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Tennessee Dave
01-02-2008, 17:19
I recently read a review that Chuck did on Very Very Old Fitzgerald. In that review Chuck offered that it was maybe the best bourbon ever produced. I was intrigued by the statement and PM'd Chuck with a couple of questions that he thought might generate some interest here.

With what is known about yeast strains, recipes, storage conditions and other variables why can't it be made today? The knowledge at least collectively has to exist out there considering that some of the folks prominent in the industry today were either around or had direct ties to people with first hand knowledge of distillery environment, barrel construction and any other factor that went into making this such a super bourbon.

Atlas could it be that it was just "one of those things"? I have my Grandma's homemade vanilla ice cream recipes right down to how much rock salt to put in the hand churn with crushed ice but I have yet to come anything close to the ice cream she used to make.

Makes one ponder. Can't be too expensive to produce. Lord knows many of us would lay down the green to buy the stuff if it were available today. Just wondering if any of you had thoughts on the matter.

Dave

barturtle
01-02-2008, 21:12
There are lots and lots (and lots:cool:) of variables to account for to reproduce a whiskey exactly.

Lets work our way through some of those things that while individually they may seem minor, collectively add up. This is a long list to demonstrate how many variables there are, but is not meant to be exhaustive.

Okay we got grain...amounts we'll assume we have written down, but what about:
1. What strain of each grain
2 How has that strain changed over the years?
3 Where was it grown, what was the weather like that year
4. How mature was it when harvested, how was it processed, shipped, graded?
5. Milling, I'll assume we know what type of mill was used, but how worn out was it at this point in its life?

Yeast? We might know the strain, might even have it, but:
1. Yeast goes through cycles when kept alive, pitch-repitch, at what point in the cycle was it when they used it back then?
2. This process even makes it more pure, how pure was the strain they used?

Water...
1. S-W used city water, IIRC, but regardless, how has that water source changed? More pollution, more processing to make safe.
2 What was the temp of the water then, when it was pumped into the mash? longer to warm up if colder, longer at temp if warmer, changes how the grain extracts it's flavors

Mashing...I assume we have a recipe and we know what mashtun was used
1 How was heat applied, how quickly and in what quantity and of what temp
2 How do you measure the ingredients by weight or volume? What if the grain is lower in water now than it was then, you get more volume for the same weight

Fermenting:
1 Anybody got any fermenters like they were using back then, I assume cypress
2 Are those fermenters seasoned by having the same mash and yeast run through them all the time
3 What was the weather like on the days this was fermenting?

Distilling
1 Can we set up a still to match the one in use then?
2 Height/diameter/metallic composition/number of plates(including how each plate looked)/stage of life of the still
3 Who was running the still that day, who was turning all the valves, controlling the temp, picking the cuts?
4 What was the final distilling proof?

Barreling
1 At what proof was it barreled?
2 what was the water like that it was cut with for barreling?
3 Where was the wood from for the barrels?
4 how old were those trees?
5 What was the char? how accurately were they charred compared to now?

Is this post gonna be a record length?

Aging?..here we go...
1 What rickhouses was it aged in/on what floors/was it rotated?
2 Were those buildings heated?
3 How full were they, more barrels=more thermal mass=less change in the temp of the whiskey in the barrel.
4 What was the high and low temperature, humidity, cloud cover, how big were the trees around the rickhouse, nearby buildings that may cast shadows, amount of asphalt parking lots that may make for a localized warm spot...
5 12 years=4383 days that you have to get right

Each time you're off the least bit in the beginning it throws things off more and more the farther you go down the line. While duplicating one of the great bottles of bourbon is a noble pursuit, learning what made it and it's fellow great bourbons so wonderful in an attempt to make even greater bourbons seems like a much more interesting one to me...of course I'm still waiting for my Star Trek replicator so I can have all the worlds great whiskies whenever I want.

Same thing happens in a smaller way with your ice cream recipe, milk isn't the same as it was even 5 years ago. More hormones are used, different types of feed, different processing(to make it so-called safe). You may be using a different brand of vanilla (or the brand may have changed the way they make it)...You may want to see if there is a nearby organic dairy farm that will sell direct to you.

If you're still reading at this point, thanks. I hope this wasn't too boring or discouraging. There are some wonderful things being put out now, and with the newfound wealth that the super premiums are pumping into the industry, hopefully they will start using some of that money to inprove the processes to make even better whiskey in the future.

NickAtMartinis
01-02-2008, 21:41
All I have to say is awesome post, Timothy!!!! Talk about variables!!!!

OscarV
01-03-2008, 13:18
With all that said Timothy, I have always thought that with all the innovation that Buffalo Trace does you would think that they would want to try to duplicate the taste of Very Very Old Fitzgerald.
Of course Heaven Hill owns the Old Fitzgerald name now so maybe that could be why they haven't tried.

Hey Bettye Jo run it by Parker and Craig.

ACDetroit
01-03-2008, 15:35
Timothy my hat is off to you brother! and yes that might be a record!

I never thought this little tidd-bit of info would ever go any where but after reading your post and listening to a Dr. Walach tape years ago called dead doctors don't lie! He states the grains we grow today are not the same as those in the past. You see the Grains take minerals out of the soil and all the crop rotation in the world does not put it back! So one more factor would be when's the next glacial shift coming thru? Because the dropped the minerals in the soil and the last time I checked farmer were not putting them back! :grin:

I'm still in awe of the factor list you put together! Just a (not so) small post to show the stellar knowledge of the board members!

