Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing.

When I wrote American Whiskey by the Numbers I had never before actually looked at Bourbon, though I’ve certainly drank my fair share. Believe it or not, I haven’t read any of the recent titles on the subject and I don’t really know what anyone else knows. Are all the mash bills, fermentation, and distillation parameters known, or am I blowing the lid open on a big story? It is slow going finding out and I probably got the lowest amount of interest ever in a story I thought was pretty significant. Be warned, this saga is a bit of a disillusioning mess.

Since profiling the document, I’ve read two older books on Bourbon plus a few great old research papers. Some really interesting things turned up and I’m basically convinced that Maker’s Mark saved Bourbon from destroying itself. I’ll get to that slowly. I used to think that the American whiskey story lacked the wide dimensions of other traditions, but boy is that wrong. It is full of churning culture wars that pushed it to the brink and they are still unfolding.

The first book I read was by Sam K. Cecil who’s big claim to fame was being the scientist counterpart to practical distiller Bill Samuels at Maker’s Mark. It was sort of a dead end, believe it or not. The book turns out to be a lot of births and deaths and locations which does interest a lot of people, but does not help our quest.

Even though Cecil was in the thick of it, his writing does not explain the document. I was hoping for someone as crazy as Fitzcaraldo grappling with beauty. I’m always looking for aesthetic opinions, style, and other criteria by which to judge what is fine, what is commodity, and what is flawed (regrets and missed opportunities).

Cecil, however, was kind enough to point me in the direction of Harry Harrison Kroll’s Bluegrass, Belles, and Bourbon (1967) which is chock full of confrontation with the 20th century and modernity told through the guise of a book on Bourbon. It is also told by a guy traveling around with a nun, sister Kathy, as a chaperone. Initially, I imagined it kind of like Two Mules for Sister Sara, but there never were any plot twists.

Before I complement Kroll, I need to lay down a few asterisks ∗† and luckily we all just received some excellent guidance in recognizing these matters from Wayne Curtis. Because the book isn’t solely a compendium of births, deaths & locations, and it encompasses all that grappling and confrontation, Kroll reveals himself to probably be a misogynist and a racist. He says uncomfortable crazy uncle things constantly. The writing style is unusually candid which provides evidence for my diagnosis. By the end however, when the book appeared to be about much more than Bourbon, I was getting the sense that his was a flexible mind. Kroll overcame prohibitionist ideologies, and I began to suspect that unlike David Embury, Kroll was not likely to die a racist. Sadly, I don’t think he was going to make much progress with his casual misogyny (Kroll actually died in 1967 so technically I’m very wrong).

You can really time travel in this country, back then and even now. I see a lot of it in the restaurant. Many people have hairstyles like they haven’t left the house in 15+ years. In that time they just did not absorb anything that influenced the style they present themselves with. You hear economic and political conversations that are 15 years dated like someone heard something so formative that they never read the news after. Eight years in and seven years to go, countless people will still be talking about her emails.

Kroll does a lot of that fifteen year time traveling, or he sort of watches himself doing it when he writes later. No wonder he must travel with a guide. He is constantly pursuing the effects of prohibition & repeal thirty years prior to his trip, revealing that for some people it wasn’t that distant. This can strike today’s reader as odd. The book becomes comparable to Infinite Jest with some readers being bored to tears by the parts on tennis and AA, but I actually enjoyed them the most.

A large part of the book, where the bluegrass and belles come in, is Kroll romanticizing his own typical American past where he grew up barefoot, eating squirrels, walking to school uphill both ways, and apparently had a very formative early job making barrel staves at subsistence pay. He keeps aligning himself with a young Abe Lincoln that did grunt work under his father at Watty Boone’s distillery. Kroll warms up that story a few times almost coming across as a senile repeater until he finally tells it, and tells the best version of it I’ve ever heard. He is either slightly nuts or pretty damn masterful in his gonzo ability to romanticize, humanize, build myth, and plain old story tell. He is a lot of Bourbon personified.

