View Full Version : What is Old Charter?

02-08-2005, 14:18
In BOURBON, STRAIGHT (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com/bourst.html) I make the following statement:

Old Charter bourbon, which is more than 80 percent corn, can call itself either straight bourbon or straight corn.

Well, it turns out, I was wrong, and I mention it because it is kind of interesting. Straight Corn Whiskey must, indeed, be "not less than 80 percent corn," but Old Charter cannot be called corn whiskey because it, as a bourbon, is aged in new, charred oak barrels. A close reading of the regulations reveals that straight corn whiskey may be aged in "used or uncharred new oak barrels" but it cannot be "subjected in any manner to treatment with charred wood."

I am assuming, and I believe this intent is obvious, that aging in a used barrel that was charred prior to its first use is not considered "treatment with charred wood."


02-09-2005, 20:18
I bought a bottle of the Old Charter 12 YO quite a while ago, back before I was recording my tasting impressions. IIRC, It was quite good - lots of vanilla and caramel followed by rye. I may have to revisit it again when it is available around here again.


Ken Weber
02-10-2005, 07:21
When the Buffalo Trace Distillery purchased Old Charter back in 1999, the brand came full circle. Several decades ago it was made by Schenely, the outfit that once owned Buffalo Trace. Our current Master Distiller, Gary Gayheart worked for them and distilled Charter over 30 years ago. When we acquired the brand, many of our sales reps and Division Managers from the southern states, who were aware of the quality of the brand, immediately adopted both the Charter 10 and 12 as their drink of choice. I had to beat them with a bat to encourage them to switch to Buffalo Trace! Bottom line, Old Charter is one of the better bourbons you will find. The 8 year old, 80 proof is okay, but the 10, 12, and Proprietor's Reserve are really nice.


Ken Weber
02-10-2005, 07:24
So Chuck, if XYZ brand is made from a mashbill of 100% corn (plus some enzymes), it can still be called bourbon (if all other regs are followed)? My reading of the legal requirements is that it can.


02-10-2005, 11:21
They are indeed quite nice and recently I picked up the 12yo that came with a nice little bag. Let's see, that makes a Red Pappy 20 bag, a black Old Charter bag, a brown Blantons bag, and a maroon Weller Antique bag. A few more different bags and I can make myself a shirt out of them. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/skep.gif Keep em coming BT! How bout a yellow AAA 10 yr, a gold Benchmark, and a green Buffalo Trace bag? http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/stickpoke.gif

Hedmans Brorsa
02-10-2005, 13:12
The 15yo Johnny Drum sometimes comes with a bag (mine didnīt, though). It is red but lighter in colour than Pappy.

If you are desperate to expand your collection then let me suggest Crown Royal special reserve. At least mine came with a violet bag. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif

Apart from that I really agree about the Classic 90. It is indeed a tasty whiskey!

02-12-2005, 21:45
I've got a bunch of the Crown Royal bags (used for various items such as fishing reels and poker change) but the shirt would be worn only at the KBF so I have to restrict it to bourbons only. So any of you who don't have any use for your bags, bring em with you to the Sampler or to KBF and help me build my shirt. All donations would be appreciated.

Hedmans Brorsa
02-14-2005, 10:22
Aah! Didnīt realize you were a CR aficionado. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/grin.gif

Anyway, had I only been in possession of a Johnny Drum bag, I wouldīve been glad to send it to you. Maybe next yearīs KBF?

02-14-2005, 20:40
I wouldn't call it an afficionado, but growing up in rural Missouri it was usually the best whiskey any local liquor store carried (according to the locals there). Needless to say, to keep myself high on the social register I drank it quite a bit at social functions and had quite a few bags at one time. Most now are old and faded from use as I haven't purchased a bottle in as much as 15 years. I found something I like MUCH better. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif

02-15-2005, 21:47
So Chuck, if XYZ brand is made from a mashbill of 100% corn (plus some enzymes), it can still be called bourbon (if all other regs are followed)? My reading of the legal requirements is that it can.

My answer would be yes, with one caveat. The regulations also say that, for example, bourbon whiskey must be produced "in such manner that the distillate possesses the taste, aroma, and characteristics generally attributed to" bourbon whiskey. The regulators could use this clause to argue that the absense of any small grains renders it something else, but that would have to be tested. If, in fact, it does look, taste and smell like bourbon, that would be a hard argument to make stick.

But don't do it anyway, okay?

Ken Weber
02-16-2005, 06:35
I have "discussed" this with some high ranking officials from other distilleries and they have maintained that 80% is the top limit on corn; I have maintained that according to the regs, you can use 81% up to 100% and still call it bourbon (providing the rest of the regs are followed). Corn whiskey is basically a euphemism for product aged in used cooperage.


02-16-2005, 14:32
I have "discussed" this with some high ranking officials from other distilleries and they have maintained that 80% is the top limit on corn; I have maintained that according to the regs, you can use 81% up to 100% and still call it bourbon (providing the rest of the regs are followed). Corn whiskey is basically a euphemism for product aged in used cooperage.

I agree with you. I have heard that other argument and seen it presented in print as fact but I believe it is a misreading of the regulations, an assumption arrising from the fact that to be labeled "corn" the whiskey must be at least 80% corn, so the reader extrapolates and assumes that "bourbon whiskey" becomes "corn whiskey" at that 80% threshold, but you don't read laws that way. They only say what they say and you can only draw inferences when they are inescapable. The regs say nothing about a maximum percentage for the principal grain nor about a minimum percentage for the secondary grains nor, in fact, anything about the secondary grains.

If the intent of the law were to require that bourbon whiskey be at least 51% corn but not more than 80% corn it would say that, and it doesn't. In fact, the regulations go to pains to ensure that corn whiskey aged in new charred oak barrels is not labeled "straight corn whiskey." Why? Because it's bourbon!

