View Full Version : Can YOU explain?
Sampling my 10 year old George Dickel Single Barrel recently, I was struck by the radical difference in flavour between this whiskey and (any version of) Jack Daniel. Almost any bourbon I know tastes much closer to any other bourbon than these two whiskies. What explains it? They are made from similar mashbills, both are leached through ground maple charcoal, both are aged in new charred barrels. Neither (as far as I know) uses artificial coloring or flavoring. Can it be the yeast? Differences in warehouses and location do not seem enough to explain the difference. Jack has the signature candy-like taste. Dickel is more smoky-tasting and has a mineral, "vitamin" taste. Why doesn't Dickel have Jack's perfumed candy/anise flavour, or vice versa?
I can't explain, dizzy in the head and feeling blue. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
One difference is that Dickel is filtered in a temp-controlled, chilled maple pile. I don't know if that would account for the difference since it's at a different stage of the process, but chill filtering sure does with bourbon -- at least in appearance.
I read somewhere (was it in Chuck's "Bourbon - Straight"?) that Jim Backus said the chill-filtering is meant to copy the taste of the white dog when made in the winter. So some Dickel in the past (before chill-filtering was adopted) tasted no doubt like the chill-filtered dog does now. Or putting it a different way, some Jack Daniel (at least the Single Barrel) must be made in the winter and so should reflect an effect similar to that produced in George Dickel by chilling the leaching vats. I am assuming the leaching vessels at JD are outdoors or in unheated rooms, which maybe is an incorrect assumption, though. Anyway I can only speculate but I wonder if the chilling process can account for the large difference in taste between JD and Geo. Dickel. I note by the way on the great bourbons website of Sazerac Brands the statement that a new chill-filtering system has been adopted for Ancient Age. I assume this chilling is done before bottling, not before barreling as in the case of George Dickel. Still, I note a cleanness of taste in the bonded Ancient Age I tried recently, and Dickel has that too, but the resemblance ends there!.
The fact that both whiskies are made in Tennessee and use the Lincoln County Process shouldn't tempt anyone to expect them to taste the same. Every whiskey tastes the way its maker intends it to taste and factors such as yeast strain, water source, proof of distillation, and the construction and operation of the still are some of the tools the distiller uses to achieve the desired result. Most significant of all is the taste profile target, which is achieved by monitoring the whiskey as it ages, harvesting it at just the right time, and combining it with other, differently-aged barrels as necessary to achieve the target.
Of the factors you mentioned, only yeast seems likely in my view to make a major difference. Even there it is hard to see that it alone can explain why one tastes so different from the other. Most bourbon tastes similar (broadly speaking), yet all the different factors you mentioned work in that arena as well, why then are the book ends in bourbon closer than those that bracket (am I mixing metaphors, Dave?) Dickel and Daniel? Maybe I should mingle the two.. Just kidding. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
(am I mixing metaphors, Dave?)
Let's just agree to call it "mingling", which as we all know is a wholly different thing. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif
You still seem to be starting from the premise that because both whiskies are made in Tennessee and use the Lincoln County Process they should taste the same, or more similar than they do, which is not a valid premise. Is either outside the taste range of American straight whiskey? That's the standard you should use and that's why all the variables that can account for taste differences with regard to American straight whiskies come into play.
One fact I didn't mention before. I believe Dickel on the whole to be significantly older than Daniel's. That would account for a significant difference right there.
I am focusing on Tennessee charcoal leaching, the uniqueness of which is asserted by the Tennessee distillers, effectively with U.S. Government backing. One would think something in Jack Daniel and George Dickel should taste very similar due to sharing the unique trait of a lengthy pre-barreling filtration in ground maple charcoal. Yet, that is not the case. Therefore, one must conclude that method confers no detectable unique character. For example, one might have thought the pungent, liquorice-like taste of Jack Daniel is the result of that leaching. This cannot be so, however, since the very similar leaching received by George Dickel confers no such character on that whisky, nor can its age in relation to that of JD alone account for this difference, in my view. The same applies in reverse, nothing in George Dickel (e.g. the vitamin-like taste) can be detected in Jack Daniel and therefore that taste cannot itself be derived from the multi-day leaching in charcoal. And so I ask myself (am I sounding like David Byrne here, I thought I was using allusion to The Who for humor) why does Jack Daniel, which tastes like no other straight whiskey, taste like it does? If (as I accept) it is not flavored or colored artificially what accounts for its distinctive flavour, one no other straight whiskey comes close to? I can ask the same question of Dickel but it is more bourbon-like than Jack; it is the palate of Jack, the pre-eminent Tennessee whiskey, I find most hard to deconstruct. Recently I participated in a tasting of bourbons and Jack Daniel conducted "blind". All the experienced tasters identified Jack Daniel. Yet no one was able, out of 6 or 7 whiskies, to identify more than one or two of the bourbons even though the tasters in most cases knew the whiskies well (and were shown the line-up before the glasses were brought in from a separate room). What accounts for this taste if it is not the Lincoln County Process?
You seem to be really ignoring what I call The Distiller's Art, and I think
that the variables in whiskey making are much more complex and interesting
than you realize.
I think that we've converged, to a certain extent, on an Expected Taste
Profile for American whiskies... there are certain characteristics that
we consider mainstream and customary. Don't make the mistake, though, of
thinking that this taste profile is easy to achieve, and just naturally
happens if we follow a simple recipe!
There are a few experiments that homebrew clubs perform every now and again
for fun to illustrate exactly how complex the variables they're working with
can be. One fun one (okay, as a scientist, I have perhaps a different idea
of fun than most people...) is to make up a big batch of wort, and divide it
into four parts, and use different yeast to ferment each part. So you
keep all variables the same except the strain of yeast. The result: you can
really get some radically different beers just by changing the type of yeast.
To the casual observer, the processes are the same: yeast was added, and
fermentation occurred. But the beers have such different character! Same
exact process, one small tweak... and large variation in results.
Similarly, the act of distillation is a HUGE variable. I'll bet that if
you take the same distiller's beer and put it in three different stills, and
distill it off to the same proof, you'll get different flavor profiles.
Over the years, we've figured out how to tweak all these variables to get
something recognizable as American whiskey. It's all in the tweaking, because
there's huge variation possible. I'll bet that any bourbon distillery in
the country (well, the ones that use rye...) could make a bourbon that tastes
like Jack Daniels if they put their mind to it, just by tweaking their existing
processes. The tweaking is the Distiler's Art.
Tim, you make many points I agree with. The George Dickel website, which I only thought of checking after writing these posts, mentions the important contribution to flavor made by the house yeast. The distillery claims it is different from any used by another distillery.
I guess what I am really saying in this thread is, I am surprised the Lincoln County Process leaves no footprint and therefore seems to lack significance. I hadn't tried Dickel in a long time. Finally, I had the chance. I assumed it would resemble JD and that both would show a common effect from the charcoal mellowing. They do not. At most, I think the Lincoln County process serves as a quick aging method. Today that is not as significant as in the mid-1800's when most whiskey was sold very young.
I still wonder what produces the strong anise-like flavor in JD and whether yeast alone can do it.
Therefore, one must conclude that method confers no detectable unique character.
After much pondering, I have decided that it is not so much what the Lincoln County Process adds to whiskey that is important but what it takes away. Common to Jack Daniel and George Dickel is a lightness of body, a (relative) mildness of palate. This probably results from the maple charcoal mellowing and its effect of leaching out fusel oils and reducing harshness and acidity. The other flavors in each product have nothing to do with that method, I think, except possibly for a light smokiness of palate. That smokiness is not seemingly different from barrel char smokiness in bourbon but shows up at a younger age due probably to the "advance" char treatment imparted before Tennessee whiskey is entered into new charred oak barrels.
Thus, I think one should take with a grain of salt comments one still reads here and there about the maple wood not being fully burned and adding flavor attributes to the whiskey.
Thus, I think one should take with a grain of salt comments one still reads here and there about the maple wood not being fully burned and adding flavor attributes to the whiskey.
The folks at JD agree with you. They say this is not the case. It is true that they water the fires to keep the wood from burning down to ash, which is how you make charcoal, so the wood is not "fully burned" in that sense, but you're not getting wood sugars and other flavors as you do from aging.
Mike Veach mentioned recently in another context that the yeasts used by JD and GD are very different and account for much of the flavor difference.
