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Thread: Why Kentucky?

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  1. #1
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    Why Kentucky?

    While going through some old files at work this morning I found an interesting bit of information that should shed some light on Why Kentucky is famous for great whiskey. It is a 27 Juy 1888 testamony before a House Committee (unfortunately it does not say what committee it has "H. Rep. 4165_1 at the bottom of each page). It is from several distillers from Kentucky and starts with testamony from John M. Atherton. In his testamony he talks about how whiskey is made and that bourbon is about 30% small grains (rye and malt) and 70% corn. The grain comes from the west, Iowa in particular for corn and the barrels are made from white oak from Kentucky and Indiana and can only be used once (yes this is 1888). The most intersting thing is his answer to a question about whiskey in which he defines "Kentucky Whiskey" Here is his answer:

    "To be definitely understood with reference to Kentucky whiskey, I may be permitted to say that by the term in the trade "Kentucky Whiskey", we mean, and the trade understands us to mean, a whiskey made for aging; a whiskey that is not intended to be consumed as soon as it is produced. That distinction defines the two great families of whiskey, so to speak, one for aging and the other for not aging. The latter is fit for use as soon as it is produced as it is afterwards, Under that category comes the great production of the United States - alcohol, cologne spirits and redistilled whiskey. Nearly all of that whiskey is made north of the Ohio River, and very little of it, comparatively speaking, is made in the State of Kentucky. THere is a little made in the Stae of Kentucky along the Ohio River, principally in the city of Covington, and having its center of operations in the city of Cincinatti, across the river. But by the term "Kentucky Whiskey" we mean whiskey made to be aged; to remain in a storage warehouse until then. It remains in the warehouse until the time it becomes fit to drink. It remains in the bonded warehouse until the dealers withdraw it for the trade. There is some little of the better grade of Kentucky whiskey that is taken out of bond and goes into consumption when it is fifteen months old, but it is a very small quantity. The consumption of thet whiskey does not largely begin until it has pased through its third summer. The age of the whiskey in the trade is regulated by summers. If it has passed through three summers it is three years old. After it has passed a third summer they begin to use it freely, but a good deal of it is not stored until four, five, six or seven years old. Then of course it is stored as tax paid whiskey."

    The bonding period at this time was three years meaning the distiller had to pay the tax at the end of three years and swallow the angel's share as far as taxes were concerned. I think this sheds some light on why Kentucky has its reputation and that is because of aged whiskey.
    Mike Veach


  2. #2
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    Re: Why Kentucky?

    O.K., I guess judging by your silence that I am the only history geek who got excited by this definition of Kentucky Whiskey. Even so I am going force you to endure yet some more testamony from John Atherton. Just stay with me for a while.

    "The first step in the manufacture of whiskey, after the supplies are procured, is to grind the corn. Then it undergoes vinous fermentation. In Kentucky all our fine whiskies are made by the distillers by using two stills and two worms. That which goes through the first still and through the worm connected with the first still is called low wine, or, in old fashioned language, "singlings". It is low proof spirits."
    Q. Below 50? - A. From 45 to 65. It depends upon the success with which the fermentation has been conducted and the percentage of alcohol in the tub before it has been distilled at all. The then low wine is put into the copper still, the fire being made either with wood or coal, and a second distillation occurs, and the product of that second distillation passes through a second worm as whisky and goes to the receiving cistern which is under lock and key of the storekeeper or the gauger. Of course the first that comes from that second distillation will range in proof as high as 150, because all the distillation is mechanical and depends upon the fact that the vapor of alcohol goes over at a lower temperature than the vapor of water, and the first vapor that goes over when the heat is applied and when the temperature gets to 180 is alcoholic vapor; and as the heat increases and the alcoholic vapor disappears the the spirit is lower proof. In Kentucky the rule is, with our fine whisky generally, to continue the distillationin the copper still or the second distillation until the proof averages in the receiving cistern about 105. It is then reduced with water to 101 or 102 and barreled."

