime fashion - straight up or on the rocks, with a splash of spring water. Just like old times.
The description of whisky making more or less followed that of Bourbon and it will be used for our frame of reference. Many grains are allowed in Bourbon but the mixture must contain a minimum of 51% corn, and the remaining ingredients are generally proportioned between rye and barley malt. A common mixture is 60% corn, 28% rye, and 12% barley malt. This would be called a mixture of 60% corn and 40% small grains. Other popular proportions would be 70- 18-12 (30% small grains), and 75-13-12 (25% small grains). Here is where the manufacturer can begin to control the character and type of product made. The formula with the greater small grains proportion will produce a heavier and fuller product because rye and barley malt produce more intensive flavors than corn. Bourbon grain mixtures generally contain some rye (and, with a few, such as Makers Mark, wheat); between 5 and 15%. The more flavorful Bourbons have about 60-70% corn; the lesser flavored up to the maximum 80%. The Federal Standards of Identity for Bourbon also stipulate that the whisky must be distilled at 1600 proof or less, aged at not more than 1250 proof and in new (unused) charred American white oak barrels for not less than two years. Bourbons which are distilled at over 125o proof must thus be diluted with distilled water for maturing; those distilled at or below 125o proof will not necessarily have to be diluted. No coloring or sweetening materials can be added, nor can any additional processing be performed.
There are two well-known distilleries in Tennessee which produce products which are consumed as Bourbon but do not meet the legal requirements for Bourbon. They are Jack Daniel's and George Dickel. The production of both are identical to Bourbon except they filter the distillate through maple charcoal prior to aging. This filtration process is not allowed under the Bourbon Standards of Identity.
To summarize, Bourbon whiskies produced by different distilleries possess different taste, body, color and aroma because of differences in:
The grains are brought into the distillery and unloaded, fed through a series of cleaning processes which take out any foreign materials. The cleaned grain is then milled or ground to a fine meal.
Mashing is the next process. Corn and rye meal, together with pure limestone water and spent grains from a previous distillation are cooked in large vessels called mash tubs. The mixture is then cooled, barley malt is added, and the conversion of grain starch to sugar takes place. The mixture is now said to be mashed and is ready for fermentation.
Distilleries usually develop their own strain of yeast which is cultured and carefully protected from contamination and outside influence. It is pure culture yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, developed from a single original cell and carefully propagated and maintained until a vigorous strain is produced with its won particular properties for production of whisky possessing the desired characteristics.
The yeast is mixed with the mash and fermented. Fermentation takes place in large stainless steel or cypress tubs. The traditional choice of fermenter material has been cypress, but as these tubs wear out, they have usually been replaced with stainless steel. Some small distilleries still use cypress exclusively. The temperature of the fermenting mash must be controlled to avoid the development of off-flavors and odors in the finished whisky.
The finished fermented product is called beer and is pumped from the fermenter to a holding vessel called a beer well. From the beer well, it goes to the still. The stills are either copper or stainless steel and are several stories tall. They have a series of perforated plates and the area between the plates are known as chambers. The beer is preheated to near the boiling point and enters the still near the top and runs down over the perforated plates. Each chamber is filled to a depth sufficient to overflow into a pipe leading to the next chamber below. As this process continues, the steam which enters the tower at the bottom volatilizes the alcohol in the beer and it rises with the steam through the perforated holes in the baffle plates.
This process ultimately brings the vapor to the top of the still where it is sent to the condenser to be changed into a liquid again. This liquid is called low wine or low proof whisky. It is sent to the doubler, a closed tank, where it is redistilled, refined of undesirable constituents and becomes whisky. The doubler is sort of a continuous pot still.
The residue of the beer that is not vaporized falls to the bottom and is removed to a tank. This is called stillage or spent grains. Some of it is strained, cooled, and added to a new batch in the mashing tubs. Among other benefits, this produces more uniformity with each succeeding batch; it also produces the particular specific tastes and odors characteristic of sour mash Bourbon.
Spent beer not used for sour mashing is evaporated into a thick viscous syrup and dried into a type of high protein animal feed which is sold as a valuable by-product called Distillers Dried Grains.
The freshly distilled whisky is pumped into large holding tanks where it is reduced with soft water to the desired aging proof. Bourbon is required by regulation to be aged at not more than 125 proof, although it could be lower. It is then drawn off into new, charred American white oak barrels. The barrels have a capacity of 53 US gallons, or 201 liters. Before being sent to the warehouses, the barrels are branded with the type of whisky, date and serial number for identification by government gaugers.
Government agents no longer have to be present in the distilleries as used to be the case. They tax on the amount of whisky that is bottled and shipped, not on the amount of whisky made or aging. Actually, they can calculate with great accuracy the whisky production potential based on the amount of grain purchases.
Whisky increases in proof while held in wood because the water evaporates faster than does the alcohol. The volume, however, gradually becomes lower over time and the loss is about 3 to 4 percent per year. A barrel aging for 8 years may lose nearly 1/3 of its volume. As in Cognac, this is called "the angels share."
When the aging is completed (it varies according to the type of whisky being made and the house standards), the barrels are emptied and the whisky separated from the considerable amount of charred wood that is also dumped out. Before bottling, the proof will again be reduced to whatever bottling proof is needed. For Bonded Bourbon, this is still 100 proof. Bourbons are bottled at proofs of 80 and up. Wild Turkey is 101, Bookers (made by Jim Beam) is barrel proof, around 122-126, some are in the 90's and so forth. The last step before bottling is filtering to assure that the whisky is absolutely clear. Bourbon regulations permit the addition of nothing other than water for proof reduction; coloring and/or flavoring materials are not allowed. This is in marked contrast to some other spirits. Cognac brandy, for example, is permitted to have both its color and flavor adjusted.
The term Bourbon whisky was in general use in the early 1800's but did not achieve widespread fame until the middle of the century. The term, Bourbon, was not protected by law until 1964 by a resolution of Congress. It does not grant exclusive right to the term to Kentucky, but merely states that it is a distinctive product of the United States. Whisky made elsewhere, even by this method, may not legally be labeled Bourbon. The term Kentucky Bourbon is used to ensure its geographical integrity.
Other whiskies similar to Bourbon are rye, wheat, malt, and rye malt. With each, the Standards of Identity are the same as with Bourbon excepting the 51% minimum applies not to corn, but to rye, wheat, malt, and rye malt respectively. The proof of distillation and storage requirements are the same: no higher than 160o proof and storage in new, charred oak for a minimum of two years.
A product labeled corn whisky has the same distillation proof limitation (160o) but must be made from a fermented mash containing at least 80% corn and be stored in uncharred or reused charred oak. It will therefore be lighter and less distinctive than Bourbon due both to the higher proportion of corn and the use of either reused or uncharred barrels.
Although the distillation proof cannot exceed 160o, many are distilled at 110-130o. Bourbons are heavier-bodied and more distinctively flavored than many other whiskies, but the range of distilling proofs used clearly shows how there can be significant differences among Bourbons.
Farmers aged their whisky in barrels, as their ancestors had. However, in Kentucky, the barrels were charred prior to use. Charred barrel aging is said to impart the characteristic vanilla palate of Bourbon. It is unclear when this practice began. A work on distilling in 1818 mentions charring as a method of disinfecting barrels. No other descriptions of Bourbon production during that century discussed the technique. There was, in 1896, in an article about Jack Daniel's, emphasis on the use of "heavily charred" barrels to provide the whisky with its "beautiful red color."
The benefits of charring were clear. Charred barrels allowed the liquid to enter the wood more readily. They imparted color to the spirits. They helped nurture the sweet taste of Bourbon, and its flavors of caramel and vanillin. They also allowed the water in the liquid mixture to escape, or evaporate more readily, and thereby induced the aging process more efficiently.
Charring oak barrels gave corn whisky a quantum leap in flavor and a deep rich color, propelling demand for Kentucky Gold throughout the 1800's. The charring, which may have started as a sterilization procedure, became the industry standard.
Whisky stored in new, charred white oak develops the distinctive red-amber color of Bourbon & Tennessee whisky while whisky stored in used, or uncharred cooperage is much lighter and more yellow. Scotch is an example.
The barrels are charred by setting the insides on fire. The major distilleries do not do this but are very particular about whom they order their barrels from and about the degree of char they prefer. There are four grades; number one being the lightest and number four the most heavily and deeply charred. Each distiller has their own preferences.