05-30-2006, 12:32
Bumping this forward to go backward to this post:

Explains why I've always found Old Charter to be as consistent as any brand from producer to producer.

05-30-2006, 14:04
I enjoy the OC 12 and am happy to hear that BT is committed to its consistency. Nice to have something on the shortlist of favorites that I can reasonably hope (expect ?) to be able to get for years.

05-31-2006, 08:42
But don't do it anyway, okay?

I'm gonna bet he already has...and he's lookin' at labeling the product correctly...

05-31-2006, 11:36
When the Buffalo Trace Distillery purchased Old Charter back in 1999 ...
What puzzles me is that BT has only two rye bourbon mash bills - one with low rye, and the other with high. But how can Old Charter and Buffalo Trace, both apparently made from the same low-rye mash bill, taste so different? Not just different in ways that I can see could come from handling differences, but OC seems devoid of rye bite or backbone, as least the 13 yo I have, whereas BT seems to have plenty of character or bite, which I think comes from the rye.

BT apparently has only two rye-bourbon mash bills. When they acquired OC, did they just start making it with the pre-existing low-rye mash bill? Or did the OC mash bill just happen to be the same as the BT mash bill?

This lineup has been almost been confirmed by Ken in this (http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=4978) thread:

Mash Bill 1 (low rye) - Old Charter, Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg, Buffalo Trace
Mash Bill 2 (high rye) - Ancient Age, Elmer T. Lee, Rock Hill Farms, Hancock Reserve, Blantons

What Ken actually wrote was not quite a full confirmation:

Nearly every comment made in this thread is accurate.
But I think that both Ken and Etohchem (Truman Cox, BT chemist) have said that there are only these two rye-bourbon mash bills.

So what accounts for the differences? Ken also eliminated one other possibility:

As far as I know, and I will confirm this with Harlen, all BT Mash bill #1 is entered into the barrel at the same proof (likewise for the other Mash bills).
So I can think of four other possibilites, and I am sure there are more.

1) Different yeasts

2) Different distillation - maybe higher proof for OC than BT and others, or perhaps different cuts, even if the proof came out the same (I think that column stills can be manipulated in this manner).

3) Different barrel chars.

4) Different warehouse conditions. (I know this can make a big difference).

Any ideas? Ken and Etohchem especially?

Of course, we may never know, as Etohchem wrote (http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showpost.php?p=55348&postcount=2)

Recipe's are secret even within the company. Most Masterdistiller's won't even tell people in the same company the exact recipe's used. There are generality's made like "70-10-15" or "approximately 60% Corn, 20%wheat, and 20% malt". But the true masterdistiller's know down to the ounce what the true proportions are and they don't tell.
But that doesn't keep me from asking. ;)

05-31-2006, 12:05
I may have said this before but when I started I was told by Harlen Wheatley:
5-15% of the flavor comes from the mash
5-15% of the flavor comes from the yeast
5-15% of the flavor comes from the distillation
60-75% of the flavor comes from the barrel.

To your points
1) we have one yeast
2) sorry didn't hear the question
3)Our barrels aren't seperated. They all come in the same and are filled.
4) now you are on to something!
Our Wharehouse Manager has been working here for something like over 43 years. He knows where the sweet floors are and where the slow aging floors are. On most floors he can tell which ricks are going to taste different by the airflow they get. He decides which BT barrels are pulled from specific floors of specific warehouses and we taste and test from there. BT and OC are different because we want them to be.


05-31-2006, 14:53
To elaborate a little bit on Etohchem's excellent answer, the part of whiskey-making that most whiskey enthusiasts miss is profiling. Every product in the company's portfolio has a profile, embodied in a library of reference samples. The reference samples are bottles of whiskey from previous batches. A "batch," for purposes of this explanation, is the contents of the tank into which the aged whiskey is dumped prior to bottling.

To make a batch, barrels made with the correct mash bill and being of the right age are selected and sampled (i.e., tasted). If they are as they should be, they are withdrawn and dumped. Then the contents of the tank are tasted and compared to the profile for the product in question. If they miss the mark, additional barrels are added that have characteristics intended to move the needle in the right direction.

In other words, two products that seem identical on paper (mashbill, proof, age, barrel char, etc.) taste different because the master distiller wants them to taste different.

Since bourbon enthusiasts, by their nature, drink lots of different whiskeys, they may not be as sensitive to consistency as are the loyal drinkers of a particular brand. Distillers use profiles and reference samples and work very diligently to ensure consistency from batch to batch. They do this because loyal drinkers, especially, will notice immediately if anything has changed and scream bloody murder.

What I have described applies to all straight whiskey. The practice for bonds and single barrel products is somewhat different.

06-01-2006, 18:09
Thanks for the info, Etohchem, especially to question #2. ;)


06-02-2006, 02:15
Great info! Makes me curious to do a tasting with bourbons from the same distillery with the same mashbill with a similar age range. Would be interesting to see the differences generated primarily by microclimate.

06-02-2006, 06:06
I've been planning on doing 'samples' of whiskies from the same BT mashbills for some time now. I just haven't gotten around to it, too many interesting open bottles at home that I've been sampling. One day.

04-20-2007, 12:17
Regarding BT mashbills, I read in Michael Jackson's coffee table book "Whisky" that Virginia Gentleman 90 has a mashbill of 85% corn.

First: is this true? If so, then there's at least one example of a bourbon with over 80% corn.

Second: is VG90's mashbill unique, or is it shared by any other BT products'?

05-24-2007, 07:22
I too find the 12 yr old Old Charter to be very good..I will be buying another bottle very soon..