Eventually Kroll time travels from all this back into the bottling room of the day at Heaven Hill where teams of women are earning great middle class wages, the distilleries are proud of paying, and gives a “ya don’t say?”, like it all snuck up on him. Things are always sneaking up on Bourbon, the recent Bulleit story is no surprise. You don’t really know what the time traveler thinks about it. Was he happy American prosperity was spreading and women could be independent or did it threaten his masculinity and cheapen the hard years of splitting barrel staves he romanticizes? The time traveler walks an unclear line, but it has the effect of humanizing the industry.

The Shapiras snuck up on Kroll and he may have brought some antisemitic baggage to their “temple of iniquity” thought it is never as pointed as his other major short comings. These furriners were an assault on his brand of Kentucky negative nationalism and they were getting rich. Hiring a Beam as master distiller didn’t make it right. Kroll keeps noting that he can barely taste the difference between bourbons so its all in what they represent to him. This experience was disillusioning.

Before I move on a little, I will quickly note that a possible reason we don’t see more information turning up about New England rum production pre prohibition may have been the influence of the temperance movement and the semantics of demon rum. Kroll, noting about doing his research, clues us into a pacing of the temperance movement I wasn’t really aware of. The peak of New England rum as modernized by Dr. Harris Eastman Sawyer unfortunately coincides with that tenuous time when it wasn’t wise to publish much about industrial demon rum. The right to a drink was hanging by a thread for quite a while before it was actually cut.

Our time traveler sets us up to see Bourbon’s confrontation with modernity. Practical distillers had to start competing with scientists (even though they had somewhat different objectives). The most practical of distillers had to compete with other practicals who were going huge and creating very large operations.

We don’t really recognize the practical distiller today yet they are blooming all around us. Kroll likes to celebrate them and believes they may be solely capable of making an uncompromising fine product even though so few then actually drank it (I never fully appreciated that last detail). Today many hold practicals with a mild disdain.

To be practical in this context means you have no formal education, and back in the early days, many were even illiterate. They never took a chemistry or biology class and operated from an old fashioned notion of empiricism and a heightened intuition. Practicals were viewed as born with it which keeps the profession dynastic, male and mostly white (though there are some awesome stories of black distillers in America and Kroll notes a few). Practical can be authentic, but that is another term we haven’t given much thought.

Today, all the new American distillers are practical distillers with very few exceptions (and the acceptance of consultants). They’ve started their businesses with grit and determination plus probably only two PDFs and a skimming of this here blog. Start up costs are so high that they also often have generational wealth, IPO money, or predatory capital that will eventually rob the best. They compete with huge well researched scientific operations who have also monopolized distribution channels. Sounds all very American, but somehow the establishment has really won the public over.

The scientific distillers of Kroll’s era were the Seagrams, Hiram Walkers and their Herman Willkies and Paul Kolachovs which were all commodity producers. Commodity spirits aren’t exactly authentic, but authentic working people often only drink commodity liquor. See why I’m avoiding the authentic concept?

In a great chapter, Kroll singles out a wonderful new fusion of the two which was the team of Bill Samuels and Sam Cecil (he returns to this story!) working to build Maker’s Mark which to me seems like it saved Bourbon. When Kroll visited in roughly 1967, Maker’s was only producing 20 barrels a day relative to other operations that were up to multiple hundreds of barrels a day. Many of today’s craft operations are starting at one barrel per day.

Bill Samuels kicked off a new era of fine whiskey using a frame work I call guided traditional practices. The stylistic ideas of practical distiller Bill Samuels were proven scientifically and made to scale forward and up by lab guy Sam Cecil. Flavor returns as modus operandi, not price and volume.

