Rectifiers and compound whiskey

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Rectifiers and compound whiskey

Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Feb 22, 2005 7:53 pm

Comments made in the thread about charred barrels started me thinking about the products that were available in the mid 19th century. I also know that Gary has a great interest in the art of blending and rectifying whiskey so I thought I would copy some recipes I have from a book found in the Oscar Getz Museum. It is titled "The Manufacture of Liquors, Wines and Cordials Without the Aid of Distillation" by Pierre Lacour. I actually had some of the "Bourbon" recipe made for an event I did with Lincoln Henderson in 2001. Lincoln took the recipe to the lab and they bootled some "Clark and Lewis Bourbon" for the event. It was very interesting and if you are ever in Louisville, I would be happy to let you try some.

Irish Whiskey: Neutral spirits, four gallons; refined sugar, three pounds, in water, four quarts; creasote, four drops; color with four ounces burnt sugar.

Scotch Whiskey: Neutral spirits, four gallons; alcoholic solution of starch, one gallon; creasote, five drops; cochineal tincture, four wine glass full; burnt sugar coloring, quarter of a pint.

Oronoko Rye Whiskey: Neutral spirit, four gallons; refined sugar, three and a half pounds; water, to dissolve, three pints; decoction of tea, one pint; burnt sugar, four ounces; oil of pear, half an ounce; dissolved in an ounce of alcohol.

Tuscaloosa Whiskey: Neutral spirits, four pints; honey, three pints, dissolved in water, four pints; solution of starch, five pints; oil of wintergreen, four drops, dissolved in half an ounce of acetic ether: color with four ounces of burnt sugar.

Old Bourbon Whiskey: Neutral Spirits, four gallons; refined sugar, three pounds, dissolved in water, three quarts; decoction of tea, one pint; three drops of oil of wintergreen, dissolved in one ounce of alcohol; color with tincture of cochineal, two ounces; burnt sugar, three ounces.

Monongahela Whiskey: Neutral spirit, four gallons; honey, three pints, dissolved in water, one gallon; alcoholic solution of starch, one gallon; rum, half a gallon; nitric ehter, half an ounce; this is to be colored to suit fancy.
Some consumers prefer this whiskey transparent, while others like it just perceptibly tinged with brown; while others, again, want it rather deep, and partaking of red.


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Unread postby gillmang » Tue Feb 22, 2005 8:22 pm

Interesting, Mike, thanks. Clearly this author was appealing to the wholesale market which wanted (from motives we can probably question) to make whiskey from cheap materials to emulate real whiskey. The 1885 Fleischmann book, while it offers some lower grade recipes using small amounts of whiskey (or none for the very lowest grade), offers many grades that would have made good drinking, due to the good amount of real whiskey in them, right up to grades which were all-whiskey. So there was a range of quality in such matters in the 1800's, clearly.

I have just made in the glass my version of a Fleischmann top grade: one-third Wild Turkey, one-third Forty Creek, 1/3rd Classic Cask rye 21 years old, and (why not) a tablespoon of Blanton Barrel Strength - plus of course the requisite dash of sweet green tea extract. Damn this is good, wish you all were here. :)

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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Feb 23, 2005 10:26 am

Gary,
I don't think the author was trying to make bad products, just cheap! I know you, John and Linn have all tried the "Clark and Lewis" that was made from this recipe. It is not a bad tasting product, just not bourbon. Some of these recipes are interesting because it tells us something about the product they are trying to reproduce. For example the Monongahela Whiskey of the time obviously had three expression - unaged, barely aged and well aged. The fact it is called simply whiskey and not rye whiskey makes me wonder if it was a rye whiskey at the time. Oronoko rye is reproduced as an aged product and is called a rye.

