View Full Version : Another Historical Tidbit
Here is another document from the Filson Historical Society's archive for you to consider. It is from the the Eli Houston Brown III papers and was written by John Stone who was born in 1745 and came to Kentucky in 1790 from Virginia. It is undated but the correspondence of Stone ends in 1833 and the paper and such makes me think about 1800.
"Pennington Method Stillery
Take 12 gallons water into a tub then put in one bus.l corn meal and stir. Will go over three tubs in this manner Then begin at the first tub & put into it 10 or 12 gallons of boiling water in each then stir as above Then fill your still again with water to boil - 20 minutes after this put 4 gallons of cold water to each tub Then add one gallon of malt add to this half bus'l rye meal Stir these all together Will when the still boils add 10 gallons boiling water to each tub Stir as aforsaid Then let your tubs stand ab't 3 or 4 hours after which fill up your tubs with cold water Stir as aforsaid Then let your tubs stand until as warm as milk or rather cooler then yeast them"
Is this a "Bourbon" mash? It sounds that way to me. If so this kills the Craig myth probably by 10 years or so.
Mike I am perplexed by this. I am thinking that rather than milling dryed kernnels of corn the first distillers of corn whiskey would just pick it fresh and cut the corn off the cob with a knife thereby making the mash a sweet fresh cream style corn ready to cook and capture wild yeast out of the air. Once the mash has "worked a while" then you just toss it into the still. This is the way I've always done it.Are there no written records of such a process?
Have Shotglass. Will Travel.
I have never seen any such recipes but that does not mean they don't exist.
This is really remarkable. I would not have expected there to be bourbon-like formula around that early. What a great find!
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
How corn was used and processed in pioneer America would be an interesting study unto itself. We always think of distilling as a by-product of milling, so it seems likely that most corn used in distilling was dried and milled first. The reasons for this are another question. One can certainly imagine a very thirsty pioneer following your method.
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
Another thing is that there's nothing about that recipe to make you think it was a particularly uncommon, experimental method even then. Whether Pennington or someone else "invented" the corn-malt-rye combination, that might have been well before this description of it was written.
Interesting concept, but I'm not sure it fits in with the frugal lifestyle of our ancestors.
Corn that is grown to make bourbon, corn meal, and animal feed (we call it field corn here in Kansas) is much different than the sweet corn that we eat. It is very hard stuff. I don't think you could cut matured field corn off of the cob. If you pick it very early it is edible, but it is still very tough and not nearly as sweet as the sweet corn that we humans eat. I doubt that our pioneer forefathers would harvest field corn that early, as they would get much less yield (bushels/acre) and they would have a hard time keeping it from spoiling. Fully matured field corn is much higher in volume (more bushels/acre) and is very dry. Sweet corn that is left to mature on the stock will usually rot before it dries out.
By the way, how did yours turn out?
It sure sounds like a bourbon mash to me. This is very interesting information. Thanks for sharing it with us. Wouldn't it be fun to have a time machine so we could go back and find out for ourselves ......
Bill at that early date there weren't any hybred varities that I am aware of. Corn was corn. Does out there know for sure?
I haven't made any corn liquor in many years, but I'm going to bring a sample from a local micro-batch distiller to the festival. Unaged corn moonshine is best used as fuel additive. Bourbon it ain't.
Have Shotglass. Will Travel.
I agree Chuck. That is why I posted it here. It also shoots holes into the already leaky Elijah Craig myth.
I sort of thought the same thing myself. We might very well be posting these on the straightpennington.com site if history went another way.
You are right Linn. It has not been that long that hybrid corn was developed (the 1940's if I am not mistaken) and in my fathers time there was only "flint and dent" varieties of corn.
I think economics also played a big part. What else do you do with the left over corn from the previous year that needs to be used so the crib will be empty for the fall's crop.
While it's true that they didn't have modern hybrids 150 years ago, it isn't quite true to say "corn was corn" either. On the original wild grass from which maize was derived, the "ears" were about two inches long and about as big around as a pencil. The Native Americans worked on it for 6,000 years to get a plant that stood about three feet tall and produced ears about 5 inches long. They obviously figured out a thing or two about selective breeding which means they must have had different varieties for different purposes. Since the Europeans learned maize cultivation from the Natives, I'm sure they did too.
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
I am working on an article using this information and some other documents I have found to look at the origin of bourbon. It is looking more and more like bourbon was called bourbon because of a French influence, not in Kentucky, but in New Orleans in the 1820's.
