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Eagle
09-09-2006, 15:17
Hi folks,

First time poster, fairly long time reader. Eagle Rare 10 and 17 and Elmer T. Lee are my current poisons.

That scene in Ian Fleming's Goldfinger - the one where Goldfinger complains about fusel oils and such in Napoleon brandy, preferring vodka because it's filtered through activated charcoal - got me thinking.

Has anyone ever done chemical analysis of whiskey? I notice also that if I leave a drop or two in the glass overnight, that as it evaporates some solids precipitate out - they seem to have that charred woody flavor to them when tasted. Chemists can do magic to run things down columns and identify them - check out this article on coffee chemistry (http://ull.chemistry.uakron.edu/jkh/Research/coffee.html) - but I've never seen anything similar for whiskey.

I searched through the forum archives but didn't find what I was looking for. I figured if anyone would know, you guys would!

Gillman
09-09-2006, 15:56
Hi, oh absolutely this has been done for whiskey and all spirits.

A number of textbooks exist devoted to commercial spirits production which e.g., show curves on which the volatility point of various constituents of a mash are plotted. Numerous congeners (the non-alcohol constituents) have been identified and the same for new make and matured whiskey. Check for these books on Amazon. One was authored in part by a Mr. Murtagh of which extracts were posted at www.scocia.com by a student at Heriot-Watt, a renowned school of distillery and brewing studies in Scotland. I've found the chapter on vodka production particularly good but all the extracts posted, including on bourbon production, are fascinating, I plan to buy this text in fact.

Gary

chasking
09-11-2006, 09:49
The book extracts are certainly interesting, but quotes like:




The wheat and good, consistent control of all factors, especially the barrels, make Maker's Mark the smoothest of the bourbons.

tend to raise one's eyebrows.

cowdery
09-11-2006, 11:57
I tend to be skeptical as soon as anyone uses the word "smooth." I have found it to be a word no one can really define, that people use to describe whiskey they like, because they think it is an attribute good whiskey is supposed to have.

Gillman
09-11-2006, 12:04
I do not recall seeing the terms smooth and Maker's mentioned in the book I referred to recently, I must have missed those references.

Gary

Bamber
09-11-2006, 12:27
I tend to be skeptical as soon as anyone uses the word "smooth." I have found it to be a word no one can really define, that people use to describe whiskey they like, because they think it is an attribute good whiskey is supposed to have.

Same here. Sideways look one eyebrow half raised, thinking: Does this guy know what he's talking about ?

chasking
09-12-2006, 09:15
The quote is from this document:

http://www.scocia.com/newsite/American_Whiskey.pdf.pdf

on page 215.

I don't know when that book was written. It may well have been twenty years ago or more, in any event before the proliferation of premium bourbons. Were other bourbons noted for being "smooth" back then? (Not that "smooth" is the first word that would leap to mind when I think of Maker's.)

Gillman
09-12-2006, 09:40
Thanks Chuck, reading this again reminded me what a superb article it is.

I tend to agree with you about the Maker's comment. It was written obviously some time ago. But also, even today many hold a high opinion of Maker's. Clearly the author thinks highly of them and that opinion is deserving of respect since he is clearly very knowledgeable about whiskey and its production. Nor can one say he is not appreciative of the distinctive flavors of bourbon. Note at the end he states that the taste of bourbon has "bravado", a fine short summary of it to be sure!

Gary

cas
09-12-2006, 11:07
Is anyone familiar with the book cited in the references titled "the social history of bourbon"?
Craig

cowdery
09-12-2006, 14:18
The Social History of Bourbon: An Unhurried Account of Our Star-Spangled American Drink, by Gerald Carson (The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1963)

Back in the early 1980s, when Early Times was being repositioned from a bourbon to a Kentucky Whisky, and they changed the bottle and label, they also hired a new advertising agency. The agency did some research into the attributes drinkers expect in a whiskey and the word that was regarded as the highest praise was "smooth," so the new advertising for Early Times included a slogan that touted its smoothness. I don't remember the exact wording.

Bamber summed up my attitude exactly. "Smooth" tends to be something people say because they thinks it is what they are supposed to say after they drink good whiskey. As near as I can tell, it actually refers to mildness, or an absence of burn, rather than any textural sensation as you might imagine if you, well, know what the word means.

We probably should put up a sticky to let newbies know that if they use the terms "smooth" or "smoothness," they will be mocked.

wadewood
09-12-2006, 14:32
I agree with Chuck; newbies who have rarely tasted a spirit neat will judge anything "smooth" as the best. They do not judge other characteristics.

