That Crazy (or not so Crazy) Koji Corn Whisky

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My introduction to the idea of Koji process whiskies came from an awesome reader who sends me great papers he finds. Its a whopper of a story complete with a secret efficient production technique, monopoly ambitions, horrible anti competitive behavior, and a little bit of mobster strong arming. That was the turn of the century century (maybe) and it didn’t pop up again until the 1960’s research I just put out in American Whiskey by the Numbers. Only one distillery, no. 40, was making a corn whiskey with the process and they didn’t make any other kinds of mashes unless they also produced neutral spirits that might have escaped the report.

So the eccentric seeming process survived! But is there anymore to the story? Was it ever a way back fad? Do we see it by degrees in anyway today? Was it ever used in a fine context or was it only relegated to commodity junk?

To start, the idea is widely known, and could be said to be a home distillers fad, but probably not connected to its root history. Quite possibly the lineage of the idea was broken and brilliant home distillers quickly reinvented the old wheel.

Three papers have turned up and it is important to throw them on the easily searchable historic record returning it to people so they can understand and contextual what they are doing, not doing, or if they are a Momofuku devotee, naturally what their next business venture will be.

The first paper comes to use from Dr. Jokichi Takamine himself in 1914 from The Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry.

Enzymes of Aspergillus Oryzae and the Application of its Amyloclastic Enzyme to the Fermentation Industry.

This article is very cool and very readable adding to our timeline of the processes beginning. He does not betray his mobster monopolists or possibly this is where he was recruited.

Takamine defines Taka-Koji (named after himself!) and differentiates it from Japanese Koji which implies a culture grown on steamed rice. He also brands an extract of Taka-Koji Taka-diastase.

This article actually gets kind of awesome and I wish more papers were written with his tone and style. Takamine encounters failure, reflects and then returns to repeat experiments with new ideas. He even constructs an apparatus from a mason jar and a clock mechanism to revolve it like a drum! Hence the drum technique.

I don’t want to take away Takamine’s voice but he notes (and at length quotes) a Hiram Walker collaborator duplicating his work in Canada and presenting his findings to the Congress of Applied Chemistry so this idea was no quiet fringe finding. It is a great summary and I like it because it explains how they conducted their first experiments. This may help and inspire a small distillery to give it a one batch go for a special barrel.

“On account of the numerous great variations in the price of barley malt (in two consecutive years the price varied 100 per cent), it would be of great value to the distilling industry if a converting medium of moderate and more uniform price could be employed instead of barley malt. Eliminating, therefore, the different grains as a source of converting medium, I turned to the diastase produced by a microorganism, the Aspergillus oryzae. Takamine was the first to introduce the Koji process in America. As far back as 1889 he advocated the use of Koji in the distilling industry. Instead of growing the fungus on rice, Takamine employed a material far cheaper for this country, namely, wheat bran. An extract of the wheat bran, on which the Aspergillus oryzae had been allowed to germinate, contained the diastase, produced by the Aspergillus, and this extract was mixed with the mashed grain, bringing about the conversion of the starchy materials. Lately, I understand, he has succeeded in adapting a modification of the Galland-Henning malt drum system to his process. This should be a great improvement over the old floor system, in so far as it makes it possible to work under absolutely sterile conditions. For my experiments I decided to use the Taka-Koji itself instead of the diastatic extraction of same and add it to the mash in the same way as malt. Before beginning the practical experiments in the distillery, laboratory experiments were conducted on a small scale to ascertain the amount of Taka-Koji which was necessary to convert a certain amount of starch into sugar, and also the optimum temperature at which to conduct the conversion. It was found that 4 g. of Taka-Koji was sufficient to give a complete conversion in a mash made from 96 g. of corn and rye, the corn containing 15.o per cent of moisture and the rye 14.0 per cent. Three experiments were made in the distillery. For the first experiment only a 14 gallon can was used and a portion of our ordinary mash from the mashtub was employed, the mash being taken from the main mash just before malt was going to be added for conversion. The second experiment was performed on a somewhat larger scale. Instead of using mash material from the mashtub, the mash was made separately. It consisted of 500 kg. altogether, of which 20 kg. were Taka-Koji. The third experiment was performed on a good-sized working scale. Two mashes, each consisting of 3,401.94 kg. (of which 131.j kg. were Taka-Koji), were prepared. The two mashes were filled in Turn No. 25 of Friday, May 26, 1911. Turn No. 25 was distilled separately and the yield was 36 liters of 100 per cent alcohol per 100 kg. of mash material, just a trifle higher than the yield of the other mashes which were made the same day. In judging the adaptability of Taka-Koji for use in distilleries several questions must be asked and answered:
“Is Taka-Koji capable of giving a complete conversion of the starchy materials in the mash?
“Yes, 4 per cent of the air-dried Taka-Koji will in 15 to 20 minutes give a complete conversion of well prepared mash material.
“Is the fermentation a satisfactory one?
“While it is accompanied by a strong odor, which is prevalent in the fermenting room, the fermentation, however, is very rapid and complete, and on this account should give rise to the least amount of infection.
“Is the yield of spirit satisfactory?
“Yes, the yield obtained was a little higher than the yield gotten from the barley malt mashes, although the total fermentable extract available in the mash material was less. The yield of 36 liters of 100 per cent alcohol per 100 kg. of mash material is of course only a comparative yield. In distilleries which employ cookers and boil the corn under pressure, a higher yield would naturally result.
“Therefore, I should say as a final conclusion that in distilleries which make commercial or potable neutral spirit, the Taka-Koji process could be introduced to advantage. Aside from a probable higher yield in spirit, the saving in malt bill would be worth while in years with normal malt prices and very considerable in years when the malt prices become abnormal.”

Questions arise immediately. Is the aroma pleasurable or the product of ordinary off-aromas? Would the aroma have market now that we live in a world of mezcal and funky rum fetishes? Can a one barrel product fine rum product be justified? Who knows, but more importantly who is qualified to find out? I want to drink it, but the discovery may have been colossally important to the product of industrial and fuel ethanol. I hope Takamine lived long enough to profit and see the fruits of his labor.

The next paper is from 1939. Saccharification of Starchy Grain Mashes for the Alcoholic Fermentation Industry: Use of Mold Amylase.

This paper is kind of cool to breeze through. First we learn

The authors prefer to use the term “amylase” since it avoids confusion that sometimes results from the fact that “diastase” is the French term for enzyme.

Then we learn more of where the Takamine-H. Walker experiments ended up.

Use of mold preparations to replace malt in the fermentation industry was suggested by Takamine, and large-scale tests at the plant of Hiram Walker and Sons, Inc., in Canada in 1913 (9) proved entirely successful, yields of alcohol being better than with malt. However, a slight off-flavor or odor was produced in the alcohol, and since the flavor is of paramount importance in beverage alcohol, Takamine’s preparation has not found favor in the alcohol industry, Now, however, with the increasing interest in power alcohol, it would seem that a procedure similar to Takamine’s should hold much promise for production of industrial alcohol.

They go on to imply the Hiram Walkers process was private and with interest in industrial alcohol it would be beneficial to experiment and make a publicly known process available. We used to see more of this publicly funded research aimed at aiding private enterprise and generating competition. The acknowledgements at the end do imply a private grant.

What I want to know is what were these aromas like? Reminiscent of baijiu? Sweaty feet and bubble gum? Are any home distillers coming to an off/aroma-negative conclusion or is it avoided if an extract of the enzyme is separated from the moldy bran?

