When know-nothing try and teach

I saw a video about Bourbon made by Bloomberg news.

Bourbon is a lie.  Most of the brands of Bourbon you buy are made from a large distillery and not small individual distilleries.

And?  Beer works the same way.  So do a lot of products.

What’s next, an expose on how the Twix commercials are a lie and there is no left and right factory and they are all part of Mars, Inc.?

Less then a minute into the video, I was done.

“What can distinguish one Bourbon brand from another may be little more than how long the liquid sat in the barrel.”


This is chemical engineering, right up my alley.

Step one, make the mash.  Use a grain containing sugar and ferment the grain into a solution of ethanol and water.  This has to be done under the right conditions or the yeasts will produce fusel alcohols as well.  The mineral content of the water, the type of grain used, the fermenting conditions all have an effect on how much ethanol or fusel alcohol is made.  This is why Scotch makers go on and on about the stream they got their water out of.

Step two, distill.     Using heat, separate as much ethanol as you can from everything else.  Too much heat and you get other impurities in your condensate.  Too little and you don’t get much of anything.  Distillation is not a perfect means of separation, so some of the other organics and aromatics from the mash come through  into the distillate.  You may want this or not.  For a Vodka, you don’t want any flavor so you distill several times to get as much out as you can that is not ethanol.  For a rye whisky, the rye imparts a flavor so you keep it.

Step three, make the barrel.  Take an oak barrel.  Burn the inside.  The inner layer turns into charcoal.  The outer layer is raw wood.  In between the heat caramelizes the natural sugars in the wood.  The more intense the heat, the darker they turn, and the more the flavor varies.  This is the same science as is used in candy making.

Step four, age.  Put the ethanol solution in the barrel.  Diffusion will occur, and ethanol will dissolve into the wood.  Then it reaches steady state and the ethanol will move back out of the wood into liquid in the barrel, carrying the caramelized sugars and other wood flavors with it.  The charcoal will adsorb some of the other flavors as well.  The longer you age, the more wood flavors and sugars go into solution.  Bourbon uses new barrels.  Other whiskies use used barrels from wine, brandy, or beer production so the whiskey absorbs some of the flavors left in the barrel from the previous spirit.

This process of diffusion, along with the charring of the barrel is critical to the flavor of the Bourbon.  You have little control over the diffusion rate so all you can do is vary the time.

Aging time is important in wine, cheese, tea, beef, etc.  This know-nothing Bloomberg dipshit acts like aging time is a scam.  Bullshit.  Aging time is the difference between a fine Bourbon and throat burning piss.  It’s the difference between farmer’s cheese and a fine roquefort.

This is what happens when a journalism major tries to explain something he knows nothing about.

I have always wanted to make whisky in clean glass corboys.  Rather than charring the barrels, I’d carefully roast different wood chips at different temperatures to control the amount of caramelization that occurred in each batch of chips.  Then adjusting the ratios of the different roasts of chips, I could adjust the flavor.  Using small chips, the solution would reach equilibrium faster (shorter diffusion distance) and aging time could be decreased without a reduction in flavor.  This would be scientific whisky making.


6 Replies to “When know-nothing try and teach”

  1. J.Kb, you’re too charitable. I’d say the creator of that piece is simply a standard communist luddite opposed to all technology newer than the wheel (for everyone other than himself and his favored friends).
    On whiskey — I didn’t realize the similarity between the making of beer and whiskey until I visited a Dutch microbrewery that also makes a quite decent whiskey (“Frysk Hynder”) as a sideline. They gave the recipe as “make a batch of beer minus the hops, distill, age, done.”

    1. Apologies for the late comment. Here in Oregon several breweries do whiskey as either a side business or collaboration. The McMenamin’s brew pub empire makes a whiskey called Monkey Puzzle that is actually flavored with hops, based on their Scotch style whiskey to take the beer connection all the way.

  2. I personally prefer a good Tennessee whiskey over Bourbon. I also like a good single malt Scotch when I can afford it. The point being, sample various styles and brands, buy what you like and pay no attention to what idjits who hate whiskey and whiskey drinkers have to say.

    Now, if we could change the laws regarding distilled sprits, to allow experimentation along the lines outlined by J by regular folks, imagine the whiskeys that we could have.

  3. FWIIW Tom Bulleitt leased the still and warehouse from Wild Turkey Distilleries, which wouldn’t be in the Anderson County records, so the accusation in the Bloomberg story is crap. But, whatthehell, why would a Leftard bother with checking Bulleitt’s own Wikipedia entry when he can just launch a smear campaign?

    As Gunny used to say, SAT CONG…

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