Charring produces a layer (the "red layer") of partially caramelized sugars below the char. As the rick house warms and cools (daily and seasonally) the whisky expands and penetrates the char and goes into the sugar layer, then returns. You can look at a used barrel stave and see the line where the whisky has penetrated and it makes considerable penetration into the wood. Over the years, this constant expansion and contraction is what matures the whisky. This does not take place at equivalent rates in different parts of the warehouse. The bottom floors are considered inferior to the upper ones. There seems to be a consistent use of seven floors, each one containing barrels racked three high for a total of 21 layers in the warehouse. On the upper floors, there is more temperature fluctuation and this results in better whisky. Similarly, on each floor, the outer perimeter of barrels age faster and better than the ones stacked in the center. Barrels have a 53 gallon capacity and a warehouse may contain up to 20,000 or more. Some distilleries, Makers Mark is one, Wild Turkey is another, rotate the barrels regularly. With others, the practice of rotation has had to be discontinued due to economic reasons. Even there however, they go to great lengths to blend barrels from different floors and sections of the warehouses (even the elevation of the warehouse location is critical - higher is considered better). They do not simply take the barrels from one floor in one warehouse and "dump" them into one bottling mixture. It is much more complicated than that. Consistency and adherence to the firm's style are the overriding criteria. George Dickel and Seagram's have another solution; they use low, single-story warehouses in which the maturation is naturally more uniform.
What Is Done With Barrels That Cannot Be Reused?
The used barrels are sold to distilleries in Ireland and Scotland. Some distilleries seem to have specific clients for their barrels while others just claim to sell in Ireland or Scotland. Some American distilleries are owned by large concerns which have distilling interests in both Ireland and Scotland and their barrels generally go to them.
Filling and Dumping
Filling of the barrels is done mechanically and only takes about a minute or less. The barrel hole is then stoppered with a bung which is pounded in to the level of the stave. Most of the distilleries use poplar wood for the bung.
The barrels are continuously sampled during the aging period and are not "dumped" until fully matured (according to each distilleries standards). The dumping takes place on long troughs. The barrels ride on the trough (see illustration), the bungs are removed and the barrel rotated until the hole is on the bottom and the whisky pours out. Along with the whisky, a considerable amount of charred wood is removed as well. The char is loosened over the years of movement of the whisky in and out and by the physical moving of the barrels, either for rotation and/or for removal from the warehouse.
Following dumping, the contents of the barrels are mixed together. This is where the selection of the barrels for dumping is critical since the barrels in the warehouse do not mature at the same rate. The distillery may dump 1,000 or more barrels per day and the product from day to day must remain consistent. Following mixing, the whisky is sent to the bottling line.
Tennessee Whisky or Tennessee Sour Mash
Charcoal filtration is the distinguishing production technique of Tennessee whisky. Tennessee filtering is unique in two respects:
Others may do some filtering but often after wood aging and never through a filter 10 feet deep!!
There is considerable leaching out of fusel oils; thus these are not oily tasting whiskies (relative to Kentucky Bourbon) but some feel that they may lose some flavor characteristics during the filtering.
The charred sugar maple may also add some flavors of its own. For example, some find a faint but distinctive smokiness in Jack Daniel's.
Between the two Tennessee distilleries, Jack Daniel's is a little heavier with a slight, pleasant oiliness of body. George Dickel whiskies are lighter and very aromatic, with the typical vanilla bouquet of the barrel. Tennessee whiskies in general are regarded as a little drier than are Kentucky Bourbons.
Jack Daniel's Black Label is 90 proof, Green Label is 86.4 proof. Both are between 4 and 5 years old but neither carry an age statement.
Jack Daniel's makes Lem Motlow's Tennessee Sour Mash. It is one year old, 90 proof and is intended for the Tennessee and Georgia markets. They also make Gentleman Jack; a high end product which is given a second filtration, following maturation.
With George Dickel, the black is 86.8 and the ivory label = 90 proof. Both are more than four years old with no age statement.
The two distilleries are less than 10 miles apart; Daniel's in Lynchburg, and Dickel in Tullahoma.
Bourbon Whisky Brand Descriptions
Bourbon Heritage Sampler Pack: Group of 5 American whiskies including I.W. Harper (15-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon, 80 proof), George Dickel Special Barrel Reserve (10-year-old Tennessee whiskey, 86 proof), Old Charter Proprietor's Reserve (13-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon, 90 proof), Old Fitzgerald Very Special (12-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon, 90 proof) and W.L. Weller Centennial (10-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon, 100 proof). These are considered super premium bourbons.
Baker's Bourbon: A small batch Kentucky bourbon. Baker's Bourbon uses a special strain of jug yeast that has been in Baker's family for over sixty years. This provides Baker's with a smooth texture and consistent taste from batch to batch. Baker's has a cognac-like quality and is made for sipping. Aged 7 years in new oak casks. Deep amber/tawny color. Aromas of vanilla, caramel and cherries. Flavors of roasted nuts, ripe fruit and vanilla. Sweet, medium-long finish with hints of banana. Kindred Spirits gives it a **** (highly recommended) rating. 107 proof.
Basil Hayden's Bourbon: A small batch bourbon made in Kentucky using larger percentages of rye and barley in its mash. A hint of peppermint is added. A light-bodied bourbon, aged for eight years. 'Spirit Journal' says it is 'lovely... with simple notes of spice and apple.' 'Wine Enthusiast' gives it a silver medal'. Brief, dry finish.
Blanton Single Barrel Bourbon: Leestown, makers of Ancient Age, produces a limited reserve Bourbon whiskey, and its makers understand that efficiency and maturity don't necessarily coexist in the world of fine spirits. The product takes its own time to mature, which can be costly. Unlike other Bourbons, Blanton's is a Single Barrel Bourbon, aged and bottled unblended. It is not mixed with Bourbon from other barrels, or of other ages. The product emanates from one barrel, each one made of -charred new American oak. And its age could be as old as ten, even 12 years, it just depends with each barrel.
Single Barrel Bourbon by Blanton's variable aging period accounts for its consistently smooth taste, from one year to another, from one bottle to the next. At Blanton, each barrel is monitored for the optimum time at which the liquid has matured. Then, and no sooner or later, is the Bourbon ripe for bottling.
That leaves the bulk of responsibility to the Blanton master distiller, who marries his skills with those of nature. It is he who decides the exact moment at which the Bourbon has extracted enough flavor from the barrels. It is he who determines exactly how smooth and mellow the Bourbon is to ensure the Blanton pedigree.
Six Significant Steps Toward Making Single Barrel Bourbon By Blanton
The production process of Single Barrel Bourbon by Blanton explain why this limited reserve is a luxury in the world of fine spirits. Born of essential elements - clean water and corn - Blanton maintains the highest procedures and standards in the whiskey industry. Here are the important steps in the process.
Bourbon Brand Descriptions
Booker's Bourbon: Created by Booker Noe, grandson of Jim Beam. The only bourbon bottled straight from the barrel - uncut and unfiltered. Intense flavors of oak-tannin and smoky vanilla. Lighter flavors of mocha and coffee. Aged 6-8 years. Prolonged aftertaste of fruit and nuts. Not for the faint of heart. Spring water may be added to taste. 'Wine Enthusiast' calls it a Gold Medal bourbon. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a **** rating (highly recommended).
Elijah Craig Bourbon: Kentucky straight bourbon, which means it is made in Kentucky, is made of at least 51% corn, is aged in new charred oak barrels, is not more than 160 proof, and only water is used to reduce the alcohol level. Aged for 12 years and bottled at 94 proof. One of the original small batch bourbons. Tea color. Aromas of coffee beans, vanilla, oranges, and pineapple. Flavors of cola, charcoal, smoke, and some fruit. Long, warm finish. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon: The second largest selling brand of straight bourbon in the U.S. Deep amber/bronze color. Aromas of fruit, oak, flowers and evergreen. Creamy, nutty, grapy flavors. Smoky, full-bodied finish. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Ezra Brooks Sour Mash: Kentucky straight, sour-mash whiskey. Made in Kentucky using a minimum of 51% corn. Mash from the previous day is used to start the fermentation process (this is sour-mash). Made from grains and limestone water. Uses a cork finish (stopper) like old time whiskey bottles. Amber color and smooth flavor.
Five O'Clock Bourbon: Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey (the same type of whiskey as Jack Daniel's). Made from at least 51% corn and aged in charred oak casks.
Jacob's Well Bourbon: A micro-bourbon from Jim Beam Brands. Micro-bourbon means that limited quantities are made and extra aging is involved resulting in a premium taste. A special aging process called Twice Barreled is used where the master distiller selects superior barrels of bourbon that are already aged to blend together and then continue aging. Warm, mellow aroma and rich, robust taste.
