Book Review: Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey

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Book Review: Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey

Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Oct 26, 2004 7:13 pm

Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey by Jim Murray. London: Prion Books Limited, 1998. Contents, Index, Illustrated, Pp.272.

This is a book for those who love tasting notes. Jim Murray is a master wordsmith and his tasting notes reflect this talent. He has taken the distillers and listed them in alphabetical order, gives some brief information about their brands and their history and does tasting notes for those brands in most expressions of the brand. He places color illustrations of many of the labels with his notes so the reader can be sure exactly what brand he is writing about. It truely is a book for those readers who like tasting notes.

He starts the book with a couple of chapters of historical background of American whiskey distilling. The history is brief but for the most part accurate. He is an Englishman trying to understand American history so the reader does have to forgive some statements such as Kentucky "having gained its independence in 1792, having begun the battle in the year of Boone's memoirs". The reader has to wonder what battle he is talking about.

The book looks good. It is well designed and colorfully illustrated. It has an index that makes finding specifics points very easy. It would have been nice if he had included a bibliography, but then again, this book is about tasting notes and they don't need other sources. A book like this has value in a bourbon library if for no other reason, it looks good.

Mike Veach
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Unread postby bunghole » Sat Oct 30, 2004 4:12 am

I happen to like this book quite a bit due to the excellent tasting notes. It is more than just a little out dated now, and could use a serious revision.

:arrow: ima :sunny:
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Unread postby Oregone » Sat Oct 30, 2004 5:34 pm

I like Murray's whiskey reviews, and especially his appreciation for rye whiskey. However, the book was marred for me by the chapter "Making Bourbon", which has a number of major gaffes, at least in the section dealing with malted barley and mashing. It's pretty clear Murray doesn't understand the process at all.

He doesn't know why malted barley is added to the mash and he doesn't understand the chemistry at all. For example: "so the carbohydrates are turned into sugars. It is these sugary enzymes whih will be fed upon by the yeast. . ."

First of all, sugars *are* carbohydrates. So are starches, which is what he is fumbling with, but he still has it wrong. "Sugary enzymes" makes no sense at all. Enzymes in the barley are essential for breaking the starches into sugars, yes, but they are distinctly different components.

He also doens't understand what happens in the mash, and why the backset is added. Yes, it does control acidity, but preventing "bacterial infection" isn't the point; the point is to have the correct pH so the enzymes (see above) are most effective in the mash -- the point of which is that conversion from starches to simple sugars.

He knows that malted barley "must be used" in the mash, but apparently doesn't know why: because those enzymes (not sugary enzymes) are not available in corn (or unmalted rye or wheat, for that matter). Without the malted barley, there would be no mash, and nothing for yeast to ferment.

A few years ago, when Malt Advocate ran a laudatory review of the book, I asked them why they'd given him a pass on this misinformation. One of the editors ran the questions by Murray but he failed or refused to respond.

I do like his tasting notes, for the most part, although naturally don't agree with all of them.
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Unread postby cowdery » Sat Oct 30, 2004 5:57 pm

Everything you say is correct and too many people seem to give Murray a pass on that kind of muddleheadedness. However, don't underestimate the value of setback in "preventing 'bacterial infection.'" One of the benefits of the sour mash process is that it makes the environment hospitable to the "good" yeast and inhospitable to every other microorganism. This is a secondary benefit to be sure, but a benefit nonetheless.
- Chuck Cowdery

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Unread postby Oregone » Sun Oct 31, 2004 5:34 pm

cowdery wrote:Everything you say is correct and too many people seem to give Murray a pass on that kind of muddleheadedness. However, don't underestimate the value of setback in "preventing 'bacterial infection.'" One of the benefits of the sour mash process is that it makes the environment hospitable to the "good" yeast and inhospitable to every other microorganism. This is a secondary benefit to be sure, but a benefit nonetheless.


I guess I tend to forget the differences in fermentation for beer and for whiskey. With beer, there is a step between mashing and fermentation where everything is boiled. Unless the sanitation is really bad, it tends to make bacteria in the mash a non-issue.

So how is the liquid separated from the grain, and when?
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Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Oct 31, 2004 7:27 pm

Bourbon is distilled through the column still, solids and all so I would say the answer to your question is in the first distillation.
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