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Unread postby gillmang » Wed Feb 23, 2005 1:03 pm

Monongahela surely was rye whiskey; the name for the river and valley itself denoted the type, so likely it would have been repetitive to say Monongahela rye whiskey, at least in its local market and before labelling and other marketing became sophisticated. The other product you referred to may not have been from the Monongahela catchment area, hence the need to identify it as a rye whiskey. I don't know where that name is from I guess we could Google it to see (Oronoko - sounds like the name of a Who song :)). As I said once on straightbourbon.com, I found a mid-19th century novel reference on-line that said in New York, whiskey was sold in barrels containing white whiskey and red whiskey. I believe (but would need to check the reference again) both were described by the writer as Monongahela whiskey. The writer (the original novel writer) went on to say, if people asked for brandy, they were served from the red barrel. If they asked for schnapps or gin, they were served from the white barrel. I will try to find this again, it was a novel, or perhaps a travelogue, of life in New York in about the 1850's. I recall very clearly the thing about white = gin or schnapps and red = brandy which would be further evidence by the way of John's theory about bourbon (and red Monongahela, I guess) being devised to appeal to people familiar with brandy. I recall quite clearly that the term bourbon was not mentioned in this 19th account, it was too early for that. By the way, Joseph Fleischmann in his 1885 blending book does use the term, "bourbon" and he names many of the period, some of those names are still in existence (e.g. Old Crow). See http://www.pre-pro.com. The easiest way to pull up the extract is to go to the site index, then click on "whiskey blending", it comes right up.

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Unread postby gillmang » Wed Feb 23, 2005 3:03 pm

I can get us closer, gentlemen. In 1949 Robert Ernst in New York City wrote, "Immigrant Life in New York". Portions of this book are extracted on http://www.familyresearcher.net, a geneology site. In that book Ernst quoted from a 19th century account of living conditions in New York. I have read the original account, elsewhere on the web, it was either a travelogue or investigatory report on conditions encountered by new arrivals in New York in the mid-1800's (something tells me it was the latter, but it was not a novel, I now recall). I do not recall the original account giving more information on what we are interested in than Ernst's quotation, by the way.

Here is that textual quote, which is preceded by a statement that boarders living in Greenwich in New York or along the docks might be expected to find beer sold in the parlors of the tenements they inhabited, and also:

"two barrels of whiskey, one colored red with oak juice and sold for first-rate Cognac brandy and the other answering with the most limpid assurance to the various demands for gin, Monongahela or schnapps".

It is clear that Monongahela here meant either new rye whiskey or new corn whiskey (which makes me think too that "Monongahela", without qualification, may have meant at the time young corn whiskey). There is a strong suggestion that the author of the quote, writing in the early or mid-1800's, was told by barowners that the aged "whiskey" was sold to people who wanted first class (i.e., aged) "Cognac brandy". There is no mention in this quote of a demand for aged whiskey as such much less "Bourbon" although we must remember too the account from which the quote was taken is about immigrants, not established town dwellers.

I feel this supports the theory of John Lipman (whose theory it is, if I understand this correctly) that aged whiskey was devised for and sold to those who wanted Cognac brandy. True, the account is about New York but it is about immigrants some of whom, like the French-derived people in New Orleans, would have wanted quality European brandy at a better price at any rate than the import fetched. This quotation is not conclusive, but I think it points in the direction suggested by John in this matter.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Feb 23, 2005 3:15 pm

Gary,
The theory has two versions. John thinks that Monongehela rye was the first aged product and was made to imitate cognac. My theory derived from talks with John is that bourbon was the first aged spirit to imitate cognac. This quote seems to support my side in that monongehela does not seem to be an aged product. At the same time John points out a quote from Moby Dick that makes it an aged product. I wonder if the unaged product was rye and if the aged product was just another version of "bourbon". After all, there was no legal requirements for bourbon to made with corn. An aged rye whiskey could have been sold in New Orleans as a "bourbon".

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Unread postby gillmang » Wed Feb 23, 2005 4:02 pm

Mike, thanks for this clarification.

In the quotes you gave from the Lacour book, Monongahela whiskey is stated as being (in effect) white, tinted or red, depending on consumer preference, so I think it would be hard to rule out the existence of Monongahela red (rye) whiskey, ancestor to Pennsylvania and Maryland rye in general (I would think).

