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View Full Version : "Bourbon by definition must be sour in nature"



Rughi
07-05-2010, 13:44
I was just watching this video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OReEc8KSmv8&feature=related) and couldn't understand what Greg Davis meant by his comment at the 5:00 minute mark as he discusses backset and sourmashing.

Sourmashing is required in the definition of bourbon? Did I understand that right?
What of the Woodford Sweet Mash (http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?p=143816#post143816) bourbon experiment?

I'm not trying to do a "gotcha" of the bourbon pro, he must have had something in his mind.

It was probably a slip between describing common practice and stating what's a requirement, like how many people mistakenly believe that since all the bourbon they know of is made in Kentucky that bourbon is only allowed to be made in Kentucky. Interestingly, if US regulations had wording similar to the Canadian Whisky wording (which I believe has a clause that reads something like "must have a character identifiable as Canadian Whisky) then at a certain point common practice indeed does become part of the regulation.

This makes me wonder whether microdistillers commonly use a sour or sweet mash. I would venture that sweetmashing may be practiced by some microdistillers, but since the industry is still in such a growth and exploration phase any number of things are subject to experimentation.

Does anyone know distillers who sweet mash bourbons or straight American ryes?

Roger

Rughi
07-05-2010, 14:02
As an aside, I appreciated that one of the hosts, Stacey Yates, spoke pretty knowledgeably about bourbon (their show is based in Louisville, after all), especially compared to her wine-guy co-host, Chaz. You get the feeling she prepped him before each shot.

My favorite line of Stacey's:
"I like bourbon all year, but especially in the winter. It's cozy, like your stomach getting a hug."

Roger

cowdery
07-05-2010, 16:37
Virtually no micro distillers use sour mash. They all use sweet mash. Some will sour their mash with lactobacillus, but that's not the same thing.

Gillman
07-05-2010, 16:49
I think the distiller meant his mashes are acidified by addition of backset. This would mean a low pH and probably in his process a sweet-sour taste from the sugars and acids blended. Backset can indeed be rather sharp in taste (I once tasted some at a distillery). I would think as Chuck says few craft distillers use the process, due to their batch approach to distillation. You need a larger scale, continuous method of working to use backset in a methodical way. Backset in the mash, sometimes also used in the fermenter, tends to optimize function of the yeast and minimize the chance of poor or inconsistent fermentations. Point of interest: sour mashing's meaning has changed over time. At one one time, it meant fermenting with re-used yeast (a la sour dough bread) or even wild yeast. Today fresh yeast is always used.

Gary

dgonano
07-05-2010, 20:19
Yes, but he said "Bourbon by definition must be sour". I'm sure he didn't mean by "per legal definition" ...but probably just a slip of the tongue.

p_elliott
07-06-2010, 08:39
You are correct that Bourbon does not require it to be sour mash. On an interesting note speaking of the WR Sweet Mash 2 of 5 or 7 fermenters used to make it had to be destroyed because of bacterial contamination because of using the sweet mash process.

Gillman
07-06-2010, 09:17
That's interesting about discarding of fermenters but I wonder why that occurred. Were they made of wood? If not, I'd think they could have been cleaned to avoid any lingering bacteria. Perhaps a wood vessel could not be cleaned well enough to avoid that but I must say the 1838 tasted to me much like other 100% pot stills from Versailles, e.g., the house WR which Bourbonsbistro in Louisville usually has available, or the four grain. Big coppery pot still character but otherwise it seemed like those or the pot still element of regular WR.

Gary

Rughi
07-06-2010, 09:36
Gary,
The other interesting question I had that I was hoping you would speak to is whether, if we were using Canadian style regulations, sourmashing would become a legal requirement over time because the character it imparts has been adopted by 99.99% of the industry, and so has come to define the character expected of bourbon.

Roger

p_elliott
07-06-2010, 09:59
That's interesting about discarding of fermenters but I wonder why that occurred. Were they made of wood? If not, I'd think they could have been cleaned to avoid any lingering bacteria. Perhaps a wood vessel could not be cleaned well enough to avoid that but I must say the 1838 tasted to me much like other 100% pot stills from Versailles, e.g., the house WR which Bourbonsbistro in Louisville usually has available, or the four grain. Big coppery pot still character but otherwise it seemed like those or the pot still element of regular WR.

