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  1. #1

    Is sour mash a bourbon?

    Many years ago I worked at a liquor store in Portland, OR. The owner told me that Tennessee sour mash whiskeys are not bourbons, but a category all unto themselves. Is that true?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Spring Arbor, MI

    Re: Is sour mash a bourbon?

    Sour mash is a method not a whiskey.
    Distilleries use about a third of the previous mash and add it to the new mash for a consistant flavor.
    Tennessee whiskey is not bourbon.
    Jack Daniels and George Dickel do eveything the way boubon producers do except one additional step they do is drip the white dog thru maple charcoal before aging in the barrel.

    George and Jack even burn their maple wood differently to produce the charcoal.
    Jack burns it under a hood, George burns it open air, they say the open air method releases impurities.

  3. #3

    Re: Is sour mash a bourbon?

    To answer your post title question in transposition, though: yes, all bourbon IS sour mash whiskey.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Northwest of Peoria

    Re: Is sour mash a bourbon?

    But what about Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Sweet Mash?

    Sorry, I couldn't resist.

    But yeah, I roll my eyes everytime someone asks a question like that, or worse yet, makes an ignorant statement like the Portland, OR. Liquor store owner.

  5. #5

    Re: Is sour mash a bourbon?

    Maybe I quoted him wrong...been a long time...25 years or more. Maybe he said a Tennessee whiskey is not a bourbon. I just remember him saying that Jack Daniels is not a bourbon.

    Is the charcoal filtering the only difference between bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey?

    Is Dickel and Jack Daniels outside the scope of this forum?

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Spring Arbor, MI

    Re: Is sour mash a bourbon?

    Yep, charcoal filtering is the only difference between TN whiskey and bourbon.
    The makers of TN whiskey say that the maple charcoal gives it flavor, but how can it "give" it anything when it is a "filter"?
    It then goes in the barrel where it gets it's flavor.

    No we talk all whiskey here on SB.com, so this not out of scope.

  7. #7

    Re: Is sour mash a bourbon?

    Quote Originally Posted by ILLfarmboy View Post
    But what about Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Sweet Mash?..
    Granted, Brad, you are correct, and point noted. I DID, in fact, pause to ponder the generality before posting, but this one didn't come to mind, I guess, primarily because it was made and bottled as an exception. It wasn't terribly interesting -- at least, to me -- otherwise. Like so much of Woodford Reserve's pot-stilled product, I thought it ordinary, to be generous.

  8. #8
    Advanced Taster
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Mt. Washington, KY

    Re: Is sour mash a bourbon?

    Up until the time of Dr. Crow, pretty much all bourbon (or whatever it was called back then) was sweet mash ... not sour mash ... because Dr. Croe perfected the process.

    For decades thereafter, there were a lot of sweet mash bourbons (I think some called it "mellow mash"). Primarily because of issues with product quality (it's easier to prevent bacterial contamination with sour mash ... and easier to preserve batch to batch consistancy) sour mash has dominated the category.

    However, Sweet mash may be making a comeback ... primarily in the micro-distilled products (because it is easier to make sweet mash ... and sterilization has become easier as well). I am aware of some producers ... with product not yet on the market ... that will be introducing sweet mash products in the near future ... probably much better than the WR sweet mash was ...

    Finally, the re-kindling of the George Washington Distillery at Mount Vernon involves only sweet mash rye ... for historical accuracy... and it will be pretty good ... whenever it finally hits the market.

    It is unfortunate that many people think that the primary difference between TN whiskey and Bourbon is the sour mash process ... when it is not.... it is just that some brands toot the sour mash horn very loudly, while others do not.

    "Remember, the BEST bourbon is FREE bourbon ..."

  9. #9
    Bourbonian Of The Year 2013 and Guru
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Just East of the Big Chicken, GA

    Re: Is sour mash a bourbon?

    I've often wondered why someone would toot the "sour mash" horn to begin with. Sour Mash doesn't sound all that appealing to me. It may be truth in labeling, but I'll bet 9,998 out of every 10,000 drinkers of JD (or any other label that lists it) have no clue what "sour mash" means. I know I didn't until 5 years ago, when I became addicted to SB.Com. I'm sure that there are more people who steer away from it because "it's sour". Or, maybe JD covered that base. Maybe, they hope people will think, "Wanda, get this one. Oooohhhh, it's charcoal mellowed! Get's rid of the sour mash! That other one is just plain yuck sour mash!"

    Wag more.
    Bark less.

    "Every bottle is its own learning experience." -- Sensei Ox-sama

  10. #10
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Toronto, Canada

    Re: Is sour mash a bourbon?

    Both sweet and sour mashing techniques were used in the pre-industrial whiskey era. Also, the meaning of sour mashing has changed over time. This may be of interest from an historical standpoint:





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