Jim Beam Bourbon: Kentucky straight bourbon. Must be made from a minimum of 51% corn. Aromas of vanilla, cocoa and peaches. Sweet, smoky, caramel flavors. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Knob Creek Bourbon: Named for the childhood home of Abraham Lincoln. Full aromas of nuts, peaches and grain. Full-bodied flavors of raisins and citrus The higher proof is evident with the first sip. A full-flavored, complex bourbon. 'Wine Enthusiast' rates it as a National Champion Whiskey. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it **** (highly recommended).
Maker's Mark Bourbon Whiskey: Kentucky straight bourbon. Made in small batches at the oldest operating distillery in the U.S. Orange/bronze color. Fruity nose with essences of chocolate, vanilla and hazelnut. Flavors of fruit, tobacco and caramel. Smoky finish with more caramel flavor. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it **** (highly recommended) rating.
Old Crow Straight Bourbon: A Kentucky Straight Bourbon that was the original sour mash whiskey dating back to 1835.
Old Grand Dad Straight Bourbon: A classic bourbon made in Kentucky. Each batch is made without blends or additives, other than water which may be added to reduce the proof). 'Kindred Spirits' says of it that 'this is what premium bourbon is all about--direct, almost reckless whiskey enjoyment...' The nose is grain. Flavors of vanilla and white chocolate. Slightly sweet and definitely warm.
S. S. Pierce Red Label Bourbon: Barrel aged four year old bourbon. The history of the S.S. Pierce company dates back to 1831.
Rebel Yell Bourbon: Kentucky straight bourbon. Amber/topaz color. Sweet, fruity nose. Intense fruit and caramel flavors. Long lasting finish of candy and nougat. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Wild Turkey Bourbon: A traditional bourbon made with natural ingredients including 51% corn along with barley, rye and limestone-purified water. Aged in new charred white oak barrels. A higher proof than most bourbons which means less water has been added. Cork finish. Flavors of fruit, oak and leather. Lots of flavor and texture. Kindred Spirits gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed: Kentucky straight bourbon that is almost 110 proof. Medium-amber/topaz color. Aromas of raisins, nectarines and oak. Subtle flavors of citrus, tart apples and spice. Long, warm finish. May be diluted with a few drops of spring water to release the bouquet.
Calvert Extra Whiskey: 100% blended (usually for smoothness) American Whiskey. The Calvert name was established in the 1800's.
Carstairs White Seal: American blended whiskey. Gold/amber color. Very light bouquet. Rather astringent and the alcohol is quite predominant.
Seagram's Seven Crown: American blended whiskey. Amber/burnt orange color. Sweet aromas of candy and caramel. Medium rich texture and distinctly sweet. Good for mixing.
Senators Club Blend: Blended American Whiskey. Light-bodied yet rich in taste . Good in sours or Manhattans.
Tennessee Whisky Brand Descriptions
Gentleman Jack: Clear amber/honey color. Tennessee whiskey from the makers of Jack Daniels. Rich aromas of honey, nuts and oak. Complex flavors of leather, tobacco, coffee and raisins. Warm but mellow finish. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a **** (highly recommended) rating.
George Dickel Old No. 8: A light, flavorful bourbon with a smooth finish. Made in Tennessee from at least 51% corn. Uses a unique chill filter process perfected by George Dickel in 1870, that filters out impurities for a smoother taste. Aged for 8 years for richer taste. Double distilled using virgin wool blankets as filters (only Tennessee whiskies do this). Produced at a small distillery in Tullahoma, TN.
Jack Daniel's Old #7 Black: Sour mash whiskey made in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Sour mash means that mash from the previous day is used to start the fermentation process. Filtered through sugar maple charcoal. It takes about 10 days for the whiskey to drip through the charcoal and this process mellows the whiskey. Aged a minimum of four years in charred, new white oak barrels for a minimum of 4 years. As the seasons and temperatures change, the whiskey works in and out of the charred oak which gives it its color and adds to the flavors. The Jack Daniels Distillery is the oldest registered distillery in the U.S., dating back to 1866. Vanilla, caramel and almond flavors. Finishes of charcoal and honey.
Jack Daniels Single Barrel: The only charcoal-mellowed single barrel Tennessee whiskey made. Made from iron-free cave spring water and mellowed through 10 feet of hard sugar maple charcoal. This whiskey is not only from a single distillery but from a single barrel that is hand-selected by the master distiller. Therefore, each bottle drawn from a different barrel will yield a subtle taste difference. Each bottle is hand-labeled with its barrel number included. Flavors of toasted oak, vanilla and caramel.
Glossary of Whisky Terms
Age, Aging - The period of storage, in barrels, after distillation and before bottling; the mellowing, maturing and developing of a distinctive character while a - whiskey is "on wood." Minimum aging requirement for Bourbon is two years.
American Blended Whiskey: A blend of which at least 20% is 100 proof straight whiskey. The rest of the blend may include other whiskey and/or grain neutral spirits. A small amount of sherry may also be added.
Beer, or Distiller's Beer, also known as Fermented Wort - An alcoholic mixture made by fermenting finely ground grain, which is then distilled.
Blend - The mixture of various percentages of straight whiskeys; or of straight whiskeys with neutral spirits. Under present law, a blended whiskey must contain at least 20 percent by volume of 100-proof straight whiskey. The resulting mixture must proof at not less than eighty.
Blended Bourbon Whiskey - Must be at least 51 percent by volume straight Bourbon whiskey; the rest grain neutral spirits.
Blended Canadian Whisky: A blend of grain whiskies.
Blended Corn Whiskey - Whiskey and grain neutral spirits, at least 51percent straight corn whiskey.
Blended Scotch Whisky; Blended Irish Whiskey: A blend of malt and grain whiskies.
Bonded Bourbon Whiskey: Bonding dates to the early days of bottling when a law (1894) permitted distillers to warehouse packaged whisky without paying tax until it was released for sale. The strength standard was 100 proof and this is still referred to as bottled in bond.
Bourbon 'n Branch - Bourbon 'n Spring Water. Traditionally a way of ordering one's preferred beverage in the South.
Bourbon Whiskey: Made in the United States from a fermented mash containing at least 51% corn. It must be produced at no more than 160 proof, stored in new charred oak barrels at no more than 125 degrees, and bottled at no less than 80 proof.
Char - The result of burning the interior of whiskey barrels used for aging spirits. The char imparts color and nurtures development of caramel and vanillin flavors, characteristic of Bourbon.
Fermentation - The conversion of sugar into alcohol prior to distillation.
Grain Whisky: Produced from a grain mixture containing corn, rye, and/or wheat as well as malted barley. This is whisky in the United States and Canada; in Scotland and Ireland, it is called grain whisky (or whiskey).
Malt - Dried, sprouted grain, usually barley, introduced into a watery mixture with the ground-up grain, to turn starch into fermentable sugar.
Malt Whisky: Whisky made entirely from malted barley. In Scotland and Ireland, these would be their straight whiskies.
Mash - The starchy material that becomes distillate after it has been subjected to the action of water, heat, stirring and fermentation.
Moonshine: Distilled spirits produced in an unlicensed, unregulated still and without payment of taxes, and hence, illegal. Seldom aged, and produced from anything that will ferment.
Neutral Spirit: Any spirit distilled at 190 proof or higher; should contain no noticeable aroma, flavor or character.
Prohibition: National Prohibition in the U.S. ran from roughly January, 1919 through December, 1933. During that period, beverage alcohol could not be legally produced, transported or sold. Limited exceptions were for medical purposes. Widespread defiance of Prohibition led to the growth of popularity in the U.S. of Scotch and Canadian Whisky, which were imported illegally.
Proof - A statement of alcoholic strength. The proof number is twice the percentage of alcohol by volume. Example: a Bourbon marked 100 proof contains 50 percent alcohol. The remainder is water.
Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey: A bottling of bourbon whiskey from a single barrel.
Small Batch Bourbon Whiskeys: Marrying together bourbon whiskey from a small number of specially selected barrels. Because bourbon ages differently at different locations in the rack house, the marrying together of whiskey from selected barrels assures the consistency of their unique flavor and character.
Sour Mash: A process developed by Dr. James C. Crow about 1840 to provide uniformity in bourbon production. A portion of the previous day's mash is added to new mash to ensure consistent quality and character.
Spent Beer - The distiller's beer after the alcohol has been removed; also called slop or stillage. Formerly used wet to feed stock, now dried and marketed as cattle feed.
Still: An apparatus, usually made of copper, in which the distiller's beer is purified by means of heating the liquid to at least 176 degrees Fahrenheit, but less than 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Because alcohol boils at a temperature lower than water, the alcohol can be evaporated, collected, and condensed.
Straight Whiskey: Whiskey distilled at not more than 160 proof, aged at least 2 years in new charred oak barrels and bottled no less than 80 proof. Straight whiskey includes mixtures of straight whiskeys of the same type produced in the same state.