Their experiments gets into finer details and provides best bets for anyone wanting to play along. They do not return to the subject of the aroma because they are interested in non-potable alcohol. Their bibliography has a bunch of Dr. Takamine’s patents which go back as far as 1894.

The third paper is from 1949 and also published in the Industrial and Engineering Chemistry journal (which has published lots of other great works on beverage distillation). The research was conducted at the Northern Regional Research Laboratory, Peoria, Ill.

Grain Alcohol Fermentations: Submerged Mold Amylase as a Saccharifying Agent.

First off we should note that Peoria was home of distillery no. 40! The introduction makes it seem like they are doing some reinventing of the wheel or duplication of the 1939 experiments and the 1939 paper is in their bibliography but for some reason listed as 1940. The addition here might be the exploration and comparison of an “amylo process”. It is acknowledged that the processes have been already used commercially. Hiram Walker and Sons, Inc, Peoria, Ill and E.R. Squibb and Sons, Inc. New Brunswick N.J. are noted in foot notes. I basically skimmed to the end and found no mention of aroma nor whisky.

To sum it up. Koji is in culinary vogue, but is anything cool and promising happening here? Probably not. Does this have any impact on Bourbon as we know it? Commodity American whiskey may or may not have used percentages of industrial enzymes. I’ve heard murmurs but never read anything specific. I’ll have to keep an ear to the ground. If you know anything specific with a reference, do send it in. Fine American whiskeys likely do not flirt with industrial enzymes. One long shot idea to consider is that ethyl carbamate, a regulated congener comes from malt (among other things). To reduce it under a threshold for trade purposes (it is basically an artificial trade barrier), percentages of industrial enzymes may be used to hit target numbers. Who really knows, that is just from little bits and pieces I’ve read about regarding a barely understood industry topic.

This Cocktail Kills Fascists (and Culture Consolidation)

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This is my one draft synthesis of the situation reported on in Kevin Alexander’s Thrillist article. The article is by no means bad, but I think it misses a lot.

I was just on a motorcycle road trip from Boston out to Indianapolis via NYC, and Pittsburgh then back through Buffalo. I stopped to grab lunch and gas outside of Columbus Ohio in something like a multi stranded mega strip mall. In this bustling area there was not a single independent business. Not a pizza shop nor an ethnic restaurant. I was witnessing the massive consolidation of American culture. This is what the cocktail revolution has really been about. It has been an effort to dispel complacency and de-consolidate American culture. It may have started or grew wings with a bunch of list checking elitists catering to other elitists, but it has done a lot that goes beyond cheap thrills.

A lot of the greatest ills of our country are from corporate consolidation into monopoly and people are only finally waking up to that. An ill that still isn’t noticed is the cultural consolidation phenomenon. Mega brews and dumb shit like Mike’s Hard Lemonade used to be drinking culture. We didn’t have many choices or options. David Brooks recently wrote something idiotic about a friend of his being afraid of Capicola on a sandwich, if not threatened by it. This is what happens after a generation long stretch of aggressive consolidation. At its best, the creative energy unleashed by cocktail movement turned this all on its head at a time when we really needed it.

We shouldn’t be focused on trivial things like how people in the middle of nowhere are finally serving drinks with massaged marjoram and interpreting it as jumping the shark. We should think of how many independent businesses we formed or strengthened because we created a demand for independent experiences. The cocktail movement should also realize that it was bested and absolutely dwarfed by craft beer, though they are both always standing on each others shoulders.

Near every major town in the country has its own brewery (tens of thousands!) which is a giant blow to one size fits all Applebees culture as well as the complacent white bread mom & pops. We are up to nearly a thousand new distilleries, though that sector actually needs the most help, and because it is unexplored, has the most potential to amuse us thus spreading culture.

The cocktail effect is harder to quantify. Who cares about sales figures for premium spirits. What we should be concerned about is independent job and culture creation. List checked experiences are not necessary culture. Something has to stick around and endure to be ingrained in our culture, and we need broader culture desperately.

The culinary movement is not well understood because it has moved so fast and few have slowed down to look at the tangential problems it has solved beyond simply feeding us. It is the vital arm of inclusion and positive nationalism as opposed to negative nationalism which comprises naive protectionism, nativeism, and white male supremacy. We are living in a vacuum created by climate change and the collapse of the globalism and the culinary movement has done nothing but positive things to fill dangerous voids. A lot more could be said about this, but the point is that below the surface the various culinary movements are epicly profound and need a little more thought than “maturing to statehood”. I do not live in a red state struggling with the concept of inclusion, but as an artist I can subversively export my culture therefore weakening dangerous negative nationalism.

Politicians have been slow as shit to figure out how to get educated young people, particularly entrepreneurs, to stick to cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland. They so thoroughly don’t understand what they are doing and feel at the mercy of inevitability (a force at the root of globalism) that they let things like major airports disappear making it more expensive to get to their mid western city than Rome, Italy. On the other hand, many of us are like fuck it, I love my city (positive nationalism), I’m going to create a bar to amuse myself competing in the culinary game for culture points. Well, all the energy unleashed ended up creating glue (sticky places to belong), and more and more people started sticking to cities rebounding them. In Buffalo, I had drink related cultural experiences so significant I think I could live there happily.

Many are discovering, but maybe some don’t have a frame of reference, we are also in a new golden era of road tripping. You can visit second cities and have better culinary experiences than many premier cities for less expense and stop at wonderful breweries and distilleries in between (just not yet in central Ohio).

A reason the cocktail movement slowed down is that few could articulate its significance and the writers mostly suck and squander opportunities. The way they write about creativity blunts what it can actually achieve. They also cannot participate in this narrative I’m giving because they are so quick to let corporations dictate their narrative. The movement degenerates from a spontaneous economic engine, away from articulate positive nationalism, into ten thousand monkey arriving at Shakespeare and good things happening merely as byproducts of elitists trying to amuse each other.

The point is the movement can still keep moving along if we figure out how it helped make our country more livable. The movement didn’t start with contrived articles about a new product sponsored by a brand. It will also end if people don’t learn about and celebrate the concept of involvement. We haven’t even scratched the surface aesthetically if you want to explore that route. If you want to get specific, there are still rums in Cape Verde that haven’t been discovered. Portugal is full of amazing spirits and liqueurs yet to be recognized. New distilleries have not yet realized what they are finally legally allowed to do. Hell, no press has ever even covered my Champagne bottle manifold which is used in some of the best bars in the world.

A unique cultural force that helped coalesce American culture in the beginning has been re-coalescing America after a generation long stretch of dangerous cultural consolidation. The new beverage scene is only going to die if no one figures out what it achieved in the first place.

Hubert Von Olbrich, Über rum completeist \m/(-.-)\m/

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I have long been procrastinating following a major lead on rum history given by Hubert Von Olbrich in his contribution to the 1975 rum symposium.

Olbrich authored a very large bibliography of 300 years of rum thought, but very curiously he mentions a reference from 1936 regarding Percival Greig that he doesn’t list in his bibliography. Well, I’ve finally tracked down Olbrich’s text, Geschichte der Melasse, from 1970 and found that missing citation. I even digitized Olbrich’s section on rum and hopefully some translators will appear to help the cause.

Anonymous.: “Die Fabrikation des Jamaika-Rums und des Batavia-Arraks.-Ein über die wichtigsten Originalarbeiten, besonders englischer und holländischer Forscher”, Deutsche Destillateur-Zeitung 57(1936) 114, 123-124, 145-146, 159, 182-183, 205-206.

