Did Sour Mash Originally Mean Something Different?

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Re: Did Sour Mash Originally Mean Something Different?

Unread postby gillmang » Thu Mar 19, 2009 5:29 pm

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Last edited by gillmang on Thu Mar 19, 2009 5:43 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Did Sour Mash Originally Mean Something Different?

Unread postby gillmang » Thu Mar 19, 2009 5:32 pm

Sour mash has, based on my reading of these materials, changed its sense over time, or perhaps always had different meanings. Today, the use of backset in a subsequent mash (fermenter sometimes too) is a hallmark of sour mashing. But one of the 1800's sources I mentioned states that a sweet mash can use backset in this way... This is because sour mash in that account meant essentially dipping back, using the yeast of the last brew to make the next one. That is in a sense the same yeast as when you maintain a culture in a jug but I think too there are important differences due e.g., to much less control on sanitation and temperature. I'll have to look back but if I am not mistaken, this older sense of sour mashing didn't even require the use of backset, but more just the yeast from the former brew. This is one of the methods in that letter from the early 1800's Mike posted which to me sounds like a certain analogy to sourdough bread (but not in the taste aspect). As I now recall, the other method in the letter was called sweet mash and relied simply on use of backset in the next mashing and after that wild yeast did the ferment. I think it is possible that certain local environments favoured the latter process, as occurs with lambic beer in a certain part of Belgium, and this may have been so in Owensboro in the early 1800's. That account based on an interview with Monarch, while there might be an element of puffery in it, can't be made up IMO, it is too specific.

Gary
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Re: Did Sour Mash Originally Mean Something Different?

Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Mar 19, 2009 7:07 pm

Gary,
I have no doubt that the information about the sour mash given by Monarch is acurate, I just doubt his claim that sour mash was invented in Owensboro. That I beleive is marketing himself to the newspaper reporter.

Since Gary keeps refering to the Sweetmash/Sourmash recipe from the Catherine Carpenter papers at the Kentucky Historical Society, I thought I would copy the recipe from that post and place it here:
“Receipt for Distilling Corn Meal Sweet Mash, 1818
To a hundred gallon tub put in a bushel and a half of hot water then a half a bushel
of meal Stir it well then one bushel of water & then a half bushel of meal;
so no untill (sic) you have mashed one bushel and a half of corn meal - Stir it all
effectively then sprinkle a double handful of meal over the mash let it stand two
hours then pour over the mash 2 gallons of warm water put in a half gallon of malt
stir that well into the mash then stir in a half a bushel of Rye or wheat meal. Stir
it well for 15 minutes put in another half gallon of malt. Stir it well and very
frequently untill (sic) you can bear your hand in the mash up to your wrist then
put in three bushels of cold slop or one gallon of good yeast then fill up with cold
water. If you use yeast put in the cold water first and then the yeast. If you have
neither yeast or Slop put in three peck of Beer from the bottom of a tub.”

On back of paper -
“Receipt for Distilling by a Sour Mash
Put into the mash tub Six busheles (sic) of very hot slop then put in one Bushel
of corn meal ground pretty course Stir well then sprinkle a little meal over the
mash let it stand 5 days that is 3 full days betwist the Day you mash and the day
you cool off - on the fifth day put in 3 gallons of warm water then put in one gallon
of rye meal and one gallon of malt work it well into the malt and stir for 3 quarters of
an hour then fill the tub half full of Luke warm water. Stir it well and with a fine sieve
or otherwise Break all the lumps fine then let stand for three hours then fill up the
tub with luke warm water.
For warm weather - five bushels of slop instead of six let it stand an hour and a half
Instead of three hours and cold water instead of warm.

A Receipt for Destilling (sic)
By Sweet and Sour Mash May 18, 1818"


This is an 1818 recipe and I believe she was from around Danville, Ky., the central part of the state. It was 1818 when she wrote the recipes down, but there is no reference as to how long she had been using them. If I am not mistaking, she inherited the distillery from her second or third husband and had been running the distillery for about twenty years. I would be willing to bet you could find similar practices in Pennsylvania.
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
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Re: Did Sour Mash Originally Mean Something Different?

Unread postby gillmang » Thu Mar 19, 2009 8:32 pm

Thank, Mike. The sour mash recipe is very similar to the 1880 account: wild yeast must have been used and the process facilitated somehow by adding hot slop. The sweet mash recipe uses cold slop and manually added yeast of one kind or another: the latter recipe is closer to what is called sour mash today but it too is reflected essentially in the materials I was referring to.

Gary
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Re: Did Sour Mash Originally Mean Something Different?

Unread postby cowdery » Fri Mar 20, 2009 12:58 am

That is, in part, my point, that the term itself seems to have had some strange power so that people went to pains to use it, even when they used it to describe different things.

Does anyone ever talk about pumping some amount of still-fermenting mash, mash that is nearly finished but still active, into a fresh batch as a way to pitch the yeast without using a yeast mash? That would be one way to do it.

Otherwise you're just talking about the normal way a jug yeast is used, which can be either sweet mash or sour mash. This is done using a yeast mash, which typically contains little or no corn and may contain ingredients like hops.

Even today, when sour mash means the introduction of spent mash, some use spent mash in the yeast mash and in the cooker. Some use it only in the cooker. Some don't use it until the fermenters.
- Chuck Cowdery

Author of Bourbon, Straight
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Re: Did Sour Mash Originally Mean Something Different?

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Mar 20, 2009 2:07 am

Indeed still-fermenting mash was used to ferment a subsequent mash, Gallagher describes precisely this as I read him for the further tubs in the initial sequence of tubs he sets up. I would like to draw a list of the various sweet and sour mash methods but still have some difficulty in the areas of yeasting back and dipping back, I want to pin those terms down more, and also how jug yeast is currently managed and replenished.

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Re: Did Sour Mash Originally Mean Something Different?

Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Mar 20, 2009 10:23 am

Gary,
I think the term "sour mash" was very flexible. It was a term more used to describe a type of recipe rather than a specific recipe. Sort of like "Derby Pie"- Everybody has there own take on a pie made with nuts, bourbon and chocolate chips. E H Taylor, Jr. used the spent beer from distilling to cook his next mash adding water to cool when necessary. This is different from the ones you have cited, yet also called "sour mash". I think the answer to your question "Did sour mash originally mean something different?" is yes and no. The term covered a lot of different processes, including the one we think of today.
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
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