View Full Version : Is Heaviness a Function of Corn?
Does the heaviness of bourbon increase with a greater percentage of corn?
Here's why I ask. I've both read and tasted that wheated bourbons are lighter than rye bourbons. That might lead to the inference that rye makes the bourbon heavier. But the heavy rye bourbons seem light to me. Bulleit is light and airy; a different kind of bourbon. And Old Grandad seems mellow and smooth.
So now I'm starting to think that a bourbon gets heavier when the percentage of corn increases. That is more rye means less corn, and so there's more intense flavor as well as heaviness.
Here's another example. I don't get the strong wood or carmel or maple sugar flavor in either a wheated bourbon or a heavy rye bourbon that I get in WT Kentucky Spirit, Stagg, Knob Creek, etc.
So who can enlighten me?
Seems to me that you are describing the effects of more time (or more intense time) in the wood than the mash bill. Clearly Bookers and KS show more wood than any of the lesser aged wheaters. But... I think Pappy is a wheater and shows plenty of wood. So...
Another option is that of the effects of the cut from barrel proof to bottle proof. Wild Turkey barrels at a lower proof and would therefor need to cut less to reach bottling proof. Both the Stagg and Bookers are uncut.
On the other hand Old Grand Dad is surely barreled at the max (125) proof then cut substanially to get to bottling proof. Grand Dad gives us a good way to see the effects of this as it is avaibable in 114, 100 and 86 as well as the 8yo 80 Basil Hayden's.
If you really want to see wood in a wheater try the Van Winkle 15/107...though I'm sure that's going to be eclipsed by the William Larue Weller 12yo, Mmmm a barrel proof wheater. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/yum.gif
Edit: Not that I expect it to out-do the Van Winkle in overall flavor/balance but the uncut aspect should show a more intense flavor profile, though I'm really expecting it to be yummy as well
Re Dilution - Great point, Timothy!
though I'm sure that's going to be eclipsed by the William Larue Weller 12yo, Mmmm a barrel proof wheater.
I'm not typically a wheater kind of guy but I'm looking forward to this one as well.
Seems to me that you are describing the effects of more time (or more intense time) in the wood than the mash bill.
Our non-expert opinion is similar. For example, the Old Charter varieties, though very high in corn, don't seem heavy. Of course, they are lower proof, but even the Classic 90 at twelve years doesn't seem "heavy" to us.
Heaviness is generally a result of residual sugars in the bourbon. Now, bourbon mash gets most of its starch, thus its sugar content from the corn. So, in theory, if you have a lot of corn, a low-attenuating yeast strain and distill to a lower proof, it could be a function of the corn. I believe though that most of the residual sugars in finished bourbon come from the natural sugars in the wood that leach out into the whiskey over time. Wood selection and length of time in barrel will make the most difference in perceived heaviness.
Heaviness is generally a result of residual sugars in the bourbon. Now, bourbon mash gets most of its starch, thus its sugar content from the corn. So, in theory, if you have a lot of corn, a low-attenuating yeast strain and distill to a lower proof, it could be a function of the corn.
I think that sugars would not be at all volatile at distillation temperatures and therefore wouldn't come across the still. I think that white dog would have virtually no sugars in it. I confess that I do not know this for sure. A quick Google search for temperature of vaporization of sugars was not helpful.
Yeast can ferment only simple sugars (short molecules) into alcohol. Diastatic enzymes in malted barley break starch molecules down first into large sugar molecules (complex sugars), and then into small sugar molecules (simple sugars), which the yeast can consume and turn into alcohol (and carbon dioxide).
Distillers, as opposed to brewers, want to maximize the conversion of starches to simple, fully fermentable sugars so that the production of alcohol is maximized. They select their mash regimen and yeast for maximum attenuation (degree of fermentation).
Brewers destroy all of the diastatic enzymes by boiling the wort (the liquid portion of the mash) before fermentation, which leaves a portion of complex sugars that do not ferment. This results in residual sweetness and perhaps greater mouthfeel and body, although proteins in the beer probably have more to do with the latter two.