Percival Greig left Jamaica after positively identifying the fission yeast, schizosaccharomyces Pombe, as being responsible for the unique character of Jamaican rums. He went on to start his own distillery, but it is not known where he went. The citation may spell it out or offer more clues.

Hubert Von Olbrich is a unique character and very significant. Besides being a globe trotting super consultant sugar technologist, he was also a bibliophile and historian. Very much like Maynard Amerine, Olbrich was a linguist and capable of digesting the different languages that go into telling the history of sugar cane and/or our interest, rum.

He was convinced that nothing notable happened in the development of rum technology between Percival Greig and Rafael Arroyo. I would argue that isn’t completely true, but Olbrich’s bibliographies are missing one important scientist, who I won’t name for selfish reasons, that Arroyo built upon.

I don’t speak German and I only gleaned a little bit by using google’s translator, but the chapter looks particularly interesting and may explain what Jamaica rum concentrates were all about and how they were used by Germany as blending stock, especially after WWII. The writing is also full of question marks and exclamation points so hopefully it freely dispenses aesthetic opinions of beauty.

The end of Olbrich’s text features a timeline that extends from basically the beginning of recorded history until 1970, the book’s publication. The time line is in German, but one curious thing is easy to pick out. Along the way, in 1893, he starts a countdown of Jamaican rum production. Olbrich lists how many distilleries there were and what they collectively produced.

1893    73,400 hl (hecto-liter)    148 distillereies
1901    58,200                               110
1912    40,000                               67
1922    62,400                              48
1936    43,500                               29
1948    134,700                             24
1957    70,000                               21

This was the path of consolidation. There was also a curious entry in 1934. Only that year did Puerto Rico begin rum production.

Scouring the bibliography, I can across a reference to H. Warner Allen’s wonderful Rum: The Englishman’s Spirit and was able to find this scanning of it. It is a spectacularly thoughtful history of rum and probably no one writing today has learned to convey their love of the subject quite like Allen.

 

 

F. I Scard, The Chemistry of Rum

The name F. I. Scard has come up before in a drab paper, Scientific Control of a Rum Distillery. That idea turned out to be slightly more exciting in our recent reframing of Bourbon where we saw that scientific control was something that was significantly aided by onsite excise officers which the West Indies didn’t seem to have in those days. Better control made the collecting of tax revenue much more predictable.

Scard returns with another short paper, The Chemistry of Rum, from 1920. There is some great language in there and some unique factoids.

What might be called the beneficient bacteria of rum, which cause the distinctive flavour, are the acetic acid organism, which produces acetic acid from the alcohol, and the butyric acid organism, which gives from the presence of organic matter peculiar to sugar cane molasses, butyric acid—the same body which gives the characteristic flavour to rancid butter.

We use that rancid butter factoid as common trivia these days, but I’ve never seen it stated that far back.

During distillation the acids mentioned above combine with the alcohol, forming what are known as “esters” or compound ether, and it is these esters which impart the flavour to rum and give it stimulating properties.

I highlight this because Scard mentions stimulating properties. I posited stimulating properties in rum back in my infamous Mezan XO spirits review that ended up with the Mezan XO challenge! Scard was writing before the wide recognition of rum oil as a congener category, to which I attribute the mysterious stimulation rather than esters. Does the logic of his language imply pharmacological stimulation, apart from ethanol, or am I grasping? We have only seen real rum re-enter the market recently so I suggest you drink more to make a better educated decision.

The object of adding sulphuric acid to wash is the produce a certain acidity, thus putting an obstacle in the way of the putrifactive bacteria, which feed on yeast cells, at the same time helping the development of the butyric ferment,  which requires an acid condition for its development. It is the ester formed from this acid which gives the “pineapple” flavour to Jamaica rum. Its presence is essential to all rums, as without this ester the spirit ceases to be rum.

A strong aesthetic pronouncement! Those are rare.

And here we go…

The reason why Jamaica rum contains so much of this body, and is consequentially so valuable, is as follows: The yeast which provides the fermentation in sugar-cane distilleries is derived from the cane itself. The ordinary variety consists of round cellular bodies which grow by budding—that is, one cell buds out from another. This variety, unfortunately, will not flourish when the acidity gets beyond a certain point. When this point is reached—and the production of acetic acid soon brings it about if the fermentation is slow—alcohol production ceases. But in Jamaica there is an especial yeast which will grow in a highly acid medium. Unlike the other yeast, it is rod-shaped, and multiplies by splitting up. The presence of this yeast, therefore, enables the fermentation to be prolonged, and substances such as bottoms, dunder, &c., to be used in the wash, which are favourable to the development of butyric acid.

Here we see the return of our especial hero, Schizosaccharomyces Pombe, which is still not widely recognized in contemporary rum connoisseurship. We don’t exactly know who is using it currently and who isn’t and who was and who stopped. The first person to bring a Pombe rum to the U.S. will have a lot of success. And I’d be happy to help them. There are ways to achieve great ends without a Pombe ferment, but they do not tell such an archaic story of questing Victorian geniuses. They will not be as dank, concentrated, or brick house powerful.

In this connection it may be remarked that the writer on one occasion added butyric ether (ester) to a puncheon of rum in Demerara, which was reported upon in Mincing-lane as “resembling Jamaica”.

There is a lot here besides the admission of fraud. First off, Scard is an island hopper which shows yet again how ideas and know how easily spread between the islands. Everyone was following everyone. Therefore the forces that created style were largely economics, risk tolerance, and responsibility (to process mountains of molasses or not). Mincing-lane was a market for rum and other articles from the West Indies. Lots of tasting descriptors were developed in these markets.

The cane-juice itself is an important factor. Different kinds of canes give a different quality of rum, due, partly, to the case itself and partly to variations in chemical treatment necessitated there in the sugar manufacture. Even the different conditions of the same variety of cane will affect the flavour of the rum. On one occasion some Demerara rum made from very rank Bourbon canes were reported upon as being “green and stalky.” There is therefore outside the ethers specified some bodies present in excessive proportions which come down from the cane itself.

Scard here is arriving at a notion of proto-terroir. He isn’t exactly celebrating variation, but he is noting that variations exist. I’m a little confused by the “rank” canes. These could be moldy rum canes which were prized or be something else. Distilling them could also have been an experiment, and if they were fermented and distilled as a fresh juice rum, they may have had that character on account of not being centrifuged like the fresh juice rhums we know of today.

His closing remarks are nice:

Another agent in flavour is the nature of the still.

Bulletin Relative to Production of Distilled Spirits

Bulletin Relative to Production of Distilled Spirits
United State. Internal Revenue Service, United States.

I came across this wonderful text while researching my last post on mid century, golden era, American whiskey production. The 1912 text is basically a primer on distillation encountered in American distilleries for excise agents who were working alongside the distillers.

It is early and gives a glimpse of the industry before products like Bourbon really took definite shape and consistent production traditions stretched out. There is a picture of an ordinary pot still, a three chambered still and a continuous beer still, but not the Bourbon still setups that we know today.

The text also has a unique tone and mentions what was in vogue in regards to production. A relationship between distiller and excise agent emerges.

The data contained in this bulletin has been compiled and is furnished for the information of all internal-revenue officers, and particularly for the information of those whose duties bring them in touch with the operations of distilleries.

These excise agents had to know what was going on to spot fraud and monkey business, though it is not explicitly spelled out that way.

