View Full Version : Must Straight Bourbon start in new charred oak barrel?

09-04-2012, 11:47
OK, here is one for you. Must Straight Bourbon start out in a new charred oak barrel? Assuming all other bourbon criteria are meet, would you be able to start aging let's say in a sherry cask for 2 years, then age 2 years in a new charred oak barrel? Technically, this would meet the requirement for straight bourbon in the TTB BAM manual.

09-04-2012, 12:20
There is a separate definition for "whiskey distilled from bourbon mash," which is bourbon mash stored in used cooperage. The whiskey you describe would fall under this category. Just as the TTB treats bourbon as bourbon even if it's finished (you can't "unbourbon" it as Chuck says), I would think your formulation would still be "whiskey distilled from bourbon mash," just finished in new oak casks.

09-04-2012, 14:01
I seem to recall reading in a book (can't remember what one) that during a barrel shortage after World War II, many distillers would start aging bourbon in used cooperage and move their product to new barrels as they became available, with the end result meeting the legal requirement for bourbon so long as it spent the 2 (or 4) years in the new barrel.

Bourbon Boiler
09-04-2012, 16:41
Given the TTB these days, you might make it from sugar mash, age it in plastic barrels with pine chips for 60 days, mix it with GNS, and call it bourbon. :rolleyes:

09-04-2012, 16:49
Given the TTB these days, you might make it from sugar mash, age it in plastic barrels with pine chips for 60 days, mix it with GNS, and call it bourbon. :rolleyes:

That's the truth, Ruth.

09-06-2012, 19:42
Given the TTB these days, you might make it from sugar mash, age it in plastic barrels with pine chips for 60 days, mix it with GNS, and call it bourbon. :rolleyes:

Do small plastic barrels produce poor quality whiskey compared to large barrels? Has BT tested this? What about the micros?

09-06-2012, 19:56
Do small plastic barrels produce poor quality whiskey compared to large barrels? Has BT tested this? What about the micros?

09-07-2012, 05:52
I had emailed Hillrock Estate about their Solera Bourbon questioning how it could meet the regs for a bourbon if aged in a Solera fashion. I received a response from their Master Distiller - Dave Pickerell:

"You are correct, to be called bourbon, the product must be aged, at least in part, in a new charred oak barrel. The rule does not preclude either starting the product in a new charred oak barrel and then transferring it to the Solera system, nor does it preclude starting in the Solera system and transferring to a new charred oak barrel at a later date. While I cannot reveal the specifics about the exact method we used to comply with the federal rules concerning the manufacture and maturation of our Solera aged bourbon, I can confirm that we do comply with all federal requirements to be called bourbon whiskey, and that the TTB has been involved from the beginning in making sure we are completely compliant with their rules and procedures."

Dave has been in the industry for a long time and is far more knowledgeable than I, so I think the answer to my posted question is probably yes. Still reading the regs for myself, I think Sku is could be right and technically the TTB should define this as "whiskey distilled from bourbon mash".

09-07-2012, 07:28
That's very interesting. It makes sense to me (what Dave Pickerell indicated) given the earlier position of the regulators (evidently) that bourbon can be stored in, say, a barrel that formerly held port or sherry for a time and still be called bourbon provided this finishing or flavoring is indicated. I'm trying to remember if it is this that is allowed or just the adding of sherry or port wine, but I think it is the former, or rather both.

It shows things can be interpreted in many ways, and while at first I thought, "how can bourbon be bourbon if stored for a time at the end in a reused barrel", I see now that you can interpret the Standards in this way. For example, it doesn't say that aging of whisky made from a mash at least 51% corn, distilled at under 160 proof, must be "exclusively" in new charred oak. It says it must be stored in such oak. So, if 90% of the aging was in new charred oak, it is bourbon and you can't de-bourbonize it as was said. By the same token, I'd think even if you start it off in used containers, if most of the aging after is in new charred wood, a majority anyway, that should be okay. It's just my assumption or guess really, but I think they probably look at it not in terms of how the process began, but the length of time devoted to this or that process used to make the end product.