Around this very same time, wine was going through the same paradigm shift led by Grigch Hills and Stags Leap plus the others that won the Judgement of Paris. Wine did however move in the opposite direction. Samuels got himself a lab while in wine, the lab guys like Mike Grgich got practical and embraced flavorful risk in ways not seen in the commodity framework. Wine in America, many don’t realize, started as a commodity product because it initially was a salvage product. The first priority was table grapes, then raisins, and lastly wine, which was for a long time a skid row beverage. Walt Whitman probably didn’t drink American fine wine and there are no tales tying wine to great generals like there are of Old Crow.

It is really important to understand these tensions and transitions so we can understand other spirits categories. You could be a practical distiller in the Bourbon racket using yogurt technology (I say that because that is basically how advanced it got) and get pretty far, but could you do it with rum? Can you do it with grape brandies like Cognac?

Jamaica rum, as we revere it, was success at random until the top Victorian scientists stepped in. These guys were following the development of modern chemistry and yeast technology by the day. Cognac is the most quality focused spirit out there because it has it’s back up against a wall. Every acre of the appellation is pretty much planted so they cannot expand, they can only improve. Cognac has easily moved beyond the merely practical or scientific to the complete state of guided traditional practices. Tequila is just entering the end of its commodity phase. Consultants have gone in, homogenized everything with pure yeast cultures and efficient processes, stripped all individuality and beaten the price into the commodity floor. A few productions are finally starting to investigate the flavor they left behind and revive it with more than marketing speak.

Before we move on, I should quickly state my theory that the scientific era probably allowed women and minorities into white male dominated production positions. If you could handle the lab work, you could handle the job and all the white male mysticism was no longer relevant. Seagrams early on, employed some notable female chemists.

Kroll gives us some great insights into the document. He visits Yellowstone noting their huge operation and their production angle of mellow mashing to make a light whiskey distilled in a giant column and he implies the removal of fusel oil. If you remember, this was the controversial technique and avenue for loss of identity that provoked the IRS survey of whiskeys that is the document. Am I grasping here or is that umbrella-like do-dad not a fusel oil separator?

No itemized list is presented, but we also get the sense that there were far more distilleries in operation than what the IRS selected for their survey. Very interesting to note is that the exclusively sweet mash producers like distillery no. 2 and no. 42 likely weren’t tiny little heritage operations. Their sweet mash did make inferior whiskey according to Kroll (and production theory) and he sadly doesn’t even bother to name names, but he does note that they were in Daviess county. There is a bit of ambiguity to the logic of his paragraph, but he may imply that some sweet mashers were among the largest in the state.

Towards the end, Kroll goes to visit the Medleys and gives us the greatest hint behind the M&A churning that has always been a hallmark of the industry. Taxes were everything. Distillers would build up value in the business then unleash it all at once in a sale instead of taking it steadily year by year. Capital gains taxes were very different than income taxes and I don’t think it was proper to have private jets and write off your golf outings like we do today. Corporate decadence came in the 1970’s from Barbarians at the Gates culture. That is what consumed Tribuno vermouth, remember?

Who knows how long that tax logic was true, but it makes a lot of sense to these highly rational thinkers who didn’t even drink the stuff they made. Foreign money would come in and the labels would get traded around. The foreign money would have to pay the dynasties of practical distillers again to operate the places. It was a little bit of a racket.

These practical distillers often said dumb patriarchal shit like he could never make whiskey as great as his father (and on up the line), but none of these people ever really cared that labels were getting swapped and not corresponding to their juice. Bill Samuels may or may not have carried a family yeast, but he did use Stitzel-Weller as a template, mash bill and all.

Beauty, that thing we’ve been trying to confront, has always been a little lopsided in American whiskey. Beauty is the composite of extraordinary sensoriality and exemplary human behavior. Here its git-up-and-git over the specifics of grist. Grain bills don’t matter, If you’re allowed to pick one thing, they pick yeast because it is the easiest to mystify. We’re supposed to admire hard work and tradition with a lineage that leads us through Lincoln to pastors like Elijah Craig.

