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Gillman

Bourbon Was Long-Aged Before The Civil War

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Gillman

There is a tendency to think that bourbon and rye were very young, primitive drinks before the Civil War. 

In fact, the opposite was true, as this new research shows here: http://www.beeretseq.com/most-antebellu ... -aged-not/

The minimum acceptable age was six years and fine whiskey ranged from 10-20 years old - not just as a curiosity, or one-off, but an established practice.

Gary

 

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tanstaafl2
6 hours ago, Gillman said:

There is a tendency to think that bourbon and rye were very young, primitive drinks before the Civil War. 

In fact, the opposite was true, as this new research shows here: http://www.beeretseq.com/most-antebellu ... -aged-not/

The minimum acceptable age was six years and fine whiskey ranged from 10-20 years old - not just as a curiosity, or one-off, but an established practice.

Gary

 

 

Where the barrels of that day always new? You probably have already addressed this but it has slipped my mind!

 

Even if charred or recharred (perhaps to a lower degree than todays 3 or 4 char levels?) it is probably not unreasonable to think that bourbon might take longer to maturity in used oak than in new oak, even in the hotter Kentucky climate.

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whiskey buyer

Did you know that bourbon was used during the civil war to preserve body parts for transport to Washington DC to be studied by medical science?

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Gillman
18 hours ago, tanstaafl2 said:

 

Where the barrels of that day always new? You probably have already addressed this but it has slipped my mind!

 

Even if charred or recharred (perhaps to a lower degree than todays 3 or 4 char levels?) it is probably not unreasonable to think that bourbon might take longer to maturity in used oak than in new oak, even in the hotter Kentucky climate.

 

 

Bruce, it's a good question. I think some of the barrels used by some producers either were not charred or were charred but re-used, which may have facilitated longer aging without a bad effect on palate (like malt whisky is aged, say). 

 

If you look at my post today, in 1914 Tennessee's Robertson County whiskey was described as aged in "charred barrels" for "four years" but only had a "faint" tint. How can that be? I think perhaps at the time, those barrels may have been re-used, or, perhaps they were new but charred in a way to impart only light colour, where the red layer was not created 100%.

 

I did find a reference whiskey barrels generally which suggested they were charred and used only new by makers of traditional whiskey, but that was much later in the century, and may have applied mainly to Kentucky.

 

Gary

 

 

Edited by Gillman

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Harry in WashDC

Gary, I've also wondered about the "charred" vs. "toasted" distinction and wondered when it became formalized (chars 1 through 4, etc.) vs. "toasted" as they do in Scotland and what, really, is the difference between char and toast.  Chuck wrote about this in his books (as have some others SBers), but I don't think he (or the other SBers) went into detail on this in their books.  Do you know whether the French, who have been distilling and aging brandies, etc., for centuries (uh, engaging in the practice of, not warehousing them for . . .) toasted or charred barrels before or between uses?  Asked a different way, have you seen any indication that charring or toasting was an iterative practice for the purpose of coloring rather than flavoring early on?  Any ida when it became widespread?  Also, any idea if "sterilizing/cleaning/stripping/etc." was mentioned as the reason for charring/toasting back then? 

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Gillman

Harry, from what I can tell, in France, barrels are deep-toasted for Cognac and I'd guess Armagnac, but not charred as for bourbon here. Also, even these toasted barrels aren't used 100%, they use a mix of barrels, some with light toast or no toast, to get the effect they want. Some years ago I asked a distiller of brandy about this in California, he confirmed what I said. 

 

When you char the barrel you create a red layer and toasting doesn't do that. It is the red layer which colours and flavours the whiskey. The carbon itself does not, hence e.g. the Tennessee whiskey still being white after a passage through a maple charcoal stack. Same with vodka filtered through wood charcoal.

 

Only the Americans have charred barrels in this way for whiskey.

 

Early references to charring, e.g. Samuel M'Harry, do refer to cleansing and sterilizing (in effect), but they talk about vessels to mash or ferment, not barrels to hold finished whiskey. Some theorize, I believe Carson included, that whiskey may have been stored in disused vessels used for fermenting or mashing and people saw the dramatic change. Others think grocers hit on the idea, possibly by accident, by noting that barrels in their cellar which were new-charred had an extra-good effect on the whiskey. 