In New York in the mid-1800's, would whiskey have been brought from Pennsylvania or Kentucky? Probably both places. So the quotation is not decisive I think in terms of either branch of the theory. That aged whiskey, "colored red" (the phrase implies an element of purposiveness, they aged it to make it look red) could have been the red type of Monongahela or it could have been the new style of Bourbon which as you say might have used all-rye anyway at the time. Even the white whiskey may have been from Kentucky, or Tennessee for that matter, or Central New York State, etc.

I think what the quote shows at a minimum is barrel-aged whiskey (whether from ithe Monongahela Valley or Kentucky or elsewhere) was aged red to sell as Cognac brandy. Maybe that was not the ONLY reason it was so aged, but clearly it was one reason.

The quote is the first I know which suggests a direct link to either version of the whiskey-brandy theory, but I don't think it points to which version is correct and of course, both versions may be correct. It is hard to know which development came first, for one thing, and in any case they may have arisen independently, as Tim suggested.

One other thing: although I think the, "oak juice" in the quote meant tannins leached naturally as a result of long barrel aging, maybe the saloon-keepers told the author of the quote that tannic acid and other derivatives from wood were added to new whiskey literally to color it red. Wood could be processed in a way to take out its liquid element (through heat or compression, perhaps) and maybe vendors or wholesalers added that liquid to new whiskey to, "color" it. I think that is unlikely (since amongst other reasons as you noted cochineal and other substances existed at the time to do that job) but I don't think we can rule this out.

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Unread postby Strayed » Wed Feb 23, 2005 10:52 pm

Mike Veach wrote:... I wonder if the unaged product was rye and if the aged product was just another version of "bourbon". After all, there was no legal requirements for bourbon to made with corn. An aged rye whiskey could have been sold in New Orleans as a "bourbon".

That makes a lot of sense, Mike. This particular thread shows lots of references to Fritz Maytag's concept of rye whiskey (as Monongahela). It's pretty hard to go through Gary's and your posts without accepting that although Mon Whiskey certainly referred to a particular style, color may not have been a defining factor.

By the way, in those times, American whiskey being sold in New York most likely got there by way of New Orleans anyway.

Note: I'm answering this before reading further, because I'm too excited about the ideas being opened up here to wait. Please excuse the fact that I haven't learned what's coming up in this thread yet.

Damn, this is exciting!
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Unread postby gillmang » Wed Feb 23, 2005 11:26 pm

I do believe the main characteristic of Monongahela whiskey was use of rye (not so much the type of barrel or aging). In Byrn's Complete Practical Distiller, there is extensive discussion of rye whiskey but hardly any of its aging. Byrn barely acknoweledges the existence of whiskey made from "Indian corn", there is a brief mention of it in his chapter on malt whiskey. In other words, for Byrn, based in Philadelphia, whiskey was down to malt whiskey and rye whiskey. His comments shows he considered rye whiskey the main type, and surely his knowedge was inspired by contemporary practice in Western Pennsylvania, whence famous brands for sale came (like Baker's, amongst others). Byrn gives what for me is the classic recipe for rye whiskey and which I believe to be the main style of Mon whiskey (aged or no): 80% raw rye, 20% barley malt. Yet we know too there was Mon corn whiskey, and probably whiskeys made from mixed grains (say what the Michter's Original Sour Mash recipe later was: 50% rye, the rest corn and some barley malt). Clearly Mon whiskey was a supple category. It never became as defined as Bourbon, and this partly ensured its demise.

But at one time, as the cites by Mike from the Lacour book show, there was white, tinted and red Monongahela whiskey. I think most of it was made from rye, mainly. After Byrn, use of malted rye became a bit of a fashion, e.g., Canadian distillers made a thing of it, there was a well-known Montreal Malted Rye brand around 1900 or so, so the whiskey could be and was made from all-rye, but the point is rye was always (in my view) the main component of whiskey from this region. So yes, broadly Maytag got it right except I wish he'd offer a truly aged example of his rye, the type of rye noticed by Melville, red rye, which arguably was the best of the Mon style (Melville termed it, "unspeakable" meaning, "so good I can't describe it") Corn spirit there undoubtedly was along the Mon, but I think it was unaged. This may have been the white, limpid white whiskey called for by the name Monongahela in New York in the mid- 19th century but it might have been new rye whiskey or not even from Pennsylvania. But anyway I believe the aged article made south and west of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania was mainly rye whiskey.