Distillers ferment the entire mash without boiling (North American ones, that is; Scots and Irish distillers ferment only the liquid portion, but also without boiling), so the enzymes are still active to a degree throughout the fermentation, resulting in far greater conversion to fermentable sugars in distillers beer than is brewers beer.
I believe though that most of the residual sugars in finished bourbon come from the natural sugars in the wood that leach out into the whiskey over time. Wood selection and length of time in barrel will make the most difference in perceived heaviness.
I would imagine that the wood is the entire source of sugars.
I don't know what the source of heaviness might be, although I suspect that higher molecular weight alcohols (fusel oils) might play a part. The amount of these is determined by the nature of the fermentation (temperature and yeast selection are two factors) and the "cut" in the still. In general, lower proof distillate will contain more.
I don't disagree with you at all. I was mearly hypothesizing how corn could "possibly" contribute to a sense of heaviness if certain procedures were followed. Of course, no one does what I was suggesting, therefore it is moot.
Okay, so setting aside how hard it is to do "separation of variables"
using what's available on the shelf as your dataset, I'm inclined to
agree with you to a certain extent, and here's my theory:
Corn is oily.
Much oilier than wheat or rye. The lower molecular weight oils make it
over in the distillation, and as long as they're not chill filtered out,
stay in the bourbon.
I suspect Jeff's theory about residual sugars comes from his beer experience,
and he's on the right track: it's the larger molecules that increase viscosity,
and thus have an effect on mouthfeel. Except beer brewers rarely use corn,
and when they do (as an "adjunct grain") it's not in such huge quanities.
I think Budweiser uses corn, but they use rice as well... all that extra
starch let's 'em use the cheaper barley that's got higher nitrogen content.
But I digress. Hazarding a further guess, I'll say that the oils in corn
laden beer never make it into the wort... they're just not soluble enough
in the hot water used for extraction, and are more likely to stick to the
chaff (or whatever you call that stuff) when you're separating out the
wort. So the oiliness probably doesn't show up as much in beer brewing.
Try distilling corn, and you'll see the oil...
p.s. Hey, whatever happened to Gary Gillman's "let's add corn oil from
the kitchen cupboard to our drinks" idea? Did that increase "heaviness"?
I never have corn oil in my house... too much olive oil, canola oil,
peanut oil (the best for fried chicken!), olive oil, and olive oil.
One day I'll try the corn oil. I salute Gary Gilman for trying the
corn oil... truly the mixologist knows no bounds! Only the master would
dare try. And then post about it.
Hey thanks, Tim.
If you want corn oils in whiskey, corn whiskey has it in abundance. I believe they enter bourbon, too, but are modified through barrel aging. In contrast corn whiskey is more stored, than matured.
Anyway, next time I encounter a "raspy" bourbon, I'll add a few drops of corn oil. This will add body and a complementary taste.
Corn whiskey is used in some American whiskey blends - this is done (I believe) to add body, texture and complementary flavour. Why not, for default of corn whiskey, add the oil directly?
I just have a question. Not just for Greenbob but for everyone. What do you mean by heavy and light? What bourbons are heavy in your opinion and which are light?
I remember a thread from a while back about the sweetest bourbon and it seemed that no two posters could agree. One man's sweetest was another man's driest bourbon. I think that we might get a similar result if here. I myself don't think in terms of heavy or light at all so I can't even venture a guess.
To me, heavy is a thick mouthfeel, light is thin. But you could also say heavy is something like denser flavor, more concentrated.
Bourbons I might call heavy would be WT Kentucky Spirit, Rock Hill Farms, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, and Old Grand Dad 114. Also note that these are some of my top favorites. I really enjoy thick mouthfeel and concentrated flavors.
I would possibly apply the term light to Evan Williams Black Label and 1792 Ridgemont Reserve. I'm not sure what else off the top of my head. But if I encounter a light feeling, tasting bourbon, I rarely go back to it. So, I don't have a lot of experience with them.
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