Old McBrayer mash bill

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Re: Old McBrayer mash bill

Unread postby gillmang » Sun Mar 07, 2010 1:14 pm

Just to throw something out: what if you filtered a traditional bourbon mash, distilled twice in a pot still to around 120 proof or less, put it in new charred barrels half the size or less than traditional barrels, and aged it in a warehouse for 3 years? I wonder if the balance of flavours might incline to richness but avoiding the immature flavours young whiskey can have?

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Re: Old McBrayer mash bill

Unread postby delaware_phoenix » Sun Mar 07, 2010 8:13 pm

My personal suspicion, having worked many years for a well-known consumer products manufacturer, is that industry standards and the law now make it impossible or illegal to do so.


I'm sure I'm missing something, but I'm not sure what you think might not be legal. But "flying under the radar" isn't a realistic thing for any legal distillery. Once caught, there will be heavy fines, or the business will be shut down.

It's certainly possible to make whiskey or bourbon in a pot still just as it is in a continuous still. The requirements for whiskey made in the US are merely that it be fermented from grain, distilled to less than 160 proof, and bottled at no less than 80 proof. For bourbon, you have to have at least 51% corn in that grain mash, and store it at not more than 125 proof in charred new oak containers.

No mention of a minimum proof (except at bottling), kind of still, whether the fermented grain ends up in the still or not, etc.

It really comes down to cost. A column still with a beer stripper is much more efficient than a pot still. It's why they became very popular with distillers in the 19th century and have continued to this day. I personally think that the craft distillers have their work cut out for them with whiskey. The big brands (size is relative) often are very good.

And when pot still is referenced, what is meant? Can a pot still have a column with plates, a dephlegmator? The modern hybrid ones can. Leopold can tell you lots more than I about them. He's a real expert.

Sorry for so many words!
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Re: Old McBrayer mash bill

Unread postby Leopold » Sun Mar 07, 2010 10:20 pm

gillmang wrote:Hey thanks John.
Todd, one thing I was wondering, about live steam in a column apparatus: when it vaporises the ethanol, does it condense on the higher plates and become redistilled? If so would that mean it is constantly being redistilled in the procedure?

Gary


Absolutely. Beer Strippers aren't as complicated as vodka stills in that there aren't multiple draw offs, but all beers strippers are going to be designed a bit differently. Redistillation and reflux are going to be quite higher than pot stills, though, obviously.

One of the nice things about my professional background is that I've worked with many different kinds of of stills, and many, many different substrates for fermentation: malt, rye, corn, oats, malted rye, pears, peaches, grapes, molasses, cane syrup, etc. It has forced me to take a good hard look at the relationship between the yeast and the still.

If you're going to switch to using a pot still for your work, you had better be very, very careful about your choice of yeast strain as well as your fermentation temperatures. Reflux stills or Beer strippers are going to allow you clean up your spirit a bit. No such luck with a pot still. If you put garbage in, you're going to get garbage out.
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Re: Old McBrayer mash bill

Unread postby gillmang » Mon Mar 08, 2010 8:45 am

Thanks Todd and excellent points. It shows that there are many variables that need careful control to put out a great pot still product.

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Re: Old McBrayer mash bill

Unread postby EllenJ » Mon Mar 08, 2010 12:08 pm

delaware_phoenix wrote:
My personal suspicion, having worked many years for a well-known consumer products manufacturer, is that industry standards and the law now make it impossible or illegal to do so.

I'm sure I'm missing something, but I'm not sure what you think might not be legal. But "flying under the radar" isn't a realistic thing for any legal distillery. Once caught, there will be heavy fines, or the business will be shut down.

Excellently stated points about the mechanics of whiskey distilling, but yes, I believe you did "miss something" -- or more likely it was I who didn't make myself clear enough. The regulations and industry standards to which I alluded would be more procedural. In the pharmaceuticals and food-handling industry, the catch-phrase is GMP -- Good Manufacturing Practices -- and include both industry guidelines and, in the United States, federal laws (Section 501(B) Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act). Although we may think of whiskey as a food, both the Internal Revenue Service and the FDA consider beverage alcohol to be a medicine (that's what got us through Prohibition, after all). The law is not just window-dressing, either; it allows for courts to rule a product "adulterated" even if there is no specific regulatory requirement that was violated, if the process was not performed according to established industry standards (i.e., the GMP list). And that list is a long one. Larger companies have entire legal departments dedicated to ensuring their compliance. But to give you an idea, here are a couple of the FDA requirements which apply to manufacturers of Botox and bourbon alike:

*** Manufacturing processes are clearly defined and controlled. All critical processes are validated to ensure consistency and compliance with specifications.

In other words, processes which had always depended upon the distiller's expertise and years of training were replaced with scripted production manuals written to be understood (and approved) by QA personnel and regulatory authorities.