Tennessee Whiskey: Straight whiskey distilled in Tennessee from a fermented mash containing at least 51% corn, then filtered through maple charcoal before aging. "Tennessee Whiskey" is recognized as a distinct whiskey type. It is not bourbon whiskey.
Whiskey - The most general name of all, never found alone on bottles. A label which carries any other term - Straight, Blended, Bourbon, etc. must, of course, fulfill the requirements for whiskey as well as for the other terms it carries. According to the Federal Government, whiskey is "an alcoholic distillate from a fermented mash of grain distilled at less than 190 proof in such a manner that the distillate will have the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to whiskey, and withdrawn from the cistern room of the distillery at not more than 110 proof and not less than 80 proof and is further reduced before bottling to not less than 80 proof."
White Dog: Unaged distillate, just as it comes from the still, is colorless. Also known as "green whiskey" or "high wine."
Notes on Distilleries Visits:
Makers Mark (Loretto, KY)
Aged 4 to 8 years; bottled according to taste. When they feel it is ready, it is bottled. Therefore, there are no age statements on Makers Mark. Three tasters are used to make the decision. The average is usually about 5.5 to 6 years.
The sealing wax has a plastic base and is heated to 130 degrees F. The workers are expected to dip 23 bottles (750 ml) per minute.
In 1811, there were over 2,000 distilleries in KY, today 9.
MM uses cypress fermentation vats with a capacity of 9,658 gallons. They have 8 of them.
Wild Turkey (Lawrenceburg, KY)
Barrel proof product is bottled at 110 proof.
Lose 1/3 of the whisky in 8 years.
Barrels cost $80 to $83.00 each (new).
Age statement = youngest portion of blend. Therefore, 8 years old may have some 9, 10 or older in it but cannot claim anything older than 8.
They export 35% of their production.
Water is obtained from the KY River. It has a limestone bed and contains no iron. Iron (and other metals) are bad for whisky. It turns black and the taste deteriorates.
Fermentation normally takes three days. They refer to it as 3 day beer, five day beer and so forth. Longer than three days would be over a weekend, holiday etc. Fermentation time controlled by temperature.
Fermentation is done both in traditional cypress vats and in SS. As the cypress vats wear out they are replaced with SS.
30% sour mash is added to the fresh mash during fermentation. The sour mash comes from the still. Vapors (alcoholic) rise, are removed and condensed, The spent grains are dried (usually) and sold to cattle farmers for feed (high in protein), while the 3rd portion is the liquid that does not vaporize. This is the sour mash.
They use a grade 4 burn for the barrels (grades are one, the lightest, to four, the most heavily and deeply charred).
Heaven Hill (Elijah Craig & Evan Williams) (Bardstown, KY)
Low wine = 100 proof
Doubler = 134 proof
Mash 3,000 bbls per day.
Fermentation vats range from 12,000 to 50,000 gallons.
They have a fermentation capacity of one million gallons.
Fermentation mixture includes 5% sour mash.
A 50,000 gallon fermentation tank will contain about 2,000 gallons yeast mix.
They have 44 warehouses (3 ricks per floor, 7 floors), and 700,000 barrels aging.
Barrel burn spec = #3.
Jim Beam (Clermont, KY)
20,000 bbls each
Currently at 96% of capacity.
Incoming grain (corn, rye, barley malt) trucks are sampled in 7 locations.
Another term for sour mash is backset.
Sour mash is used because:
Jim Beam uses 41% backset for fermentation.
The process is to add the backset, then the corn, then the premalt. They heat by steam to sterilize the mash and ?? the starch. The mixture is then cooled and rye is added (they want to avoid high temperatures with the rye). Following the rye the malted barley is added which converts the starches to sugar. It is then cooled rapidly and sent to stainless steel fermentation tanks.
It will ferment for 3 to 4 days (3-4 day beer). The fermentation is controlled by temperature.
Yeast. Referred to as "jug" yeast. They use the same yeast as used 200 years ago. Take a 20 gallon milk can, add hops extract and inoculate with a previous yeast mixture and transfer to a yeast tank. They use a 3,000 gallon tank weekly. The yeast is then mixed with the cooled mash as it goes into the fermenter. Only Jim Beam and Heaven Hill do this; the others add the yeast to the fermenter after the mash has been added. The result is beer and is stored in what they call a "beer well."
The first distillation, in 5 story column stills, is called "low wine" and is 125 proof. This is distilled a second time in the "doubler" at 135 proof. The first distillation is done with steam and it extracts the various constituents indiscriminately; thus the use of a doubler.
Char: grade #3 to 4 on staves and grade #3 on top/bottom of barrel.
JB distills 700 barrels per day. They have three men in the 1,000 barrel club. This means that they have filled 1,000 or more barrels in one day.
Use poplar bungs.
All their water comes from the Jim Beam lake which has a capacity of 68 million gallons. They also have the use of another lake with a 28 million gallon capacity. Both lakes have limestone substrates. This contributes to the sweetness of the bourbon.
JB probably use more malt than some others. Grand Dad, for example, has more small grains than does Jim Beam bourbon.
Jack Daniel's (Lynchburg, TN)
Distill at 140 proof; age at 110 proof.
4 years old.
Charcoal Filtering: The charcoal has a life of 8-12 weeks and then must be replaced. The charcoal is made from hard maple trees that grow in the area. They are called maple ricks and are burned for 2.5 hours. They must be continuously tended during the burning and soaked down with hoses from time to time to control the burn. It takes 24 hours for the whisky to filter through the new charcoal. The charcoal vats are 8 feet in diameter and 10 feet deep.
Use grade #3 burn on barrels.
80% corn; 12% rye; 8% barley.
Filtered twice; once again following aging. The details of the second filtering are a trade secret.
Gentleman Jack was first released in 1988.
About the oldest barrels in the warehouse are 7 years old.
They practice some barrel rotation in the warehouse. 48 warehouses.
The Federal government first taxed whisky in 1866 and Jack Daniel's registered his still. Thus, Jack Daniel's was the first registered whisky distillery in the United States.
The term Bottled in Bond means that the spirit is straight or unblended, and has been distilled at no more than 160o proof at one plant by one distiller. It must also be aged at least four years and bottled at 100 proof. A further requirement is that it be bottled in a bonded warehouse but, since all spirits are bottled in bonded warehouses, the stipulation no longer has meaning.
Taxes are paid weekly, according to the number of cases shipped.
Tank proof must be exact but they can lose .3 proof (79.7 proof vs. 88.0 proof) at bottling. Something referred to as "high solids" (+ 600 ml/liter) can lose .5 proof.
American Blended Whiskies
Blended whisky contains at least 20% by volume of 100 proof straight whisky mixed with other whiskies or neutral spirits. Straight whisky must be distilled at no more than 160o proof while the blending whiskies can be withdrawn from the still at up to 190o proof. In the U.S. it is legally whisky if below 190o proof, and neutral spirits if above. If the blend contains at least 51% of a straight whisky, such as bourbon or rye, it may be called blended bourbon or blended rye whisky, or bourbon/rye whisky - a blend. Blended American Whisky - These may contain as many as 75 different whiskies and neutral spirits. The minimum amount of straight whiskies is 20%, so they can legally contain up to 80% grain neutral spirits. They are lighter bodied and flavored than straight whiskies because of the neutral spirits.
Examples of American Blended Whiskies are:
Blended whiskies may also use a blending agent to aid in the final "marrying" of the various spirits. Sherry is the most common one used and it is permitted up to 2.5% although it is unusual to use as much as even this small amount.
Blended whiskies can be very complex products, containing many different types of straight whiskies, other whiskies, and neutral spirits. In addition, all of the blend components, including the neutral spirits, may be aged for various periods. The manufacturer has nearly total control over the character of the finished product and can more or less "build" any type of spirit they want. In practice, the challenge is not to create new types of products, but to duplicate exactly the products which have been marketed over the years. Such brands as 7 Crown, Imperial, Four Roses and others are counted on by the consumer to be the same over time.
American Light Whisky
In recent years, the American market has turned towards lighter alcoholic beverages. This is evidenced by the drop in market share of whiskies and the increase by the white goods. They are colorless, lighter in body (although not necessarily in alcohol), and significantly less distinctive in flavor and aroma relative to the whiskies - the brown goods. Within the brown goods market, there was also a shift from the heavier American products, bourbon and blended whiskies, to the lighter imported Canadian and Scotch whiskies. These latter whiskies are lighter because they are distilled at higher proofs than are allowed in the U.S. and the American distillers felt themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
In 1968, the first products were distilled and were available for sale four years later, on the first of July, 1972. The regulations provided for the distilling of whiskies at above 160o proof but below 190o proof, and storage was permitted at proofs above 125o. To further enhance the development of their lighter characteristics, they were allowed to be matured in used or uncharred new cooperage. If mixed with less than 20% by volume of 100o proof straight whisky, the mixture was labeled Blended Light Whisky.
