View Full Version : Does proof off the still vary much between distilleries

12-01-2011, 15:29
So i've read that there isn't much variation between proof going into the barrel- most distilleries are around 125 proof. But, i was wondering if there was a lot of variation between the distilleries as far as proof coming off the still.

12-01-2011, 16:05
Just working from memory I think JD comes off at 140, BT at 135 and we know recently Beam started distilling all future Booker's to 125.

12-02-2011, 12:34
It depends what you mean by 'much.' The range is from about 57.5% ABV (115 proof) to the legal maximum of 80% ABV (160 proof). Most are in about the middle of that range. Within that range there is quite a bit of variety. Some distillers even use different distillation proofs as a way of distinguishing different brands.

12-02-2011, 16:04
So which ones are on the low end and high end?

12-02-2011, 16:29
Wild Turkey is the lowest. Brown-Forman/Woodford Reserve is the highest. I don't think anyone else is as low as WT, at 57.5%, but there probably are others at the top end for at least some of their products.

12-04-2011, 07:44
There's a thread somewhere in which Maker's Mark was also revealed to be on the low end.

12-04-2011, 10:15
As much as I love whisk(e)y, I'm not real educated on the process of making it. What does proof off of the still mean to the finished product?

12-05-2011, 10:32
As much as I love whisk(e)y, I'm not real educated on the process of making it. What does proof off of the still mean to the finished product?

I'll see if I can give this a go and not mess it up too bad. Bourbon by law CAN be distilled to 160 proof but can not go into the barrel any higher than 125 proof. The higher the whiskey is coming off the still the more water you can to add to it to bring it to 125 proof or lower. Then when it comes out of the barrel you add more water to bring it to the proof you want. More water more dilution of your flavors/ more profits. WT comes of the still at 115 proof barrels at 115 and bottles at 108.4 and 101 makes good bourbon. That is the simple answer.

The more complicated answer that I can't answer is the higher the distilling proof and barreling proof the longer the aging process to get the results the MD wants per Jim R of FR. The Bean counters think they are making more money because they get more bottles from higher proof whiskey that they can water down to 86 or 80 proof but if you have to age it longer no you don't. (again per Jim R)

So now that I have muddled this up whiskey distilled at a lower proof and barrel at a lower proof and bottled at a higher proof taste better. One of the reasons why dusties taste better.

12-05-2011, 11:50
Generally speaking, the higher the proof (to the max of 160 Paul mentioned), the less whiskey taste in the final result. Why? Whiskey taste partly comes from the barrel, partly from co-products of fermentation that come over with the alcohol. In the fermented mash, you have ethyl alcohol and other things, and water. The other things are esters, acids, aldehydes, higher alcohols. These have a taste, usually, but not always a good one. (Aging in wood if long enough will fix that).

The mix of tastes from these co-products in bourbon distilled out at 155 proof, say, is different than the mix of tastes when the make is distilled out 20 points less. There are fewer congeners, to use a term commonly used for the co-products, in the make distilled out at the higher number, that's why. Alcohol itself (ethyl) doesn't have any taste. Distill out at 190 and you've got even less taste from the mash, distill at 196 or so and you have virtually none - you have made vodka, basically.

The reason there are fewer co-products in the higher distillation ranges is, they stay back with the water (water boils at a higher temperature than ethyl alcohol). It is the low boiling ones that come along with the alcohol, but less of them as the proof off the still rises.

It is more complicated than that because sometimes you can have a distillate that is more congeneric than one at a lower proof, this generally results with use of a true pot still. WR's make at Versaille comes off I understand at just under 160 but it is fairly congeneric judging by the aged result 5-6 years down the pike. This is because a pot still separates the co-products less efficiently and "cleanly" than a column still. But generally column stills are used to make bourbon.


12-05-2011, 11:57
When I said, "stay back with the water", some may wonder at that since of course a distillate has some water too. This is because some water molecules always "stick" to ethyl alcohol and other components of a mash that are made volatile by heat. Each element has a volatility temperature but it varies in practice and therefore some water will come over with the alcohol when you heat the mash in the still to alcohol's boiling point not water's. But generally speaking again, the more you heat the mash and re-distill it, the more you will isolate the alcohol from its co-products which when aged out in barrel give the whiskey (or brandy, tequila, etc.) their flavour.


