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Unread postby gillmang » Sat Apr 15, 2006 11:09 pm

See, that fruit/spice thing (like orange spice tea for those who know that type) is the key to the old bourbon taste. Charlie THomasson from Willett's writing in the 1960's said it too, he said bourbon should smell like ripe fruits. The National Distillers Old Grandad (and Old Taylor in a different way) had it as late as when the brands went over to Beam. Something got changed in modern distilling where almost all bourbon today doesn't have that taste. There's good bourbon made, but none I know with that signature fruity taste you mentioned Mike.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Apr 16, 2006 10:47 am

Gary,
The two that come closest to that taste that are being made today are Wild Turkey and Old Granddad. I think a higher rye content gives that citrus fruit flavor and the spice. I also think a lower distillation and barrel proof would give that flavor as well, since more of the grain flavors would survive the distillation.

I think you and John Lipman are thinking along the same track. He is always trying to find that "Old Whiskey flavor that disappeared in the 1970's". I think the big change was not a single change, but an accumulation of several small changes. Higher distillation proof. Higher barrel proof. More corn in the mash bill. Less barley in the mash bill and the use of enzymes instead. All of these things are ways to make bourbon cheaper, not better. They can still make good bourbon with these restrictions, but not always. To me the real big problem is that as the accountants make the distillers make it cheaper, the bourbon looses its individual personality and soon they will all start tasting the same. I think it a shame that 100 years from now all bourbons will taste like Jim Beam white because that is the cheapest it be made at and still sell a few million cases.

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Unread postby gillmang » Sun Apr 16, 2006 2:22 pm

True, Mike, and good point about the malting barley, Thomasson mentioned that too.

I think microdistilling will save the industry from standardising the product too much.

Also, some large players will continue to offer quality in most of their range, especially Buffalo Trace. And all distillers will always offer specialty products, especially well-aged bourbons; although an old product is not necesarily better, as we know. This is where Canadian distillers went wrong in my opinion. They all (the big established ones anyway) offer amongst their portfolios well-aged whiskies which, because the whisky they start with is very light, stay light and simply acquire more barrel character. The balance VO or CC gets at 6 years or so of age is not improved (arguably) by further aging yet we see CC in iterations up to 20 years old. Seagram puts out older blends too. I have to wonder if the purpose of aging is (again in my humble opinion) misapplied here, subject to what I will say below about blending. Maybe the distillers feel they need older whiskies in their portfolio for the consumer who, influenced by single malt expressions, "expects" it. If the distillers started with products that had more body congeners aging would I think turn that into something delectable; the aging would have a real "purpose". CC 12 and 20 are okay but I actually prefer the regular CC. Its rye character (from the small amount of low proof rye whisky blended in at birth) doesn't get blanketed with all that wood aging. I know some CCs incorporate different amounts of low proof whisky, notably the 10 year old CC (which has a high-rye spec), but "still"...

I am not suggesting the aging of Canadian whisky is unnecessary, but rather that after 5-6 years the barrel doesn't improve the product significantly and may detract from it. I would make one exception here, which is that well-aged Canadian whisky can be useful in blending. In fact, I think it is true to say the Seagram whiskies use old whisky in this way, no Seagram Canadian whisky I know has an age expression on the label or if so the age is minimised, not considered an essential aspect of the product. In this sense only I see the validity of prolonging the aging of Canadian whisky past 7-8 years or so. Most CCs are however (beyond the basic 6 year version) age-denominated: there is a 10, 12 15 and 20 year old version at times available in the Canadian market. True, they are a small part of total CC sales. In that sense Jim Beam Brands probably doesn't regard them as "core", as essential to the nature of CC. Nor I think did the previous owners. CC is perfect as it at 6 years old, one can argue. It is not perhaps the choice of many here. But it is a big seller and strikes the right balance for the mass market, i.e. for most whisky drinkers. Ditto VO and Crown Royal (which has old whisky in it but is an adroit blend).

Bourbon starts with a reasonable amount of congenerics. Aging through chemical action and reaction works a positive development in the whiskey, as it does in single malt and Cognac.

Where bourbon needs to be careful is if you make it too light aging will add tannins and wood sugars but not do a whole lot else for the spirit. We are not there yet, but if they start distilling bourbon whiskey at 159 proof, use no barley in the ferment and only a small amount of rye or wheat, that may happen. Fortunately, old bottles are around so people can still see what the "original" tasted like (I put that in quotes because we are in an area of relativity here to a certain degree). I assume Buffalo Trace for example has in its archive whiskeys from the 1940's, such as Elmer T. Lee sampled when he first started in the industry. So if he is not sure what they were like then, he can go down to the archive and open one up from '48 and check, right? Ditto Parker Beam and all those gentlemen. I assume in fact they do this.

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Unread postby Brewer » Mon Apr 17, 2006 10:00 am

bourbonv wrote: I think a higher rye content gives that citrus fruit flavor and the spice. I also think a lower distillation and barrel proof would give that flavor as well, since more of the grain flavors would survive the distillation.
Mike Veach


Mike,

I know that in brewing beer that the variety of yeast used will greatly effect the flavor of the brew. Might this also be a factor with bourbon?
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Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Apr 17, 2006 10:30 am

The yeast definitely gives a lot of flavor to bourbon. I know JDKnaebel and Chuckmick went to the Four Roses event about 3 weeks ago or so and they had an excellent demonstration on the difference yeast makes to the flavor. Four Roses uses two different mash bills with four different yeast. Maybe they will tell us about their experience.