They were not very successful and not only did they not slow the shift to white goods, they did little to alter the swing towards imported whiskies. Light whisky was, in fact, so unsuccessful that much of it had to be redistilled into neutral spirits.
The U.S. Standards of Identity provide that Canadian Whisky is a distinctive product of Canada, manufactured in Canada in compliance with the laws of Canada regulating the manufacture of Canadian whisky for consumption in Canada. Canadian whiskies can contain no spirits less than three years of age and are generally bottled at six or more.
The distinctive characteristic of Canadian whisky is its lightness of body and delicacy of flavor. This is accomplished in several ways. One is in the quality and choice of grains used. Although Canadian whisky is often thought of as a rye whisky, the major grains used are corn, rye, and barley malt with corn predominating. The Canadian government imposes no limitations as does the U.S. on grain formulas, distilling proofs, or types of cooperage for maturation. As a result, much of what goes on in the manufacture of Canadian whisky remains a distiller's trade secret.
The major reason for the lightness of body is that, since the distillers do not have to cope with restrictions of distillation proof, they are free to draw the spirits off at a variety of proofs that are optimum for the separation and selection of desirable congeners. All the spirits used in Canadian blends are legally whisky since they are distilled at below 190o proof. American blended whiskies are mixtures of heavy, low-distillation proof straight whiskies and very high-proof, neutral, characterless spirits. The Canadian product is skillfully blended from spirits distilled from the mid bourbon range to about 185o proof. Since Canadian whiskies are blended products they will be labeled Blended Canadian Whisky or Canadian Whisky - a Blend.
The final factor contributing to the distinctive Canadian character is the cooperage. Oak is used, but there are no restrictions requiring the use of new wood and a substantial amount is aged in matured barrels. This seems to be especially compatible for the whiskies produced and contributes to the flavor delicacy. As with the grain proportions, the specific mix of new and used cooperage are each distiller's trade secret.
If you noticed a similarity between the standards for Canadian whisky and American Light Whisky, it is not coincidental. The Light Whisky regulations were established with the intent of producing a similar product. Note that both allow a broad range of high proof whiskies to be used in the blends and neither require the exclusive use of new cooperage.
The first whisky distilling location was probably Ontario at the end of the 1700's and beginning of the 1800's. By the 1840's, there were some 200 distilleries along the shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence.
Many distillers use malted rye and most blends include more than one rye whisky and most distilleries produce several. The distilleries also produce Bourbon type whiskies, corn whiskies, and unmalted barley distillations for blending.
Seagram's has 6 distilleries, use several types of yeasts and produce more than 50 different straight whiskies for blending. The usual blending practice is to use about 20 different whiskies and even the least complex blends will have 15, with a core of around 6 or 7 basic types.
All Canadian whisky is column-distilled and the layout of the stills is very complicated.
Aging takes two entirely different approaches:
Flavorings and marrying agents are permitted, never over one or two percent. These are sherry, grape or fruit wines (notably prune).
The woods used are new oak, and Bourbon, sherry, and brandy barrels.
Hiram Walker developed the Canadian Club brand in 1884. It was the beginning of a national style of whisky. Canadian Club managed to combine some of the full flavor of the American whiskies with a much cleaner and lighter, perhaps crisper, palate. These characteristics have been associated with Canadian whiskies ever since. Walker's technique, which was revolutionary, was to use an unusually long and intense distillation process to produce a master whisky that was as clean as possible. This was blended with neutral spirits. Walker was a leader in the art and science of fermentation, distillation and blending. He was also a pioneer of branded whiskies. By the time Walker died in 1899, Canadian Club was a huge success in the U.S. market and was widely imitated. Walker went to great lengths, legal and through the use of posters, advertising and so forth, to unmask fake producers of "Canadian" and "Club" whiskies and was highly successful.
The so-called "Canadian process" was intended to remove fusel oils. In 1906, the US Pure Food Law drew attention to fusel oils in whiskies and US distillers successfully lobbied for a ruling that fusel oils were a part of whisky and the rectified spirits had no place. 6,000 cases of CC were then seized and prevented from entering the United States. President Taft became involved and, after a series of hearings, a judgment was made that whisky includes "all potable liquor distilled from grain." CC was then again allowed to enter the country.
CC has a dry, rye fruitiness and a crisp, faintly smoky finish. This is the house style of Walker's Canadian whiskies. It is 6 years old; they also produce a 12 year old brand called CC Classic and, most recently, Canadian Club Reserve.
Seagram's Canadian whiskies are in general well-rounded, with a touch of sweetness. They are usually delicate in palate, with a slightly oily body and a clean, faintly oaky, finish. No flavorings are used and the master rye may be blended with whisky made from unmalted barley. Although a high proportion of new. charred oak is used, the typical blend is matured in a complex array of different cooperage. Their super premium brand is Crown Royal, created to honor King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when they visited Canada in 1939. Sam Bronfman himself developed the blend and is said to have tested some 600 samples before coming up with the finished product. Seagram's probably is more devoted to the art of blending than other Canadian companies. Their basic blend is V.O.; like CC, it is 6 years old.
Canadian Whisky Brand Descriptions
Canadian Club: Blended Canadian whiskey. The Canadian Club distillery was founded in 1858 by Hiram Walker. Still made and bottled in Canada. It is the only Canadian whiskey that is blended prior to aging. Aged for six years. Honey color. Nose of mash and cream. Flavors of cola, smoke, grain and caramel. Not as sweet as many other Canadians. Aftertaste of orange rind and toffee. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Canadian MacNaughton: Blended Canadian whiskey made and bottled in Canada.
Crown Royal: The number one selling super-premium whiskey. Blended whiskey made in Canada from pure Canadian water and grains. Created to celebrate the visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England to Canada in 1939. Medium amber color. Soft aromas of sugarcane, caramel, oak and English toffee. Satiny smooth and complex. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Seagram's V.O.: Blended Canadian whiskey. The number one selling premium imported whiskey in the U.S. A blend of over 50 separate whiskies that have been aged a minimum of six years in oak casks. The VO stands for 'very own' since years ago VO was set aside for the Seagram family's private consumption. Honey color with an amber tint. Highly floral nose. Candied, mellow flavors. Spicy notes in the aftertaste. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Crown Royal Special Reserve: Ultra-premium blended Canadian whiskey. Rich amber/brown color. Aromas of mint, oak, coconut orange pekoe tea. Layers of flavors including pear, banana, walnuts and molasses. Extended finish with a touch of mandarin orange. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a ***** (highest recommendation) or classic rating.
Black Velvet: Canadian whiskey bottled in the U.S. Blended for smoothness. Traces of vanilla in the nose and flavors of butterscotch, rye and citrus. Warm finish. Canadian whiskies in general are lighter and sweeter than other whiskies.
Seagram's Canadian Hunter: Blended Canadian whiskey bottled in the U.S. Aged four years. Rich, robust flavor. Mellow taste.
Canadian Mist: The number one imported whiskey. A blended whiskey that is produced in Canada and bottled in the U.S.
Five O'Clock Canadian: Imported Canadian Whiskey bottled in the U.S. Produced by the oldest family distillery in the U.S., Laird & Company, in operation since 1780.
Harwood Canadian: Canadian blended whiskey that is bottled in the U.S. Amber/honey color. Sweet aromas of oak, cola nut, vanilla, orange blossoms, honey, and rye. Flavors of oak, rye, corn, black pepper, and spice. Medium-long, nutty finish. Medium-bodied. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it **** (highly recommended) rating.
Windsor Canadian: Blended Canadian whiskey bottled in the U.S. Yellow/gold color. Floral, pepperminty, spirity nose. Smooth, round flavors with some sweetness from the grain. Long finish of caramel and apple flavors.
The Standard of Identity for Irish whiskey is that it be manufactured in either the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland, in compliance with their laws regulating the manufacture of Irish whiskey for home consumption, and containing no distilled spirits less than three years old. If such product is a mixture of whiskies it will be labeled "blended Irish whiskey" or, "Irish whiskey - a blend."