This is probably why Canadian Whiskies and US Blended Whiskies are such huge sellers.

Of course, we mock them as flavorless.

chasking
09-13-2006, 16:12
I don't know, I think "smooth" is a perfectly valid descriptor for something like, say, Gentleman Jack. But it certainly should not be applied willy-nilly to every good whiskey, as a synonym for "good" (whatever that means).

I have lots of respect for Maker's Mark, but I would not describe it as smooth.

Gillman
09-13-2006, 16:59
It seemed to be older and deeper as I recall it from 20 years ago but it is still a good whiskey.

Gary

luv2hunt
09-17-2006, 20:30
I'd like you to know that Jim R. at Four Roses described bourbon as "smooth" at least 6-8 times in his "Let's Talk Bourbon" discussion at the KBF. He pretty much defined the term as "absence of burn".

Dawn

P&J
09-24-2006, 19:31
The wheat and good, consistent control of all factors, especially the barrels, make Maker's Mark the smoothest of the bourbons.


I can understand the frustration with the nebulous descriptor "smooth(est)", but I think the point of the quote is the word "consistent." In many brewing circles Budweiser is considered one of the finest crafted beers. Why? Because millions and millions of gallons of Bud all taste the same. Consistency for the consumer. So, that said, would anyone agree with the quote above if it was rephrased to, "...Maker's Mark the most consistent of the bourbons."?

Jeff

ratcheer
09-25-2006, 16:44
I'd like you to know that Jim R. at Four Roses described bourbon as "smooth" at least 6-8 times in his "Let's Talk Bourbon" discussion at the KBF. He pretty much defined the term as "absence of burn".

Dawn

That is the way I have always understood it. Not smooth as in to the touch, but as an absence of distressing harshness, i.e., relatively little alcohol burn.

Tim

cowdery
09-25-2006, 21:51
I agree that "smooth" seems to mean "an absence of distressing harshness," which makes its use all the more amusing. Smoothness is supposed to be a positive attribute, but all it really means is "not painful to drink." What does it say about a product if the highest praise for it is that it is not awful?

If "smoothness" is the absence of something, then how can you have "smooth," "smoother," "smoothest"? Can "absence" be relative? Can something be "less unsmooth" than something else?

If "smoothness" did refer to something more like touch, a lush, velvety quality perhaps, I would like it better.

ratcheer
09-26-2006, 16:46
Yes, I say there are degrees of smoothness in spirits. Smooth, smoother, smoothest. Harsh, harsher, harshest.

Tim

barturtle
09-26-2006, 17:52
I would think that absence of something is almost always relative. Think of a flawless diamond: when is it flawless? to the naked eye? to the jewelers' loupe? to an electron microscope? Colorless gases still produce light defraction that results in the change of light color(both visible and nonvisible wavelengths) hence colorless gases still color the light. Tasteless comments tend to add a certain flavor to the conversation.

tgriff
09-26-2006, 19:05
I have grown weary of hearing my friends and aquaintances describe things as "smooth, " especially after reading the very descriptive tasting notes in these forums. It seems to me to be overused and, to me, it also very non-descript.

I guess I like things defined more precisely. I don't think I could spend money on bourbon or cigars or whatever if they were simply characterized as smooth. Hell, the top of my kitchen table is smooth -how does that help me describe bourbon, tequila, cigars, or whatever?

Randy_Ricchi
09-26-2006, 19:45
When I think of Maker's Mark, I think "bland", rather than smooth.

Black85L98
09-26-2006, 20:10
If I want smooth I drink water.

cowdery
09-26-2006, 20:59
Calling a whiskey "smooth" is to damn it with faint praise.

jburlowski
09-27-2006, 15:38
FWIW:
When I think of "smoothness" in bourbon I don't necessarily think of "absence of burn". To me it also connotes a balance of flavors, without one predominating.

cowdery
03-16-2007, 18:56
FWIW:
When I think of "smoothness" in bourbon I don't necessarily think of "absence of burn". To me it also connotes a balance of flavors, without one predominating.

Wouldn't that be "balanced"?

jburlowski
03-17-2007, 13:22
Wouldn't that be "balanced"?

Perhaps to me "smooth" is another way of saying balanced. My key point is that I don't relate it merely to the presence or absence of alchohol burn. A high-proof pour can be very smooth in my lexicon.