Cheers!

NickAtMartinis
01-03-2008, 15:51
This has got to be a first. Everyone that has posted in this thread is actually active (logged in)! I've never seen it before.

OscarV
01-03-2008, 15:55
I've never seen it before.

Hell, we just got started.

Tennessee Dave
01-03-2008, 15:55
Awesome Tim. Great post. Just goes to show that increased technology does not necessarily mean better results. I agree and hope as well that the great bourbons of today can be improved to even better bourbons tomorrow. I knew the answer wasn't a simple one and I appreciate your taking the time to provide some insight.

Dave

NickAtMartinis
01-03-2008, 16:57
Awesome Tim. Great post. Just goes to show that increased technology does not necessarily mean better results. I agree and hope as well that the great bourbons of today can be improved to even better bourbons tomorrow. I knew the answer wasn't a simple one and I appreciate your taking the time to provide some insight.

Dave


Dave, I just wanted to let you know that all the information in Timothy's (Barturtle) above post was provided by me. I was going to let him take all the credit but why should he bask in the glory when it's me who is the genius? ;) :bigeyes::lol:

Tennessee Dave
01-03-2008, 18:26
I already had that part figured out Nick:slappin:

squire
01-03-2008, 18:29
Yes Dave, it could be done. I share Chuck's view. The Very, Very old Fitzgerald we drank back in the mid 60s was the best whiskey I've ever had, and, yes, it could be replicated today but I doubt it will happen. The business incentive simply isn't there.

Regards,
Squire

gr8erdane
01-04-2008, 03:00
I wonder if it's like something I heard years ago when they brought the USS Missouri out of mothballs for a short time, that they were limited in what they could replace because the technology no longer exists to craft a replacement. That always puzzled me in today's world of high tech tools. Maybe VVOF reproduction is similar????

If I remember what Dave Pickerell said during a prior MM tour, the still at SW was unique among Kentucky distilleries and that the still made for MM was the only other to have some feature? Maybe Chuck or one of the others present remembers that detail better than I?

boone
01-04-2008, 11:42
duplicate the taste of Very Very Old Fitzgerald.
Of course Heaven Hill owns the Old Fitzgerald name now so maybe that could be why they haven't tried.

Hey Bettye Jo run it by Parker and Craig.


Hi Oscar :grin: :grin:

I don't get to see Parker much. I did see Craig last Thursday and gave him a "walk thur" to show him all the work we are doing at the bottlinghouse and the progress of the new line. We talked mostly about the new additions to the distillery/bottlinghouse and how things will change in the next year :grin: :grin:

He's always working on things as do most distiller's. I remember years ago him pulling out a sample, asking me to "taste this". It's a "wheat" that we've been creating...Pretty awesome :grin: :grin: It was the early making's of "Bernheim Original" :grin: :grin:

cowdery
01-04-2008, 14:50
Here is what Pickerell told me (in Vol. 8, No. 6 of The Bourbon Country Reader (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com/page9.html)):

"The column still at the Stitzel-Weller distillery was specially designed. There is only one operating distillery that currently employs this still design: Maker's Mark.

"There are a couple of fairly unique things to the design. First, the entire still system is made of copper. More importantly, the still is designed with essentially no rectifying plates. Instead, the beer from the beer heater enters the still in a copper pipe which coils around inside the rectifying section of the still much like the coil in an old flake stand type condenser. Then, the beer exits the pipe directly on to the feed tray.

“Between the coil and the feed tray is a single disc and donut tray. The coil causes a fraction of the rising vapor to condense and drip onto the disc and donut tray. This will allow you to distill up to 120 proof or so, but not much more.

“I've always thought lower proof column still distillation is more or less essential for making good wheated bourbon. Too much proof too early and you begin to lose some of the wheat's delicate nature. You can run the proof up a bit in the doubler if you want. We run our white dog off the doubler at 130 proof. I think Stitzel-Weller ran theirs off at about 140 proof.”

Pickerell said both Bernheim and Buffalo Trace use more traditional rectifying plates in the tops of their column stills.

gr8erdane
01-05-2008, 05:43
Thanks Chuck, but it seemed to me that he said they modelled that still after the one at Stitzel Weller. with the coiled copper pipes as he described to you.

cowdery
01-06-2008, 10:03
As he says in the quote above, the Maker's still is (according to Pickerell) like the one at Stitzel-Weller. Or, rather, "are," since they have two.

The ones at Bernheim and Buffalo Trace are not.

OscarV
01-09-2008, 13:14
the Maker's still is (according to Pickerell) like the one at Stitzel-Weller. Or, rather, "are," since they have two.

The ones at Bernheim and Buffalo Trace are not.

Now that Beam Global has picked up Maker's Mark I understand that there is more expansion and a 3rd still coming.
I assume it will be like the other two.
I sometimes wonder if Samuels and Pickerell realize what Maker's could do.
But I do see their problem with not being able to meet demand for the regular MM.
If they were to do a Single Barrel that was distilled and barreled at a (vs. today's entry proofs) low proof, then I think they could create a buzz in the market that would have a huge financial return.
I wonder if they realize how revered Four Roses Single Barrel is?
FR does the low proof distilling and barrelling.
I'd like to see MM do this because they could become a classic wheater like Old Fitzgerald because they have the equipment.

jinenjo
01-09-2008, 13:22
Well said, Timothy. I also just noticed your new "Guru" status, to which your posting response justifies.

Congradulations!

p.s. You forgot to add the glass from the bottle. Probably different today.:cool: