View Full Version : More barley than neccessary?

12-04-2001, 11:59
I was looking through Regan & Regan's Bourbon Companion, and I was thinking
when I looked at the mashbills in the back: why do different distilleries use
different amounts of barley malt?

Bourbon legend/mythology/marketing hype says that the sole purpose of the
barley is to provide enzymes to convert starches into sugars. But I have
a theory: it's also in there to make bourbon taste (gasp!) like (jump back!) scotch.
Distillers put in more than is neccessary for enzimatic action, and they do
it to get great taste!

The usual sources of fermentation knowledge (homebrew resources) don't
really have anything to say about the enzymes required for corn, since
just about nobody makes corn beer.

From the mashbills in Regan&Regan, percent barley malt in the mashbill:

Ancient Age 10%
A. Smith Bowman 15%
Bernheim 8%
Chas. Medley 13%
Earley Times 10%
Dickel 8%
Heaven Hill 12%
Jack Daniel 8%
Maker's Mark 14%
Wild Turkey 12%

That's a pretty big variation: 14% is almost twice as much as 8%.

How much barley malt is required to ferment a corn/rye mash?
How much barley malt is put into the mashill above and beyond that requirement?

Does the extra barley malt make bourbon taste more like scotch?

I noticed that my favorite distillery (Wild Turkey) is pretty far up there in
terms of amount of barley used...


12-04-2001, 19:16

I don't know. Wild Turkey is at the top of my list, too (specifically, Rare Breed, but I also really enjoy the plain old 101 proof WT), but it doesn't taste anything like scotch. I don't think. ???

Also, I have said several times in these forums that, to me, the Heaven Hill whiskeys remind me the most of the way I remember bourbon tasting "back in the day", which for me was the late 60's and early 70's. They have what I call the traditional bourbon flavor.

And, I notice that they, too, are pretty high on the barley content list.

So, while I'm far from a tasting expert, I have been drinking both bourbon and scotch for over 30 years and I say that these bourbons don't taste like scotch. At least I don't think so.

That was really a thought provoking post.


12-04-2001, 21:14
I don't drink scotch, so I can't comment on the taste....

The only 2 on your list that I've had often enough to be familiar with are Maker's Mark (14%) and Jack Daniels (8%). I find MM is much smoother than JD; would that be due to the extra barley?


There is a hole in Misery's fence.
They cannot shut you in...

--Paul Gallico

12-05-2001, 10:02
I believe most would credit the wheat in the mashbill of Makers for its smoothness. While some don't like "wheated" (Linn for one) most consumers seem to find less edge with wheat than rye. If you want to test the edge of this idea pick up a bottle of Old Overholt Rye Whiskey and you'll see the difference.

I'd be most interested in Ken Weber's comments or Julians on the barley.

And keep in mind that Jack Daniels is charcoal filtered and not a bourbon.


12-05-2001, 10:09
Well, peat malting certainly has something to do with the taste of scotch and the barley malt used in U.S. distilling is not peat malted. There are other differences too. Water source probably is the most important. Pot stills vs. column stills also an important consideration.

Even 14% is only, well, 14% of the total, even if it is more than 8%. Also, some grains (i.e., rye and wheat) are simply more flavorful, pound for pound, than others (barley and corn). Corn contributes sweetness but relatively little flavor. I suppose "relatively" is the operative word throughout this discussion.

To add another wrinkle, Four Roses uses just 5% barley malt.

The point is well made, though, that if barley malt were used only for the enzymes, then there probably would be some point at which enzymatic action was optimal and there would be no reason to use more. This is relevant because malt is the most expensive grain in the mix...approximately twice the cost of rye, which is approximately twice the cost of corn. In other words, the evidence seems good that barley malt also contributes to the taste.

However, another factor may be cooking time and temperature. Cooking also affects the conversion of starch to sugar. Possibly, more malt means less cooking time and vice versa.

Remember too than bourbon-making is still as much art as science. People have their recipes and are loath to mess with them.

And, finally, the Regans aren't always right, which is only to say that the information they reported was only as good as the information they were given.

<A target="_blank" HREF=http://cowdery.home.netcom.com>--Chuck Cowdery</A>

12-05-2001, 17:51

I can't wait to hear what Linn has to say. I don't think he even likes scotch.

12-06-2001, 13:56
Alright Tim you asked for it!

Tim Dellinger isolates a single variable in a complex process that produces bourbon. He asserts that more barley malt is used than is strictly necessary for corn starch to sugar conversion. He thinks it is to make the bourbon taste more like scotch. Taste some bourbon. Does it taste even remotely like scotch? No it does not. Clearly then Tim Dellinger is wrong on this point.

