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peafarmer
01-12-2008, 21:59
All, I am trying to learn about American whiskeys with the idea that we should be able to make whiskey just as good as those Europeans do.

I have been price comparing, and see that a lot of people like the older Bourbons, particularyly those from Buffalo Trace. Unfortunately, most of these cost more than I really want to pay. A lot of the "single barrel" bottlings boast that they use "select grains". So my questions are:

1) Is age or quality of the original grains more important?

2) Is there really a such thing as "select grains"? If so, what does this really mean?

3) Which makers or makes are considered to use the best quality grains in their process?

Thanks,

Andy from Annapolis

jburlowski
01-13-2008, 11:12
All, I am trying to learn about American whiskeys with the idea that we should be able to make whiskey just as good as those Europeans do.

We do, and lots of them are better!

I have been price comparing, and see that a lot of people like the older Bourbons, particularyly those from Buffalo Trace. Unfortunately, most of these cost more than I really want to pay. A lot of the "single barrel" bottlings boast that they use "select grains". So my questions are:

1) Is age or quality of the original grains more important?

Both are clearly important factors. But the key thing to remember is that older is not necessarily better.

2) Is there really a such thing as "select grains"? If so, what does this really mean?

Primarily it is marketing jargon.

3) Which makers or makes are considered to use the best quality grains in their process?

All bourbon makers use grains of pretty comparable quality.

Thanks,

Andy from Annapolis

Welcome aboard. See my comments above.

ACDetroit
01-13-2008, 12:29
Hey Andy! and welcome to SB.com you'll find all your answers here it's an amazing group!


I am trying to learn about American whiskeys with the idea that we should be able to make whiskey just as good as those Europeans do.

I apologize as I'm not a scotch lover although I have a couple (nothing special). I feel most Bourbons are better than European Whiskey's and are much cheaper! I have not found a bottle of bourbon over $250 / $300 dollars retail but have run across scotches that go way past that so don't let the cost scare you! There are pricier hobbies (I have not found them yet):grin: , so grab a chair a pour and read my friend there's a lot to learn from this group and I will be the first to say I read and learn something new every day.

You might check out a post on entry level affordable Bourbon's from Sijan he has really put together a great list to get you started!

Cheers! and enjoy!
Tony

boone
01-13-2008, 12:32
2) Is there really a such thing as "select grains"? If so, what does this really mean?

Primarily it is marketing jargon.

Heaven Hill uses the same grain from the same farmer's year after year. Craig said, not long ago, that he was worried with the drought being so bad that he'd have to look further to fill the need.

I remember Willie Nelson coming to the bottlinghouse to promote his product. They invited the farmer's who supplied the corn for the bourbon to be special guests that day.

Thesh
01-13-2008, 17:16
Most bourbons are more "pure" than european whiskies as well. Most whiskies from europe are blends, which have high percentages of neutral spirits added. Even single malts usually have additives like coloring agents. If it's bourbon, by law it can't have anything added to it. Keep in mind, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Like it's been stated, older isn't always better. All spirits peak when aging. There is a certain point where it just can't get any better... And this point is completely 100% subjective. Bourbon also matures more quickly than scotch because it is aged in new barrels, while scotch is usually aged in old wine or bourbon barrels.

I like both scotch and bourbon, but generally I prefer bourbon. It's entirely a matter of opinion, of course.

Sijan
01-13-2008, 19:56
Grain quality is not really determinative of the quality of American whiskey. I don't think there are any notable differences.

pepcycle
01-14-2008, 12:50
Just as an FYI.Every truckload of grain that's delivered to a distillery has core samples taken from several locations in the truck. The samples are tested for moisture content, the presence of mold or off odors etc and a few other tests. If the grain isn't up to the standards of that distillery, they turn the truck away.
Doesn't happen often, but it does.

It might become regulated soon

http://www.ethanolproducer.com/article.jsp?article_id=3413

Sycamore Tree
01-14-2008, 17:34
Well if the grains are all pretty much the same and the barrel has to be new oak, then what is the key determinant on quality?
Mash Bill? That has to be considered a flavoring device, not a qualty factor.

I usually like a high corn content, but sometimes I am in the mood for a rye. Just like sometimes I like Chocolate ice cream and sometimes Vanilla.

TNbourbon
01-14-2008, 17:53
...then what is the key determinant on quality?..

In case you missed it, you might take a look at this post/thread:
http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showpost.php?p=107129&postcount=2

Keep in mind, too, that Timothy's fine dissertation is NOT exhaustive!
While he was talking about duplicating a past taste, it also almost identically applies to what makes bourbon taste like it does -- when it's good or not-so-good.

barturtle
01-14-2008, 18:18
Well if the grains are all pretty much the same and the barrel has to be new oak, then what is the key determinant on quality?


It's never one thing...in anything. It's never one thing that makes a relationship work or not work, that makes a job worth working or quitting.

Think about cars.

What makes a car a quality car?

Is it dependability? What if that dependable car is ugly as hell or gets crappy gas mileage or is slow enough that it can barely make the speed limit?