This probably results from the maple charcoal mellowing and its effect of leaching out fusel oils and reducing harshness and acidity.
However, I also recently learned from Mike Veach that, at least at one time, JD had the highest fusel oil content of any American whiskey and significantly more than George Dickel specifically. If I understood him correctly, he felt that the fusel oils contributed greatly to JD's distinctive flavor.
I also just as recently learned what fusel oils are! http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif
Hmmm, well if that's true, or still true, maybe that explains the distinctive tang of Jack Daniel. But that would put in question the vocation of the charcoal vats. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
I am currently sampling my personal vatting of Jack: composed of a combination of two Single Barrels and two or three Jack Black Labels. This is good stuff, complex and rich.
Just thinking and rambling, I guess it could work something like this:
It sounds like there is agreement that yeast difference between JD and GD is significant, even critical, to the flavor difference. If, by nature, the JD method and yeast strains create EXTREMELY high fusel oil content, perhaps the LCP brings the fusel oil level down to a palatable (yes, Chuck, I know that's debatable http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif) level, but, in the spectrum, still a very high level. An important vocation for the LCP at JD, but with a different endpoint than at GD.
Chuck's point about aging is well taken. I'm sure that accounts for some flavor differences between the two as well, but I agree with you that "distinctive tang" seems unlikely to be age difference.
This idea about fusel oil content and its varying final levels in both drinks may be right. There may be other, or additional, components of the JD mash that assist to produce that JD tang. Possibly a high degree of esters (compounds with a floral or fruity taste and smell) are produced in the JD mash as compared to GD's and enter the distillate and whiskey of JD. This may derive from the type of fermentation used at JD. Fermentation is a topic little explored in our forum but it can be an important contributor to flavor. Beer fans know that a traditional top-fermentation can impart a very fruity taste to the ferment and matured beer. Whereas a prolonged cold ferment in closed vessels may contribute little estery character. Maybe Jack Daniel's uses an old-fashioned open vat warm fermentation and combined with the house yeast strain that may produce the signature flavor in the final product.
My beer-making experience has demonstrated to me how drastically a couple of degrees swing during the fermentation process can change the character of a beer. High temps (68-72*F) produce a beer that is somewhat fruity and "sweet" tasting, while in the 62-68*F range the beer is much cleaner and "dryer" tasting, and this is just for top-fermenting ale yeast strains. Use a bottom-fermenting lager yeast with cold fermenting/conditioning and wow what a difference, even when using an identical grain-bill. So I guess I'm leaning toward the yeast variety making up for most of the unusual character of JD.
I know that the yeast strain leads to a variance in the level of fusel oils. I can't speak for Dickel, but it is important to remember that Jack Daniel's only goes through a single distillation, thus the refinement gained from the doubler is lost. In other words, the secondary distillation which serves to remove some of the fusel oils is not employed at the JD Distillery.
What does the Lincoln County process do for the whiskey? Does it add flavor as some contend, or does it strip some of the unpleasant flavors as others intimate? To this, all I can say is, I have no idea!
Are you trying, Ken, to see if we are paying attention? http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
Some years back an article in Malt Advocate quoted Jimmy Bedford as saying Jack Daniel's is distilled in a column still followed by a second distillation in a doubler, i.e., all before the charcoal mellowing.
It is possible though the doubling has been abandoned at Jack Daniel since that article was written (7 or 8 years ago).
I can understand certainly that Jack has its share of fusels. Many nights (or rather the mornings after) as a younger man proved it so. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
The Bourbon Companion by Regan & Regan lists Jack Daniel's as
using a thumper as its secondary still. (Published 1998).
And a little further down, they list the "yeast strain" as "dried yeast".
So I'm guessing they buy it, although it's possible that they make
it in big batches and store it dry.
Perhaps someone who's been to Lynchburg could answer. I've never been,
although I did apply (twice!) for the (still unfilled!) "Whiskey Technical
Many American distillers, perhaps even most, use a dry yeast but I believe they all mix it up first to make sure it's "working" before they add it to the mash. I don't believe they throw it into the mash tubs dry, but I could be wrong. I know, for example, that Brown-Forman (Shively) uses a pure culture yeast but they do cultivate it in yeast tanks before introducing it to the mash. I've seen this at other distilleries as well that do not use jug or dona yeast, as Jim Beam does.