Please let us know when you finish your article. I definitely want to read!
Since we all know that Bourbon's name has much to do with the fact that it was shipped from Limestone, in Bourbon County, and Bourbon County was named as a tip-of-the-hat to the french for their help, it would stand to reason that the french population would know of its existance. New Orleans would most likely be a major recipient of the whiskey shipped from there. Since there were loads of french in New Orleans, I can see how they would be the ones to start calling it Bourbon.
The guys loading it to the boats probably didn't call it Bourbon, the probably called it whiskey...or whisky, or shine...or...
Are you coming to the Festival this year?
You know the legend, but the history, as I am finding out, is quite different. First of all forget all of the Elijah Craig legend. I have yet to find anything that supports Collins' claim in his History of Kentucky. Craig certainly did not create the recipe. Charred barrels were not commonly used until 10 to 15 years after his death. And even the sour mash process seems to be a common process.
I will give you a hint about the New Orleans connection: If you live in Kentucky and make whiskey, what do you do to that whiskey to make it more appealing to the French people in the market that is easiest to ship the whiskey?
Welcome back, Mr. Bourbon Historian. We look forward to seeing you at the festival. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/drink.gif
Answer: Invent stainless steel drums? HA http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
what do you do to that whiskey to make it more appealing to the French
Ok, I'm in...I was gonna crack jokes about pink panties and waving white flags, but I'll refrain... http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smirk.gif
Back then, the French weren't such wussies.
so tell me, tell me...
My research indicates that Cognac was first aged in charred barrels in 1440. So if you want to sell whiskey to the French heritage people in New Orleans, you make it taste more like Cognac and age it in charred barrels. You might even decide to give it a French sounding name, say "bourbon" for example.
Take three glasses and pour some bourbon, cognac and scotch. Which two are closest in flavor profile? When did they start aging scotch in charred barrels? Not before the Americans started aging bourbon is my guess and I base this on the fact that between 1817 and 1861 there was no federal tax on spirits so a person could afford the loss to the angels, but there sure was a tax on scotch at that time and the tax was right of the still. Any loss in aging would cost somebody money.
And don't forget that the King of France at the time was from the House of BOURBON (if history serves me right).
Cognac was first aged in charred barrels in 1440. So if you want to sell whiskey to the French heritage people in New Orleans, you make it taste more like Cognac and age it in charred barrels.
Well I'll be! That makes perfect sense.
I can't wait to read that article.
Another valid point except that is a two edged sword. Many people loyal to Napoleon left France for New Orleans because of the Bourbon King. Then again during the time of the revolution many loyalist came to America to escape the revolution. I think it boils down to Kentuckians picking the most French sounding name (that had not been Americanized like Versailles).
Think of bourbon at that time as "corn brandy" and I think you will see what they were shooting for.
That's why you're the historian! You guys think of all the angles. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif
Even if the Ky Distillers did not have a good Cognac to emulate, A flatboat trip from Maysville or Louisville to New Orleans, in some accidently charred barrels would net a similiar result.
Bourbon County was formed from Fayette County in 1786. Most of the Bourbon producing area of our state was contained in Jefferson and Lincoln County as per a map of Ky counties 1780.
I don't think there was any accident in the charring of the barrels. Consider this - Before 1803 there were two things that prevented the creation of aged bourbon. The first was no market. New Orleans was closed more than open to western markets and when it was open it often involved bribes to Spanish or French Governors. The other was the whiskey tax which was not repealled until 1802. It took the best part of a year to make the trip by flat boat and to return by horse. How many trips down there would it take before they decided to try something to increase sales. Lets say ten. Boom! the War of 1812 starts and another tax until 1817. Finally they can experiment with aging and minimum loss of revenue. Four years later in 1821 they have aged product and they take it down on a new fangled steamboat. It sells well and the idea catches on and in the 1820's we start seeing aged bourbon advertised.
Your article sounds fascinating, Mike. Let us know when it will be published and if it's published somewhere we can get it.
I am working on some additional papers from the Corlis-Respess family that came to us a little over a year ago. This is the same family that owned the distillery in Bourbon County in the early 19th century and has the reference to charring the barrels in 1826.
