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  1. #1

    An Heretical Idea For A New American Whiskey

    I want to get people's thoughts on an heretical idea for a new American whiskey.

    Single malt Scotch has (at least) one advantage over Bourbon. And that advantage is ironical. Scotch, but not Bourbon, can be aged in used Bourbon barrels!

    Used Bourbon barrels create a more complex whiskey. This is because the liquor can be aged longer in a used barrel. Brand new barrels have too many chemicals in the wood for long term aging. Long term aging in a new barrel would ruin the whiskey. That's one reason why Bourbon barrels are charred; to neutralize some of the chemicals in the wood. Fritz Maytag may use uncharred barrels for his Old Potrero, but that whiskey only spends two years (I believe) in the barrel.

    The result is that single malt Scotch is always more complex than Bourbon. For example I much prefer the flavor of Buffalo Trace or Woodford Reserve (I haven't tried George Stagg yet) to a lesser single malt like Old Fettercairn. But Old Fettercairn is still more complex.

    So here's my idea. Why doesn't a Bourbon distiller with a lot of liquor and a lot of resources, like Buffalo Trace or Jim Beam, take some "Bourbon liquor" and put it into used Bourbon barrels for about 20 years? Legally they would not be allowed to call it "Bourbon," but they could call it something else like "New American Whiskey" or "New Kentucky Whiskey" or something. The purpose in all this would be to see what a more complex corn-rye whiskey would taste like.

    One objection might be that you can't age a whiskey in Kentucky or Tennesse or Indiana as long as you can in Scotland because of the difference in the weather. Okay then I say brew it up in Kentucky and age it in Seattle.

    Now I'm sure someone here, like Chuck, might want to take a shot at this idea. Go ahead, what do you think?

    Greenbob

  2. #2
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    Re: An Heretical Idea For A New American Whiskey

    An interesting suggestion, but you're forgetting one important factor: the barrel itself loses much of its character-giving components during the first 4-8 years. What this means is, Pappy Van Winkle 20yo spends its first 8 years or so in a character-rich barrel, then spends the remaining 12 years in a mostly-depleted barrel like you are suggesting. Using your formula, that same Pappy 20 would spend the entire 20 years in a depleted barrel. Now which one will be more complex at year 20?

  3. #3

    Re: An Heretical Idea For A New American Whiskey

    Domestic Early Times IS aged in somewhat the same way, which is why it can't call itself bourbon. For whatever reason, ET is 20% whiskey barrelled in used (bourbon) cooperage -- though not, of course, for 20 years.

  4. #4
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    Re: An Heretical Idea For A New American Whiskey

    The result is that single malt Scotch is always more complex than Bourbon.
    Do you actually think this is true? I have to say that I've yet to taste a Scotch that was as multidimensional and complex as a pour of George T. Stagg bourbon, and I've had my share of the good stuff.

  5. #5

    Re: An Heretical Idea For A New American Whiskey


    I have to say that I've yet to taste a Scotch that was as multidimensional and complex as a pour of George T. Stagg bourbon, and I've had my share of the good stuff.
    Okay, I can't take it any longer. I'm going to have to try the Stagg. I like Buffalo Trace, Bookers, and Woodford Reserve, but I've never had the Stagg. Let's hope I can find it in Sacramento.

    Greenbob

  6. #6
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    Re: An Heretical Idea For A New American Whiskey

    I agree with Gary. Also, the experiment suggested HAS been done, albeit for not quite as long as 20 years. Michter's Unblended Whiskey is a bourbon (or straight-type) whiskey mash aged in reused wood. The aging period is at least 7-8 years, long enough to compare it to Old Fettercairn or any malt of similar age. And 8 years is respectable for malt whisky, it acquires definite complexity at that age. The Michter's is good but not especially complex, nor would further years in barrel give it much more complexity since the barrel as Gary said is pretty much exhausted in terms of what it can give.

    Malt whisky is complex because of peat smoke and the Scottish weather (in my view) and also because a lot of malt whisky is aged in part in ex-sherry cask cooperage which adds another layer of flavour.

