I fully agree as a commercial, practical matter.
I fully agree as a commercial, practical matter.
After looking at this recipe again, it strikes me as to how similar it is to what E H Taylor, Jr. was doing in Frankfort and Woodford County. He claimed that the best whiskey was made using the "Old Fashioned, Fire Copper, Small Tub, Sour Mash Method". He stated in an early letter that his "OFC (Old Fashioned Copper) whiskey owed its quality to age old methods of making whiskey". He only used small tubs, white corn and about 25% malted barley for sweetness. Taylor believed in quality, not quantity and that is the main reason for his fallout with Gregory and Stagg.
Skimming back through the whole thread, I still wonder about the implication that "slop" can be an alternative to yeast. Not only is yeast killed by the high temperatures of distillation, but most of it doesn't even survive fermentation. In other words, yeast can't survive a certain alcohol concentration. I've always thought it a good environmentalist metaphor. The yeast are poisoned by their own waste.
Today, distillers use the terms "slop," "backset," "stillage" and "spent mash" interchangeably. Is it possible that in an earlier day, some of those terms had different meanings? Perhaps we are misreading this document.
I still have a great many questions about early distilling. I have theorized that in the days before the adoption of the column still, when mash was made by combining hot water in a small tub (i.e., not in a directly-heated cooker), they may have just let most of the grain solids settle out and transferred mostly liquid -- i.e., a wort -- to the fermenters.
Tom Sherman at Vendome told me that in his lifetime distillers have gone to a much thicker mash because less water means less fuel cost. It used to be 44 gallons of water per bushel, now it's as low as half that. Also they now use yeast strains that tolerate alcohol better.
Soon I'll pass along a short extract from M'Harry to show his approach to mashing.
There is no question in my mind that his beer was thick with grain. He does not refer to filtering or settling to reduce the risk of burning in the kettle - never. He refers to stirring and heating.
However other distillers may well have done it differently and probably each had his own trick of the trade or other way to distinguish his products. I don't know for example if it is difficult to strain a corn and rye mash. With malted barley, the husks provide a natural filter.
I wonder about settling since, would there have been time for that without an uncontrolled fermentation setting in? But I don't know.
On the point of slops being a starter, certainly a ferment will kill most yeast as will a boil. However there is residual fermentable sugar in any beer, slops or backset and there would have been more in the old days when fermentation and distillation were less efficient than today.
I infer that wild yeasts started to work on that sugar immediately (as Roger explained too) and that the acid environment of the slops favoured the "good" wild yeasts. Probably though the quality of the wild ferment depended largely on the environment. If it was Jim Beam's porch, that's one thing. If it is near a fetid branch, that is another.
Sweet mash gave more certainty of good results but probably less complexity in the final product and less consistency. But so prized was nature's touch that even the 1818 sweet mash recipe advised to use slops instead of fresh yeast - if was good wild yeast, at any rate (one may infer). Today and for centuries, the wild yeasts of the Senne Valley in Belgium make great lambic beers. Would yeasts anywhere do that? Some would, but not all..
Last edited by Gillman; 11-13-2006 at 22:42.
I've mentioned earlier I cannot find in M'Harry's Practical Distiller (1809) any reference to sour mash.
I think however he may refer at one point to the process (although he never uses the term, "sour mash").
In a section of the book called "To make four gallons from the bushel" he speaks of a method which is "very little more trouble than the common method" and may be used with any mix of rye and corn or just the one or the other.
I'll quote the full passage a little later but it involves taking the head off a singling still when it is "run off", adding cool water to the still and then filling half a hogshead with that mixture. I think he is talking backset because he refers to "dipping out" with a "gallon or pail" the liquid from the still after allowing "the thick part to settle to the bottom" (more proof but there is plenty in the book that his beer was unfiltered).
I think he is referring to adding a portion of this mix to either a mashing of the grains or at cooling off stage, I think the latter.
The account is very compressed and I find it hard to follow but I will later today state the full account and ask for interpretations.
Last edited by Gillman; 11-14-2006 at 05:18.
M'Harry's remark about letting the solids filter to the bottom does not really imply unfiltered distillation so much as a filtration that was not efficient and still let a lot of solid matter in the still. It could be a filtering as crude as simply taking a bucket to fill the still leaving most of the solids behind. I am still curious about the "Mash Filter" Taylor bought for the rebuilding of the OFC distillery in 1870.
Could be Mike, although he is constantly warning against the risk of the "grain" burning and singieng in the still. Mash is quite thick so maybe he did a kind of rough filtration although he does not mention it.