I agree with Chuck Cowdery that bourbon is a product that is as much an art as a science. As such it invites a holistic approach to its analysis rather than the variable isolation techniques of modern science.

Let us look not at a single variable, but rather at the entire mashbill. Why do the grain components vary at all? Why do some use rye and others wheat? What about four grain mashbills utitizing oats? Why are there so many chili recipes?

We are all individuals and as such we have different tates. We all like Bourbon; Blues, and Babes, but we all like them differently. You may very well like a different brand of bourbon than do I. You may like a different recording artist better than do I. You may like short red heads better than tall brunettes.

When the various whiskeymen tinkered about trying to come up with the best tasting whiskey they could make the recipes were carefully derived through trial and error. When they found one that did it best for their tastes they wrote it down and kept it a secret. They made the best whiskey they could make and sold as much as they could for the best price they could get. If they thought that 100% barley whisky was better tasting then that is what they would have made. They didn't. They made bourbon, and that's a fact.

++++++++++++ Bourbon.Its the World's Best Tasting Whiskey! ++++++++++++

Linn Spencer

Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

12-06-2001, 16:00
>Taste some bourbon. Does it taste even remotely like scotch? No it does not.

I'll disagree here. Take a scotch that was made with no peat, and was aged
entirely in ex-bourbon casks (no sherry). Glenmorangie is a good example
of this. Now we have what is basically bourbon, except without the
rye/wheat/corn and with the effect of the barrel greatly reduced (since
scotch is aged in used cooperage). What does it taste like? There's a
malty sweetness there... definitely honey...
It's a different sweetness than bourbon has, but I think that if you
taste Glenmorangie next to, say, Rare Breed, they have a couple of
similar tastes and smells. Obviously the Rare Breed is dominated by the
heavy barrel char, the rye, and the corn, but much of the Rare Breed's
complexity and charm is in the notes that you don't notice at first.
And I think that some of those notes are very much like Glenmorangie.
There's definitely a sweetness in bourbon that I identify as different
than corn sweetness and barrel sweetness, and I say that it might be
barley sweetness.

I will agree that bourbon is more of an art than a science, and perhaps
the extra malt is in there so that the cooking and starch converstion goes
a little more quickly/smoothly/repeatably, but at this point I'm not quite
sure. In any case, Separation of Variables is somewhat difficult since
each part of the process and recipe will effect every other part of the
process and recipe.

I will disagree (slightly) with Chuck (often not a wise thing to do) on one point:
water. There was a recent discussion on one of the scotch lists that came
to the conclusion that the water used in the mash isn't really all that important,
but the water that's used to dilute the spirit from barrel strength to bottle
strength is important. Thus if we look at two barrel strength whisk(e)ys,
water won't be an important variable. Just a minor point, though.

In any case, I definitely think there's something going on with regards
to the "extra" barley.

12-06-2001, 19:13
But, gee, we do like many of the same bourbons.

I was just trying to drag you into the thread - you were conspicuous in your absence.

And, I haven't had a sip of scotch since I became strongly interested in bourbon again, in June or July.

Cheers, Tim

12-07-2001, 05:03
That's true Tim we do enjoy many of the same bourbons. I was trying to stay out of this thread. My anti-scotch rantings are so predictable they now fail to amuse even me.

Linn Spencer

Have Shotglass. Will Travel.

Ken Weber
12-11-2001, 08:22
Very interesting line of thought! The primary purpose of the malted barley is to convert the starches in the mash bill into sugars, so that the yeast can do their thing. However, a few years back at Buffalo Trace, we made a 100% barley whiskey for a company in Japan. While the white dog was okay, it really did not make us sit up and take notice. What does it taste like after aging? We may never know. The Japanese used the barley whisky to mix in with a local brew called so-shoe (I am not even going to attempt to spell it correctly).

Please bear in mind that since barley's primary function is to convert starches to sugars, it can be replaced by other enzymatic agents. If a mash bill calls for 14% barley, this amount can be decreased by simply adding additional commercially prepared enzymes. Does this affect the taste? Only if you subscribe to the belief that the barley adds something to the final character of the whiskey. My opinion is that any grain added to the mash bill imparts a certain character. To what extent, who knows?

I must agree with Linn. To dwell on one aspect of the entire process, is kin to taking a statement out of context. While it is no doubt important, you must look at how it fits into the larger scheme of things. As has been said, whiskey making is as much an art as it is a science.