*** Manufacturing processes are controlled, and any changes to the process are evaluated. Changes that have an impact on the quality of the drug are validated as necessary.


In other words, while the IRS always demanded a full explanation for even a 0.5% deviation from stated proof, under GMP such attention must be paid to EVERY ingredient -- thus requiring a degree of consistancy that is antithetical to the "normal" way of selecting-by-deviation from among barrels of varying qualities. The likes of Jimmy Russell or Booker Noe wouldn't be allowed to touch the distillery controls today, except under strict supervision. The nuances that were possible using the talents of these gentlemen have been removed, as any deviation from "average" implies the threat of noncompliance.

The general idea, of course, is NO MISTAKES. But in practice that concept has now evolved (at least in some industries) into "Any Step Where A Mistake COULD Occur Must Be Removed From The Process". Such regulations have been around for decades; at least since the late thirties. But their impact on our favorite industry was less restrictive until the late '80s and early '90s, when the European Community (EC or EEC, which later developed into the EU) began to make compliance with their own, even more oppressive, regulations mandatory for beverage spirits to be sold in Europe. Add to that the fact that European conglomerates (Guiness/UD/Diageo, Pernot-Ricard, Allied Domecq) and Euro-oriented Seagram's had come to own most of the major American whiskey brands, and the shift to more highly-regulated procedures began to really change both the way straight whiskey is made, and the nature of the end-product as well.

THAT is what I was writing about, not the difference between batch and continuous distilling. Although I do, of course, agree with what you've said about those as well. One thing I'd like to add to your points, however, is that one should keep in mind that the column still, as used by the bourbon distiller, is a quite different animal from the alcohol-stripper used by the grain (or gasohol) distiller. The best comparison I've heard is to an electric guitar. Originally, the idea of amplifying the guitar was simply to make it loud enough to be heard in a big band. It's use as a lead instrument began with Leo Fender and Adolph Rickenbacker's hard-bodied guitars featuring electric coil magnetic pickups. Again, the only real advantage was to make the instrument play louder without howling feedback problems. But it was Les Paul's own version that he used, with his inventive approach to recording music, that began the electric guitar's rise to prominence. Still, given the volumes needed in those pre-PA System rock 'n' roll bands, the instrument tended to pick up its own amplifier's vibrations and break into a sustained scream. Thus, in most pop music it was a novelty instrument (think The Ventures) until the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Paige, and Carlos Santana showed how that very feedback could be used as part of the input to produce wonderful sounds that cannot be equalled any other way.

Is that description reminiscent of how one would explain column-still reflux? Of course it is; that's why I use it. While Andre Segovia would probably have puked, all great (and most not-so-great) electric guitarists use the instrument that way (or through devices intended to create the same sort of effects). From the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, that's the way American whiskey distillers "played" their column stills, and I believe THAT (not the occasional pot-still... or doubler CALLED a pot still) is what distinguishes the whiskey.

I also believe it really can't anymore. At least, not exactly. I'm talking about rock 'n' roll again, now. The regulations that outlaw (or at least strongly discourage) on-stage sound levels that would (and did) deafen Pete Townshend make it impossible to create the conditions needed for those sounds. A very close approximation can be made (close enough for those not familiar with the real thing) by using recording studio techniques (signal-devices and close-miking the lower-volume stage amps, for example), and in the end, what does it matter for those who only know the studio CD version and play it at conversation level anyway?

And with whiskey, well... Sometime we'll get together, and I'll share with you some samples of common, everyday bourbon and rye whiskey made before the 1980s, and you'll see the difference immediately. Everyone always does. The whiskey we purchase today is certainly excellent. And I have no doubt that innovators such as Mark Brown and Jimmy Rutledge will find a way to use modern methods to bring nuances and sub-flavors that are lost in the need to limit the product to readily verifiable consistancy. That hasn't happened yet, though. By the way, that isn't an empty offer, and if you let me know ahead of time, I will bring a bottle of ~1907 Cedar Brook (the original W.H. McBrayer) that you can taste when we meet up.

Nor are those major commercial distillers alone. Far from it. The United States (and probably Europe, too; I'm just not as aware of it) is exploding with experimental craft/artisan distilleries. These are tiny operations, and are what I meant by "under-the-radar" (not that they are illegal moonshiners). They are simply small enough to be unaffected by the GMP regulations, or at least by enforcement of them. They're not contracting to ship thousands of cases to European distributors... yet. The FDA Police are not likely to do a midnight raid on their distillery to run a spectroscopy chemical analysis on one of the eight barrels in their warehouse. But if that li'l ole distillery intends to be warehousing eight thousand barrels one day, they sure won't be under the radar anymore, and they'll need to resolve the issue of quality vs regulation. And I'm betting they'll do that better than the Big Boys have done so far. In fact, I'm betting a few hundred dollars on a trip to this year's American Distilling Institute national conference in May (see the Bourbon Expeditions forum) that I'll get a chance to meet some of those distillers. And you already have met some, whether you realize it or not, because many are fellow BourbonEnthusiast members.