If you pursue that other side of beauty, that aesthetic sensory side, which with distillation takes startling science, you’re headed down a road to decadence and demoralization. Stick the Venus of Willendorf in the bottle and you’ll just get alcoholism and depravity. Did we learn nothing from the temperance movement? Teams of conspiring scientists, corporatism, undermine the individuality of the loan practical man. Bourbon is just fraught with moral peril. Who’s side are you on?

No doubt clutching his copy of Huysman’s Against Nature, Hiram Walker’s own C.S. Boruff writes a plotless listicle of actionable aesethtic advancements for the journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry in 1937.

Repeal of prohibition ushered in an important new phase of the business of manufacturing whisky. Chemistry, biology, and engineering meant little or nothing to the old industry, occupied as it was with its deep obeisances to age and hoary tradition. To the reborn industry, science and technology have become essential tools.

Who you callin’ hoary?!

Age was the fetish of the distillers and of the drinkers of alcoholic beverage of two decades ago and with many it still occupies a sacred niche. Even the niche has vanished before the enlightening discovery of research which form the basis of today’s distilling practice.

You’re going to let him talk about your Pappy that way!?

Necessarily there are three steps in the manufacture of beverage alcohol: fermentation, distillation, and maturing. For many reasons which will become apparent, the ancient practice of distillers place particular emphasis on maturing over long period of time and the fetish of age became the idol of the industry.

This guy is quite confrontational.

The crude distillate of old-fashioned stills was harsh and unpleasant and long aging in charred oak barrels was known to accomplish a remarkable change in it. After long maturing, whisky lost its rough harshness, acquired a pleasing aroma, and delighted the palate. Chemists explained this as the removal of certain unwanted constituents and the chemical rearrangement of others to yield a palatable result.

So the practical distillers produced ends to justify their means, but this guy gives credit to the chemists. The ends didn’t matter if you didn’t understand them. It is an assault on intuition that would build throughout the rest of the 20th century.

Either this fact failed to reach distillers or they were too busy with other matters to heed it. In any case, it remained for the reborn whisky industry to apply this fact to its operations to the advantage of all.

“What we need is a bigger ideology”

The new technic is exemplified in the operation of Hiram Walker & Sons, in a plant at Peoria, Ill.

No one ever calls it Hiram Walker & Sons!

In the old practice of the distillery, fermentation was allowed to take place as it would in open wooden tanks which were never sterilized and into which every possible wild yeast was encouraged to come and grow.

This is an assault on yogurt technology! And a criticism of the IRS!

Distillation was conducted for the prime purpose of recovering every bit of alcohol possible from the mash without regard to other constituents. The result was a distillate which contained all the volatile (with steam) constituents found in the fermented mash and whose maturing required long stretches of time to correct its deficiencies.

Dr. Science here thinks he’s superior to a practical distiller. But, we just learned from Kroll that they built up value in their distilleries via inventories then unleashed it all at once in a sale. Practicals were no fools and they dangled the promise of the buyer extracting value by walking down the aging times. Clever like a fox! Problem is, its a routine you can only use for so long before its worn out and Kroll was wading through the late years and a talking to a cast of characters like Marcella McKenna who had already played that hand.

The vital importance of the maturing process justified analysis and investigation, and from this came the key to the whole situation. Maturing was found to consist of two parts. (1) corrective aging and (2) maturing. During the corrective aging period the objectionable flavor and bouquet-producing substances found especially in whiskies made by the “rule of thumb” method, are absorbed and modified through assimilation, while during the second stage (maturing) slow chemical reactions occur between the congeners (nonethanol constituents) of the distillate and the wood extractives, whereby the desired bouquet is attained.

Rafael Arroyo, writing at the same time never talked down to anybody like this. Boruff goes on and starts to walk the reader through procedures like yeasting. Yeast has been that one thing that practical distillers have really latched onto to build myth and create exclusivity, but they never did perform any analysis that could prove that their chosen organism hit objectives better than another. Boruff doesn’t doesn’t tackle this issue, but mainly claims that all practical distiller’s ferments were tainted by aroma-negative wild yeasts.