It is hoped and believed that the information furnished herein, so far as all internal-revenue officers are concerned, removes anything that may be of mystery from the operations of these plants; and it is further expected, and in the future will be required, that every distillery officer shall sufficiently familiarize himself with the simple laws of chemistry and physics involved in the production of spirits so as to understand their application to the materials and the equipment in the plant to which he is assigned.

As I framed in the last post, the IRS had a big incentive to be technically helpful to the industry. In 1912 fermenting to dryness was no guarantee, and if a distillery gained enough control to hit dryness every time, grain purchased would match alcohol produced and the agent wouldn’t have to turn into Columbo constantly unraveling mysteries of what the hell happened. This is probably taken for granted these days now that distilleries do not have live in agents and everyone is on the honor system.

It is not intended that this bulletin shall constitute a primer or a guide to the production of spirits. An effort has been made to give a general description of the various processes in common use, and an explanation of the reason why certain things are done; and, further than this, that the information herein shall furnish a method by which, from knowing what is done, the officer assigned to a distillery can ascertain whether or not the amount of distilled spirits normally to be expected has resulted therefrom.

The relationship between the IRS and the distillers evolved, but for 1912, the last line here is key.

Barley is the grain generally used for malting purposes, because it is considered to have the highest diastatic power of any of the malted cereals. Considerable rye malt is used in the production of an all rye whisky and a little corn malt is occasionally produced and used. By diastatic power is meant the measure of the activity of the malt in changing starch into sugar.

Here is a little fun factoid relating to ryes like the Baltimore Pure Rye.

A certain quantity of water is added to the cooker, about 20 gallons to the bushel (the exact quantity depending upon the ideas of the distiller) ;

I highlight this excerpt from the mashing section because it shows more of the unique tone.

Things get interesting when they describe three different mashing methods with the last being called old sour mash process:

Third, the small tub or old sour mash process. The details vary, but the following is the general process: A certain quantity of hot slop, about 20 gallons to the bushel, is placed in small tubs (capacity about 50 gallons, sometimes more) ; the meal is then added and the entire mass thoroughly stirred with the mash sticks. This is allowed to stand overnight, in the morning it is broken up by means of mash sticks; the malt and rye is then added, in some places without heating the mash, in others after heating to about 160° F., allowed to stand for some time and then sent to the fermenters.
This process does not give as good results in mashing as the open mash tub, because a smaller number of the starch cells are acted on in the process, and a smaller yield is obtained.

The hot slop is backset right out of the still. If it stands over night it may or may not grow lactic bacteria, especially if it is in already infected vats. It would be very cool to try this out and see what happens. My question then is would the enzymes actually have time and ability to act on the rye if it wasn’t heated after being added? Everything has to be back to room temperature after sitting over night.

If I were running a distillery tourism program, I would try and do some interactive exhibits to show we progressed from the most rudimentary processes to what is currently practiced. Create a living history type of thing.

There are three methods of yeasting in vogue: First, to allow the tub to be yeasted by the yeast organisms which fall into it from the air or are remaining in the fermenters; second, yeasting back, or the use of “barm”; third, the preparation of a yeast mash in a quantity representing from 2 to 4 per cent of the grain bill.

The first method is how we think of fermenting wine, but distillation is all about abstraction. Abstract quantities of yeast, beyond what is already present in a vat, are used in near every class of distillate with few exceptions. Arroyo has the best systematic explanation of how this abstraction avenue can be varied.

First method, no yeasting used.—At a very few small distilleries no added yeast (neither mash nor barm) is used. The mash is prepared and placed in fermenters, the distiller leaving the tubs to nature, and as yeast cells are present nearly everywhere, some cells drop into the mash and fermentation begins. As other organisms also develop, this fermentation is a poor one and the lowest yields are obtained from this process. In the early days of the industry this was the general method employed.

It is so hard to believe that anyone would do this, even in 1912, except possibly a fruit brandy producer. He may be describing it in terms of a grain mash just to help his narrative.

Second method, yeasting hack, or the old sour-mash process. After the mash has been prepared in the small tubs, as before described, and emptied into the fermenters, the new mash is yeasted by taking from a tub set the day before and presumably in active fermentation the “barm”; that is, the top is skimmed off, containing a large number of yeast cells, which will immediately begin to grow in the new mash. After this tub has been fermenting 24 hours, the “barm” is skimmed off of it for use in the next tub, and so on. In this method the yeast is less vigorous than in the third method, hereinafter described, because in addition to the race of yeast desired there is an abundance of other types of yeasts and various bacteria which interfere and tend to cause a low yield by a development of other substances in place of alcohol. The longer the process of yeasting back continues the less vigorous the barm becomes, as far as the true yeast is concerned, though it becomes very rich in the varieties not desired.
Finally the tubs will become so foul that a fresh start has to be made by obtaining a quantity of yeast from other sources. In a distillery operating strictly on this plan there would be no yeast tub on the premises.

I’m taking the time to highlight all of these options because it is 1912, Jamaica versus America if you’ve followed this blog. A few years prior Jamaica was writing its great treatise on rum production at its agriculture experiment stations. These explanations are neck and neck and no one really seems to be ahead explaining what they are doing. The state of the art happens to travel fast.

The yeasting back idea is also important to understand because even though it is less efficient in theory it often is more efficient in practice. Massive Brazilian ethanol distilleries using yeasting back because when extra logistics are factored in for their medium, it can produce better results. Yeasting back can also be pragmatic and used when labor is not scheduled to grow a proper culture which takes active time and planning. You can yeast back in a pinch.

The average system of making a yeast mash is somewhat along the following lines : A yeast mash is prepared of malt, or malt and rye and hop water; this will have a gravity of 20 per cent or more; it is stocked with a good yeast and allowed to ferment. At the proper time, after active fermentation has ensued, it is drawn off into jugs of one-half gallon or more capacity. These jugs are used as stock and will keep a month or more before the yeast contained therein will degenerate.
Each day a “dona” is prepared by mashing barley malt and adding a little hop water; this is cooled to the proper temperature and set with one of the jugs ; it is then allowed to ferment overnight or even 24 hours. A yeast mash in the meantime is prepared by mashing one-half barley malt, one-half rye, cooled and set with the dona.
This mash is allowed to ferment overnight or longer and is then ready to add to the fermenter. The grain represented in the yeast mash is from 2 to 4 per cent of the total grain bill for the day (and as all of this grain produces alcohol it should be included in the grain account). In the preparation of the yeast mash at some distilleries another step is taken : After the mashing of the rye and malt the mash is held at about 124° F. from 18 to 24 hours to sour; that is, to permit lactic acid bacteria to develop. This bacteria is not injurious to the yeast, but is an enemy of certain bacteria which are harmful to the yeast. After the souring the mash is either cooled and pitched with the dona or heated to kill the lactic acid bacteria, and then cooled and set (this is called “wine sour”).

The first time I read about the hop water trick they were putting their yeast down a well to keep it cool until the next season. A lot of this is like a cooking show where they put a turkey into the oven then pull another cooked turkey out. If that can’t be arranged, you have to yeast back. The yogurt technique is mentioned here when they create the wine sour medium for their cultures. When you have multiple potential yeasts, one will be suited for the medium, it will grow the best, and that will be your wine sour yeast.

There are four legal periods of fermentation in the United States—that is, the statutes recognize four different periods during which a tub can be filled but once.

That is an interesting way to put it.

First. The sweet-mash, process, in which 72 hours is the maximum time, and 45 gallons of beer must represent not less than 1 bushel of grain.

So the ferment cannot be too long or too dilute. You’d think all the guidelines would aim in the opposite direction.