There are many claims that Irish whiskey's origins can be traced back to the sixth century when Irish monks journeyed to the Middle East where they observed how the alembic was used to distil perfume. On returning to Ireland they invented their own version - the "Pot Still". This they used to create a new spirit known as "Uisce Beatha" - "The Water of Life". In his book Classic Irish Whiskey, Jim Murray points out that "nobody really knows" about the origins of distilling in Ireland. Most of the claims seem to depend on oral histories or fanciful tales. His research found that many references to the 'water of life' were actually to aqua vitae, a wine distillate (brandy). He states that the art of distillation was known in Ireland by the 14th century and that the making and drinking of whiskey was widespread by the 16th century. The making of ale was common by 600 so he concludes that "somewhere between the year 600 AD and the 1300's the two crafts of brewing and distilling were carried out together."
Once they started, however, the Irish took to the distillation of whiskey in a big way. By the end of the 18th century there were some 2,000 stills in operation in Ireland and whiskey had become the national spirit. The first large, commercial distilleries were located in Dublin, John Power, John Jameson, George Roe, and William Jameson. When the phylloxera disaster struck the French vineyards (and, eventually, vineyards throughout the world) in 1872, not only were French wines nearly unattainable, but so were French brandies; especially Cognac. This was a great boon to the sales of Irish Whiskey. Another factor that enabled Irish Whiskey to outpace Scotch Whisky on the world market was that (among other reasons), because of the unmalted barley used exclusively in Irish Whiskey, it was a lighter spirit than its counterpart in Scotland.
Four unconnected events combined to halt the progress of Irish Whiskey on the world market. They were:
In 1966, there were only five distilleries remaining, and four of them, Jameson, Power's, Midleton and Tullamore, decided to combine forces to create the Irish Distillers Company. They pooled their resources to fight for a decent share of the world whisky market. By the time Irish Distillers acquired Bushmills (the last distillery in Ulster) in the early 1970's, every Irish whiskey brand was being marketed by one corporation. Unfortunately, their track record in export sales was quite poor and the company gradually grew weaker and opened themselves to takeover bids. The eventual winner, after a difficult time, was Pernod-Ricard. That organization decided to put all their marketing effort behind two brands; Jameson and Bushmills, leaving the others almost exclusively for home consumption. Bushmills was to continue to be produced in Ulster while all the other brands were made at Midleton, in County Cork.
There is today a third producer, Cooley Distillery near Dundalk. It is an independent distillery set up in 1987 under the Irish Republic's Business Expansion Scheme by John Teeling. He spent £4 million on the plant, warehouses and brand names of famous but defunct distilleries. Distillation began in 1989 and the first whiskey went on sale in 1992. This was the Tyrconnel malt. They added two blended whiskies, Kilbeggan and Locke and import a Scotch called Glen Millar.
How Irish Whiskey is Made
There are three types of whiskey produced for use in Irish Whiskey.
Malting in Ireland does not rely on the use of peat to dry the grain; thus, there is no smoky, peaty, or oily quality to Irish Whiskey. An exception is Cooley where they do use some peated malt.
The mashing procedure uses three waters, the last of which is used to mix with the first water of a new mash. The sweet liquid is called wort.
Fermentation is done in washbacks (fermenters at Midleton) and the alcohol content of the wash is about 8.5%.
Distillation procedures are quite different at Midleton and Bushmills. Bushmills uses a triple distillation in medium-sized pot stills with the strength increasing with each distillation. They have 10 pot stills and produce only pot-distilled pure malt whiskey.
Cooley's uses a double distillation, similar to the Scotch and thus produces a slightly heavier product. They produce both pot-distilled malt whiskey and continuous-distilled grain whiskies.
Midleton, unlike the others, does not treat the wash equally; it depends on the kind of whiskey they want to make. Their four pot stills and seven different-sized continuous stills are all interlinkable to produce the spirit mix required. They have 140 spirit receivers of varying sizes and different malted/unmalted barley/grain options available and can produce over 1,000 spirit combinations.
They produce all three types of whiskey although pure malt production is not significant. Jim Murray reports that they did not distill any between 1991 and 1997 (when they had to replenish their stocks). Generally, what they place in the pot stills is the unmalted/malted barley mixture (pure pot still). They produce three types of pot still whiskey: light pot still; medium/modified; and heavy.
To complicate the matter even more, in addition to the three pot-distillations (called wash, intermediate and spirit) some of the whiskey is also distilled through two column stills designed for the making of grain whiskey. What happens is that they are linked to the pot stills so that some (not all) of the impure spirit, called "low wines" which runs off from the wash pot still, is fed through both column stills before being pumped back into the second (intermediate) pot still and then into the final, spirit pot still. In the intermediate still it rejoins the distillated considered to be of the highest quality from the first run from the wash still. In the first column still, the impure (not middle cut) spirit from the intermediate and spirit stills is mixed with the spirits sent from the wash still.
Thus, by the time the middle cut from the spirit still is drawn off, it will have been distilled a minimum of three and a small portion up to five times. This is the procedure for Midleton light pot still. For medium/modified, the stillman does not select such a narrow band of the middle cut from all three stills. This produces a heavier-bodied spirit. For the production of heavy pot still whiskey, they do not use the column stills at all. This is why they can produce so many different brands and types of whiskey. Midleton is undoubtedly the most complicated distillery in the world.
They also produce the grain whiskey needed for their own blends and for Bushmills. The grain whiskies are made from varying mixtures of grains. Sometimes malted (20-25%) and unmalted (75-80%) barley but they have also used corn and wheat. Due to difficulties with wheat, they have used corn since 1994. Wheat has no husk and cleanup following mashing is difficult and time consuming. Even with the column stills, they use a triple-distillation.
Irish whiskey is matured more extensively in old sherry casks than in Scotland. Midleton has invested in the purchase of new casks from Bodegas in southern Spain; casks that will be "seasoned" by the storage of sherry wine. Irish Distillers claim that when they use the ex-Bourbon casks (which they do), they use them for shorter periods than do the Scotch.
When whiskey matured in used Sherry butts, the alcohol leaches out the sherry soaked in the wood and, eventually, starts working on absorbing elements of the wood itself. When used Bourbon casks are used, the Bourbon has no effect on the whiskey, but the fact that the barrels have been charred (by US regulation) allows the Irish spirit to work its way into the exposed, fresh wood beneath the char (much of which has fallen off). The Irish spirit, as with the Sherry butts, will extract wood compounds. In both cases, the Irish feel that you can leave the whiskey in the wood too long. Unlike in Scotland, where in exceptional cases, the whisky might mature in wood as long as 30-40 years, Irish whiskey is seldom aged beyond 20 years and normally much less than that.
At Bushmills and Cooley, the blends are composed of single malt whiskey and grain whiskey. At Midleton, it is more complicated since they have pure pot still, pure malt and grain whiskies. Once the blends are prepared, they will be vatted together for only two or three days, perhaps up to a month for some specialized blends (Jameson 1780, Jameson Distillery Reserve, Midleton Very Rare and Redbreast). This is much different from Scotland where the constituent whiskies are 'married' for up to six months. Sometimes the single malts used in Scottish blends would also be vatted for similar periods prior to blending with the grain whiskies.
Summary of Differences Between Irish and Scotch Whiskies
Irish whiskey differs in several significant ways from Scotch. The grains used are not exclusively barley for other small grains are used and not all the barley is malted. The barley malt is also not dried over peat fires; thus Irish whiskey does not have the characteristic smoky taste that Scotch has. The spirit is pot-distilled in stills having a much larger capacity than those used in Scotland and it is often triple-distilled, making it unique among the world's great spirits. Only the middle portion of the third distillation is used and it is estimated that a mere 10% of the fermented wash becomes Irish whiskey. Distillation is generally carried out at a higher proof than is Scotch malt and, as a result, the spirit will be flavorful, but lighter than the straight malts and more flavorful and heavier-bodied than blended Scotch whiskies. Aging is lengthy and takes place both in used Sherry and Bourbon casks. There is probably more reliance on Sherry casks than would be true in Scotland today. The Irish have a saying that, to make whiskey, "it takes seven days of a man's time and seven years of the whiskey's time."
This procedure describes how the traditional Irish whisky, straight whisky, is made although blended whiskies are now available. Like Scotch, they are blends of straight with high-proof grain whiskies and have been developed in response to the trend towards lighter products. The re-positioning of Irish whisky as a premium blended whisky has resulted in some sales gains, but the category is not of much commercial importance in the U.S.. The total Irish whisky category only accounted for 0.2% of the American distilled spirits market in the late 1990's and no Irish whiskies, straight or blended, appear in the top 100 brands.
