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  1. #1
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    Charcoal Filtering of Bourbon

    Up until I found this site I assumed that the designation "Charcoal Filtered", as printed on some bourbon labels, means much more than it really does.

    An industry insider once described to me privately the rationale for applying that term.

    Today while researching the use of 500 ml. bottles to bottle bourbon I happened upon a site that includes a picture of charcoal filtering as applied to bourbon. (Scroll past the Maker's Mark photo.) The picture matches the description I received. It's a far cry from the Lincoln County process used for Tennessee whiskey, not that that's a bad thing.

    Perhaps there's a syntactical issue here. Isn't the act of filtering charcoal out of the bourbon as deserving of the term as the act of filtering bourbon through charcoal?

    Does anyone know whether there are other forms of charcoal filtering as applied to bourbon?

    Yours truly,
    Dave Morefield
    Yours truly,
    Dave Morefield

    Dog Lover, Euphonium Player, Campfire Guitarist, Marksman,

  2. #2
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    I saw that Heaven Hill dumping line and the charcoal in the trough below the barrels, was, I was told, charcoal that fell out of the barrel. This is not I believe what a final charcoal filtering usually is. Usually it is a final polishing through activated charcoal, a quick process (compared to the Lincoln County process) that is meant to filter out certain solids that would cause the whiskey to cloud below certain temperatures or in some atmospheric conditions.

    I put my hand (with invitation) under a stream such as you see flowing from the HH barrel. It was great.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 03-28-2006 at 14:49.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by bluesbassdad
    Does anyone know whether there are other forms of charcoal filtering as applied to bourbon?
    I think that much/most bourbon is charcoal filtered at some point or another. I think I have read somewhere that some/most finished bourbon is charcoal filtered. Can't remember where.

    Here is one documentation of white dog being charcoal filtered, from The Book of Classic American Whiskeys by Waymack and Harris (1995), p. 137:

    As we walked from the still to the cistern room, we noticed a couple of metal pails, each nearly full of what looks like a gritty black powder with a small handful of a white power thrown on top. Though we gave visited many distilleries, this is something we had never seen before, or since. We asked one of the workmen and we got the beginning of an answer:

    "Oh, those? Yeah, they go in the dog before it goes to the barrels."

    We started to develop a hunch, a hunch that we later tested over lunch with bil Samuels. Samuels straightforwardly explained that the stuff is mostly carbon, ground pure charcoal, that is stirred into the spirit as it collects in the cistern. Its purpose is to act as a kind of filter, like an activated charcoal filter. The carbon absorbs some of the more volatile and (at least in the maker's Mark philosophy) undesireable cogeners.

    Perhaps we were simply not observant enough, but we never saw this done at any other Bourbon distillery ...
    I've found Waymack and Harris to have made been a little shaky in their reporting (been a while since I read them, though, so I can't remember any specifics), but there seems no reason to doubt this.

    Interestingly, many labels claim to be charcoal filtered, but not MM.

    I'll look further in my library so see if I can find any reference to the subject.

    Jeff
    "One never knows, do one?" Fats Waller, American Musician, 1904-1943

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by JeffRenner
    Interestingly, many labels claim to be charcoal filtered, but not MM.
    Jeff
    Jeff

    I've always wondered about Kentucky Straight Bourbons that state they are charcoal filtered - and could not determine what the difference is between them and non-bourbons like Jack Daniels.

    I can name one off my shelf - Ezra Brooks black label 90 proof sour mash.

    What others can you recall ?

    Grant

  5. #5
    Bourbonian of the Year 2010 and Guru
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    Jack Daniels and George Dickel are filtered though 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal BEFORE aging which is what makes them not bourbon. Ezra and others are filtered though minimal amounts of charcoal(most likely activated charcoal) AFTER aging.
    2010 Bourbonian of the Year

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  6. #6
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    Evidently now the new bottles of Old Fitz 1849 (that no longer state it is 8 year's old) proclaim that it is charcoal filtered.

    I just assumed it (and other such mentions) are a marketing gimmick - like the words "SOUR MASH" on Evan Williams 7 yr and other bourbons - designed to appeal to the casual drinker who has heard that Jack Daniels is charcoal filtered (or sour mash) and might be willing to try something else that meets this "high" production standard.
    -Dan

    Who stole the cork from my breakfast?

  7. #7
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    This is very interesting to me.

    I have not ever thought about which Bourbons are charcoal filtered or not.

    One thing I think the Lincoln County Process does to JD is overpower it with an overbearing charcoal taste. I have always wondered how good JD might be if this step were missed out? To my mind all the good taste of the Whiskey straight from the wood is "tainted."

    Does George Dickle go through this same process or is it unique to JD?

    I know GD12 is not to everyones taste but I think it is a super drop, I find none of the overpowering charcoal taste in GD, or any Kentucky Bourbon.

  8. #8
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    George Dickel does go through the Lincoln County Process before being barrelled - I believe that's a requirement to be labeled Tennessee Whiskey.

    I agree that Dickel No. 12 is far superior to JD.
    -Dan

    Who stole the cork from my breakfast?

  9. #9
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    Thanks Sijan!

    It's only when I come on here I realise I know virtually squat about my fave tipple!

  10. #10
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    As Sijan has already said, yes it's the same process, but . . .

    Back in the late 70's or early 80's I had the good fortune to get out of Los Angeles for a few days to visit our good ol' boy customers in Huntsville (or "Huntsv'l", as pronounced locally), Alabama. Over drinks one evening I asked one of them about local tourist attractions, over and above the space and missile stuff. Within minutes a plan was in place whereby we would arise early the next day, drive 30 miles to a renowned roadside cafe to have a genuine country breakfast (ham, eggs, grits, biscuits, gravy, honey and assorted jams -- approaching 3,000 calories, as I recall), and then drive on to both the Jack Daniel's and George Dickel distilleries.

    I have reported elsewhere on other aspects of those tours. However, the thing that sticks in my mind is the difference between the manner of implementation of the Lincoln County process at the two facilities.

    At JD they stacked and burned the maple wood themselves to make charcoal. While the whiskey was seeping through the charcoal-filled vat, it was tasted daily by a panel of three tasters. If any one of them found the taste to be "off", the spigot was closed immediately, and the entire contents of the vat, whiskey and all, were discarded.

    At GD they bought the charcoal from some other company. A sample of the output of the vats was taken once a week and sent to a lab in Nashville for chemical analysis. If the test failed, then no more distillate would be added to the vat. However, the whiskey already in the vat was allowed to drain, to be used in production, before the spent charcoal was discarded.

    From the standpoint of good ol' boy image, it was JD 1, GD nil.

    I probably made too much of that difference, but my allegiance to Jack Daniel's at that time grew even stronger.

    Yours truly,
    Dave Morefield
    Last edited by bluesbassdad; 03-29-2006 at 15:58.
    Yours truly,
    Dave Morefield

    Dog Lover, Euphonium Player, Campfire Guitarist, Marksman,

 

 

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