Second. The sour-mash process, in which 96 hours is the maximum period and in which 60 gallons of beer must represent not less than 1 bushel of grain.

These rules looked like they changed and in the document, 50 years later, there were sour mash fermentations as long as 120 hours. Again, maximums.

Third. The filtration-aeration process, in which 24 hours is the maximum period, and 70 gallons represents not less than 1 bushel of grain. (This is a process in which yeast for bakers is the main product, and alcohol more or less a by-product.)

Fascinating.

Fourth. The rum period, in which 144 hours is the maximum period, and 7 gallons of beer represents 1 gallon of molasses.

You don’t see many acknowledgements of American rum in the literature, but there you go.

For me, and after reading Arroyo, this all raises the question, do you pitch only enough yeast to finish fermentation by your 72 or 96 hours?, or is the yeast done when it is done and the extra time is for action by bacteria and effects of resting? In the document we often saw three different time variations for the same mash bill, but did they pitch different amounts of yeast to create them? Arroyo was big on a resting period as benefiting rum, but he had lots of stipulations. He was also big on explicitly counting the yeasts that you pitched.

Note.—A distiller who desires to use molasses and make alcohol, and not rum, can have his distillery surveyed on a sweet mash period of fermentation and use 7 gallons of beer to represent 1 gallon of molasses. The advantage in the shorter period lies in the opportunity afforded for operating with fewer fermenters.

Fascinating, distilleries were surveyed.

Let’s cover the three chambered charge still in case they come back in vogue:

Charge chambered beer still (see illustration, fig. 4) .—This still consists of from two to four chambers, and is so arranged that each chamber is a unit in itself. The beer is placed in the top chamber and after one distillation the contents of the top chamber is lowered into the chamber below, and a quantity of new beer dropped in the upper chamber. The method of heating is by live steam entering in the lowest chamber. The vapors, consisting of a mixture of alcohol and water, pass from the lower chamber through a vapor pipe to the bottom of the chamber above, these vapors in turn heating the beer in this chamber, boiling the spirit out of it. If there is a third and fourth chamber the same process is repeated. From the upper chamber the vapors pass through a vapor pipe into a doubler, which is a large cylindrical copper vessel, into the bottom of which is placed, at the end of each charge, the heads and tails of the previous distillation. A vapor pipe from the upper chamber enters at the bottom of this doubler, the hot vapors, boiling the heads and tails, pass up the doubler into another vapor pipe, and hence into the condenser. The time consumed in the distillation of one charge is determined by the spirit runner judging by the proof of the distillate. When he is satisfied that all of the alcohol has been boiled out of the beer in the lowest chamber the spent beer is emptied into the spent beer tank and in turn the contents of each chamber is emptied into the chamber below; steam is again turned into the lower compartment and the process continued. It takes approximately 30 minutes to run a charge and there are as many charges as are necessary to distill the beer for that day. These are the stills invariably used at the larger houses in the distillation of rye beers. The distillate of each charge of this still varies in proof, beginning at a low proof, say 40 or more, running up to a maximum of 140 and then down to approximately 10. According to the ideas of the distiller, this distillate is cut off into heads, middle run, and tails. The strongest part of the distillation being classed as middle run. All the middle runs of the various charges distilled during the day are mixed together and called singlings or high wines. The heads and tails of each charge are, as a rule, mixed together and at the end of the distillation of each charge are placed in the doubler of the beer still where they are subjected to a further boiling, and thus the alcohol contained therein is saved and the product called the middle run is kept free of the undesirable substances present in these heads and tails. At certain houses this separation may not be practiced, but all the different distillates mixed together, the disadvantage being that a lower proof is obtained.

This is so attractively archaic and it is easy to appreciate the operators skill and understanding of what they are doing. The chambers quickly become symbolic and recall Wu-Tang. It should be noticed that the charges are dropped (another hip-hop metaphor) before they are fully liberated from alcohol, but when all the drops add up (3 or 4 chambers of death!) all the alcohol is removed. You could stop the distillation when the lowest chamber hits 212° F. I don’t think you could take that measure from the vapor pipe in between chambers because of all the super heated live steam moving through it which would bias the number.

At one time it was a general practice to filter the distillate of the beer still through charcoal filters, or as they are called “rectifiers.” This practice is still followed at several distilleries. Sometimes the singlings are leached (as it is called) and bonded without redistillation; at other houses they are redistilled.

The author, and his unique vantage point, make it seem like charcoal filtration was a trend that moved through the industry at one point. In the beginning it was seen as a way to avoid second distillations, but eventually refined by producers in Tennessee.

The next section of the text is simply titled “Control”.

Nearly all of the larger distilleries keep a scientific control of their operation and production. From the earliest days the Federal statutes made provision for scientific control by the Government, and these statutes, which internal-revenue officers have not availed themselves of generally in the past, will be utilized fully from this time on. The possibility of scientific control lies in the fact that the amount of alcohol capable of being produced depends absolutely on the per cent of sugar in the mash, and this amount of sugar can, by use of the saccharometer, be accurately measured and the amount of alcohol developed by fermentation definitely ascertained; and by intelligent observation, by a competent officer, of the processes followed in any plant, the amount lost in fermentation and distillation closely estimated, and the production that should be recorded as entered into the cistern room closely calculated.

Boom!

Whenever an examining officer visits a distillery he is expected to test the beer in each fermenter and compare his results with those of the distillery officer. If the results indicate that the proper gravity has not been taken and recorded by the distillery officer in charge, the examining officer will make immediate report to the revenue agent in charge, using his judgment as to whether such report should be by writing or by telegraph, and the instructions issued by this office with respect to keeping of Form 88 should then promptly be followed by the revenue agent, and prompt reports relative thereto should be forwarded direct to the bureau.

You are not allowed to be incompetent as a distiller!

Heavy responsibilities devolve on distillery officers and they must be as thoroughly trusted as any class of Government employees. In no other position in the Government is there greater necessity for alertness, competency, and intelligent action at all times. The Bureau of Internal Revenue believes that it is to be congratulated on the internal-revenue officers as a whole. It is the constant effort of the bureau to further raise the standard of these officers by discovering and visiting with severe punishment the few unworthy persons who from time to time find their way into the service.

No nonsense, and then he jumps right into some math! Can you imagine if our police departments used language like that?

Revenue agents, deputy collectors, and examining officers are expected to use every care in checking up distilleries and to render every assistance to distillery officers in the performance of their duty, and immediately report any incompetence, lack of intelligent effort, or irregularity on the part of any distillery officer, with a view to furthering the purpose of the bureau that there shall be collected for the Government every dollar of revenue due with the least possible annoyance or interruption in the business of the legitimate taxpaying manufacturer.

I like the language, lack of intelligent effort. I will borrow that when I scold people. He then goes into Form 88. Basically then collected data on every aspect of production and knew everything on everyone. It would be wild if we could request some of these records.

It turns out 1912 was a important year and the results of IRS technical assistance were starting to pay off. Increasing the yield of commercial distilleries also made them more competitive against illicit distilling.

American Whiskey by the Numbers – An Unprecedented Look

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A unique mid century document came to me a few years ago containing the intimate but anonymous production parameters of 42 American whiskey distilleries producing 112 different whiskey mashes (85 Bourbons, 10 rye mashes, and 17 corn mashes). To my knowledge, the document is not known to any spirits scholars.

