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Thread: Why not today

  1. #1
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    Why not today

    I recently read a review that Chuck did on Very Very Old Fitzgerald. In that review Chuck offered that it was maybe the best bourbon ever produced. I was intrigued by the statement and PM'd Chuck with a couple of questions that he thought might generate some interest here.

    With what is known about yeast strains, recipes, storage conditions and other variables why can't it be made today? The knowledge at least collectively has to exist out there considering that some of the folks prominent in the industry today were either around or had direct ties to people with first hand knowledge of distillery environment, barrel construction and any other factor that went into making this such a super bourbon.

    Atlas could it be that it was just "one of those things"? I have my Grandma's homemade vanilla ice cream recipes right down to how much rock salt to put in the hand churn with crushed ice but I have yet to come anything close to the ice cream she used to make.

    Makes one ponder. Can't be too expensive to produce. Lord knows many of us would lay down the green to buy the stuff if it were available today. Just wondering if any of you had thoughts on the matter.

    Dave

  2. #2
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    Re: Why not today

    There are lots and lots (and lots) of variables to account for to reproduce a whiskey exactly.

    Lets work our way through some of those things that while individually they may seem minor, collectively add up. This is a long list to demonstrate how many variables there are, but is not meant to be exhaustive.

    Okay we got grain...amounts we'll assume we have written down, but what about:
    1. What strain of each grain
    2 How has that strain changed over the years?
    3 Where was it grown, what was the weather like that year
    4. How mature was it when harvested, how was it processed, shipped, graded?
    5. Milling, I'll assume we know what type of mill was used, but how worn out was it at this point in its life?

    Yeast? We might know the strain, might even have it, but:
    1. Yeast goes through cycles when kept alive, pitch-repitch, at what point in the cycle was it when they used it back then?
    2. This process even makes it more pure, how pure was the strain they used?

    Water...
    1. S-W used city water, IIRC, but regardless, how has that water source changed? More pollution, more processing to make safe.
    2 What was the temp of the water then, when it was pumped into the mash? longer to warm up if colder, longer at temp if warmer, changes how the grain extracts it's flavors

    Mashing...I assume we have a recipe and we know what mashtun was used
    1 How was heat applied, how quickly and in what quantity and of what temp
    2 How do you measure the ingredients by weight or volume? What if the grain is lower in water now than it was then, you get more volume for the same weight

    Fermenting:
    1 Anybody got any fermenters like they were using back then, I assume cypress
    2 Are those fermenters seasoned by having the same mash and yeast run through them all the time
    3 What was the weather like on the days this was fermenting?

    Distilling
    1 Can we set up a still to match the one in use then?
    2 Height/diameter/metallic composition/number of plates(including how each plate looked)/stage of life of the still
    3 Who was running the still that day, who was turning all the valves, controlling the temp, picking the cuts?
    4 What was the final distilling proof?

    Barreling
    1 At what proof was it barreled?
    2 what was the water like that it was cut with for barreling?
    3 Where was the wood from for the barrels?
    4 how old were those trees?
    5 What was the char? how accurately were they charred compared to now?

    Is this post gonna be a record length?

    Aging?..here we go...
    1 What rickhouses was it aged in/on what floors/was it rotated?
    2 Were those buildings heated?
    3 How full were they, more barrels=more thermal mass=less change in the temp of the whiskey in the barrel.
    4 What was the high and low temperature, humidity, cloud cover, how big were the trees around the rickhouse, nearby buildings that may cast shadows, amount of asphalt parking lots that may make for a localized warm spot...
    5 12 years=4383 days that you have to get right

    Each time you're off the least bit in the beginning it throws things off more and more the farther you go down the line. While duplicating one of the great bottles of bourbon is a noble pursuit, learning what made it and it's fellow great bourbons so wonderful in an attempt to make even greater bourbons seems like a much more interesting one to me...of course I'm still waiting for my Star Trek replicator so I can have all the worlds great whiskies whenever I want.

    Same thing happens in a smaller way with your ice cream recipe, milk isn't the same as it was even 5 years ago. More hormones are used, different types of feed, different processing(to make it so-called safe). You may be using a different brand of vanilla (or the brand may have changed the way they make it)...You may want to see if there is a nearby organic dairy farm that will sell direct to you.

    If you're still reading at this point, thanks. I hope this wasn't too boring or discouraging. There are some wonderful things being put out now, and with the newfound wealth that the super premiums are pumping into the industry, hopefully they will start using some of that money to inprove the processes to make even better whiskey in the future.
    2010 Bourbonian of the Year

    As long as you have good whiskey you're not "unemployed", you're "Funemployed!!!"

    I'm no Pappyophile

  3. #3
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    Re: Why not today

    All I have to say is awesome post, Timothy!!!! Talk about variables!!!!

  4. #4
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    Re: Why not today

    With all that said Timothy, I have always thought that with all the innovation that Buffalo Trace does you would think that they would want to try to duplicate the taste of Very Very Old Fitzgerald.
    Of course Heaven Hill owns the Old Fitzgerald name now so maybe that could be why they haven't tried.

    Hey Bettye Jo run it by Parker and Craig.
    ovh

  5. #5
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    Re: Why not today

    Timothy my hat is off to you brother! and yes that might be a record!

    I never thought this little tidd-bit of info would ever go any where but after reading your post and listening to a Dr. Walach tape years ago called dead doctors don't lie! He states the grains we grow today are not the same as those in the past. You see the Grains take minerals out of the soil and all the crop rotation in the world does not put it back! So one more factor would be when's the next glacial shift coming thru? Because the dropped the minerals in the soil and the last time I checked farmer were not putting them back!

    I'm still in awe of the factor list you put together! Just a (not so) small post to show the stellar knowledge of the board members!

    Cheers!
    "So long as the presence of death lurks with anyone who goes through the simple act of swallowing, I will make mine whiskey"

  6. #6
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    Re: Why not today

    This has got to be a first. Everyone that has posted in this thread is actually active (logged in)! I've never seen it before.

  7. #7
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    Re: Why not today

    Quote Originally Posted by NickAtMartinis View Post
    I've never seen it before.
    Hell, we just got started.
    ovh

  8. #8
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    Re: Why not today

    Awesome Tim. Great post. Just goes to show that increased technology does not necessarily mean better results. I agree and hope as well that the great bourbons of today can be improved to even better bourbons tomorrow. I knew the answer wasn't a simple one and I appreciate your taking the time to provide some insight.

    Dave

  9. #9
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    Re: Why not today

    Quote Originally Posted by Tennessee Dave View Post
    Awesome Tim. Great post. Just goes to show that increased technology does not necessarily mean better results. I agree and hope as well that the great bourbons of today can be improved to even better bourbons tomorrow. I knew the answer wasn't a simple one and I appreciate your taking the time to provide some insight.

    Dave

    Dave, I just wanted to let you know that all the information in Timothy's (Barturtle) above post was provided by me. I was going to let him take all the credit but why should he bask in the glory when it's me who is the genius?

  10. #10
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    Re: Why not today

    I already had that part figured out Nick

 

 

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