12-05-2011, 12:07

You explained that much better than I did.


12-05-2011, 12:22
There is a constant tug of war between efficiency, i.e., maximum yield, and flavor. It's also subjective, as a cleaner spirit (i.e., higher proof) will express more barrel flavors, so in that sense it's not bean counters versus quality whiskey makers. Some whiskey makers prefer the flavor of higher proof distillate.

So lower is not automatically better, and how low is too low? If lower is better, why not enter at, say, 75 proof with the idea of withdrawing and bottling at just barely 80 proof? Is that a good idea?

Objectively, lower distillation proof means lower yield (less absolute alcohol per bushel of grain) but more of the flavors produced during fermentation. That's objective. Which distillation proof makes the best bourbon is subjective.

12-05-2011, 13:09
I read a few things that have indicated that optimal barrel proof is 125. The information I saw was related to Barley malt products, scotch specifically. I think it may have been in a recent issue of Whiskey (formerly malt) Advocate or Imbibe. Of couse that is a different grain different size barrel and there was really no mention of distilling proof. But it was interesting to read, and coincidentally there are alot of products barreled at that proof. If I find the article I will edit my post.
This was the article, Maybe it was posted on here somewhere. http://www.mendeley.com/research/chemical-mechanisms-whiskey-maturation-1/

12-05-2011, 14:10
Paul, thanks, but your explanation was valid too, you were focusing on the efficiency side. I was focusing on the flavour side, but as Chuck said, everyone finds their particular balance. My point was the law cuts off judgment at 160. Distill it over, call it whiskey, but not bourbon, son, saith the old-time lawmakers. :)

But indeed given this given, there is a "balance point" (good term from an old S-W ad) which each producer finds. That said, I do believe there was more taste from the lower ranges, but the trade-off often was it needed longer aging than many companies probably now want to invest.


12-05-2011, 17:35
Thank you for the explanation, gentlemen. I think I might actually understand it. :lol:

12-05-2011, 19:08
But generally speaking, most people would favor the somewhat lower distill and barrel proof (dusties) than the opposite?

12-05-2011, 23:37
But generally speaking, most people would favor the somewhat lower distill and barrel proof (dusties) than the opposite?

Not necessarily. On what are you basing that?

Distillers do sometimes blame things they want to do, but can't, on bean counters, and people are only too fast to pick up that cry, but no one ever hears the bean counter's side.

I think the market tends to get what it wants, especially when it's free enough for every alternative to get its chance. The market didn't think people would like extra-aged bourbon but the people wanted it so the market provided it. I like to say every generation gets the vampires it deserves. Budweiser became the best-selling beer because more people bought it. They weren't tricked into buying it. They bought it because it was what they wanted--the taste but also the price, the convenience, the imagery. They bought it because they wanted it. That's what happens more often than not.

12-06-2011, 06:10
I feel it is best to come off the still in the 120 range, being as we use a true pot still that makes for a lot of mash flavors. We go in the barrel at 100 which seems to work best for us. A lot of the micros come off at 160 and go in the barrel at 125. In a small barrel that is too strong and you have not got much mash flavor. That in my opinion is why the stuff from small barrels is so one dimentional. The barrel has nothing to work with.

12-08-2011, 19:38
Does anyone have a list of what each of the distillers take their whiskey off the still at and what the barrel entry proof is? It would be interesting to do some comparisons.

12-08-2011, 19:53
Don't wheaters generally come off the still a bit lower and go into the barrel a bit lower than rye recipe bourbons, even from the same distillers?

12-09-2011, 07:05
Jim Rutledge on barrel proof -

"We fill our barrels with 120 proof distillate. We've run experiments at 105, 110, 115 and 125 proof. We continue to run experiments, but I have been amazed that in blind taste tests the 120 proof filled barrels (with a little more age) has faired as well as the lower proofs. The taste tests were so close it was not worth changing our entry strength - even if we have to age the barrels 6 mos. to a year longer at 120 proof. Plus, at a lower proof the age in the bottle could be lowered and as discussed earlier the perception is that more age is a good thing. Lowering the age of Bourbon for bottling might be an economic plus on the production end of business but totally offset in the market. (I'm just talking out-loud and theorizing as I go along.)"


I hope you've been reading ggilbertva's blog series of Q&A with Jim Rutledge. Great information.