I will quote later the part where I think he is referring to a sour mash system, which he only mentions once. His main concern in the book is mashing and in most of the discussions under specifc heads like half corn and half rye, he refers only to "water" being added both to scald (hydrolize) and to cool off. Also, his remarks indicate that sour mash is a kind of innovation, it is not the regular way, is the tenor of the remarks. Maybe this passage is evidence that it was slowly entering distilling. I can't tell though what his backset mixture is, it seems to be a mixture of slop, water and yeast only but maybe I am not reading it right. Anyway more to come.
Last edited by Gillman; 11-14-2006 at 09:09.
This is a fascinating subject and one that is near and dear. I wish I had time to research this myself in M'Harry (as well as Byrn's Complete Practical Distiller, which was published in 1875 and so after sour mash was established). I happily have both of these in the high quality reprints from Glenn Raudins, which I again highly recommend, as I know Gary does.Originally Posted by Gillman
Anyway, a few comments. Distillation temperatures will absolutely kill dead any yeast, but fermentation, even at higher alcohol such as 8% (typical of modern distiller's beer, will not. I have often reused yeast from fermentations; although it is better not to use yeast from high alcohol batches, it will work.
So, if slops are unheated fermentation solids strained out from undistilled ferments, they should have lots of viable yeast.
As I think I have posted before, the reason that sour mash is important in Kentucky but not in Scotland is that Kentucky's famous limestone water is alkaline, and it needs the balancing acidity of sour mash to achieve the proper mash pH of 5.3-5.6. Scotland's waters are typically soft and with low alkalinity, so a sweet mash will settle down into the proper mash pH without any additional acid. (The mash pH is important for the activity of the amylase enzymes which convert the starches to fermentable sugars.)
I seem to remember reading in some historic distilling source that wicker baskets were pushed down into the fermented mash and the more or less clear beer was bailed out into the still. I can imagine that the remaining solids were considered the slop. This would certainly turn sour with any time at all, especially if they were resued serially.
I have made a mash of malted barley, corn and rye and allowed it to ferment spontaneously. It smelled pretty funky, but it fermented, and I can imagine this being a useful fermentation. And certainly low pH (high acidity) will kill off many bacteria while leaving yeasts OK. This is the basis of what brewers call an "acid wash," in which they wash their brewers' yeast with (typically) phosphoric acid to kill spoilage bacteria.
Last edited by JeffRenner; 11-14-2006 at 18:44.
"One never knows, do one?" Fats Waller, American Musician, 1904-1943
Here is part of M'Harry from chapter VII on "To Make Four Gallons From The Bushel":
"Mash your grains in the method that you find will yield you most whiskey - the day before you intend mashing, have a clean hogshead set in a convenient part of the distillery; when your singling still is run off, take the head off and fill her up with clean water, let her stand half an hour, to let the thick part settle to the bottom, which it will do when settled, dip out with a gallon or pail, and fill the clean hogshead half-full, let the hogshead stand until it cools a little, so that when you fill it up with cool water, it will be about milk-warm, then yeast it off with the yeast for making 4 gallons to the bushel, then cover it close, and let it work or ferment until the day following, when you are going to cool off; when the cold water is running into your hogshead of mashed stuff, take the one-third of this hogshead to every hogshead (the above being calculated for three hogsheads) to be mashed every day, stirring the hogsheads well before you yeast them off. This process is simple, and I flatter myself will be found worthy of the trouble".
Comments, Jeff or others?
Last edited by Gillman; 11-14-2006 at 19:21.
Based on seeing the restored GW distillery in Mt. Vernon and reading these accounts, it seems apparent that pots were both solid (no drain) and fixed (e.g., buried in sand) and that anything which needed to be done inside the pot was done by removing the head. Although this seems like it would be very labor intensive, labor probably was more plentiful than just about anything else.
Presumably one of the reasons a "commercial" distillery like Washington's had 5 stills was because of the cool-down and clean-out cycle that inevitably followed each distillation, particularly the beer run.
A solid copper pot would eventually wear out, the sand would break through, and the whole thing would be torn out and replaced.
Sorry, I know you guys are wrestling with the sour mash question, but it got me thinking about this other stuff.
The same accounts that credit Crow with the introduction of sour mash also credit him with introducing (though not, just to be clear, inventing) the sachrometer and introducing hygene practices, such as thoroughly cleaning the mash tubs and fermenters between batches. It is also claimed that he was the first to sell only aged whiskey. Whether or not all of these individual claims are true, it is perhaps true that he was the first to apply all of these practices systematically.
The result, the accounts tell us, was that his product was consistent and consistently good, so much so that discerning drinkers asked for it by name.
While it's possible that not all of the above is true, it seems equally unlikely that all of it is false.