    I say nonetheless Bourbon, and of course any straight whiskey, aged in reused wood or no, can develop the complexity associated with malt whisky. The way to do it is through blending (or vatting if you will).

    Gary

  7. #7
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: An Heretical Idea For A New American Whiskey

    The result is that single malt Scotch is always more complex than Bourbon.
    Them's fighting words that I'm sure most of the contributors here won't grant. I sure won't.

    Each of the world's whiskies has a style, a style born of tradition and necessity and, as much as anything else, coincidence and dumb luck. There's nothing wrong with trying new things, but as soon as you start shuffling the deck like that, there are a million other possible variations you could try too.

    Despite what people say about the new charred barrel requirement being a lumber industry boondoggle, the fact is that it is the effect of the new charred barrel on the spirit that is the defining characteristic of American whiskey, whether it be bourbon, rye, Tennessee or even an American blend.

    If you think about it, if the used cooperage the scots are using is bourbon barrels in which bourbon was aged for, say, four years, then when a bourbon passes its fourth birthday it is being aged in "used" cooperage. I know, it's not the same as putting new make into a used barrel. There are three reasons that's not a great idea with a bourbon-recipe whiskey. (1) Kentucky weather, as already discussed. (2) The different taste profile of a corn vs. malted barley distillate. (3) The relatively higher proof of distillation of scottish malt whiskies. If you correct for those things by (1) aging in Seattle, (2) using barley instead of corn, (3) distilling out at high proof, then you're making scotch. What's the point?

    I guess this is a good idea only if one buys the original premise, which is that scotch is more complex than bourbon, which I absolutely do not.

  8. #8
    Bourbonian of the Year 2003 and Super Moderator
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    Re: An Heretical Idea For A New American Whiskey

    but I've never had the Stagg. Let's hope I can find it in Sacramento.


    Jim's got plenty of it, and he practically invited you for a drink in another thread.............

  9. #9
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    Re: An Heretical Idea For A New American Whiskey

    Good evening greenbob,

    I have to respectfully disagree. I hosted a tasting earlier this evening which began with a Mortloch expression aged for 12 years in first fill Sherry casks and bottled by Murray-McDavid at 92 proof. After a few flights (I threw in Powers Irish as a ringer) we concluded with Elijah Craig 12 year at 94 proof.

    The consensus of the group, which easily has more than 100 years of collective tasting experience, was that Craig was the full equal in complexity of any preceeding expression. That together with the information that a bottle could be had for less than $14.00 sent a few guys out the door saying, "I'm gonna get some of this".

    Regards,
    Squire

  10. #10
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    Re: An Heretical Idea For A New American Whiskey

    I'll try to be nice. Feel free to ask followup questions!
    I think you're a little mixed up with regard to style
    differences, and on top of that you're a little mixed up
    with regard to what the barrel does.

    > Used Bourbon barrels create a more complex whiskey.

    Hmmm... I think you're confusing the source of the complexity.

    > This is because the liquor can be aged longer in a used barrel.

    Not true. The older Van Winkles, the Stagg, etc. are fantastic
    aged longer.

    > Brand new barrels have too many chemicals in the wood for long
    > term aging. Long term aging in a new barrel would ruin the whiskey.

    I'll disagree there. New barrels have lots of "chemicals" that can
    overwhelm a light, delicate whiskey. It takes a more robust whiskey
    to compliment such flavors.

    > That's one reason why Bourbon barrels are charred; to neutralize some of the
    > chemicals in the wood.

    That's not true at all... as a matter of fact the opposite is true:
    charring makes it easier for the "chemicals" to make it out into the whiskey.

    >...
    > The purpose in all this would be to see what a more complex corn-rye whiskey
    > would taste like.

    I think that a lot of this complexity you're tasting in scotch comes from
    the fermentation and distillation... the whisky is designed in a way to
    compliment to used barrel. Raw distlled bourbon is crafted to have a much
    more robust flavor... it requires a charred barrel.


    Your underlying idea is a good one, though... perhaps a lighter American
    whiskey couuld be crafted, designed to be aged in used barrels.

    Tim Dellinger

 

 

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