The concept of whiskey of two decades ago reached the point of making the product an alcoholic solution of a quantity of congeners—that is, compounds other than ethanol present in whisky. In other words, the congeners themselves became the prime objective of the distillery and the alcohol merely a convenient carrier for these flavors. On this basis long maturing to permit the completion of slow chemical reactions in the distillate and the dissolving of extractives from the oak barrels containing the spirits was essential. The new industry, however, has been built upon the concept that the primary objective is the alcohol in the finished whisky and that such congeners as are present make this potable. The difference between these two conceptions has enabled the new industry of whisky distilling to provide whiskies of high potability and palatability, and yet whiskies which may possess quite different characteristics from these of even a quarter century ago.

Wow. Did Kroll ever have any sit downs like that? Sister Katherine would have started murmuring over and over, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing.” That is where tequila is at right now, but we do know that if we pray hard enough, the next phase will be guided traditional processes, and be delicious.

In the old art, the fermentation was conducted and the choice made of the raw materials used in it to foster the formation in the ultimate distillate of alcohols, aldehydes, and acids in variety and abundance. This end was accomplished by encouraging the growth in the mash of organisms other than the yeast. When the product of a fermentation of this kind was distilled, the distillate was an extremely unpalatable product, requiring extensive subsequent correction to give it the desired bouquet and flavor. The larger the proportion of congeneric substances, the longer the period of aging required and the greater the quantity of extractives needed to balance their effect.

Boruff is describing a large aesthetic shift and it doesn’t start with consumer demand for lighter whiskeys which is the narrative we’ve been peddled. These guys were simply condescending the work of the practicals and chalking up the old sensory experience to randomness, accident, and byproduct (but not the regrets and missed opportunities that are flaws). They also had to extract value from brands they paid huge prices for. A departure was needed to justify themselves.

In contrast to this, the new whisky industry has devoted its efforts to finding methods of fermentation and distillation which control the original formation of congeners in the mash and which subject those present to logical treatment. Smaller proportions of congeners are balanced in the finished whisky by smaller amounts of extractive matter, and at the same time, since extent of the chemical reaction involved is materially reduced, the time required for them to occur is much shortened.

What is cool about this is that these guys were in some ways neck and neck with Arroyo. At the same time, they were moving in opposite directions. I’ll leave that for another time.

In other words, by making distillates containing predetermined amounts of congeners, the subsequent treatment to make the alcohol palatable is predetermined.

They didn’t quite make good on this inevitability engine, but they kicked off the pursuit. Currently it is at work in the industry using startling amounts of inline monitoring and data science. How else could you manage scarce resources and scale products to global demand?

In the selection of the grain the primary consideration is its starch content, since other constituents (proteins, etc.) are always present in ample amounts. In the old days, distillers apparently failed to recognize that differences exist between the starch content of various grades of grain and consequently always bought the cheapest. The fallacy in this has been amply demonstrated and the first and second grades of corn, although selling at higher prices per bushel, have been found actually cheaper sources of starch than the lower-priced inferior grades.

What are we dealing with here? This can go a few ways. Boruff paints the practicals as ignorant even though upthread he describes them as having wholly different production objectives. Were these backwards aboriginals that were thought devoid of technology yet somehow wanted for nothing and built an elaborate civilization no one noticed?

Again, this can go multiple ways. We’ve already found economic incentives for practicals to operate exactly as they did given their sellout culture. Dan Barber presents another angle in his lovely op-ed, Why Is This Matzo Different From All Other Matzos? Traditions can be a bit arbitrary and often they have unintended benefits. Part of the guided traditional processes framework is to make no assumptions of backwardness. Wine makers have found it a safe bet to assume brilliance in tradition and that techniques that survive were democratically selected for advancement even if it is not apparent. Dave Hickey won a McArthur for the concept if you need the art angle.