In Kentucky, they had all these styles too but Bourbon became the main style of commerce and survived sturdily until Prohibition, setting the stage for a revival after (assisted too by the law and its definitions). That never happened to rye, unfortunately, and we can talk until the cows come home about why but I think in the end it was flavor - rye was just too challenging a whiskey to survive big time. It is a great drink, but could never recover mainstream appeal once Bourbon spread its wings and Scotch and Canadian made their inroads. IMHO.

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Unread postby Strayed » Thu Feb 24, 2005 9:13 am

Gary, you're worse than I am at stuffing five or six hot discussion topics into a single long post :book: , but here's a try (April 30th is SUCH a long time off)...

gillmang wrote:...In Byrn's Complete Practical Distiller, there is extensive discussion of rye whiskey but hardly any of its aging. Byrn was based in Philadelphia...

I haven't read Byrn's book yet (Glen Raudins says your order arrived immediately after mine) but others from that era and locale seem to concentrate more on rectification than distilling, at least as far as the final product is concerned. Until the Taylor/Carlisle-inspired definitions you mention later, it was common to "age" even the classier whiskeys quickly and without need of much warehouse space. That practice only later became associated with cheap imitation whiskey (as part of the definition process). An interesting side note & questions: Rye whiskey, both that identified as Monongahela and Maryland style, is often labeled as "Pure", as in "Baltimore Pure Rye". I believe the legal definition of "Straight" whiskey was set for rye at the same time as for other straight whiskey, and there are contemporary examples of "Straight Rye Whiskey". But "Pure" is too commonly seen and widespread not to have a specific meaning. Was there separate legislation that defined "Pure Rye Whiskey"? I don't believe I've ever seen "Pure Bourbon"; was there ever such a thing?

gillmang wrote:...Clearly Mon whiskey was a supple category. It never became as defined as Bourbon, and this partly ensured its demise.

I totally agree with that, and in fact that's the basis for my own curiosity about this fascinating spirit. Linn Spencer has started a really good forum discussion topic wherin "newbies-only" get to discuss a particular "how-bourbon-came-to-be" question. Hopefully his effort will help steer new enthusiasts away from the "my bourbon is better than your bourbon" trap even us "Oldies" tend to fall into. But we're just participants in a cyber-discussion; our opinions are just that and nothing more. When John Carlisle was discussing "what IS bourbon?" with his buddies, it was as Secretary of the Treasury, and his buddies were enacting the laws that would define straight whiskey. Carlisle's model for this straight whiskey was what he was familiar with, and that was James Crow's version (as produced by Carlisle's friend Edmund Taylor). And THAT's why Crow's version of bourbon is the only bourbon we know today (Taylor also produced Old Crow Rye, but I don't know that Crow himself ever did).

So not only did the lack of definition help to kill off Pennsylvania rye, I believe there were several other varients of Kentucky (and Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, etc) whiskey that have vanished into oblivion exactly BECAUSE of the legal recognition of Crow's style as the only legitimate straight whiskey. I mentioned this just yesterday in another thread about Conecuh Ridge (supposedly Alabama style whiskey, with very noticeable maple tones).

gillmang wrote:...I think in the end it was flavor - rye was just too challenging a whiskey to survive big time. It is a great drink, but could never achieve mainstream appeal once Bourbon spread its wings and Scotch and Canadian made their inroads.

