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Thread: Why Kentucky?

  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,
    I am free any night next week. Just let me know when and I will be glad to meet you at the D.'s.
    As far as the low proof, simply look at Wild Turkey. They have a low entry proof but I don't know what the distillation proof of their high wines is. I would think that the grain flavor would come through very strong in Mr. Atherton's whiskey but I do not think it would overpower the barrel flavor.
    Mike Veach


  7. #7
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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


  8. #8
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    Re: Why Kentucky?

    Mike,
    We'll be in Bardstown and Louisville Wednesday and Thursday. Our scheduling is totally wing-ding, as we can't seem to get any committments about anything. We're trying to arrange a visit with Even Kulsveen, but he won't say whether or when he might be around. We might get a chance to see Bettye Jo, but she hasn't gotten back to us yet. We're going out to dinner at Dagwood's with BrendaJ, but we can't even give her an answer as to which night yet. I think she's going up to Willett with us. And now that she's dug up Jim Razzino's McKendric number in Louisville, I'm going to try to set something up with him. I think we'll do Louisville things on Wednesday, drive to Bardstown and stay Wednesday night there, and do Bardstown things on Thursday, so how does Wednesday evening sound to you?

    I believe Wild Turkey comes of the still around 107 proof, doubles to a bit over 120, and is reduced back to around the original 107 at barreling. And SOMETHING certainly gives all their bourbon a distinctively different flavor.

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

  9. #9
    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

  10. #10
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    Re: Why Kentucky?

    Mike,

    Interesting point about the barrel sizes. By my rough calculations, bourbon aged in a 43 gallon barrel would be exposed to an additional 4 square inches of wood per gallon compared to a normal 53 gallon barrel.

    For those of you dieing to know ([IMG]/wwwthreads/images/smile.gif[/IMG] ... What can I say, I'm an engineer..)
    A 53 gallon barrel has a contact/gallon ratio of 39 square inches/gallon.
    A 43 gallon barrel has a contact/gallon ratio of 43 square inches/gallon.

    Bill
    http://home.kc.rr.com/mashbill/

 

 

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