My plan to explore the document started with a scheme to unmask all the distilleries by tricking the conglomerates into matching their famous straight Bourbon labels to the old productions. I appealed for help, but didn’t get any interest, so it seemed like time to explore it another way. It was also complicated by the fact that these were just mashes and not labels themselves. Straight Bourbons could be picked out, but blends would be very complicated if not possible anymore.

Many brands making come backs have devolved into merely labels detached from the juice that was inside. As we will see when compared, many of the mashes were fairly redundant, featuring only slight variations. Brilliant progressive thinkers like Herman Willkie and Paul Kolachov were making production much more efficient in the name of environmental burden while also producing a great product. Their quest for genuine improvement was a big factor in the consolidation trend.

Distillery tourism is the new trend that may reverse the label detachment phenomenon and producers may be interested in de-consolidating their products back to more uniqueness so we have more places to visit, collect, and obsess over. The market for fine products and tourism make a lot of things newly viable, what we need then is a vision for style.

New players are entering the market that are financed well enough to be the truth seekers we need such as Kevin Plank’s Sagamore spirits. Sadly, they are starting with MGP, but they have picked up Seagram’s alum, Larry Ebersold. No doubt the parameters of gems like the legendary Baltimore Pure rye lie in the document. It shouldn’t be hard to spot the rye-est of all the ryes. Distillery no. 3, a conglomerate, made some brick house ryes, but distillery no. 38 made nothing but rye with one mash being a pure rye malt monster and their other mash being more econo.

To contextualize the document, I have reorganized it into a spread sheet that makes trends and patterns more obvious. I’ll do my normal barely appreciated dot connecting then hopefully some historians that have studied company timelines and have knowledge of the producer’s various labels can chime in and we can start giving probabilities of who is who. There are only two different wheaters and one corn producer using koji so it won’t be too hard to name the obvious. I’m hoping that Colin Spoelman swoops in and cleans up the list really nice.

The document gets specific and tells us the unique production parameters used by each distillery. Many only made Bourbon while others added a corn whiskey or rye and a few made all three. If they added that corn mash, they likely had a proliferation of labels for blends. Some mash bills were reused with different parameters and the spreadsheet lets us see that all comparatively. Most whiskey back then was commodity whiskey as opposed to the new fine market we see now and the document shows producers varying production parameters to make different crus, at least as blending stock, under one roof. This wasn’t the single barrel era yet. Who knows how they allocated production slots when they had multiple mashes in their repertoire. Some mashes were obviously modest while others were grander and some with a grand foundation were distilled to be a little lighter on their feet as supposedly was the trend.

The document was commissioned because fusel oil separation in continuous stills, the so called extractive distillation, was changing whiskey identity markedly. Only six of the forty two distilleries exclusively used batch distillation. Laws limiting distillation proof to imply character are all based on the assumption of batch distillation. A continuous still can be tuned so that its various side streams strip out the heavy character of fusel oil. Producers, no doubt led by Willkie and Kolachov, were also moving to advance fermentations, biological control, to alter much of a whiskey’s character pre distillation and aging (no doubt following the lead of rum, the most progressive spirit). The document was an attempt to mark a golden era of American whiskey before it went too wayward beyond “tradition”. Keep in mind, I may also be over dramatizing things.

For each itemized production, we have their:
•Mash bills, percent corn, rye, wheat, and malt
•Whether it was a sweet or sour mash
•Whether a lactic culture was added
•The percent of backset or stillage used to sour the mash
•The gallons per bushel of grain which implies alcohol concentration for the mash
•Duration of fermentation in hours
•I computed duration in days so we can think in terms of labor shift changes
•Plates on the beer still
•Min and max proof of the stripping run
•I compute the difference to imply how the still is refluxed to come to a relative equilibrium before the run is collected.
•Whether the doubler is a batch charge or continuous.
•Min and max proof of the doubling run
•I again compute the different to extrapolate a little more
•Proof of the final collected distillation
•Entry proof into the barrel.
•I compute the difference because the most grand brick house products will require the least dilution, just like a rum.

Corn is cheaper than other grains and too much corn in a mash bill can leave a rank taste at lower drinking proofs if distilled very low. It tends to be served above 80 proof to contain the flavor. In the era of the document, corn whiskey was still a thing, if not just for blending. Three distilleries exclusively made corn whiskey. One was still using the infamous ultra efficient and therefore cheap koji process developed by Dr. Jokici Takamine in the late 19th century. This is likely a Peoria Illinois producer, but possibly not Hiram Walker. Distillery no. 1 is likely the most heritage of all the corns. They still used batch distillation, though with a few plates, and no refluxing of the stills before they collected the run. Bourbons very high on the corn make me think of bottlings like Dant that I’ve tasted from the 1970’s that kind of sucked.

Higher rye content Bourbons, like Old Grand Dad is famously known to be, start to mark quality. Some whiskeys like example no. 3c were probably quite tasty. Distillery 3 was one of a few big conglomerates and it is interesting to compare their bourbons. Whiskeys 3a and 3b are subtle variations of each other and do not read as grand as 3c in terms of rye content, yet their fermentation times are slightly longer. Were any of these new acquisitions that were likely to be redundant and consolidated?

Speaking of conglomerates, distillery no. 3 is the most apparent, but the similarity of parameters in distilleries no. 5,6, and 7 make it seem like they were all under the direction of a single team. Could that be where Willkie and Kolachov come in?

Only two distilleries made Wheat mashes, and they loved their concept enough to make nothing but. One is Stitzel-Weller and the other is likely Maker’s Mark. Language in the document’s commentary implies that the wheaters are two distinct enterprises. Both distilleries used the same mash bill, the same single plate stripping still concept, similar lack of refluxing, and even the same barrel entry proof. Bill Samuels was known to acquire his recipe and receive assistance from Stitzel-Weller and the data could add conjecture to the extent of the help. My guess is that the more contemporary Maker’s Mark is the wheater that distills at the higher proof.

Malt is an interesting variable in a mash bill and it is thought only to provide assistance for converting starch to fermentable sugars, but it may also be stylistic judging by the varying proportions of its use. Malt is expensive and if a producer went heavy on it, they likely had a good reason. The highest malt content on the board is the 20% from whiskey no. 38b. That was from the rye exclusive producer and was matched with 80% rye which leads me to believe it was the Baltimore Pure Rye [*cough*cough* Sagamore, get on it! and talk to Wondrich about a three chambered still!]. I had been lucky enough to taste a bottle of BPR 1941 and it had a unique and dense maltiness very unlike any Old Overholt I had tasted of the same era. Overholt could possibly be derived in part from the ryes of distillery no. 3. which may be National Distillers (just a guess!).

Malted barley has a much higher diastic power than malted rye so when the malt figure is at the average, it is likely the more economical barley, but if it is as high as 20, it is probably decadently rye. Northern Brewer has started selling different malt extracts and their rye is quite singular. What would be cool to know is if there was a style of Bourbon mash that seemed like it was high on the corn, but was rye plus rye malt (instead of barley) so it really tasted distinctly high rye.

Few producers still made a sweet mash with two producers doing it exclusively. The rule of thumb with sweet mashes is that they can ferment faster and to higher alcohol contents than a sour mash. Distillery no. 2 made a sweet Bourbon mash, corn mash, and rye. Their rye is categorized as sweet but still employed 18% backset. Distillery no. 42 followed suit with two categorized sweet but also featuring 20% backset. The traditional quantity of backset for sour mash is 25% so anything less than that is considered sweet by the industry. Notice the first part of the rule of thumb falls part and distillery no. 2 happens to use decadently long fermentations though the second part holds true and they use a low gallons of water per bushel. Style points for no. 2! [that red three I think is their typo and should be a 13]

The addition of a lactic acid producing bacteria was something that surprised me when I first read the document. Co-fermentation of yeast with an innoculated bacterial culture is something that we think of in rum production, but here it was, thoroughly used in American whiskey and practiced for decades. I have yet to find an old research paper that focuses on it.