One of Canada's many contributions to the world was Joni Mitchell, who noted that it "goes round and round and round in the circle game". I believe that it was the success of red Pennsylvania/Maryland rye whiskey that made the creation and marketing of Kentucky bourbon possible. I completely agree with you that the in-your-face flavor of good rye whiskey is too pronounced and distinct for general popularity. Most people want their alcohol to vanish into the fruit juice so they can pretend they're not drinking. The only bourbons that are really accepted by the masses are those like Beam white label and Maker's Mark, precisely BECAUSE they have little of the distinctive bourbon flavor. But that's changing. We're the people who are changing it (and yes, as Mark Brown, Lincoln Henderson, Bill Friel, and Chris Morris have pointed out often, the distillers DO NOTICE and appreciate us). That's why we now have such wonderful new ultra high-quality products. And those of us who appreciate the flavor of fine bourbon USUALLY also appreciate the flavor of rye. I believe that will result in new rye whiskeys appearing soon. And after awhile, perhaps a rebirth of the great rye whiskey industry will be able to owe it's existence to the success of Kentucky bourbon!!
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Unread postby gillmang » Thu Feb 24, 2005 10:28 am

Points all well-taken, thanks. I want to say though Byrn does speak about different ways to age spirit quickly, and rectification is a big part of the book in general. He states that everyone knows aged spirits have a better flavor than unaged, but the aging time he has in mind, something like one to three years (it seems) is short by today's standards. And he is preoccupied to find short-cuts, e.g., through quick aging (a couple of weeks) in rooms specially heated, through addition of various flavorings or through chemical methods. E.g. he advises to add a spirit distilled from raisins to new malt spirit to lend a pleasing, "vinosity". Or, he talks about various, "alkalies" that can be added to new spirit to remove off-flavor. He calls this off-taste by various odd-sounding words, one is "empyreutic", another, "lixivious".

(Much of the text sounds like it was translated from French. Either that or he had a flowery way of writing. Part of his surname is French-sounding, so he may have had connections in France or been brought up there. In any case he comes across as a certain kind of grandee).

But he knew some people liked unrectified liquor that would improve with keeping (i.e., our idea today of straight whiskey) and as I say he states the keeping could be e.g., in barrels, stone cisterns or even in bottles. He thought hermetically sealed bottles would mature the contents, contrary to the received wisdom of today. He makes it clear some people like unrectified spirits because he says if a distiller is only producing so much and the customers like the non-rectified product, don't bother investing in the column still. He is all for double distillation but he makes it clear some producers will not want to bother with making spirit higher than "proof" wherein (he says) the whole advantage of column equipment lies.

I take your point, too, on how the Bourbon style became fixed through a particular legislative process and background, but I believe too it became the dominant style in Kentucky and beyond even before that. And the reason was, I think, that relative to rye and other styles Bourbon is easier to drink and/or generally more pleasing. Bourbon was to rye then as, say, the wheated bourbons are today to rye-recipe bourbon. The law when changed also allowed straight rye (or straight wheat, etc.) but the non-Bourbon whiskey categories withered. Rye for modern tastes was just too big, too "Gothic" (good term used by Michael Jackson in his 1988 World Guide To Whisky).

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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Feb 28, 2007 7:50 pm

Here is the full thread on rectified whiskey bumped forward. As you can see the rectifier here had some definite opinions as to what the strongest flavors were in these styles of whiskey.
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Re: Rectifiers and compound whiskey

Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Sep 21, 2009 10:05 am

I am using these recipes in my Filson Bourbon Academy talk today as examples of what was going on in the industry in the 1860's.
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Re: Rectifiers and compound whiskey

Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Sep 21, 2009 11:03 am

Jeff,
This is a four Monday evenings, 6-8 o'clock class mostly for bartenders. The Filson is not aping them, but Single Malt TV was filming at my class last Monday, but will not be back for the others.
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Re: Rectifiers and compound whiskey

Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Sep 21, 2009 11:22 am

Actually, these classes are a fund raising event and prefer that they are not available for free - why buy the cow when the milk is for free! I plan on doing the classes again in February here at the Filson and Eric Gregory is working with Lexington CVB to hold them in their city some time soon. At $100 a person it is a win/win situation in that the bars get a good education in bourbon heritage and use at the bargin price of $25 a week and the Filson gains some needed funds in a time when the trust fund is hurting bad because it is heavily dependent upon the stock market. (The Filson is all privately funded - no tax money involved.)
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