    The next time you hear a distiller claim that they still make it the same way they always made it, quote this passage to them. An entry proof of 101 or 102 with a distillation proof of 105. The bourbon made like this would have flavors we can only dream about.

    Mike Veach


  3. #3
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    Re: Why Kentucky?

    "... The bourbon made like this would have flavors we can only dream about."

    Ah yes, but are you certain they would not be nightmares? Some of the flavors that carry over at 105 proof might not be ones I'd like in my bourbon. And one group of flavors I enjoy derives from the oak of the barrel itself; would there be less of that with whiskey of only 101 proof to extract it? Ask Lincoln H.; I'll bet he already knows by now!

    "O.K., I guess judging by your silence that I am the only history geek who got excited by this definition of Kentucky Whiskey... "

    Not at all. NOT AT ALL. I'm still reeling over some of the implications of your previous post. I'm just not ready to respond yet. Maybe it's too much for a single response (even from me!) I'll probably slip bits'n'pieces into other responses as time goes by. I already did in a message to Chuck that managed to get accidently posted in here (by me, not Chuck), and you & I have hinted at it in face-to-face conversations before. It involves a sacreligeous question: Has Bourbon always been known as a type of whiskey, or was it originally a unique liquor of its own?

    Yup, that post requires an evening together at D.Marie's to really do it justice -- just what days will you be in town next week, anyway?

    =John=
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

  4. #4
    The Boss
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    Re: Why Kentucky?

    Perhaps a question to ask here is whether the flavor components of bourbon that are derived from the wooden barrel are predominently water or alcohol soluble. Certainly oils are more readily put into solution in alcohol, but there must be flavor components that are water soluble as well.


    Cheers,

    Jim Butler
    Straightbourbon.com

  5. #5
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    Re: Why Kentucky?

    Good point. The water-soluble components would still be there. In fact, since the strength of the solvent agent (water in this case) would be increased somewhat (less alcohol = more water) there might even be an increase in those. At any rate, I guess another question would be, IF the balance of wood-derived flavors is affected, would that small a difference in the water/alcohol ratio be noticeable? After 4 - 20 years of barrel aging, I wouldn't be surprised if it is.

    =John=
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

  6. #6
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    Re: Why Kentucky?

    John,
    Later in the same testamony John Atherton states that the barrels were 43 gallon barrels. If you have ever seen one of these older barrels they are more narrow than modern barrels but very similar to them in size. I suspect that these barrels gave even more exposure to the would from the less alcohol in them. I still say I would love to have some bourbon made under these standards.
    Mike Veach


  7. #7
    The Boss
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    Re: Why Kentucky?

    Mike,
    Are you saying that these older barrels are taller and narrower than a modern barrel, but similar in shape? 43 gallons is an odd damn size, and a prime number to boot.

    Of course this is a subject for another thread, but I'd be willing to bet that the barrel shape has more to do with convenience of the coopers than maximization of interior surface area. If interior surface area were a real big deal, the barrels would be as nearly spherical as the coopers could make them (and perhaps they are already) ... an interesting thought however.


    Cheers,

    Jim Butler
    Straightbourbon.com

  8. #8
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Why Kentucky?

    For what it's worth, remember that the barrel was not only an aging container but also a shipping container. Most whiskey was sold in barrels until around the turn of the century.

    Its suitability as a shipping container was also a consideration in its design.

    This raises another question. Does anyone know if those barrels were simply pulled from the warehouse and shipped as is (in other words, single barrel whiskey) or were they "topped off."

    --Chuck Cowdery

  9. #9
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    Re: Why Kentucky?

    Chuck,
    I have seen pre-prohibition shipping invoices for whiskey barrels with similar but different gallons content, so I would assume the barrel was not "topped off before shipping.
    Mike Veach


  10. #10
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Why Kentucky?

    Were they also volumes that appeared to be 5 to 15% less than the barrel's capacity?

    --Chuck Cowdery

 

 

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