When you really get into it, the way they add their lactic culture is also very different than rum. Rum bacteria is all offense and aroma driven while sour mash’s lactic culture is all defense. Many inferior wild yeasts and aroma negative bacteria can not grow in the low pH medium produced by the lactic bacteria. Sour mash yeasts are unique and they used to be called wine-sour yeasts because they were selected for tolerance to soured mashes.

Innoculating with a lactic culture may seem high tech like sour mashers graduated from mere chemical control to full on biological control, to borrow some rum industry phrasing, but they were practicing it since before the 19-teens. They made it like yogurt. A small amount of a rye and malt specialty mash is held at about 120°. This temperature is beyond a yeast’s tolerance, but the lactic bacteria can grow and take hold. It wasn’t too fussy.

The bacteria basically infects the vat and accumulates in every batch to a point where fermentation is impeded and the vats must be chemically sanitized. These days under near complete biological control, some producers have advanced to the point where they have inline spectroscopy monitoring the beer telling them specifically if they need to clean the vats on the 18th, 19th, or 20th batch in the cycle. Too soon would be wasteful. If we get philosophical, we may even say that their involvement goes too deep. The windows for chaos are framed a little too tightly.

The sweet mash producers obviously did not add a lactic culture, but twelve sour mash producers also did not use it in any of their productions. These producers likely have a healthy variation of character during their production cycles and they tended to have smaller lineups such as one mash bill with variations of fermentation duration. I imagine Old Crow lying in this Bourbon philosophical territory somewhere. Its reputation was beyond the state of its production so the label was kept, but its mash bill was consolidated.

Gallons of water per bushel tells us how dilute the beer was and what its potential alcohol was. It also somewhat tells us how grand the aspirations of the ferment were. More water meant a larger mass to absorb the heat of fermentation which would keep the temperature down creating less aroma negative congeners that in the olden days would be a concern for batch distillation. More water also means more capital tied up storing the extra mass of the beer and far more energy used to boil it all in the end, so if you added it, the results had to justify it. Just like rum, progressive producers were migrating to temperature controlled fermentation vats and higher starting gravity fermentations to use less fuel.

There used to be legal minimums governing gallons per bushel (to promote hitting dryness) and even a provision for rum, but who knows where those ideas were by the time the document was commissioned. This relates to the idea of chemical control of a distillery. If you go way back, American excise officers used to actually help distilleries become scientifically competent. We just didn’t know enough about fermentation is those days and without care it was easy to get a fermentation stuck and squander potential alcohol before you distilled. The excise job would be phenomenally easier if all producers were guaranteed to ferment to dryness. The producer would also make more money and have less incentive to cheat.

When fermentation competence is the rule, the reason the excise job gets easier is because you can match potential alcohol from grain purchased to alcohol realized from the still. There will be losses but extrapolations can account for them. The excise officer becomes a stable pencil pusher and not a nosy detective with a flashlight only to find the distiller is incompetent. The scope of the IRS papers that keep turning up surprise a lot of people, but hopefully this explains their philosophy. Many of the excise guys no doubt loved whiskey. The bulletins they put out gave them a proper forum to influence the industry instead of being an annoying backseat driver on the distillery floor. I have written in the past about the public foundations of private spirits companies.

Longer fermentation times typically correlate to fuller flavored beers to distill (and there also used to be legal minimums aimed at helping hit dryness). This lesson is best learned in rum where there is a bigger spread in possibilities. In the document, we see fermentations as short as 52 hours for a corn mash and as long as 120 hours for quite a few others whiskeys.

One thing I did in the spread sheet was to convert the hours to days to look at the durations in terms of human labor cycles. Fermentation times weren’t exactly just carried out until specific congener targets were met, besides the obvious completion of converting sugar to alcohol. They were carried out until someone showed up to do the work of manning the pumps. If we look at distillery no. 27, an infamous wheater producing three variations of the same mash bill, they had a 72 hour fermentation, an 84, and a 96. In terms of days that is 3, 3½, and 4. So the question is, did they start with the objective of producing different styles or did it just happen when a runaway biological process met the rhythm of their labor cycles? Distilleries don’t employ a lot of people and that 84 hour ferment may have happened because he/she simply didn’t get to it yet. New distilleries are starting to encounter human rhythms dictating production practices while large distilleries have overcome aspects of it with automation.

If you know how to read things, the influence of a labor cycle can become a layer of our appreciation. I remember having a beer with a glass blower years ago, and across the room he spied a hand blown multi-globed light fixture. He said, “do you know why that last globe is darker than the others?”, “because he was tired.”

A new era was coming and it represents information not captured in the document (which might not really be true). All sorts of variables could change while producing roughly the same flavor if yeasts were more carefully selected or pitched in different quantities with different pHs plus a lot more options. They either specifically learned from rum, which was further ahead (*cough*cough* Arroyo!), or arrived at a lot of the same conclusions. There was a lot to gain. Producers could arrive at a product cheaper, they could reduce their environmental footprint which was a concern, or they could even make a product taste better.

Bourbon got pretty far without being too fussy about bio technology. Excise officers helped them out and the sour mash process took form without much more science than it took to make yogurt. They also grew and maintained fairly pure strains of wine-sour yeasts without owning microscopes. That was done using hops. Rum didn’t have hops to keep bacteria from their yeast and that is why Arroyo had to be such a thorough bio technologist (rum may have eventually picked up antibiotics). Lack of pressure led to lack of sour mash innovation. Arroyo was painstakingly conducting yeast Olympiads to find rum yeast champions employing large test fermentation arrays while Willkie and Kolachov didn’t hit the same level of science until probably twenty years later.

I’ve actually never looked into the specifics of Bourbon producing stills. I thought that maybe they flirted with fully continuous distillation and reverted back based on pictures I’d seen, but that isn’t exactly the case. The document differentiates between variables in the beer still versus what they label the doubler so it looks like the beer still is a discontinuous charge process while the second distillation is continuous. Multiple beer stills could feed a continuous doubler (but confirming that is still a google away). I could be wrong, I haven’t actually looked.

If a distillery operated a continuous beer still, and they definitely existed capable of digesting grain left in the mash, it would have between 12 and 20 plates. If a still had that many plates, they also likely wouldn’t need a second distillation. The most plates for a beer still in the document is 10 which is distillery no. 24 who exclusively made Bourbon. Mash no. 24b has a significant spread between the minimum and maximum proof so it is likely not continuous. Laws I’m not aware of may have dictated a double distillation scheme.

If their beer stills work the way I think, they had a typical heads and tales cut that was recycled. The plates, disclosed in the document, will somewhat correlate to the flavor passed on to the doubler, but not as much as the minimum and maximum proof of the beer run. Only three distilleries use a different amount of plates across their productions which could imply different entire stills in use or possibly just different columns switched on or off. Both wheaters use a one plate still which could imply a little more collusion.

I computed the difference between the minimum and maximum proof of the beer still run. The idea was so see if they refluxed the stills to bring them to relative equilibrium before collecting the run. A pot still is not at equilibrium and the run has a significant curve when you graph the proof over time so you see a big difference between minimum and maximum. A column still can be operated at relative states of equilibrium flattening out the curve. Collection from a column still can be paused by going full reflux, but the alcohol content in the column will increase. The ability to reflux means that multiple beer stills could be synced up with a continuous doubler even if they didn’t exactly heat at the same rate.