Gary

It must have been wood any other material could have been cleaned. I don't remember where I read this at but it was a reliable source.

pepcycle
07-06-2010, 10:26
Last time I was at Woodford, they had 2 wooden fermenters, (at least).
IIRC, they were cedar.

Gillman
07-06-2010, 10:38
Interesting question, Roger. It actually made me think of Scotland, where I understand whisky cannot be called Scotch whisky if elements of its processing that have become traditional are not followed. For instance, I believe it would not be proper there to hasten or affect the maturation of Scotch whisky using pieces of wood suspended in barrels. (I haven't studied this but this is what I gather from reading the whisky press over the years). I would think though, if the Canadian rules applied in the U.S., that it shouldn't matter if sweet mash is used for bourbon. Because, I don't think the taste is significantly affected by that but it is more a process control matter, at least as I understand it. Even if the taste was somewhat affected, I don't think that should matter because it is still a method of fermentation and the main tastes still come from the grains and the barrels. You could make an analogy to the still, while continuous stills have become very common and indeed for generations, the pot still can also still be used to make bourbon as indeed B-F and others have shown in recent years. Also, I think sweet mashing was used for a lot of rye production into the 50's and 60's, at least in Maryland and Pennsylvania, so it is not really that long since it was last used commercially.

Gary

bourbonv
07-06-2010, 10:43
Chris discussed the sweet mash loss at the last Woodford Bourbon Academy. He explained the loss in this way - The first day of the mash is critical as the yeast takes hold and dominates the mash. In that first day it is possible for airborn bacteria to contaminate the mash. The bacteria does not like an acid environment and that is why sour mashing helps prevent this infection of bacteria. The sweet mash is not protected with the acidic nature of the mash and thus became infected in two fermenters.

The fermenters at Woodford are cyprus but they are steam cleaned before filling so I doubt that there was bacteria in the wood, but I guess it is possible. Chris did not think that was the cause and I see no reason to doubt his conclusion.

Mike Veach

TNbourbon
07-06-2010, 18:34
Last time I was at Woodford, they had 2 wooden fermenters, (at least).
IIRC, they were cedar.
Cypress, I think, which once was the industry 'standard'.

Leopold
07-06-2010, 23:37
I would think as Chuck says few craft distillers use the process, due to their batch approach to distillation. You need a larger scale, continuous method of working to use backset in a methodical way. Backset in the mash, sometimes also used in the fermenter, tends to optimize function of the yeast and minimize the chance of poor or inconsistent fermentations.

We use sour mash for all of our whiskies. Rye, Bourbon, etc.

It's pretty easy to do, actually, so long as you are mashing every day.

As for wooden fermenters, unless you are steaming after every fermentation, those things will be loaded (relative to a modern brewery fermentation, that is) with lactobacillus after a few turns simply because those little buggies ride in with the distiller's malt. Unlike brewing, the mash is never boiled....well, at least not the malt portion of the mash....so the bacteria is never killed.

And I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Morris. Sour mash will add excess Free Amino Nitrogen and well as autolysed yeast cells to the fermentation...two things that lactobacillus and other bacteria love. In my opinion and experience, a sour mashed fermentation is much more likely to spoil than a sweet mash, although I can only speak to my processes, and not to Mr. Morris'. A lower pH helps to stabilize any fermentation, but lovers of sour beer will tell you that lactobacillus and Brettanomyces function just fine south of a 4.0 pH.

You have to have one hell of an infection to affect a 3 or 4 day fermentation more than just a little. It's when all the sugars are gone that infections do their thing. The choice for the distiller becomes: do I let the fermentation sit for a few more hours/days to allow the "infection" to take hold? Or do I drop it into the still immediately, allowing for the majority of the fermented flavors to have come from the culture yeast(s)?