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Unread postby gillmang » Mon Apr 17, 2006 11:06 am

Very good question, Bob. I have to think that the ferments in the pre-1920 distilleries and maybe into the 70's, were open ferments using ale yeasts at ambient or loosely controlled temperatures (say around 65 degrees F). If you distill a fruity-tasting beer, the distillate will taste fruity. Even if they used lager yeasts to get a fuller conversion, I'd wager the beers were fruity-tasting (like Anchor Steam beer is, say). All the alcools blancs of Europe show this (kirsch, etc.). So does Calvados. If modern ferments are cold and "clean", the beers will taste rounded and more neutral, and so will the distillates made from them because they will be less estery. I always felt that when Charlie Thomasson wrote about a "ripe apple" smell of old-time whiskey (he said some people felt the smell was like other kinds of ripe fruit), that derived in part from old-fashioned top or warm ferments. ND OG has this kind of nose: few modern whiskeys do, however, in my experience.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Apr 17, 2006 11:40 am

Back to the subject of this thread - The Taylor-Hay papers. Today I have a letter from 1939 advising Taylor Hay not to purchase the Penfield distillery. The writer states that many distilleries are not paying dividends and that stack prices have fallen. As examples he states that the K Taylor distillery stock sold for $5.00 when opened and is now selling for 75 cents and the H McKenna distillery stock sold for $3.00 and is now only $1.20. I think you can see that many of the distilleries were having financial troubles and many will close or be bought by the time the Second World War ends.

Mike Veach
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Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Apr 21, 2006 12:46 pm

A letter today from 31 December 1940 has Ruthie Hay describing how they found a lamb dying in the field. They picked it up and rushed it to the house where they bathed it in warm water and gave it whiskey. The lamb started taking milk and was nursed back to health. she does not say what brand of whiskey, but it saved the lamb's life!

Mike Veach
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Unread postby bourbonv » Tue May 02, 2006 11:22 am

In a letter of 6 January 1942 Taylor Hay describes the whiskey market for his friend and hotel owner, Baron Long. He states the price of bulk whiskey in Chicago is $1.25 to $1.35 a proof gallon with such "undesirable distillations such as Wathens and Tom Moore" selling for the $1.25 price.

He also discusses in some detail with Creel Brown in some late 1941 letters the making of alcohol for the government and the costs involved in converting a distillery to make the high proof alcohol.

Mike Veach
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Unread postby bourbonv » Fri May 05, 2006 1:30 pm

A letter today from the University of Kentucky discusses the use of thin slop to feed livestock and is dated 10 May 1943. The farmers are complaining because of the changes from the traditional bourbon mash to the government alcohol mash containing from 50 to 90 percent wheat with only 5% solids compared to the 8% solids of the bourbon mash.

Government alcohol distilled at a lower proof would be wheat whiskey.

Mike Veach
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Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Jun 01, 2006 12:23 pm

I am in February 1948 and there are legal papers for the sale of the Sam Clay Distillery on Benson Creek to pay off debts. It gives location of the distillery and an inventory of equipment by building. This distillery is right next to the Kennebec distillery. One of these two distilleries would be the original Old Fitzgerald distillery owned by S C Herbst before prohibition.

Mike Veach
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Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Jun 06, 2006 11:55 am

A very nice letter dated 13 December 1948 from Ben Medley that discusses his family history in the distilling industry. The first Medley came to Maryland in 1634. In 1786 Thomas Medley came to Kentucky and settled in Washington County and soon started distilling. His son william Medley continued the business from their farm on Certwright's Creek. His son George continued the business and became President of Dviess County Distilling Company which was founded in 1873. In 1910 Thomas A. Medley became president of the company upon his father's death. He was the father of the 5 Medley brothers of the Medley Distilling Company of 1948.

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Unread postby cowdery » Tue Jun 06, 2006 5:55 pm

bourbonv wrote:I am in February 1948 and there are legal papers for the sale of the Sam Clay Distillery on Benson Creek to pay off debts. It gives location of the distillery and an inventory of equipment by building. This distillery is right next to the Kennebec distillery. One of these two distilleries would be the original Old Fitzgerald distillery owned by S C Herbst before prohibition.

Mike Veach


Cecil (or, more likely, Coyte) seems a bit confused on the subject of these two distilleries. I have copies of a promotional brochure for Kennebec that identifies Desmond Beam as its master distiller. It was a new distillery, launched after repeal. Cecil/Coyte associates the Sam Clay name with both plants. Sally Van Winkle has Pappy buying the Old Fitz brand during Prohibition, but not the plant, so I think Cecil/Coyte is wrong about that as well.

I have to believe the plant identified in the letter as Sam Clay is the one formerly known as Old Judge/Old Fitzgerald.
- Chuck Cowdery

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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Jun 07, 2006 10:47 am

Chuck,
I do believe you are right, but only 95% sure. I would like to see Sanborn Maps of both and compare to the boundary lines in the documents to be 100% sure.

Mike Veach
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Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Jun 13, 2006 11:29 am

I am about to wrap up the 1940's and move on to the 1950's. Taylor Hay Jr. is a cadet at VMI. Mary Belle is in Pine Manor Junior College near Boston. Taylor Sr. is still managing the Union League Club in Chicago while his wife Ruthie and young son John (born in 1944) live on Scotland Farm near Frankfort. Creel Brown is a regular correspondent but discusses race horses as much as distilling. Baron and Martha Long, west coast hotel owners (U.S.Grant in San Diego and Biltmore in LA) are regular correspondents and come to the Derby and attend the World Series every year. My favorite is Ruthie's mother, who may be deaf as a post without her hearing aid, but often makes the most astute political comments. I guess it comes from being married to a circuit court judge for many years before his pre-mature death.

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