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Thread: A Brain Teaser

  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    A Brain Teaser

    Riddle me this, Batman.

    When is whiskey not whiskey?

    Arguably, when it's sorghum whiskey.

    Queen Jennie Sorghum Whiskey is a product of the Old Sugar Distillery in Madison, Wisconsin.

    The rules say whiskey is "an alcoholic distillate from a fermented mash of grain." The U.S. Grains Council describes, Sorghum bicolor, the species in question, as the "fifth most important cereal crop grown in the world."

    So no problem, right? Sorghum is a cereal, i.e., a grain, so sorghum spirit is whiskey. The TTB obviously agrees, because Old Sugar got its label approved and is selling the product now.

    But Old Sugar's product, and other distilled spirits made from sorghum, is not made from the plant's seeds--as is the case with whiskeys made from corn, barley, wheat, rye, etc.--but rather from a sweet liquid derived by squeezing the plant's stalk, much like sugar cane. Sugar cane, it should be noted, is also a grass, like corn and the other cereals, but spirits made from its sugary juice are classified as rum, not whiskey. Phil Prichard, he of the Tennessee distillery that bears his name, has argued that sorghum spirit should be classified as rum.

    Unfortunately, the rule for rum is explicit. The source must be sugar cane. But since the sorghum plant's seeds are not used to make sorghum spirit, it's clearly not made from "a fermented mash of grain," and so shouldn't be classified as whiskey either.

    Old Sugar follows the rules. Their sorghum whiskey is aged in charred oak barrels. It's not clear if those barrels are single-use, as required for bourbon, et al, but let's assume they are. It certainly is a legitimate distilled spirit product, but is it whiskey?

    All spirits made from grain go through a process in which enzymes are used to convert grain starches into sugar, so fermentation can take place. Sorghum juice is sugar already, like cane, and so doesn't go through that process. The resulting liquor is also more rum-like than whiskey-like, so someone expecting whiskey characteristics will be disappointed.

    So, what do you think? The Batputer fried its circuits on this one.

  2. #2
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    Re: A Brain Teaser

    Opens up debate for a new spirit category of "other" with this one called "Rumiskey". No clear answer here other than stimulating a volleying debate which would be fun over a real whisk(e)y or two or...
    "There's nothing better than a fine dinner, a good bottle of whiskey and a bad girl"

  3. #3
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    Re: A Brain Teaser

    Being a grass stem product I see it one of two ways, unaged it's vodka or aged in charred oak casks it's rum.

  4. #4
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    Re: A Brain Teaser

    While "corn" the grain is used in whiskey, if you used "corn syrup" - the end result would be more like rum. I think thee part of the plant used has to be important. Although, I think the real question is the "spirit of the law" vs the "letter of the law". By the letter of the law, maybe it is whiskey. But the by the spirit of the law, absolutely not. And why does the law exist if not to protect the integrity of the marketplace so that someone doesn't label rum (or anything else) "whiskey"?
    Gary
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  5. #5
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    Re: A Brain Teaser

    I like the simpler Canadian approach of simply requiring the final product be of the nature and character of whisky.

  6. #6
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    Re: A Brain Teaser

    Quote Originally Posted by squire View Post
    I like the simpler Canadian approach of simply requiring the final product be of the nature and character of whisky.
    You're joking, right?
    The Canadian approach leads to whisky being called "rye" when many don't contain much (if any*) rye grain. Further, it allows for addition of: up to 1/11 of just about anything plus artificial colour. So yeah, its a great approach.

    *Century Reserve lot 15/25 is called "Canadian Rye" and its made from 100% corn.
    Last edited by portwood; 05-12-2013 at 16:35.

  7. #7
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    Re: A Brain Teaser

    Yeah, seriously no thank you to that Canadian definition.

  8. #8
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    Re: A Brain Teaser

    No, I'm not joking, quite the opposite and I believe that's a clearer description than labeling a sorghum molasses distillate whisky.

  9. #9
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    A Brain Teaser

    I think it's not really whiskey, just like an undistilled fermented beverage produced from the syrup wouldn't be beer. But that doesn't matter to me, it sounds like an interesting, unique spirit that I'd like to try.

    The trouble is that it sells bottles to have them say "whiskey" on them, so of course Old Sugar wants to use that word.
    Jim

  10. #10
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    Re: A Brain Teaser

    A rose by any other name.....................

    How about Sorghum Spirits?

    And if one where to use "corn syrup" is would NOT be more like rum, corn syrup is made from actual corn, grain, not stalk squeezings.......

    Perhaps they should drop the "e" and no would would care.............Whisky!!
    "You can't claim to have been drinkin all day if you don't start first thing in the mornin."

 

 

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