Your points are well-made; I hope I've been able to add to them.
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Re: Old McBrayer mash bill

Unread postby Leopold » Mon Mar 08, 2010 12:42 pm

Great stuff, EllenJ.

Those of us who are encouraging lactobacillus and other things in our mash are quite happy to be under the radar. The same can be said of all the US brewers who are working with sour beers. It simply isn't a repeatable process. Or at least not in the ISO line of thinking.
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Re: Old McBrayer mash bill

Unread postby delaware_phoenix » Tue Mar 09, 2010 9:31 pm

OK, now I understand what you were talking about! Yes very good points. The same things apply to the little mom and pop bakery versus the makers of Wonderbread (tm somewhere probably). You're quite right that food and beverage production have been industrialized and sanitized. The fear of the terrible germ and how it do things like make you sick. They seem to forget that germs are everywhere. Oh well.

EU: Yes they've really made even more rules. I read an article about Romanian raw sheep milk cheese farmers that were being shut down by the EU when Romania joined said organization. Their milk had to be pasturized. "People might get sick" they said.

I think it's sad that they( or so many other people) seem to live in fear of so many things, and if they just control them, they won't be afraid. There's a level of understanding to the brewing and distilling practices to be pretty consistent, and you have to pay attention, but it's something that people have been doing for centuries. And it doesn't make you sick assuming you don't abuse the alcohol.

I'm learning a lot from this forum. I know Todd from another forum, and he's been a great person online, I'm sure he's a great person in RL. Hopefully I'll get to meet him some day. And I'd be honored to meet other BE folks. And EllenJ I'd also be honored to try some old whiskey. That would be cool. :urock:

This is a great thread.
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Re: Old McBrayer mash bill

Unread postby EllenJ » Tue Mar 09, 2010 10:02 pm

delaware_phoenix wrote:... EllenJ I'd also be honored to try some old whiskey. That would be cool. This is a great thread.

Count on it. I see in the Expeditions topic that you're going to ADI conference in May. I'll bring the McBrayer Cedar Brook with.
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Re: Old McBrayer mash bill

Unread postby Husker » Tue Mar 16, 2010 9:07 pm

I can see how a pot still could add more to the flavor. If I understand correctly, a column still takes off the spirit at the same stage in the distillation when it has a certain profile. With the pot still, you''re going from heads to tails and thus taking in different profiles through that spectrum. How much of what profile (when the cuts are made) would be up to the distiller. I would think that a pot still being operated by someone who knew what they were doing would have the potential to be better than anything from a column still. Face it, column stills are about efficiency and conformation. Something has to be given up.
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Re: Old McBrayer mash bill

Unread postby delaware_phoenix » Wed Mar 17, 2010 7:18 pm

I remember Chuck having some intense discussion over at ADI regarding the relative merits of column stills versus pot stills. Part of the problem is understanding people's terminology. Column still (the term) can mean a continuous operating Coffey still or a reflux column with sufficient plates to make vodka or fuel. The geometries of these two are very different. It's my understanding that in the Coffey still the beer stripper is really a fancy wash still, and the rectifier is a fancy spirit still. All made to operate fairly continuously.

The pot still has it's own challenges too as congeners are coming over all the time, and some of them do not come over in a linear fashion the way the ethanol does.

Rectification, whether from bubble plates, doubler, or internal to the still based on height relationships (ie still geometry), is very important to getting a clean spirit. Many other factors are involved too.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Old McBrayer or the Kinsey or any other old (Pre- or Post-Prohibiton) whiskey all were make in Coffey stills or something similar. I have a theory that very good whiskey can be made in a pot still.

a column still takes off the spirit at the same stage in the distillation when it has a certain profile


To be honest, I don't know what this means.
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Re: Old McBrayer mash bill

Unread postby cowdery » Thu Mar 18, 2010 11:23 am

One analogy I like is that a column still does in space (on the different plates) what a pot still does in time (as the still heats up). Another way of looking at it is that a column still is a series of pot stills, each boiling at a slightly different temperature.

A lot of people simply romanticize the words "pot still" without even knowing what they're talking about. They've gotten locked into a mentality of "pot still good, column still bad," but they don't really know why.

No one defends a position harder than the person who has been shown up as ignorant about the position they've taken.

I tend to use the term alembic rather than pot still, since that precludes the use of a rectification column.

I love the people who say, "yes, I have a rectification column, but I can turn it off."
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