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Found this interesting article on Mike while searching the the web tonight I hope it wasn't posted before, if it was it worth posting again for the (other) new guys. http://www.justaddbourbon.com/bourbonbuzz/article.aspx?id=100
Very interesting, the story about who invented bourbon was all new to me.
Thanks for posting this!
Yes, good piece on Mike, a member of SB, and who has done excellent work to promote interest in and further knowledge of bourbon's origins and production methods. And as the article states, Mike has a fine palate and knows how to get across the characteristics of bourbons both modern and historical.
With respect to charring barrels using straw, I was one of the people, Chuck Cowdery too, who with Mike on another site discussed why barrels were charred or sanitized using straw. Chuck as I recall was the first in our group to draw attention to this practice which is mentioned in Crowgey's well-known text on the history of bourbon written almost 40 years ago. Shortly after, I drew attention to Samuel M'Harry's mention of straw to cleanse fermentation vessels in his 1809 Practical Distiller. This led to a lively discussion (in early 2005) of why straw was used and what effect it had (including possibly on palate, I think I theorized it had a beneficial effect). I believe the discussions encouraged the experiment mentioned in the article.
M'Harry was speaking seemingly of fermentation and mashing vessels. He seemed concerned to ensure they did not harbor off-odors (from microflora resident in the wood as we now know). He did not seem to be talking about charring the barrels used to hold whiskey before consumption. The Harrison book was written some years later and maybe by then, it was realised that charred barrels improved whiskey held in them. Maybe, sometimes, vessels that had been retired from their use to make whiskey were used to store it (cistern-style - we know spirits were often stored this way in the 1800's), and from this it was seen the whiskey improved which lead to charring the barrels used to ship whiskey to market. Gerald Carson in his Social History of Bourbon made this suggestion I believe, or recounted it.
There is also evidence that Mike has found from the 1830's suggesting that charring of barrels was suggested to distillers by retailers of whiskey who saw improvement where the barrels or other vessels holding the whiskey in their inventory had been charred.
Personally I think charring came from the idea to sanitise barrels or whiskey-making vessels and this was seen later, accidentally in other words, to work a great improvement on palate.
Anyway, I think straw-fired barrels would make a great barrel to hold bourbon because an extra taste would be imparted from the burned brush. Maybe one day we will see a whiskey which had been aged in whole or part in such barrels. M'Harry speaks of a handful of straw, a large handful I think, and while initially some of us were puzzled that such a small quantity can do the job, after reading the experiment cited, that does not seem so outlandish! Dry straw can burn hot and fast indeed...
A very good article on Mike. I enjoyed reading it.
That is the reprint of the article in "Imbibe" magazine last spring. It was a fun article to do and imbibe is an interesting magazine.
Gary is right in that we discussed the charring of barrels with straw in 2005, but it is something Chris Morris and I have been talking about doing for almost two decades. I think Gary's more proper statement should be that this discussion inspired Chris and myself to go ahead and try it. It is a fun experiment and if you come to the Bourbon Academy at Woodford Reserve this spring, you can join in the fun.
Thanks for the clarification, Mike. Doesn't surprise me that the idea has been around for some time in the bourbon community seeing that Crowgey refers to it and his work is well-known. One day I'd love to attend the Academy to see the process in action.
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