Here is a link to an 1880 newspaper article transcribed by Darcy O'Neil from a book he found in the Seagram Collection in the library of the University of Waterloo in Ontario. The Collection represents the cumulation of distilling-related texts and other writings that had been used by Seagram when it operated its famed distilling companies. (I would suspect that the collection formed part of the now defunct Seagram Whisky Museum in Waterloo and when the latter was closed the books were donated to the local University).http://www.artofdrink.com/2008/10/bourb ... e-1880.php
This article is very interesting and Darcy O'Neil is to be commended for finding and transcribing it. (There seems the odd transcribing glitch or error but the article is easy to understand and I would think Darcy O'Neil has a copy of the original. He runs an excellent, cocktails-oriented website called http://www.artofdrink.com
which I have consulted numerous times in the past but I hadn't noticed until now this article.
The article raises a number of questions for those here interested in bourbon distilling history. It seems to suggest that as late as the 1880's, sour mashing meant literally using the yeast of the immediate previous fermentation (not dried distiller's yeast or a jug yeast cultured from a slant in a dona tub whose qualities would be maintained in a consistent fashion). This reminds me of that early 1800's letter you once posted, Mike (Veach), suggesting this literal application of a sour mashing method (or as I recall it was one of two suggested methods of sour mashing). In the 1880 article, sour mashing evidently is not considered adding slop (spent distillers' beer) to the mash because the use of slop is described as part of the SWEET mash method of mashing. Hmmm. Did distillers at some point devise a short-cut way of sour mashing and use the old terminology as a marketing technique? Because, even though the word "sour" today is sometimes considered to have negative connotations, at one time evidently this was not so or certainly in the bourbon world. Or were there always two recognised ways of sour mashing in commercial bourbon making?
The numerous references to legal requirements are also noteworthy and I do not recall reading about these before.
Finally, the Davies County/Owensboro reference as the origin of the sour mash process - in 1808 specifically - is interesting. Did the individual mentioned in the article in that year simply adapt a sour mash technique that had been used by home distillers and which again was referred to in that letter Mike found of approximately the same time?
The small tub method of mashing sounds very interesting in general, of course we have heard about that before here, but one wonders about the repeated use of yeast in the manner described. Would the yeast not get corrupted, literally sour, if not refreshed from a culture maintained in the distillery or in a yeast bank? Maybe this sourness, as in some traditional breads (sourdough) was regarded as contributing something special to the ferment and therefore to the distillate. But usually such repetition of use would be regarded as a negative, e.g., in brewing. The article states that less whiskey was produced with such sour mashing. One can see why, because a corrupted yeast (in a brewing sense anyway) would have less fermentative power than a clean, vigourous yeast. Yet, the bourbon produced with this method was said to be non-pareil.
Today it is often said that all distillers use sour mashing.
Here is a good description of the jug yeast method currently used by Heaven Hill:http://www.bardstownbourbonsociety.com/ ... ZXQ5OTY%3D
Is taking the yeast literally from a previous ferment and dumping it into a new mash the same thing as keeping a specific yeast culture in a jug and regularly growing with fresh nutrient via the dona tub enough to seed the next fermentation? I would think not and that the jug yeast method is used to ensure a consistent supply of the same yeast strain, as explained in the article about Heaven Hill. With a literal sour mashing from one ferment to the next, how could such quality control be maintained? The yeast would evolve and alter especially considering that, as the article states, fermentation occurred at ambient temperatures which were between 70 and 80 F. How could the results be regarded as superior?
Also, the 1880 article speaks of sweet mashing being reliant on "artificial yeast". Did that mean dried yeast (which was certainly available then)? Or did it mean enzymes chemically manufactured? Circa-1880 seems a little early for that.
Putting it another way: are there four fermentation processes, i.e., using jug yeast; literal sour mash per the 1880's article; dried distillers' yeast; and artificial enzyme?
Or are there only three, i.e., jug yeast-literal sourmash; dried yeast; and artificial enzyme?