Irish Whiskey Brand Descriptions
Blended Irish whiskey made and bottled in Ireland. Light amber color. The nose is malty with floral, earthy and smoky notes. Mellow smoked butterscotch flavors. Medium-long finish that is smoky and sweet. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating
Bushmills (White Label): Depending on when it was first introduced, about which there is some confusion, it may have begun as a single malt since Bushmills did not have access to their own grain whiskey until the 1950's. By the end of WWII however, it was established as a blend. The malt whiskey, about 1/3rd of the blend, is about six years old and the grain whiskey about half that. It is designed to combat ordinary Scottish blends.
Bushmills Black Bush: Their flagship blend; it consists of about 75 malt whiskey aged up to 11 years (mostly 8-9 years) in selected sherry casks before being blended with single grain whiskey which is aged nearly as long.
Bushmills Single Malt Whiskey: Triple pot distilled from 100% malted barley. In the United States, there are 10 year and 16 year old brands available.
Bushmills Irish Whiskey (From Their Web Page)
The "Old Bushmills" Distillery makes its home in the north of Ireland, a place of rugged, untamed beauty.
Castle-crowned crags line the famous north Antrim coast. And if these castle walls could talk, the stories they could tell -- of nomadic boatmen and Christians and Vikings -- of Normans and giants and GHOSTS and banshees wailing through the sea mist.
The "Old Bushmills" Distillery is located in the village of Bushmills in County Antrim, on the far northern tip of Ireland; most other Irish Whiskeys are distilled in a modern distillery complex in Midleton, County Cork at the southern end of the island. The buildings on the 10-acre site have been refurbished and opened as a major new tourist attraction. It is a unique opportunity to visit one of the few working distilleries on these Islands where visitors are invited to view whiskey distilling as it has been practiced on this site since 1608.
Century after century, from then until now, weary travelers have been revived with sips of "The King's Whiskey" at the world's oldest licensed distillery.
Here's to health and prosperity...To you and all your posterity...And them that doesn't drink with sincerity, That they be damned for all eternity!
At the "Old Bushmills" Distillery, fine Irish whiskey is still made as it has been made for centuries. Whether you prefer the original Bushmills , Bushmills Malt 10 Years Old, Bushmill's Malt 16 Years Old or Black Bush, we have an Irish whiskey that's made just for you.
Malting: In the malting process, barley is allowed to sprout, then it is dried in closed ovens, called kilns. It never comes into contact with smoke. This lets the gentle subtleties of the barley shine through, instead of masking them with the smoky flavor associated with Scotch whisky.
This sprouted then dried barley is called malted barley. If 100% malted barley is used in the making of a whiskey, as in the case of Bushmill's Malt, it is called a malt whiskey.
Mashing: In the mashing process, the barley is ground into a coarse flour called grist. Then, it is mixed with warm water in a huge vessel in the brewhouse.
When this mixture is stirred, the enzyme from the malt transforms the starch from the barley into fermentable sugars. After three hours of mashing, all of the starches are dissolved. This sugary liquid, known as wort is pumped from the brewhouse to the next process.
Fermentation: Fermentation is a simple process that occurs naturally when sugar and yeast come in contact with each other.
As soon as the wort comes in contact with the yeast, fermentation begins. The fermentation process takes about two days, and when all the sugars have been converted, this remaining liquid, called wash is pumped into the Still house for distillation.
At this stage, the wash has an alcoholic strength of about 8.5 percent.
Distillation: In the distillation process, alcohol is separated from water. The Pot Still, a giant copper kettle, is filled with wash and brought to a boil. Gradually, the highest and most volatile members of the alcohol family start to rise as steam in the neck of the still, pass to the condensers where they are condensed into liquid, and pass back again into the Pot Still for the next stage of distillation.
Bushmill's Irish Whiskey is unique in that it is triple distilled. The condensed product from the first distillation is called low wine, the second, feints, and the third, spirit. This latter has the strength of approximately 80% alcohol by volume, or 160 proof.
With each stage of distillation, good elements are separated from undesirable ones, making Bushmill's Irish Whiskey exceptionally smooth. Scotch whisky and bourbon whiskey are both generally distilled twice.
Maturation: Maturation is the mellowing of the spirit in oak casks. In Ireland we use three types of casks - Oloroso sherry butts, American oak bourbon barrels and port wine pipes. We prefer to use casks that have been seasoned by having had one previous inhabitant -- sherry and bourbon leach out the stronger tannins and oak extracts, leaving the wood in perfect condition for the maturation of Irish whiskey.
By law, all Irish whiskey must be matured in an oak barrel for a minimum of three years. In practice this is much longer. Black Bush matures for up to 9-11 years, and Bushmill's Malt for a minimum of 10 years, although often much longer.
Vatting & Bottling: In the blending or vatting process, barrels of mature component whiskeys are taken from the warehouse and pumped into vats. Each Bushmill's product has its own secret formula. Precise quantities of different component whiskeys are assembled and allowed to marry for several weeks.
In Ireland, we prefer to call this process "vatting" rather than blending, to distinguish it from the Scottish habit of blending. Generally speaking, malt whiskies in Scotland have an aggressive taste and grain whiskies a lighter, more delicate taste, so the blender achieves his own preferred flavor intensity from his art of blending.
We Irish consider the art in making whiskey to be in the distilling and maturation rather than in the blending. All our component whiskeys are triple distilled by us and matured by us under our own control. They are not brought in from other distillers.
The final whiskey is reduced with water to exactly 40% alcohol by volume, and then bottled for dispatch to customers at home or abroad.
Irish Whiskey vs. Scotch Whisky
In the making of Scotch whisky, malted barley is dried over peat fires. The smoke from the peat penetrates the barley, giving scotch whiskies a distinctive smoky flavor. Irish malted barley is dried in closed ovens. The barley never comes in contact with smoke, so the true malted barley flavor shines through with no smokiness.
Generally, Scotch whiskies are distilled only twice. Bushmill's Irish Whiskeys, however, are triple distilled. Because each stage of distillation increases the purity and smoothness of the whiskey, Bushmill's Irish Whiskey is particularly pure and smooth.
In Scotland a whisky blender -- who may or may not be a distiller -- assembles 30 to 40 different malt whiskies from different distilleries and blends them together with one or two grain whiskies.
Generally, Scotch malt whiskies have a more aggressive taste and grain whiskies have a lighter, more delicate taste. The blender achieves his own preferred flavor intensity through blending.
At Bushmill's the art of making whiskey lies not in the blending, but in the distilling and in the careful maturation which takes place in sherry and American oak casks and in port wine pipes. All component whiskeys are distilled and matured by us under our own control -- not brought in from other distillers over whom we have no control.
Bushmill's Irish Whiskey
Grain whiskey reserved for Bushmill's is aged a minimum of five years in oak casks that are specially selected to bring out the golden hue and light, yet distinctive characteristics of the whiskey.
When mature, this grain whiskey is blended with a single malt whiskey to balance the flavor. The malt used in our mash derives its clean taste from the deliberate absence of peat used in the barley drying process. All Irish Distillers' whiskey distilleries kiln-dry their malt in a heat-fired, not peat-fired, oven.
Lighter, less smoky and more balanced than scotch, Bushmill's is triple distilled for exceptional smoothness.
Bushmill's is 40% alcohol by volume.
Bushmill's is a delicate, light-bodied smooth whiskey with a malty, fragrant/floral aroma and a background toasted wood character.
It is complex, spicy, slightly dry. Bushmill's is delicious on its own or on the rocks, and its light taste makes it an ideal base for cocktails.
Bushmill's Irish Whiskey
Silver Medal Winner
--The World Spirits Championships, 1997*
*The World Spirits Championships is one of the largest international drinks competition. Medals are awarded on the basis of blind tests by independent professional tasters, carried out under strictly controlled conditions.
Black Bush Irish Whiskey
Black Bush Special Irish Whiskey is a rich, dark, 80-proof blend from the world's oldest licensed distillery, "Old Bushmill's" Distillery in County Antrim, Ireland. It is comprised almost entirely of single malt whiskey, making it a choice selection of deluxe whisk(e)y aficionados.
Malt whiskey that becomes Black Bush is aged up to 11 years in selected sherry-seasoned oak casks before being blended with a small portion of a special single grain whiskey to enhance the independent, non-conformist character of the malt.
The malt used in our mash derives its clean taste from the deliberate absence of peat used in the malted barley drying process. All of the Irish whiskey distilleries kiln-dry their malt in a heat-fired, not peat-fired, oven. This drying process lets the clean, clear taste of the malt and barley shine through, creating the ultimate " Reflection of Perfection."
The combination is then returned to the cask for "marrying." As the whiskeys mellow together, the uniquely rounded bouquet, rich amber hue and distinctive taste of Black Bush is born. It is this perfectly balanced taste that select whiskey and wine aficionados have grown to love.
Triple distilled for exceptional smoothness, Black Bush is 40% alcohol by volume.
