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  1. #1
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    The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    On another thread we were discussing (veering from topic actually) higher proof off the still. Perhaps a discussion on how that works.

    Column stills used by the majors are run continuously, which is to say alcohol laden mash is constantly fed into the top and as is falls down rising steam strips out the alcohol which rises as vapor to the top to be drawn off while water and mash solids run out a drain in the bottom. A full description is more complicated but that's basically the idea.

    A column still can be set to bring off the alcohol vapor with an alcohol by volume (ABV) as high as 195 proof which is almost pure alcohol. Vodka is 190 proof which is almost odorless, colorless and tasteless at that point which is why the regulations limit Bourbon to 160 proof to make sure the vapor contains enough flavoring elements to age into the characteristic flavor of Bourbon. Of course lower still proof has more flavor, that's the reason Stitzel -Weller brought the new whisky off the stills and into the barrel at 105 proof. Wild Turkey was 103 at one time for the same reason.

    The reason a distiller sets the still at 140-160 proof is because over the course of a working day that will produce 40-60% more beverage alcohol than would be had at 100 proof. Profit, pure and simple.
    We're Bourbon Geeks, it's who we are, it's what we do.

  2. #2

    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Squire, I always appreciate your thoughts and ponderings both here and on bourbonenthusiat

  3. #3
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Yes, the column still or coffey still system does work as described by squire. However, the final statement above would only be true if the limiting parameter for the still was the volume of distillate produced (without regard for proof of distillate), which is unlikely.

  4. #4
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    MaudiSon - I'm not a chemist or distiller, so just want to clarify. If the distilled at a lower proof than a higher proof, would they produce more distillate from the same output? Also, are you suggesting that they don't produce at a higher proof in order to increase profits? I had always assumed this was the case (assumed being the key word here )
    Gary
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  5. #5
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    From a mass balance perspective the same amount of grain will produce the same amount of alcohol. If you make it higher proof you will have a lower volume, which means fewer barrels and less storage expenses for the same net volume after aging (excluding evaporation losses). Even if barrels and storage aren't the highest cost (seems likely they are) then you at least have more stored potential volume in the same number of rickhouses then you do at lower proof.

  6. #6
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Quote Originally Posted by DrBob View Post
    From a mass balance perspective the same amount of grain will produce the same amount of alcohol. If you make it higher proof you will have a lower volume, which means fewer barrels and less storage expenses for the same net volume after aging (excluding evaporation losses). Even if barrels and storage aren't the highest cost (seems likely they are) then you at least have more stored potential volume in the same number of rickhouses then you do at lower proof.
    Boiiiing! We have a winner. And that in a nutshell is what is driving the higher proof trend.

    Both Rutledge and Russell have said they would rather be coming off the still and going into the barrel at lower proof but it isn't entirely their decision. Bean counters.

    Rutledge has said that when they were forced to use higher proofs he was gratified to discover that a higher proof in the barrel took on average an extra two years to mature. His first thought was that it would tip the profit balance back to lower proof. However the market has moved in such a way that a Bourbon that is age dated two years older commands a larger profit margin than a younger. More than enough to make up the extra two years of storage and evaporation cost. So it looks like higher proof will be he new normal until the market changes. Or perhaps until some of the Micros start making really good juice starting with lower proofs and find a market that will pay a super premium for it.

  7. #7
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Quote Originally Posted by sailor22 View Post
    So it looks like higher proof will be he new normal until the market changes. Or perhaps until some of the Micros start making really good juice starting with lower proofs and find a market that will pay a super premium for it.
    That's what Todd Leupold and Tom McKenzie are doing and those are the type products that currently have my interest.
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  8. #8
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Quote Originally Posted by sailor22 View Post
    Rutledge has said that when they were forced to use higher proofs he was gratified to discover that a higher proof in the barrel took on average an extra two years to mature. His first thought was that it would tip the profit balance back to lower proof. However the market has moved in such a way that a Bourbon that is age dated two years older commands a larger profit margin than a younger. More than enough to make up the extra two years of storage and evaporation cost. So it looks like higher proof will be he new normal until the market changes. Or perhaps until some of the Micros start making really good juice starting with lower proofs and find a market that will pay a super premium for it.
    Interesting since 4R doesn't have any age stated products in their core range.

  9. #9
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Quote Originally Posted by DrBob View Post
    From a mass balance perspective the same amount of grain will produce the same amount of alcohol. If you make it higher proof you will have a lower volume, which means fewer barrels and less storage expenses for the same net volume after aging (excluding evaporation losses). Even if barrels and storage aren't the highest cost (seems likely they are) then you at least have more stored potential volume in the same number of rickhouses then you do at lower proof.
    I had thought that the column stills set to distill to higher proofs were extracting a greater percentage of the alcohol from the mash and leaving less alcohol behind. If that is right, then with the trend to NAS the only number on the bottle is proof, so it's easy to see why people trying to make an undistinguishable commodity product would simply try to maximize the number of 80 proof bottles. If that is not what happens with higher proof distillation (even if it varies from still to still), it seems believable that management consultants could convince themselves that this is what happens to try to cash in on a boom with more 80 (or 100) proof bottles today, and wait for tomorrow to deal with the speculative future costs (or not) of possibly decreased quality. Who knows, the decisionmaking may be led by the same people who have concluded that if you put enough ice in them, most people can't tell Coke from Pepsi, set aside Coke made with cane sugar vs. corn syrup.

    Does anybody know if the higher proof column stills are, in fact, more efficient in that they leave less of the alcohol behind in the mash?

  10. #10
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    Re: The Proof, The Whole Proof, and Nothing but the Proof.

    Quote Originally Posted by danz View Post
    I had thought that the column stills set to distill to higher proofs were extracting a greater percentage of the alcohol from the mash and leaving less alcohol behind. . . .

    Does anybody know if the higher proof column stills are, in fact, more efficient in that they leave less of the alcohol behind in the mash?
    Yes, they are so efficient as to remove virtually all the alcohol, even at different proofs.
    We're Bourbon Geeks, it's who we are, it's what we do.

 

 

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