This is all in the realm of interpretation, I think it could have gone the other way, but I can see a reasonable argument being made in the senses indicated. It seems an area where in practice, the regulators have the final say, and many administrative processes work like that.

I don't know if this really makes a difference, but I recall Mike Veach pointing out that before the 1930's, or at least for quite a bit of time in the 1800's, bourbon could be called that without having to be aged in new charred containers, or some of it was aged in both these and other kinds of barrels. So this current interpretation sort of brings it back to that, but in a limited way, e.g. I'd be surprised (although I don't know) if you could call bourbon something aged in re-used barrels for 70% of its life and the rest in new charred barrels.


09-07-2012, 10:56
The problem is this creates a situation where two definitions can apply. Bourbon must be stored in new charred oak. Whiskey made from bourbon mash must be stored in used containers. If the order doesn't determine the identity then what does? Given that they have approved the name bourbon for whiskeys finished in cognac and port casks (Angel's Envy, PHC Barrel Finished, etc.) and now this news that apparently a whiskey stored in used casks and then transferred to new oak can also be called bourbon, it sounds like the rule they are using is that if the whiskey was ever stored in new charred oak, it can be called bourbon. In that case, the definition of "whiskey made from bourbon mash" would be reserved for whiskey that was only ever stored in used oak.

09-07-2012, 11:24
I'd think it's not just whether (for bourbon) it was stored in new charred wood, but how long in relation to any other wood storage. If it was stored only for a short time in new charred wood and then a long time in reused wood, to me that shouldn't be bourbon although maybe they disagree. Because in other words it would be de-bourbonized so to speak. Although maybe not since e.g. you can clearly store finished bourbon in a stainless tank. Maybe the reused barrel is regarded as neutral in the same way. But what if it is imparting sherry residues for years to come...? To me it seems odd it could still be called bourbon when the actual time in new charred oak was much shorter than in the ex-wine barrels.

I believe in the case of the brands mentioned finished in ex-wine or brandy casks, the storage or finishing in the latter was much shorter in duration than for creating the bourbon to start with, so the picture there was pretty clear.

Correlatively for whisky mashes stored in re-used wood, if most of the time it was in such wood and only a little time in new charred wood, that seems okay to be called whiskey distilled from a bourbon mash (i.e., the wording that applies in the Standards to mashes not stored in new charred wood) - to me again.

But again or in practical terms, this is a matter for the regulator ultimately to decide...


09-07-2012, 18:49
I don't know that it's a particularly interesting question unless you have a good reason to actually do it, but it seems consistent with a plain reading of the rules.

It's always helpful in these inquiries to keep in mind what the rules are for. They are essentially truth-in-labeling rules and their purpose is to protect consumers from deception.

Also, rules can't always be readily interpreted and applied to every situation. That's why we have judges.

09-08-2012, 05:25
As for any question with a legal aspect, a question whether a particular whiskey can be called bourbon could conceivably one day end up before a judge. I would think it unlikely, although of course you never know. It's a technical area to begin with, the rules probably were written way back with significant industry input. Like any technical business, those who pursue it know best how the products are made, so their ongoing participation with the regulator is the way the rules are applied and interpreted, similar to many regulated businesses.

One way it could perhaps come up is if someone submits an application to approve a product as bourbon (or bourbon finished with something or qualified in some other way) and the regulator says no. Maybe there is a way to seek a court's decision on it. I.e., I don't know if in U.S. administrative law you can challenge decisions made by regulating bodies acting in their jurisdiction. Even if there is a way, producers have to deal with regulators long-term and most producers would want to foster positive relations rather than negative ones. A more likely outcome would be a change to the formulation which achieves mutual goals.

Indeed the laws are truth in labelling type or a consumer measure to a large degree and I suppose one day an interested party in the public arena could try to get an administrative decision reversed or modified by a court. It could happen I guess, but as long as the regulator makes plausible decisions based on the Standards, this seems unlikely to me. The rules, while indeed technical, were written a while back and have an in-built flexibility. While we are not in the arena of course of Lewis Carroll (a word means what I choose it to mean), decisions such as we have seen to date, e.g. with regard to bourbon finished with sherry or that kind of thing, seem reasonable to me based on the wording of the Standards.