the effect of modern refrigeration on the taste of bourbon

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the effect of modern refrigeration on the taste of bourbon

Unread postby tmckenzie » Tue Aug 11, 2009 1:20 am

We all have many thoughts on why the taste of bourbon has changed over the years. Another one came to me today. I wonder how refrigeration has changed the taste of bourbon? Being, the distilleries today probably have much more effecient ways of cooling a fermenter today than they had 20 years ago, keeping the mash cooler. When a mash is hotter, the yeast are stressed and produce a differnet flavor profile. What do you think?
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Re: the effect of modern refrigeration on the taste of bourbon

Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Aug 11, 2009 9:29 am

Jeff is right. In the 19th century there was only distilling from September to May, nine months of the year actually, because the hot months did not make good beer. To an extent this is still true today. Most distilleries close June through August to do maintenance, but also because they don't make as good of whiskey in those months. At Dickel, they took it one step further. Because the best whiskey was made in the winter, they chill the charcoal filtering column to simulate winter all year long.
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Re: the effect of modern refrigeration on the taste of bourbon

Unread postby gillmang » Tue Aug 11, 2009 1:33 pm

Lot of issues here. Are fermenting rooms mechanically cooled today to ensure a stable temperature for top-fermentation? (I understand all bourbon is top-fermented at more or less ambient temperature as opposed to refrigerated bottom ferments lager-style). The warmer the ferment, the more estery (fruity) it will be...

Fermenting vessels today are generally of metal which can be cleaned well and avoids microorganisms which lurk in the wood which no amount of lime treatment could clean 100%. In general, I believe fermenting systems are technically sterile whereas surely this was not the case 20 years ago and more. Of course, this is a good thing, but one wonders if idiosyncratic flavors resulting from a "live" plant may be a thing of the past (at any rate in the large modern plants).

Yeasts today surely are better controlled and "cleaner" than in past decades. Again, flavor will be clean and more predictable, but will it always be better?

Add to all this the numerous points addressed in other threads (mash ABV, distilling out and entry ABV, mash thickness (addressed in a thread last year on the other board), age of wood used to make barrels today, etc., and one can see it is almost inevitable that bourbon palate will change over time.

Change is not bad as long as overall quality does not decline. I don't think it has but unquestionably I think, certain tastes are lost to history due to the particular nature and approach of plants long closed or torn down or simply adopting new processes and equipment over time. The rich rummy bourbon of 1970's Benchmark or Beam's Choice, the fruity Old-Grandad of the 80's and earlier, the perfumy and sometimes butterscotch-like palate of Old Taylor of decades past, these are tastes that seem of a past time.

However, the task of distillers today is to replace these with tastes as good or better. And there are many examples, we discuss them all the time.

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Re: the effect of modern refrigeration on the taste of bourbon

Unread postby tmckenzie » Tue Aug 11, 2009 7:30 pm

If I am not mistaken all fermenters in the big distilleries are jacketed now or have coils with glycol in them. I think that the butterscotch flavors come from fermenting either warm, or from bacteria getting in the mash. Also, the ones that use box yeast, where they used to use jug yeast, have to use a cooler fermentation, because the new box yeast cannot handle the temperature that the jug yeast did.
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Re: the effect of modern refrigeration on the taste of bourbon

Unread postby gillmang » Sun Aug 23, 2009 8:51 am

Here is a statement in a modern text on the chemical technology of beverage production stating that historically, cypress, redwood or larch were used for fermenting vessels to make bourbon and today have generally been replaced by stainless steel. Further, a taste difference results from the change to stainless steel, but consumer preference is unaffected:

http://books.google.com/books?id=hHVmBk ... q=&f=false
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Re: the effect of modern refrigeration on the taste of bourbon

Unread postby Leopold » Sun Aug 23, 2009 12:25 pm

tmckenzie wrote:If I am not mistaken all fermenters in the big distilleries are jacketed now or have coils with glycol in them. I think that the butterscotch flavors come from fermenting either warm, or from bacteria getting in the mash.


Many British yeast strains will create quite a bit of diacetyl...butterscotch flavor. But, as you astutely point out, get increased butterscotch formation from bacteria. Although in a 4 or 5 day fermentation, the wash would have to have a pretty serious infection.
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Re: the effect of modern refrigeration on the taste of bourbon

Unread postby Kinsey Worker » Tue Sep 01, 2009 8:31 am

My thoughts on this are I very Much prefer the Bourbons and Ryes of the Old days to todays Whiskeys. I think that Bourbon and Rye have lost something special with the move to Stainless Fermenters. Also all the chill filtering. When I find a bottle like the bottle of Prohibition Whiskey from Old Taylor or my bottle of 1936 /1942 Mount vernon Rye there is something so flavorful and a sort of Lively happening in your mouth without all the Heavy spices of today a sort of Natural flavor that to me seems lost in even the best Bourbons today.

I would take my Old Hickory over all of them. Kinsey and Continental used the cypress fermenters and I think alot of the special flavor is lost just in the use of Stainless. Modern is not always better just easier and cheaper alot of times.

I am an old guy so I am not saying what I think may not seem wrong to everyone but that is my feeling on this!
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