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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    A question for craft distillers? Where's the craft?

    I'm on my soapbox again about the lack of craft in most products from so-called craft distillers. It's pretty long so I won't repost it here, but just point you to it.

    It's here.

    If you care to comment, feel free to do that here or there.

  2. #2
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    Thumbs up Re: A question for craft distillers? Where's the craft?

    Excellent article, Chuck. I posted a more substantive comment/question, there. I also subscribed to your blog through my reader - I did not know about your blog until this morning.

    Tim
    Self-Styled Whisky Connoisseur

  3. #3
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    Re: A question for craft distillers? Where's the craft?

    I understand the points Chuck is making, but disagree as we sometimes do on the significance of some of them. (In terms however of actual new bourbons released to date - two I believe, one from Tuthilltown which is a 3 months old, hisorical-style effort, and a straight bourbon of between 4 and 8 years old just issued from a craft distiller in Cincinnati, both were crafted from mashes made onsite and the latter was all-distilled in a genuine pot still I understand).

    With regard to mashing and fermentation plant: I wonder whether an unfiltered mash cannot be distilled in a pot still with a protruding rectification column. Perhaps this is how Tuthilltown did it, I don't know. I think the problem is one that would attend any pot still: making sure the grains didn't stick to the sides of the vessel, a problem which much occupied M'Harry's attention in 1809 and worried B-F too almost 200 years later until they figured out how to deal with it.

    If column stills can be used to make bourbon, I believe that a pot still-and-column still whether as one piece of equipment or two (side-by-side) is as authentic or more. Bourbon began with pot stills, not column stills. In that 1860's-era article on Kentucky bourbon production I mentioned earlier on the board, a variety of equipment was used to make bourbon, I think 5 types were listed ranging from all pot stills to all-column stills and a variety of variations. As long as the apparatus vaporises alcohol from a grain mash and the distillate retains grain flavors (in practice, coming off the still under 160 proof), we get whiskey which in time can become bourbon.

    As for mashing and fermenting one's own mash or not: I really don't see that an issue. In effect by buying a mash one is contracting out the job. The mash will only be used if it meets the criteria set by the distiller to make whiskey. Also, except for malt whiskies (where an all-barley wash comes ready-made), the brewer will have to make a custom mash for the distiller since corn beers don't have much currency in American brewing and even less so in craft breweries which turn their nose at beers that use corn adjunct. If a microbrewer is engaged to make a corn mash, he's making it in close cooperation with the distiller and again this function is simply being contracted out. The fine Sam Adams beer I had the other week may have been made in a rented brewery, or maybe in Boston Brewing's own plant - they do it both ways I understand depending on market location and other factors - but it was excellent beer all the same.

    Also, getting a foothold in the business might permit a distiller ultimately to set up his own plant.

    Some craft rum by the way is made from molasses - Thomas Tew is an example.

    I agree with Chuck that using too many short-cuts reduces authenticity and in some cases the consumer may notice it. This happened with early craft beer efforts that employed malt extract to make the beers. This practice is almost abandoned today because unless the beers are made from malt extract of very high quality, the difference in taste between an extract beer and an all-grain beer is quite evident, at least to a trained palate. The craft beer market might be described as a large group of trained palates, though...

    Even a business which buys white dog distilled from at least 51% corn (the rest of the mash being any grains) and ages it in new charred wood could produce a credible and probably very interesting bourbon. If I choose the barrels (made from 200 year old oak if possible!), if I choose the warehouse and the location therein to age my whiskey, if I select it at peak of bouquet and other maturity - to me this is as authentic as any other way to make bourbon.

    That the existing producers follow in many cases traditional methods is undoubted. But there is room for innovation or improvement even here: selection if possible of barrels made from older oak than the cooperage industry norm; using a mash made from heirloom grains; using certain historical yeast types from jugs only (estery top-ferments, I suggest); and so on. These practices can be adopted even where the mash is contract-made, should that be felt necessary or appropriate.


    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 09-06-2008 at 06:38.

  4. #4
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    Re: A question for craft distillers? Where's the craft?

    What I got from Chuck's article is that some distilleries are buying beer that is already being made at breweries and then distilling it. That's quite a bit different from contracting the facility to make their own recipe.

    Which of these is going on is an important point.

  5. #5
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    Exclamation Re: A question for craft distillers? Where's the craft?

    Also, the point is well-taken that beer wash is not whiskey mash, it is something completely different. From the bourbon perspective, there is no corn in it, so it can't even remotely be called bourbon.

    Tim
    Self-Styled Whisky Connoisseur

  6. #6
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    Re: A question for craft distillers? Where's the craft?

    Quote Originally Posted by ratcheer View Post
    Also, the point is well-taken that beer wash is not whiskey mash, it is something completely different. From the bourbon perspective, there is no corn in it, so it can't even remotely be called bourbon.

    Tim
    While there may not be enough corn in it to make bourbon, there's still a lot of corn in most beers you find in the grocery store. Budweiser uses rice, but most other "American light pilsner" brewers use corn to lighten things up.

  7. #7
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    Re: A question for craft distillers? Where's the craft?

    Quote Originally Posted by craigthom View Post
    there's still a lot of corn in most beers you find in the grocery store.
    Actually corn syrup.
    Miller was the first I belive to do this after PhillipMorris bought them in the 1970's, (now owned by South African Breweries).
    To cut costs and speed up the process.
    ovh

  8. #8
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    Re: A question for craft distillers? Where's the craft?

    Distillers can't be buying beer in its normal sense unless they are distilling hopped beer. I know some distillers do that (some are affiliates of the brewery), but distilled hopped beer will never have a big sale. It is a tiny specialty and will always be unimportant commercially IMO. If they are buying unhopped wort, if it is all-malt wort, that suits any malt whisky operation since malt whisky is made (the Scots style) from such a product. I can't see much difference between this and contracting a brewery to make unhopped wort for you (or such wort fermented), but anyway in the bourbon context, it will have to be contracted: no brewer makes a corn beer of which 51% at least is derived from corn.

    Gary

  9. #9
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    Re: A question for craft distillers? Where's the craft?

    Corn syrups are common no question but Craig is right that real corn (corn grits) are sometimes still used. E.g., good old Straub's from St. Mary's, PA uses corn grits as far as I recall in its spec, and I would think Yuengling still does, too. No doubt a brewery used to handling such materials can make a good mash with at least 51% corn in it, and in fact such beers were known in early American history (sometimes flavored, sometimes with molasses added, etc.).

    Gary

  10. #10
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    Re: A question for craft distillers? Where's the craft?

    I don't know every detail of Tuthilltown's processes, but I do know they use no malt, i.e., no endogenous enzyme systems.

    They convert the corn by adding enzymes. It's not malt extract. It's just enzymes, originally developed for the paper pulp industry.

    Mostly, I think these issues are interesting and deserve to be discussed. I reiterate my closing paragraph.

    Their best case is that craft distilling is about chosing, or making, what goes into your still, and then operating the still. I worry that it compresses the definition of "distiller" too narrowly. It certainly doesn't describe what distillers have done throughout history. A more craft distiller would do everything the industrial distillers do and make yeast from scratch, as none do, or make their own malt, as only one does.

    I don't deny that there are some interesting folks out there doing some interesting things, but these are legitimate questions.

    By the way, if you're interesting in engaging some micro distillers about these issues, they can be found at ADI Forums.

 

 

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