What the hell are you!
All Bourbon is Whiskey. We reckon it’s the best brown liquor on this Earth. It’s made be fermenting grains such as corn, wheat rye and barley. Bourbon got its name after King Louis 16th of France, 34 Kentucky counties were named after Louis house name as a thank you for the help in the war on independence.
Not all whiskey is Bourbon. Bourbon has special rules. By law it must contain at least 51% corn – whatever else the distilleries combine this with makes the mash bill. Once these are ground and mixed with water the mash is fermented with yeast to create alcohol. The alcohol is separated from the mash by distilling. Alcohol vaporises at a lower temperature than water, keep the heat just right and the alcohol can be separated and condensed back into liquid.
To be Bourbon the spirit must be distilled to no more than 160 proof – that’s 80% alcohol. This is your white dog. It takes time and wood to give Bourbon its deep flavours and colour. This takes place inside a new American oak charred barrel – by law. There are various stages of char that start with a light toast and go up to a dark burn.
Tennessee whiskey – close to Bourbons but with 1 key difference – the Lincoln county process – which means before barrelling the whiskey is filtered through charcoal made from sugar maple. Jack Daniels and George Dickel are the key players here. Advocates claim this process accelerates ageing and enhances smoothness – this is up for debate.
Evan Williams were the 1st Bourbon producer (1783) but of course many had been making their own much earlier than this – George Washington in 1740 made his own Rye and Old Forester was the first to sell Bourbon in bottles. Before that, patrons brought their own vessel to the bar or store to carry home their liquor. Bottles brought consistency and quality as it became harder for the middleman to water down the product. Today, by law Bourbon must be bottled at 80 proof (40%) or more.
All Bourbons younger than 4 years must carry an age statement on the label, but cannot be younger than 2 years to be a Bourbon.
Bourbon, that sunshine in a glass, an elixir of warm fire, the liquor of the Gods.
Can be made anywhere in the USA – but most commonly Kentucky – typically straight
Must be aged in new American oak charred barrels
Minimum time:2 years
The spirit must enter the cask at no more than 62.5% ABV
Must be at least 51% corn
Distilled to no higher than 80% ABV
Can be made anywhere in the USA
Made from grain
Distilled to no more than 95% ABV
Must be aged in oak barrels – no minimum time or guidance on barrel size, charring or toasting
No additives – including caramel colouring – except from blended American Whiskey
The label must list the state in which the product was made
Rye Whiskey – At least 51% Rye in the mash bill
Wheat – At least 51% Wheat in the mash bill
How American Whiskey is made
Cereal, water, yeast, wood.
Whiskey gets a good portion of its flavour & colour from wood.
Yeast type can have an effect on character.
Water – acceptable quality is all that’s needed, artesian wells and springs make little difference to end product.
Cereals affect the oiliness, waxiness and thickness on palate but not flavour. The cereal variety affects the yield of the alcohol.
Wheat – almost all alcohol industries use winter wheat as it has a higher starch content and produces more alcohol than other variants. Is included in mash bills in some American whiskies.
Wheat produces a smooth distillate that adds sweetness and mellow characteristics that temper the harshness of corn, or rye.
Corn (maize) – “dent” corn is used in American Whiskies, it give a higher yield of alcohol than other cereals as it has high sugar and starch content. Corn makes up the majority of the mash bill in bourbon and contributes to the sweet buttery characteristics.
Rye – tenacious and hardy, winter crop, characterful and complex, not very lucrative. Rye is added to mash bills to add an element of pepperiness and dryness than balances out the sweet corn. Bourbon without rye can be a bit gutless. Rye whiskey is full of nuttiness.
Why Oak Barrels in the First Place?
Three Tenants of Oak Barrel Maturation
Components of Oak
This tenant refers to Chemical Reactions (breakdown).
Decomposition of lignin into its phenolic subcomponents, then elution into spirit. This breakdown happens through interactions with oxygen, water and alcohol.
Vanillin, Oak lactone, Guaiacol, Eugenol, Isoeugenol, Syringaldehyde
Vanilla, toffee, spice, coconut, woody, clove, parsley, medicinal, cocoa, fig, tobacco.
Extraction of wood components.
Aldehyde to acid
Acid to Ester
Flavours & Colours
- Woody, very sweet, and sugary smell. Known as maple aldehyde.
- Oxidizes to a coniferyl acid, called ferulic acid
- Colors spirit
- Gives fig/tobacco aroma/flavor
Converts to ethyl syringate in the presence of ethanol
- Provides balancing astringency to a whiskey.
- Contributes tobacco/fig aroma/flavor as well.
- Final product in syringaldehyde breakdown.
- Precursor to 4-vinyl guaiacol, which gives a clove aroma and flavor.
- Transforms into ethyl ferulate via ethanol and vanillin by oxygen.
Flavours & Colours Cont.
- Literature on ethyl ferulate is sparse, but assumed to give a spicy note due to its base chemical being a cinnaminic ester (cinnamate)
- Final product in coniferaldehyde breakdown.
- Comes from the wood itself along from oxidation of coniferaldehyde by oxygen.
- Provides majority of vanilla and toffee flavor to the whiskey.
- Oxidized to vanillic acid.
- Attributed to a creamy, smooth vanilla flavor in the spirit.
- Ethanolysis transforms it into ethyl vanillate
- Produces a burnt, smoky aroma in the spirit.
Final product for vanillin breakdown
Phenolic products derived from lignin form a chain of flavor positive chemicals in the spirit.
- This is done by a variety of things: water, oxygen (barrel is semi-permeable), and ethanol.
- Some products are reversible (acids to aldehydes).
Oxygen in, impurities out.
- Sulfides are evaporated through the barrel at different rates. Some evaporate over a matter of months, some over a matter of years. Certain sulfides that take longer to evaporate can be extracted through careful distillation processes and expedited through increased exposure to oxygen (more surface area contact with the porous barrel).
- Evaporation will also concentrate spirit within the barrel. Angel’s Share increases as barrel size decreases. Another factor in the high cost of small barrel maturation.
- Water and alcohol interact as two polar opposite solvents, allowing the liquid to extract more compounds from the barrel.
- Ethanol and Water cluster together over time, producing tighter clusters of molecules than water or ethanol alone. This makes the alcohol harder to detect, and therefore creates the perception of “smoothness”.
In a nutshell
That’s why we barrel age Whiskey and are attempting to have a similar effect on the cocktails we put through the barrel ageing process
Hope you enjoy