A demise of rye and its rebirth

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Oct 07, 2009 10:25 am

Thanks for that comment and it is true (I now recall) that rye in Maryland at least was said to be sweet mash only, I believe Bready stated this in his 1990 article. Perhaps this was true of Pennsylvania as well. However, since the mid-1800's, I have understood that in Kentucky generally both rye and bourbon were subjected to the same process of sour mashing, and I was referring in my notes above to the Kentucky concept of straight whiskey. Perhaps because rye only occasionally is distilled today, it means it needs to use a sweet mash (unless bourbon stillage is added by the distilleries to a rye mash, that I don't know), but in the days when rye distilling was much more common I would have thought it was sour mash (again in Kentucky) just as bourbon was.

If that is not so, I take back what I said on that point, but I will state as well that sour mashing is not essential to the identity of bourbon - this is so for 2 reasons, first, some bourbon in the past was made with sweet mash, second, having tasted recently a sweet mash bourbon (1838 from Woodford) I do not detect anything in it that takes away from its bourbon identity.

It is interesting to read some of the old literature on rye whiskey, I'll try to find some relevant to this discussion.

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Oct 07, 2009 11:59 am

Gary is of course right on his observations. The sour mash process is not required to make bourbon and I know for a fact that at least some rye in the past was made using the sour mash process.
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Oct 07, 2009 12:04 pm

Here is one source interesting for its stats:

http://books.google.com/books?id=RnnNAA ... ky&f=false

It shows (and other evidence from this period and after does) that "bourbon" generally meant whiskey made mostly from corn, and rye whiskey was the term used to denote a straight whiskey made mostly from rye. One can see that rye in Kentucky was made in the 1860's to the tune of some 15% of bourbon production, certainly a minority but not inconsiderable and the report noted it was growing.

The two types were not viewed as interchangeable, but my point is simply that rye whiskey has been made in Kentucky for a very long time, by people that made bourbon too and they both come out of the same tradition. Old Crow was available in both bourbon and rye versions and both were made by a sour mash process based on earlier sources I've found although I can't put my finger on them now. Thanks Mike for your observations though which accord with my memory of what I read, at least for some brands.

Also, I was speaking from a broader historical standpoint: Kentucky bourbon and rye use the same ingredients and the flavour shifts as the relative proportions change, but it is all on a continuum, just as one bourbon which uses more rye than another will taste more rye-ish so to speak but is still bourbon. It is all straight whiskey and the regulatory code recognizes them as variants in effect.

This is not to say that a lot of rye whiskey, and clearly some bourbon, was made by a sweet mash process.

It gets confusing because as we've discussed here before, sour mash itself seemed to change meaning over time. I recall in that article by Charles Gallagher I posted some time back, and we know too from materials Mike Veach has referenced, that sour mashing originally meant a yeasting process apparently via slops or with their aid (i.e., no fresh yeast added as is always done today).

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Oct 07, 2009 12:16 pm

Jeff, I too would be interested in Mike's and others' observations.

From my reading of it, it is as you say, there was:

- sour yeasting, sometimes called yeasting back, which was literally using yeast from a prior batch to ferment the next

- sour mashing, which was and is adding slops to the mash for the next distillation and sometimes to the fermenter

- sweet yeasting, which is adding fresh yeast to each ferment - this is done today by everyone whether using jug or dried yeast

- sweet mashing, which is using only water to mash the goods with.

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Oct 07, 2009 12:29 pm

Gary,
Once again you are correct in that the term "Sour Mash" has had multiple meanings over the past two centuries. In fact what you have refered to as "Sour Yeasting" has been refered to as "sour mashing" in the past. Look at the 1818 Catherine Carpenter document from the Kentucky Historical Society and she is describing a sour yeasting as a sour mash.

viewtopic.php?f=17&t=4096
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Oct 07, 2009 1:37 pm

Mike thanks and for linking that again. I find it hard to understand! Where does the yeast come from in her sour mash? It must be a wild ferment. This must have been the small tub method, the original sour mashing.