At our shop, we let the lactobacillus do its work after the yeast mops up any and all sugars, and have ceased fermentation. This leads to more complex esters down the road in the barrels.

cowdery
07-07-2010, 00:38
To deliberately drift the thread now that it has gotten beyond me, does everybody know that Greg Davis has left Tom Moore for Maker's Mark? I don't recall if that was posted here or not.

NeoTexan
07-07-2010, 03:52
To deliberately drift the thread now that it has gotten beyond me, does everybody know that Greg Davis has left Tom Moore for Maker's Mark? I don't recall if that was posted here or not.

I did .... http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=14191

tmckenzie
07-07-2010, 04:28
We use sour mash on our bourbon, corn and rye. not just because it is the traditional way to do things, We use it because it works. I agree with Chuck though. I dbout very many small distilleries use it, they have a hard time even boiling corn. Plus Bill Owens probably tells them not to.

Leopold
07-07-2010, 18:10
To deliberately drift the thread now that it has gotten beyond me, does everybody know that Greg Davis has left Tom Moore for Maker's Mark? I don't recall if that was posted here or not.

I didn't mean to get too techie, Mr. Cowdery. My apologies as it appears I killed the thread.

So far as I am aware, Mr. McKenzie, you and I are the only two who sour mash outside of the big distillers. And remember that Bill Owens is only trying to help.

tmckenzie
07-08-2010, 04:59
There is one more when they are making rye, I consulted with them. Cascape Peak in Oregon. Bill really thinks he is helping, but I think that alot of people that have no idea about distilling look to him for instruction. And in my opinion, he does not know enough to be advising anyone. For instance, I have spoken to him about making traditional bourbon and he is just completly uninterested. He has done a lot to bring people together, but I think he promotes shortcuts too much.

Gillman
07-08-2010, 06:30
Todd, it's true that lactic acid bacteria can work with yeasts to produce the sour tastes in beverage beer you mentioned, but I would think in distilling, since the mash or wash is not held for very long, those bacteria (and brett yeasts too) don't have time to do much damage.

Gary

Leopold
07-08-2010, 08:51
Well, it's certainly true that you won't get much of that lactic flavor in the white dog.

Where the lactic acid comes in, or any organic acid for that matter, is during maturation. There's a pretty simply chemical reaction that takes place. Alcohol+organic acids+oxygen+time= esterification.

With my whiskies, you'll get a nice mild raspberry and strawberry aromas after about 6 months in the barrel. Using the same yeast and same grist, I never got these flavors without some lactic formation in the mash (making very clean 3 day sweet mash). Not exactly an experiment for publication in the MBAA Quarterly, but I'm fairly convinced of the difference.

And, of course, using the sour mash method, the same lactic acid is reintroduced to the mash for a second time, boosting the total amount.

Leopold
07-08-2010, 09:14
There is one more when they are making rye, I consulted with them. Cascape Peak in Oregon. Bill really thinks he is helping, but I think that alot of people that have no idea about distilling look to him for instruction. And in my opinion, he does not know enough to be advising anyone. For instance, I have spoken to him about making traditional bourbon and he is just completly uninterested. He has done a lot to bring people together, but I think he promotes shortcuts too much.

Well, it's true that he promotes using other people's beer and other practices, but he's just trying to get people started. Financially, it's tough to argue with this advice. From an artist standpoint, well, that's a different story. But I'm quite fond of Mr. Owens.

And there's more than a few people out there dispensing advice and classes who've been distilling or brewing or winemaking for only a couple of years. I'm in no position to tell people how to run their business, however.

Gillman
07-08-2010, 09:16
Okay got it, thanks. This must explain the estery notes that many bourbons have.

Gary

jinenjo
07-09-2010, 00:20
With my whiskies, you'll get a nice mild raspberry and strawberry aromas after about 6 months in the barrel....

Leopold, what are your whiskies?

Leopold
07-09-2010, 09:32
Our website is in the process of being updated to list our new releases, but:

www.leopoldbros.com

Mr. McKenzie's, who is also on this thread, has a shop in NY:

http://www.fingerlakesdistilling.com/