Chips Off the Walnut Block
by Julian P Van Winkle
Stable boy in our Kentucky town used to carve graceful little horses from a block of walnut wood. Asked for his secret, he replied, "It's easy, Boss. Ah jes whittles off the chips that don't look like hoss!"
We make our old-fashioned whiskey in much the same way. From our fermented mashes we whittle away the parts that don't taste like bourbon.
Our stills are set to get the full, rich taste of genuine sour mash bourbon, with just the right conformation of muscle and sinew to age to a smooth round finish in our charred barrels.
Were we to deepen the "cut" of our stills we'd carve away the chips that look like "hoss" and wind up with a sway-backed, spindle-legged bourbon, so weak to the taste it would hardly be worth bottling.
Knowing just what to leave and what to whittle away is an art we've learned over more than a century.
And the ancient design of our copper stills, a happy accident of Kentucky ingenuity arrived at a century ago, contributes as much to the distinctive quality of our bourbon as our Kentucky limestone water itself.
If our fermented mash were whittled to the "bone" in the still, it would emerge more alcoholic spirit than whiskey. Lean in flavoring congeners, it would "flesh out" in our new charred oak barrels, and would roll out of our aging warehouses little better than it went in.
Conversely, our Old Fitzgerald comes through the still a pretty rugged boy, and accommodates himself to most any amount of aging. He's bottle ripe at four, but acquires additional nuances of flavor and polish with each advancing year.