I believe backset is used in that process as well as in the mash tub. I really should know this stuff better, I suppose. I think the phrasing you used unintentionally suggests they "make" the yeast then "store it dry." In fact, distillers who use dry yeast buy it from commercial yeast manufacturers and do, in fact, store it dry until they mix it up for use.
For the uninitiated, A thumper is a type of doubler that uses steam instead of direct heat so it makes a thumping sound when the steam is introduced. It performs the same function as a doubler, which is to raise the proof of the spirit and also remove some more fusel oils. Many distillers refer to this step as "polishing" the whiskey.
I do note that the picture of the still house interior on the Jack Daniel's web site has three column stills visible and they are labeled No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5. By comparison, I know that Jim Beam Clermont, Jim Beam Boston, Heaven Hill (Bernheim), Brown-Forman and Four Roses all have one each. I know Barton has two, but I don't think they use the second one for bourbon (or much of anything). I'm pretty sure BT has more than one, but there again I know one is only used for Rain Vodka and I don't think they have more than one that they use for bourbon. Anyway, JD having five is pretty special right there.
From our tour of Buffalo Trace this past september:
I, personally, also like the kosher yeast from Croatia. I'll never go back to Serb yeast.
Didn't the home brewer in you want to nip a sample to try at home?
Yeah, but the 22lb "packet" looked rather conspicuous under my shirt http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/lol.gif
I wonder how many "blocks" of yeast go into a fermentation vat? I got the impression, mostly from the empty tubs in the "yeast room" that they simply toss the dry yeast directly into the vats without first making a starter.
I suppose now would be a good time for a post full of conjecture and mathematical doodling that could be held up later and heralded as fact. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif
Remember that the primary purpose of a starter is to propagate enough yeast cells that you might ensure fermentation sans infection. If you already have enough, you're set, just toss it in. I guess a couple hundred pounds of yeast cells into a 30K gallon vat oughta do the trick. Damn, that's alot of yeast.
Two things surprise me though; Red Star yeast -- a company known primarily for bread yeast. Second; they outsource their yeast production.
I guess what I should have said is: I don't think they "proof" their yeast to ensure that it is viable prior to dumping, but with that much dry yeast, a few billion dead cells would make no difference in the outcome. I wonder what type of brewer's yeast this most closely resembles?
I'm sure that with the limited number of customers for whiskey yeast, the manufacturers work very closely with the distillers on the specifications. But Red Star is a yeast manufacturer (we know them for bread yeast, but they may very well make yeast for every yeasty application) and Buffalo Trace (for example) is not. Nor do any American distillers malt their own barley. They buy it from professional maltsters. Same sort of thing.
Jim Beam uses a jug yeast, meaning it is propogated and remains always in a liquid form (refrigeration slows down the action for storage). So does Heaven Hill. Anyone who uses jug yeast "makes" their yeast themselves.
Four Roses uses proprietary yeast strains developed by Seagrams but they are pure strains and, presumably, manufactured by somebody in dry form, but because Seagrams owns the strains they can't be sold to anyone else. I don't believe anyone else uses jug yeast but I know that Brown-Forman and Woodford Reserve both make a "starter" and introduce the yeast into the fermenter in liquid form. I can't, off the top of my head, speak for anyone else.
The room that we store the yeast in is our former yeast room. We have a dozen yeast vats that we have not used for several years. We found that providing our yeast to a professional yeast company helped us better maintain its quality. This is the same strain that we have used for nearly a century. I would say it is the same yeast strain that was used back in the 1800s, but I can not find any records to confirm this.
Also, we run our bourbons through our beer still and then through our doubler (much smaller and located beneath the beer still). When we distill Rain, we actually run it through the beer still, then to the vodka still, then to the doubler, then to a much smaller fourth still to further refine the spirit.
Let me double check my facts on the single distillation and get back to you. It was my understanding when i worked for BF that it was a single distillation, but I could be wrong.
So you are saying that Buffalo Trace adds dry yeast directly to the mash in the fermenters, without making a starter first?
The fact that the strain is more than a century old is pretty cool.
We add our dry yeast to the fermenter with a small amount of cooked grain. After the yeast begins its action, the rest of the fermenter is filled.
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