Lets say that the car is dependable and pretty and fuel efficient and quick? Is it quality now? What if it is uncomfortable and noisy and has blind spots you could hide a B-52 in?

Fix all those problems and does even that make it quality? Doubt it.

What makes bourbon, quality bourbon? Luckily bourbon only has to do one thing right, it has to taste good...to the taster...if it tastes good to that person and they feel it tastes good for what they paid for it, they get to say that that is quality bourbon...and no matter what anybody else says, it's still quality bourbon to you.

cowdery
01-14-2008, 18:28
All of the distilleries have grain programs and feel they are getting the best grain available. At the same time, they'll also admit that the basic specs are the same and many distilleries buy from the same sources. I think what's perhaps confusing here is that no one is using a special grain variety or grain grown in some special way. No one is using grain that can, objectively, be called better than the grain anyone else is using. It's pretty much #2 corn, #1 wheat and #1 rye, and everybody, including the brewers, gets their barley malt from the same maltsters.

Grain is basically a commodity. The most important characteristics are moisture content, integrity (whole, unbroken kernals), and the absence of any defects, such as mold.

So, with that clarification, "select grains" is mostly hype and when words like that are written in marketing copy, it's usually because the writer is ignorant and figures claiming the best ingredients is always a good claim for any comestible. I always laugh when I see it. It tells me I'm not going to learn anything interesting if I continue to read because the writer doesn't know what he or she is talking about.

Maybe the simplest way to say it is that while quality grain is important, all of the American whiskey distillers have mastered that challenge, pretty much. It's not a significant point of difference.

To perhaps go further, "quality" itself is not really a point of difference among American whiskey distillers. I may prefer brand A to brand B, but not because brand B is lower quality. It's just that brand A has achieved a taste I particularly like.

To the extent that relative quality is even a relevant concept, it's reasonable to say full aging is a quality issue, so is over-aging. In the past, some distilleries have had problems with scorched grain, although you never hear of that today. Otherwise, it's mostly just what you like.

Rughi
01-14-2008, 18:47
I believe there's more to buying the grains than the raw economics and "quality." I've been told that some of the distilleries use long term grain contracts with local farmers (especially corn) as a way of furthering stability in the community.

When the local farmers are invested in the success of, say, Heaven Hill, because they know that there'll be less risk selling to them every year than in the open market, then the farmers will have a kind word for HH when the anti-liquor people come around.

It's also in the distilleries interest for the community to be fairly stable, as it seems likely that many families have one spouse working at the distillery while the other works elsewhere: farm, construction, office, etc. Whenever unemployment strikes one spouse, there's the chance the whole family will leave the area to find work.

Finally, from my short stays in Kentucky, I sense a culture that is entwined with, understands and values the distilleries. Keeping that tradition alive by stabilizing the community helps ensure future generations that understand - who knows what values a transient labor force would bring with them and take with them when they go - but it wouldn't be the multi-generational memory of Kentuckians.

I'd be interested if this rings true with Bettye Jo.

Roger

peafarmer
01-14-2008, 19:55
All, thanks for the detailed answers, and the references to previous posts that I had not come across yet. I'm really looking forward to learning more. I'm going out tomorrow evening for a friend's going-away event, and hopefully I can sample a decent bourbon or rye there.

Andy

boone
01-15-2008, 12:17
Finally, from my short stays in Kentucky, I sense a culture that is entwined with, understands and values the distilleries. Keeping that tradition alive by stabilizing the community helps ensure future generations that understand - who knows what values a transient labor force would bring with them and take with them when they go - but it wouldn't be the multi-generational memory of Kentuckians.

I'd be interested if this rings true with Bettye Jo.

Roger

I know that at HH many of the worker's are mulit-generational :grin: Their daddy's, daddy worked there or thier grandmother or grandfather and so on and so on...My great grandfather (Joseph L. Beam) helped start Heaven Hill, my grandfather (Harry Milburn Beam :grin:) distilled there too :grin::grin: Although, several years ago the "no immediate family rule came into play. No longer will they hire brother and brother, sister and sister and so on...That's not to say that there's no kin still working there. Some still exist, several of the Nalley brother's still work there and many young couples have gotten married also. With this rule, I will have to quit or pass for anyone in my immediate family to work there. Your chances of getting of job at HH is great if you've had a member of your family in good standing work at HH :grin:

Of course, that new rule does not apply to the owner's :grin:

Similar story with farmer's ring true also. The same ones year after year.

Families taking care of families...

There's a construction company in Bardstown called Buzick. That company has built most of the warehouses for the major distilleries and built or added on to many of them. Currently, the have added the new additional line at HH. Thier son (Buzick's owner) just graduated from UofL with a degree in engineering...His name is Lincoln :grin: (great name :grin:) He now works side by side with us a full time employee. The Louisville Zoo just got a $250,000 donation from Heaven Hill. The Zoo brought many of the animals to Heaven Hill one day so that all our families could see them up close...Really cool...Our company picnic was held at the Zoo this year :grin: The United Way is supported heavily by Heaven Hill and it's worker's...The American Cancer Society is another...We take care of our own in times of need. Many fundraisers are held for various projects, Food Bank--Funerals, Victims of fire, accident's, cancer to help families come together again.