It is worth reading to the end of Boruff’s paper, but we need to go no further here. American whisky was fraught with cultural collision for decades after prohibition, well past Harry Harrison Kroll. Maker’s Mark clearly looks like the precedent that moves Bourbon past the creepy shortsightedness of C.S. Boruff et. al. and moves the spirit into the era of guided traditional practices. It took a while to capitalize, but this is where all of their recent prosperity comes from. There is still opportunity to do a lot more reflection and understand the place of all the new practicals popping up. Now that we better understand American whisky and its historic tensions, we can also reflect a lot more on comparisons to other spirits as their histories also start to fill in.

That Crazy (or not so Crazy) Koji Corn Whisky

[If you enjoy this content, use it professionally, or simply want to support the blog, please share the artisan workshop of the bostonapothecary, the houghtonstfoundry.com. It will hopefully evolve from an architecture focused machine shop to also include a laboratory for distillery analysis and applied yeast work.]

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)

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/

I have long been procrastinating 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, Geschitche 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 Raphael 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.)


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.


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

This post is brought to you by the Houghton Street Foundry,(IG: @houghtonstfoundry) the artisan workshop of the Bostonapothecary. Please share and/or follow to show your support.

No distillery tasting room is complete without the carbonated bottling tools of Bostonapothecary labs. Add the dimension of carbonation to your tasting room experience.

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.


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.

The Mazaruni Scorpion

In Georgetown there is a certain drink made of green granadine, rum and ice. It is called the ‘Mazaruni Scorpion’ and is sometimes given to unsuspecting visitors who praise its pleasant taste and are beguiled by its receptive mildness. They ask for more. After the third or fourth drink the ‘Mazaruni Scorpion’ may turn on you and, like its namesake, it is found to have a sting in its tail.

This 1957 paper by Dr. Audrey Butt published in the Guianese journal, Timehri, is really “a study of the symbolic significance of tattoo patterns among the Akawaio”. The drink, described above, is named after a classic tattoo pattern worn by the old breed of Akawaio women that appears to be a scorpion’s tail protruding from their mouth. The green granadine in question is likely a lime cordial so the drink is most probably a daiquiri sold with a local name. It would be no surprise if the globe trotting mining engineers of David Wondrich’s recent daiquiri narrative brought the drink to Georgetown. The Akawaio may seem remote and exotic, but it is a small world.

This short excerpt and Wondrich’s article are important because they drinks as being connected to a deep and powerful mythology. Too many drinks today are written and exchanged deprived of any connection to life. They symbolize near nothing and they aren’t even part of a conscientious aestheticism movement (that I used to rock!). We have countless new drinks with no tales.

Mythology often proves authenticity and that a drink was formed and perpetuated by the noble pressures of the zeitgeist. Thirst and necessity of stimulation were the mothers of its invention. Anxiety, complacency, cementing memories, and retrieving memories were all to be solved for the imbiber and not brand kick backs, narcissism, and ego stroking for the bar star living in a bubble.

There is this strange thing going around in the new circles discussing drinks where everyone talks in the dialect of a conformist business school grad and not the rebellious dialect of art nor the dialect of the mythology creating bon vivant.

It is noticeable in written accounts of the Guiana tribes and also in my own investigations that there is a particular connection between the patterns and the making of sweet drinks and sweet cassava. The women bear the symbols of bees on their arms and faces and the ingredients of the tattoo dyes always include, something sweet —wild honey or sugar cane. Even the ‘aluai skin’ pattern is related to this stress on sweetness since the skin of the aluai fish is said to taste sweet. Farabee noted that “… the tattooing serves as a distinguishing mark, but it all appears to be most important in rendering the drink sweeter to the taste.” Roth maintained “that among the Makusi, Patamona and Arekuna “The honey, with which the pigment is mixed, is believed to act as a charm or bina to make the drink taste ‘sweet’ “.

