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  1. #1
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    Bourbon chemistry

    Hi folks,

    First time poster, fairly long time reader. Eagle Rare 10 and 17 and Elmer T. Lee are my current poisons.

    That scene in Ian Fleming's Goldfinger - the one where Goldfinger complains about fusel oils and such in Napoleon brandy, preferring vodka because it's filtered through activated charcoal - got me thinking.

    Has anyone ever done chemical analysis of whiskey? I notice also that if I leave a drop or two in the glass overnight, that as it evaporates some solids precipitate out - they seem to have that charred woody flavor to them when tasted. Chemists can do magic to run things down columns and identify them - check out this article on coffee chemistry - but I've never seen anything similar for whiskey.

    I searched through the forum archives but didn't find what I was looking for. I figured if anyone would know, you guys would!

  2. #2
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Hi, oh absolutely this has been done for whiskey and all spirits.

    A number of textbooks exist devoted to commercial spirits production which e.g., show curves on which the volatility point of various constituents of a mash are plotted. Numerous congeners (the non-alcohol constituents) have been identified and the same for new make and matured whiskey. Check for these books on Amazon. One was authored in part by a Mr. Murtagh of which extracts were posted at www.scocia.com by a student at Heriot-Watt, a renowned school of distillery and brewing studies in Scotland. I've found the chapter on vodka production particularly good but all the extracts posted, including on bourbon production, are fascinating, I plan to buy this text in fact.

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 09-09-2006 at 19:43.

  3. #3
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    The book extracts are certainly interesting, but quotes like:


    The wheat and good, consistent control of all factors, especially the barrels, make Maker's Mark the smoothest of the bourbons.
    tend to raise one's eyebrows.






  4. #4
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    I tend to be skeptical as soon as anyone uses the word "smooth." I have found it to be a word no one can really define, that people use to describe whiskey they like, because they think it is an attribute good whiskey is supposed to have.

  5. #5
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    I do not recall seeing the terms smooth and Maker's mentioned in the book I referred to recently, I must have missed those references.

    Gary

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by cowdery
    I tend to be skeptical as soon as anyone uses the word "smooth." I have found it to be a word no one can really define, that people use to describe whiskey they like, because they think it is an attribute good whiskey is supposed to have.
    Same here. Sideways look one eyebrow half raised, thinking: Does this guy know what he's talking about ?
    Cheers,

    Sion (AKA Bamber).

  7. #7
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    The quote is from this document:

    http://www.scocia.com/newsite/American_Whiskey.pdf.pdf

    on page 215.

    I don't know when that book was written. It may well have been twenty years ago or more, in any event before the proliferation of premium bourbons. Were other bourbons noted for being "smooth" back then? (Not that "smooth" is the first word that would leap to mind when I think of Maker's.)

  8. #8
    Bourbonian of the Year 2011
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    Thanks Chuck, reading this again reminded me what a superb article it is.

    I tend to agree with you about the Maker's comment. It was written obviously some time ago. But also, even today many hold a high opinion of Maker's. Clearly the author thinks highly of them and that opinion is deserving of respect since he is clearly very knowledgeable about whiskey and its production. Nor can one say he is not appreciative of the distinctive flavors of bourbon. Note at the end he states that the taste of bourbon has "bravado", a fine short summary of it to be sure!

    Gary
    Last edited by Gillman; 09-12-2006 at 08:42.

  9. #9
    Connoisseur
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    Is anyone familiar with the book cited in the references titled "the social history of bourbon"?
    Craig

  10. #10
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    The Social History of Bourbon: An Unhurried Account of Our Star-Spangled American Drink, by Gerald Carson (The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1963)

    Back in the early 1980s, when Early Times was being repositioned from a bourbon to a Kentucky Whisky, and they changed the bottle and label, they also hired a new advertising agency. The agency did some research into the attributes drinkers expect in a whiskey and the word that was regarded as the highest praise was "smooth," so the new advertising for Early Times included a slogan that touted its smoothness. I don't remember the exact wording.

    Bamber summed up my attitude exactly. "Smooth" tends to be something people say because they thinks it is what they are supposed to say after they drink good whiskey. As near as I can tell, it actually refers to mildness, or an absence of burn, rather than any textural sensation as you might imagine if you, well, know what the word means.

    We probably should put up a sticky to let newbies know that if they use the terms "smooth" or "smoothness," they will be mocked.

 

 

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