I forget the millions (7?) of dollars that HH pays "WEEKLY" in taxes...I can't remember the exact number right now but it's enough that it will make you ask to repeat that number so's you know you heard it right...

Yeah, it all goes hand in hand. Heaven Hill takes care of us so we can take care of other's. That's what it's all about :grin::grin: We are a tight community :grin:

melting
01-15-2008, 15:44
Let me get this straight. They won't have brother and brother working there. I could see not hiring brother and sister because in Kentucky you're also getting husband and wife. That could pose I problem I guess.

Chris

TNbourbon
01-15-2008, 15:46
Let me get this straight. They won't have brother and brother working there. I could see not hiring brother and sister because in Kentucky you're also getting husband and wife. That could pose I problem I guess.

Chris

You might just want to delete this. Okay?

melting
01-15-2008, 16:29
Oh oh straightbourbon.com goes pc. I apologize if it offended anyone, but it's really just a goofy stereotypical joke. Some yankee says it and he's up for a lynchin, Jeff Foxworthy or Larry the cable guy says it and folks line up for tickets.

Good thing I didn't throw out the phrase "nappy headed ho" in there somewhere. The good Rev. Jesse Jackson would surely be knocking at my door.

Chill out y'all and if you got a good yankee joke let it fly. We have thick skin up here.

Chris

melting
01-15-2008, 17:04
I'd prefer to call it a stalemate. I sure didn't mean to offend anyone. But on the other hand I certainly won't apologize for making a joke that no one should take seriously anyway. Although stereotypes do become stereotypes for a reason.

Seriously though, why don't they hire kin. No brother and brother or no brother-sister, whatever. If it was working up until now why would they stop the practice. It makes no business sense at all. I could see not having one family member directly supervising another member of the family. Other than that, what's the big deal.

Of course all of this feel good publicity regarding Heaven Hill's charitable giving is great. I'm sure it all has to do with them wanting to give back to the community right, Yeah right. I'm sure has nothing to do with tax considerations.

Think about it if you will. Not long ago on this site I remember people talking about trying to help a food pantry. I'm pretty confident it was the New Hope food band which I thought was brought up by Jette Jo. The same Bette Jo that works for Heaven Hill. If I were her I'd be pretty ripped that I have to put so much effort trying to feed the less fortunate but Heaven Hill can donate $250,000 to a zoo. Mother of God, get real would you.

Chris

melting
01-15-2008, 17:10
Oops, I forgot this one. Don't call it the Christian thought. Seeing as I am a Christian, my point of view would also be considered Christian thought.

I would also hesitate to bring religion into the discussion, that's the main reason that wars are waged. Maybe a muslim, jew or some one with another religious belief altogether could jump in here and tell us how we are both wrong anyways so it doesn't matter.

Maybe you are using protestant thinking and I'm more of the Catholic upbringing.

Chris

Sycamore Tree
01-15-2008, 21:00
Melting,
Okay here is one. The best thing I like about Bostonians?




They are 1800 miles from Texas. That was a joke:slappin:

nydistiller
01-19-2008, 08:25
Age is not as important as grain. Age is just a personal preference in my opinion. I like the younger stuff. I also like the flavor of white dog. If you do not start with good grain, then no amount of aging will help. All distillers I know use the best grain they can get. The statement "select grains" is just marketing.

smokinjoe
01-19-2008, 10:14
Age is not as important as grain. Age is just a personal preference in my opinion. I like the younger stuff. I also like the flavor of white dog. If you do not start with good grain, then no amount of aging will help. All distillers I know use the best grain they can get. The statement "select grains" is just marketing.

I'm confused by this. If a distiller uses the best grain they can get. If a distiller uses only one type of corn, rye, or wheat. If they test all incoming grain for mold, moisture, etc. If after those tests, it is judged to meet spec. and thus accepted. If they tend to buy from the same, qualified, suppliers year after year (presumably because that producer delivers quality and value). Then, isn't a distiller who promotes that he uses "select grains", by the very definition, doing exactly that? IMHO, I don't see "marketing", or hype, or fluff.

JOE

cowdery
01-19-2008, 17:04
It's marketing fluff when the marketer brags about using only the "finest grains" as if that's a point-of-difference and his competitors, by implication, must be using grain that is less fine.

As I said earlier, what consumers need to understand is that while quality grain is important, all of the American whiskey distillers have mastered that challenge, pretty much. It's not a significant point-of-difference. Presumably, nydistiller is talking as a micro-distiller, but whether or not micro-distillers can make grain selection a real (as opposed to fluff) point-of-difference remains to be seen.

Barkley
01-28-2008, 23:37
Welcome. Interesting question and many good answers. Looking forward to more from you.