In 1820 John Corlis sends 50 hogsheads of tobacco to New Orleans on 4 steamboats leaving Louisville. When the first boat arrives in New Orleans, his man writes him and amongst other things, gives him the price of whiskey in New Orleans at that time. He states that it is "40@43". I am assuming that this is a 40 gallon barrel, the average size of the time, at 43 cents a gallon. This is a fairly low price considering that is pretty close to the prices in Kentucky at the time. If the price of cognac was higher than that, then they might have decided to see what they could do to get "cognac prices" for their whiskey. They may have even used empty cognac barrels to put some whiskey in to start the process.
Although I can't support this with any documentation at the moment, I did some research about 20 years ago into the origins of Southern Comfort. I discovered that the "Southern Comfort Cocktail" was created by a New Orleans bar owner, M.W. Heron, in an attempt to make green, frontier whiskey taste more like cognac. To that end, he added various flavorings and colorings. Cognac was considered the best thing available to drink in that place and time and fetched a good price.
A very interesting point. What year are we talking about? I never really looked into it, but I thought Southern Comfort was post Civil War.
>What year are we talking about? I never really looked into it,
>but I thought Southern Comfort was post Civil War.
Their marketing department propigates the story that Southern Comfort
was created in 1874, and originally named "Cuffs and Buttons".
That is pretty much what I remember being told. Still I would not rule out completely that it was created before it was mass marketed outside of New Orleans. I doubt that is the case because marketing people will sieze upon the smallest thread to push back their "founding date" in this industry.
>Still I would not rule out completely that it was created before it was
>mass marketed outside of New Orleans.
The history of "rectified" American whiskey is one of those areas that
I've always been interested in, but I haven't had time to delve into.
One reason is the lack of information out there... whiskey with "flavor
additives" is not always looked at kindly, and thus doesn't get much
I have vague notions that at various times and places in American history,
flavored whiskies were the predominant form of consumption, but I'm just
not very sure.
We've all seen "whiskey recipes" consisting of raw spirit, water, coffee,
tobacco, various fruits, etc.... certainly these recipes have been around
for a while. If a pre-bourbon recipe can be found, we can ask similar
questions that you're asking about bourbon:
Was cognac the notion of quality drink, which these recipes were trying
to emulate? Is cognac the genesis of dark-color-as-an-indication-of-quality,
which lead to the inclusion of coffee, tobacco, etc. in these recipes?
In other words, if they're emulating bourbon before the "invention" of
bourbon, then this points to cognac as the inspiration for both drinks.
p.s. I foresee, one day, a re-emergence of "rectified" whiskies. I know
that Wild Turkey makes a "honey liqueur", but other than that, Southern
Comfort is the only thing that comes close.
I have done some research into the rectifying of bourbon. The Filson has several examples of flavoring the new whiskey to make a gin or cherry bounce or even a fruit cordial. I also did a program here with Lincoln Henderson called 100 Years of Bottled in Bond. I found a recipe for recitified bourbon from 1861 in a book at the Getz Museum. It seems that I posted it here at the time. Lincoln then took the recipe and made the 5 gallons that the recipe called for, bottled it and put a label on it calling it "Clark and Lewis - The whiskey that rectified history". We tasted that product along with some Old Taylor bottled in 1918, Old Taylor bottled in 1928, a prohibition rye bottled 1933, Bankers and Brokers - a Stitzel-Weller bond from 1941 and some modern Old Forester 100 proof.
The rectified whiskey was interesting. There was a lot of carmel tones - but not bourbon caramel. There was the minty tones of wintergreen often found in old bourbon - but this was more like Altoids wintergreen. There was even the red color, but again, not bourbon red. It tasted more like a cordial than a whiskey. I have some and if you are ever in Louisville, look me up and I will let you try it.
Good thoughts all, Tim.
Rectification in the sense of flavoured never really went away. Look at the raft of flavoured vodkas and coolers out there. Even unflavoured "clean" vodka would likely have been regarded as a good young whiskey in the 1800's, at least a good young rye whiskey (a young Monongahela). Whereas the pedigree of bourbon very early on seems anchored on the concept of charred barrel aging. Was cognac the model? Quite possibly. There is that theory (I believe advanced by Chuck Cowdery or John Lipman) that the very name Bourbon was intended as a reference in New Orleans to a cognac brandy substitute..
I don't really keep up on vodka, but I recall seeing recent ads for a Polish vodka made from 100% rye. In a very real sense, this is just young rye whiskey. And, I also recall reading an article (it may have been right here on sb.com) that said that the rye whiskey of colonial times was much more akin to vodka than to anything we would call (modern) whiskey.
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