The sweet mash seems odd too. How could slops be an alternate to yeasty beer (and I think she meant distillers beer here not regular beer) or fresh yeast? Slops have no live yeast in them. Again it must have been a wild ferment in such case.

Is Dave Pickerel reading here? His analysis would be most interesting.

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby tmckenzie » Wed Oct 07, 2009 6:51 pm

I ain't Dave, but here is my analysis from experience. I would imagine the mention of slop has changed too over the years. The slop to start a fermentaion would have to be mash that had already fermented or was fermenting. The only reason for backset really, is to adjust ph. Ideal at setting is about, in my experience is 4.5 to 4.2. Most distilleries use a sliding scale instead of a set amount of backset. I would imagine all rye has been sour mashed, meaning backset or stillage added to the mash at the time of adding malt and prior to setting the fermenter. Alot of rye made in Pa, and Maryland, from what I understand was mainly rye and barley malt, with no corn. There is no need to boil rye, like you do corn. Most would heat it up to 146 to 150 and then add malt first then rye. The reason to make it sour is, that at that low a temperature, lactobacillus has not been killed by heat, therefore you need to drop the ph to a level that kills or inhibits lactobacillus, or the lactobacillus will drop the ph so far that it will inhibit the yeast. Do you follow me?
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Thu Oct 08, 2009 9:02 am

Yes, Tom, thanks for that, most interesting. I still wonder about slops though, and whether it might have meant a true stillage, which perhaps encouraged a wild ferment if they had no other way to kickstart it.

Anyway here is an ad about a whiskey I have shared with Chuck, Henry McKenna, made in Fairfield, Nelson County, in the early 1960's or late 50's (at pg. 23 of the magazine):

http://books.google.com/books?id=S1QEAA ... q=&f=false

I find the claimed features about the small-scale production interesting, especially the notes about corn being late harvested and crib-dried. To Tom and other other distillers (craft or other) have you ever heard of this? Note their claim that flavors from the husks enter the kernels.

I believe that was true because I recall the whiskey having a full but dryish, stalky like taste. It was a wheater, which would encourage that anyway (at a moderate age). Note too the claim of using small tubs 19th century style to mash, the "detached" tubs you read about in old literature. I think this is one case where the ad claims met the reality since I recall Chuck rating this whiskey very highly with which I agreed.

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Oct 09, 2009 8:59 am

Gary,
Henry McKenna was not a wheated bourbon.
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Oct 09, 2009 9:35 am

Mike, I thought it was, at one point, but perhaps not then. Today certainly the McKenna bonded (Single Barrel I believe, from HH) is a rye-recipe, I know.

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Oct 09, 2009 9:47 am

http://books.google.com/books?id=XUEEAA ... on&f=false

1970's ad for Henry McKenna referring to its practice of using yeast from a previous ferment to seed the next. This is an older form of sour mash, referred to the in the letter Mike posted and in later 1800's materials we have seen including the Charles Gallagher article.

I wonder, if literally they were yeasting back in this way, why the yeast would not ultimately become too exhausted for use, either in fermenting power or its taste qualities. Maybe there is another way to read this old kind of advertising. One thing I like about is its technical detail. Some distillers always gave a lot of that to readers, Schenley did as well from the 1930's onward.

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Oct 09, 2009 10:07 am

Gary,
You may have confused yourself because Stitzel and Weller represented the McKenna's and sold their whiskey for them during prohibition.
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby cowdery » Fri Oct 09, 2009 12:06 pm

I don't believe there is enough left at either Overholt or Schenley to be called a plant. Michter's distilled its last 20 years ago and it was the last one, so I doubt there is anything in Pennsylvania comparable to Medley in Owensboro, it terms of being capable of restoration. Based on John and Linda's work, my sense is that while there is evidence at most of the sites that a distillery was once there, there is nothing to "restore."
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Oct 09, 2009 1:34 pm

Jeff, you are right, thanks, but same thing (broadly).

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Oct 09, 2009 1:38 pm

Jeff, I assumed the "old" meant the previous ferment. But maybe it was from a jug yeast designed to be consistent from batch to batch and so old in this sense. It might have been a marketing thing but the reference is rather specific and intriguing I think.

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