 

I think given that in 1808 a European scientist advises to store spirits in charred barrels, and given the earlier experiments by Berthelet and Lovitz, this probably stimulated the practice, not just in Kentucky, but elsewhere where distilling occurred in America. When they saw that the barrel needed to be new for best effect, probably only America went that direction since it had a very large wood supply at the time. I doubt Europe was going to do that when e.g. most of the oak covering the U.K. had been cut down to make ships for the Navy in Elizabeth's time, etc.

Edited by Gillman

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Gillman

Harry on the point of when the numbering system for different char levels started, I haven't seen any reference to this in 19th century sources. I think it is something that probably started later. What I did find though, and I'll write it up soon, suggests that most straight whiskey distillers used charred barrels only once. Even when the law didn't require it for what we now call bourbon, they were doing that. Some were not, but these were a small minority of distillers and the case I saw where this existed was in PA, it was smaller distillers trying to save money on barrel purchases.

 

You may recall that the old Michter's, for its Original Sour Mash, sometimes used re-used barrels, which is probably an echo of that older practice, perhaps even one limited to PA. Although I don't rule out some Kentucky distillers of reputed whiskeys used re-used barrels, it's possible.

 

It was a way to save money and still compete against the efficiencies of the large distillers. But the point being, straight whiskey used new charred barrels typically in the 1800s just as now it must by law.

 

Gary

Edited by Gillman

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tanstaafl2

Cognac (and Armagnac as well) uses both new toasted French oak barrels and used toasted French oak barrels for aging, presumably reused cognac barrels and other used wine casks of different sorts, also made of French oak. I have a cognac finished in Sauternes for example. It usually is moved form new to used barrels as it ages as well. I think Cognac especially can only be made from oak trees of specific species from the Limousin forest region, hence the term Limousin oak. They can also be various sizes depending on the tradition of the individual houses, some of which can be much larger than the standard bourbon barrel. 

 

Unlike whisky from Ireland or Scotland it is likely rare if ever that Cognac and other French brandies use ex-bourbon casks. Not as sure about brandy from other regions of the world.

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Gillman
36 minutes ago, tanstaafl2 said:

Cognac (and Armagnac as well) uses both new toasted French oak barrels and used toasted French oak barrels for aging, presumably reused cognac barrels and other used wine casks of different sorts, also made of French oak. I have a cognac finished in Sauternes for example. It usually is moved form new to used barrels as it ages as well. I think Cognac especially can only be made from oak trees of specific species from the Limousin forest region, hence the term Limousin oak. They can also be various sizes depending on the tradition of the individual houses, some of which can be much larger than the standard bourbon barrel. 

 

Unlike whisky from Ireland or Scotland it is likely rare if ever that Cognac and other French brandies use ex-bourbon casks. Not as sure about brandy from other regions of the world.

 

 

All makes sense and consistent to what I know.

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jsrudd
On 7/14/2016 at 0:22 AM, Gillman said:

 

 

Bruce, it's a good question. I think some of the barrels used by some producers either were not charred or were charred but re-used, which may have facilitated longer aging without a bad effect on palate (like malt whisky is aged, say).

Do you know anything about the barrel entry proof?

 

I believe the barrel entry proof was much lower, which would support the idea that used or un-charred barrels must have been used. I doubt that a whiskey put in the barrel at 100 proof would end up drinkable after 20 years in a new charred oak barrel. 

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Gillman
9 hours ago, jsrudd said:

Do you know anything about the barrel entry proof?

 

I believe the barrel entry proof was much lower, which would support the idea that used or un-charred barrels must have been used. I doubt that a whiskey put in the barrel at 100 proof would end up drinkable after 20 years in a new charred oak barrel. 

 

The entry and distillation proofs would have been low, but that is true of some American whiskey today, I had some Four Roses that was distilled out and entered quite low, others here know the details. Not sure how it would taste in 10 and 20 years, but ORVW and Hirsch famously have many supporters around those ages... It's hard to say. I've just posted an article which cites two news accounts of the (later) 1800s which supports the fact that new charred barrels were mostly used.

 

Still, each estate/producer would have had his own tricks, we can't rule out anything.

 

Gary

Edited by Gillman

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