Black Bush has a distinctive, full-bodied aroma with spicy, malty and nutty sweet sherry notes. It is complex and well flavored, slightly sweet with clear malt notes that are not masked by smoke. It is a whiskey to be enjoyed straight or on the rocks.
Bushmill's Black Bush
"A full, sweet nose brimful with nutty butter toffee and a hint of sherry wood. Refreshingly green mid-palate, this is a very soft and elegantly balanced whiskey that floats over the palate. A complex amalgam of malt and sherry wood bound together by a rich smooth fruitiness."
Bushmill's 10 Year Single Malt Irish Whiskey
A product of the world's oldest licensed whiskey distillery, the "Old Bushmill's" Distillery, Bushmill's Single Malt Irish Whiskey is the original single malt whiskey from Ireland.
With an intriguing aroma and well-balanced flavor, Bushmill's Malt is a delightfully delicate malt and uncomplicated whiskey crafted from 100% malted barley.
Its style is mellow and light, and a time-tested drying process assures that the taste of the malt shines through. All the malt used in our mash is dried in closed kilns devoid of peat, preventing it from absorbing the fire's smokiness while retaining the malt's distinctive, authentic character and exceptionally clean taste.
Like Bushmill's and Black Bush, it is 80 proof (40% alc./vol.), but Bushmill's Malt is a single malt whiskey. It ages for a minimum of 10 years in select bourbon oak casks and a select number of Oloroso sherry casks, developing its full flavor, character and hue. Triple distilled for exceptional smoothness, Bushmill's Malt is 40% alcohol by volume.
Bushmill's Malt has a sweet spicy aroma with overtones of Oloroso sherry, vanilla and honey. It is characterful and complex; mild, but nonetheless has a rich, malty character, not overlaid by any of the strong peaty/smoky notes so typical of most scotch malts. Smooth on the palate with a slightly dry finish. Bushmill's Malt is ideal as either an aperitif or digestif.
Gold Medal Winner
"Deep amber color. Medium-bodied, with a silky mouth-feel. Some sweet citrus, mocha and vanilla flavors with floral hints of heather and lilac. Soft, elegant finish with an expanding warmth."
--The Worlds Spirits Championships, 1995
"Clean, gentle vanilla ice-cream on the nose with subtle hints of liquorice and herbs. Nicely malted on the palate, this has an ethereal, soft clover aroma, a nice bite mid-palate and a softly dry, fresh finish."
Bushmill's 16 Year Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Bushmill's Malt 16 Years Old is a premium, rare single Irish malt whiskey. Unique "Three Wood" finishing adds elements of depth and flavor to the already clean, non-smoky taste of Bushmill's Malt Irish Whiskey.
This exceptional malt whiskey is matured in three different wood barrels for unparalleled taste and quality. The whiskey is first matured in American bourbon barrels and Spanish Oloroso sherry butts for at least 16 years. While lingering in the bourbon barrels and sherry butts, the spirit develops toasted wood, vanilla and sweet nutty flavors. The malt whiskey is then vatted and married for many months in large old port wine pipes. Here, a nice finishing touch of sweet wine character is acquired, and all of the flavor elements mature and mellow together.
All of the malt used in our mash is dried in closed kilns devoid of peat. This prevents it from absorbing the fire's smokiness while retaining the malt's distinctive, authentic character and exceptionally clean taste.
Triple distilled for exceptional smoothness, Bushmill's Malt 16 Years Old is 40% alcohol by volume.
Bushmill's Malt 16 Years Old is a rich and smooth old malt whiskey with a wonderful complexity of sweet, spicy and woody flavors. These do not dominate, but enhance to perfection the essential heart of the spirit. Enjoy this sophisticated malt as an aperitif or digestif.
Bushmill's Malt 16 Years Old
Rating: Classic - Highest Recommendation
"...the nose [is] wonderfully fruity, especially red fruit such as plums and berries...ripe apple, paraffin, soft malt, and a bit of citrus rind...delicately complex as only a fine Irish whiskey could be...as good as any Irish whiskey aroma available...a perfectly poised whiskey which offers loads of grace and multiple levels of aroma and taste, EUREKA!"
--F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal
End of Bushmills Web Site Material
Light to medium amber color. Sweet aromas of red apple. Clean, tart flavors of oak, vanilla, red apple and grain. Semi-sweet, medium-long finish with caramel, grain, and smoke overtones. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Jameson 1780: This was developed due to a problem Jameson had in the mid 1980's. They had been selling a 12 year old whiskey that had been distilled at the Original Jameson distillery (not Midleton). It was a heavy whisky with a distinct sherry character. The Bow Street distillery had been closed for some years and stocks were dwindling. They needed a replacement whiskey. Also in the line was an even heavier 15 year old and that could not be maintained either. The solution was to drop both whiskeys and produce a 12 year old as their premier brand. This was Jameson 1780. It is noted for its pot-still/sherry character. At least 1/3rd of the barrels used are ex-sherry and pot still whiskey accounts for 75% of the blend. The 12 year statement is deceptive since that is the age of the youngest element of the blend. The average age is "way above that, with healthy amounts of the older whiskeys included, some of them going as far back as 1976 distillations." (Jim Murray, 1997).
Material from the Jameson Web Site
Jameson Irish Whiskey
(from their web site:
In the sixth century AD, Irish monks journeyed to the Middle East and it is thought that it is there they observed how the alembic was used to distil perfume. On returning to Ireland they invented their own version - the "Pot Still". This they used to create a new spirit known as "Uisce Beatha" - "The Water of Life".
Barley - Malted & Unmalted
Irish whiskey is made either from malted barley or from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley and other cereals. In Ireland, the malt is dried in closed Kilns unlike in Scotland, where malt is dried over open peat fires. Thus, the malting process used for Irish whiskey not only avoids the smoky taste but also ensures a smooth and natural flavor. Precise amounts of barley and other cereals are ground and then mixed with pure water in a large vessel called a "mash tun".
From the underground springs, in bubbling streams and fast-flowing rivers, Ireland is blessed with an abundance of clear, pure water.
The starches in the mash are converted into a sugary liquid called "wort". This is separated from the residual grains and pumped into the "washbacks" where yeast converts the sugars in the wort to low strength alcohol or "wash".
Three Sequential Distillations
The art of distillation enables the creation of new whiskey from "wash". This is the heart of the process with the wash being heated in large copper pot stills of traditional design. In Ireland, whiskey is obtained only after three separate distillations, each sequence resulting in a further process of purification. At the first stage a distillate called "low wines" is obtained. This full-flavored product is distilled in another pot still. The resulting product called "feints" requires one further distillation which is carried out in a spirit still. Thus, through a repeated sequence of distillations, a final spirit of light and delicate character is obtained. It is this new whiskey which, after maturation, will become Irish whiskey.
Maturing in Oak Casks
The maturing whiskey is stored for years in vast, aromatic warehouses. Here it rests in fine oak casks, some of which have been used previously for sherry. While the whiskey matures, there is a complex interaction between the whiskey, natural wood extracts and the air which "breathes" through the wood of the cask, giving a superb, mellow bouquet to the whiskey.
End of Jameson Web Site Material
Distilled and bottled by Cooley Distillery which is the only independent, Irish-owned distillery remaining in Ireland, and is also the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland. Made from a mixture of barley, corn, rye, wheat, oats, and lime-softened water. Soft gold color. Scents of wet cotton and spice. Sweet flavors of corn, honey wheat and toffee. Medium-long, sweet aftertaste. Originally a pure pot still whiskey, now produced by Cooley as a blend (along with Locke's which is slightly heavier).
The best-selling whiskey in Ireland since first being bottled in 1894. Originally, it was pure pot still whiskey but now produced by Midleton as a blend of pot still and grain whiskeys with an emphasis on the pot still. The pot still portion accounts for about 70% of the blend and the grain mixture used in it is 60% unmalted barley/40%malted. This is the highest ratio of unmalted barley used by Midleton for pure pot still. There is no single malt and the pure pot still is mostly the heavy type.
A single malt Irish whiskey. Made from pure malted barley at the Cooley distillery. Named after the colt that won the 1876 Irish National Produce Stakes against 100 to 1 odds. This is a once well-known name from the defunct Watt's distillery in Derry and revived in 1992 as a single malt. It was the first new independently produced Irish whiskey of the 20th century.
The top-selling Irish whiskey in Germany and Denmark and strong in France. It is considered to be a light blend. Described by Jim Murray as "the grainiest, least Irish of all popular Irish whiskeys." Another author however, Gordon Brown, says "has high malt content and a flavor that is very delicate, smooth, nutty, and quite urbane."