The document does not tell us about the cutting routines or the fraction recycling options the distilleries used. A heads cut from the beer still could be taken and recycled back to the next distillation run just like classic pot still double distillation and the tales cut could be collected in its own receiver instead of being passed on to the continuous doubler.

It would be so cool to see the same data from ten years prior. I suspect the industry was much more susceptible to trend than tradition. They all no doubt read the same research papers and bulletins especially with excise officers ever present and ever helpful. They likely also had consultants and I doubt anyone was too guarded which is how Maker’s Mark could emerge out of Stitzel-Weller without a scandal. I say that all by looking at the data and the industry research papers I’ve read that may have influenced the numbers. I don’t actually know any specific industry anecdotes. I have never particularly paid attention to American whiskey before so there is lots of room to add to or tear apart all my ideas here.

Continuous doublers must have been around for quite a while if so many people had them. There was probably a generation of equipment used right out the gates of prohibition that lasted maybe twenty years then everybody upgrading at the same time possibly as they exited the pressures of World War II.

You would think continuous stills would all be operated very similarly with very tight spreads between the minimum and maximum proof of distillation and quite a few producers had really tight spreads. Yet there is also a lot of variation such as distillery no. 14 distilling handsome seeming Bourbon mashes, but having a significant spread of 42 proof on their doubler relative to only 10 on their 2 plate beer still. Those numbers are very different than distilleries no. 5,6 and 7, which may all be the same conglomerate. The spread on 5,6, and 7 is as tight as the probable margin of error. Distillery no. 9 supposedly starts collecting from their continuous doubler at zero proof which may be possible if they are collecting steam and not allowing the column to come to any state of relative equilibrium before they collect their distillate (excise officer is rolling his eyes). There are some gaps in the data where distilleries did not answer the questions denoted by a “-“. It is hard to say if that zero should be taken at face value, if its an error, or if someone did not understand the question. The questionnaires were actually filled out by excise agents. Distillery no. 2 also operated their continuous doubler with unusually wide spreads. The wheater, no. 16, also did, but I am not confident in those numbers because they are exactly the same as used in their beer still while the second wheater’s, no. 27, are not.

Final distillation proofs and then barrel entry proofs are hard to read into. Classically, econo whiskeys and just plain junk were distilled at higher proofs to make them more palateable. Grander whiskey would be distilled lower, but then there was the trend to lighter on their feet whiskeys. At the same time, and the whole point of the document, was that producers were slowly learning to use their continuous doublers with the ability to easily separate fusel oil and changing American whiskey identity markedly. I bet there was even one infamous Bourbon that set the precedent while everyone watched in amazement. I would not be surprised if Kolachov had anything to do with it and it shouldn’t be hard to figure out what whiskeys had his name on them. All of the rules of thumb were falling apart. A new era of whiskey abstraction was dawning, special effects.

What I’ve barely mentioned so far is that all the data came with a commentary, but they don’t explain or explore pretty much any of the stuff I just presented. Their vantage point was much different. There is also lots of data I’m not showing because it is a bunch of boring congener counts. That data is boring but powerful. Columns could be added to the spread sheet with all the major congeners classes. We could then use econometrics and software like SPSS to find correlations. This would possibly generate statistically significant actionable advice such as increase the fermentation time if you want to increase the X and decrease the Y. We can leave that all for another day.

The authors were concerned with the potential of extractive distillation which is a method of fusel oil separation. Laws stating that distillation could not exceed 160 proof was not guaranteeing anything anymore. They were positing writing into law natural flavor standards for each congener class. The impact of extractive distillation may not have hit whisky yet, but the future comes at you fast. If natural flavor standards had to be created, they needed good numbers representative of tradition while they still were reliable.

The authors also explained a few bits and pieces in the data. The two curious “water-mashes” with no backslopping could make a whiskey lighter because less congeners are recycled by the backslop. They were also using early forms of GCMS and connecting chemical compounds to the infamous hog tracks of some new make spirits

The authors note that the maximum allowable entry proof was raised in 1962 from 110° to 125° yet average entry proof for Bourbon’s was still 109.8°. None of the bourbons were entered at the maximum allowable proof. That makes it hard to understand why the laws bother to change. The commentary section of the document has a table that compares various similar surveys conducted between 1898 and themselves. I have seen a lot of them and none are as comprehensive or have such an extensive table of mashing and distilling parameters.

It has often been stated that whiskies produced today are not as heavy or full bodied as those produced in the old days. To find evidence that would either support or refute this contention, a comparative examination of chemical data from the better known studies on whisky has been made and is shown in Table 7.

The data leads to the conclusion that not much has changed.

Possibly the heavier charring of the barrels resulted in the so-called “heavy whiskies” of the old days.”

It was a lot of fun to reflect upon and finally do something with this cool document which I am intentionally being partially vague about. Hopefully it will launch a few ships, start a few friendships and generate new chapters of American whiskey writing and scholarship.

Notes:

Wild Turkey was an non distiller bottler until the 1970’s and started as a supermarket brand.

Distillery no. 41 is likely Continental Distilling of Pennsylvania based on the 41C mash bill of 37/51/12 which is likely Rittenhouse Rye

Heaven Hill has used a 75/13/12 mash bill so they could be distillery no. 10,15, 18, 21 ,23, 24c, 25, or 30. Basically it is the most popular mash bill. Wild Turkey eventually became a 75/13/12 so they could be descended from one of these producers.

Distilleries 16 and 27 are likely Stitzel-Weller and Maker’s Mark.

Distillery 24 could be Four Roses because they do two different mash bills. Currently one with 75% corn, 20% rye, and 5% malted barley and another one with 60%, 35% rye, and 5% malted barley. The rye percentages could have changed from the days of the document as ideas in malt changed. Four Roses uses five different yeasts! Holy Biological control Batman!

Distillery 19 is likely George Dickel. Their current mash bill is disclosed as 84% corn, 8% rye and 8% malted barely which doesn’t match anybody. The document would consider them a corn mash producer and the only producer of quality doing exclusively corn mashes is no. 19. Dickel was a contemporary plant back then so it is probably not distiller no. 1.

Distiller no. 7 could be the Barton distillery because of the 75/15/10 mash bill that they claim to use today, but don’t forget they may some how be linke to distillery no. 6 because parameters over lap.

Today Maker’s Mark discloses uses the same mash bill as in the document.

Distillery no. 9 is likely Jack Daniels because of the 80/8/12 mash bill. Others used the same mash bill, but no. 9 was the only one that produced exclusively that. I’ll have to check the chemical data and see if there is anything odd that makes it look like its definitely charcoal filtered.

Distillery no. 17 is likely Brown Forman because of the 72/18/10 mash bill, but it looks like that distillery also ran a 74/16/10.

If distillery no. 3 is National Distillers, bourbon 3c could be Old Grand-dad, 65/25/10. These days the Grand-Dad mash bill is disclosed as 63/27/10.

Distillery no. 3 is likely Hiram Walker based on a paper about aging I’ve got where they used samples from three distilleries with proofs of distillation 154 for a rye, 118, and 127 for Bourbons.

If Michters at Bomberger’s distillery was always a pot still distillery, they could likely be distillery no. 41. but at the beginning I thought that was Rittenhouse. Which could mean they are definitely Pennsylvania Rye numbers.