View Full Version : Washington's Distillery
I was looking over the extensive and excellent notes about the research being done into George Washington's distillery on the Archaeology Magazine web site. (http://www.archaeology.org/interactive/mtvernon/index.html) The whole thing is fascinating, but I found this point particularly interesting with regard to our periodic discussions about the use of wheat as a flavor grain. "During the first three month period of operation, March-May 1797, wheat was the primary grain distilled. It appears they stopped distilling wheat once the corn and rye crops were harvested that year. Wheat would have had more value sold as flour or sold unprocessed, than as whiskey."
It is always said that, at least on the frontier, corn was more valuable converted to whiskey than it was in any other form. This apparently was not true for wheat, at least not in the coastal areas where transportation of grain was not as much of a hardship as it was in the interior. This may also explain why wheat is only occasionally used throughout distilling history.
Byrn was in agreement. He says wheat is valued for bread making whereas rye would find comparatively little use if not used in distilling. He refers to corn briefly as an alternative to rye. He states that while rye can be malted, the use of unmalted rye in conjunction with barley malt produces a greater output of alcohol than if malted rye was used alone. He expresses, on more than one occasion, admiration for the ability of a small amount of barley malt in the mash to convert a much larger amount of unmalted barley to fermentable sugars.
He also refers in some detail to the use of "chaff" as an alternative to barley malt or even an adjunct thereto because it has the property of "lightening the lob" (making the mash fluid so that solids won't stick to the vessels and burn (more of a concern with pot distillation)). I will write more soon about this chaff because it would be interesting to know if any vestige of the practice survives in U.S. distilling practice. It is important to point out that Byrn rarely comments on taste. He refers sometimes to a taste that is "desired", implying that rectification is not suitable for those who want to consume drinks which taste of the raw materials from which confected, but generally is only concerned with what today might be termed maximum throughput.
I recall Sam Cecil once telling me that small amounts of corn added to a rye mashbill could make a very noticeable change in the palate, so likely each maker had his own (probably not unchanging) practice depending on the likes of his market, tradition, grain prices and other factors.
It is always said that, at least on the frontier, corn was more valuable converted to whiskey than it was in any other form.
The way this was stated when I toured east Tennessee (in 1990, I think) was that corn as meal or grain was too bulky to transport to places where it could be sold, profitably. But, after converting the corn to whiskey, the bulk was greatly reduced, making it easier to take to market. A phrase I heard over and over was that making whiskey was "turning corn into money".
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