What did we do with all of our charms and symbols? In the early days of the cocktail renaissance you used to look for that jigger, or that stir, or fuck even that tattoo to know your drink would be the right kind of sweeter, the kind steeped in mythology, connected to a lineage of people that were fun and helped you to simultaneously remember and forget the correct parts of your life. Now all the old symbols and signifiers have been stripped from us and commodified. Now half the time you look for the place to be scuffed up enough and not over renovated. You look for stuff to not be on the shelves, meaning no one panders to the reps and you look for the glassware to be clean, but modest. You still want to see the sacred silver repoussé relics used to convey sweetness, but not piles of their stamped reproductions.

When we drank Wray & Nephews years ago, we had to find it. It wasn’t brought to us with five other options and sometimes it wasn’t even written about yet (When I first drank Fire I found it myself and loved it). Our choice wasn’t only relative to a scene. Sometimes we were being lumberjack sexuals. Sometimes we were trying to retrieve the memories of spending three weeks in Jamaica drinking with a construction crew (they drank J.B. Trelawny with Campari). Ed Hamilton’s stories of the oil industry are actually the best out there and you’ll want to drink along. Other times it was gravitation to an authentic drink, drunk by real people and helped ground us after we worked away in cubicles and only broke a sweat artificially in a gym. Sometimes it was a fetish for something in a tiki book, but I never got into that.

The young generation wonders how politicians can get so corrupt, but a bunch of people that consider themselves artists go on paid trips and get politely in the pocket of their hosts so quickly they ask no questions and contest nothing. They feel they do no harm if they don’t open their mouths and that is why so many come back in silence. I’m not allowed to go because I’ve read too much. I ask too many questions (with no great writings, no great tales [except Matt Pietrek]). I demand to see things. I want to know what they’ve read and where they’ve been. I write letters to their old timers. I’m like a fucking U.N. weapons inspector, but you’ve got to be if you don’t want to be a pawn in a globalist marketing scheme. The pharmaceutical industry is going to start poaching these malleable people and then maybe we can get back to drinks that are a reflection of lives lived.

If you are lost in a post-modern drink scene with so much churning long after all the precedents were set, look to the Akawaio as a guide back to authenticity. Strip everything back down to its stinging and biting essence then start again.

On the practical side, they are believed to assist the bearers of the pattern in these specific tasks. They are formalised, symbolic representations taken from nature. In every case, the creatures which have inspired the patterns are those which are regarded as producing the essence of sweetness or of stinging and biting. The combined essence of this sweetness and powerful stinging is brought into the closest contact with those who require to stimulate it in their activities —the women who, years ago, made the cassava bread and chewed the ingredients of the spree drinks. Their aim was a sweet, powerful drink to make the men merry and drunk during celebrations and to achieve this they enlisted the aid of the creatures which possess the necessary characteristics and by symbolic association they thought to reproduce these same qualities. It is the Mazaruni scorpion which puts the kick, or sting, in the Akawaio drink!

The drinks world has gotten so lame I turned all of my creative energy over to the Houghton Street Foundry.

Australian Rum Oil and reisling TDN?

[By the end of the post, connections start to be made that I didn’t have a good enough memory to make from the beginning. The existence of this paper was a tip from a particularly smart reader. The punchline may be that components of the mythic rum oil may come from at least two channels. The first is the splitting of glycocides by the enzymatic activity of yeast while the second may be from carotenoids present in the cane itself. Tons of work still needs to be done, but these are some good preliminary guesses of where to look. At the very least, they may point to realizing more terroir in rum, molasses based or otherwise.]

Here is a unique paper, Less Volatile alcohols Esters and Hydrocarbons in a Raw Australian Rum, 1975 (Bundaberg!), which may have a follow up if ILL can track it down. [The follow up is A new approach to the identification of flavour components in rum from the Australian Wine, Brewing, and Spirit Review, 1973. This brief paper was in the bibliography of the other and offers a great summary of what will follow.]

I read this after reading two different modern rum-GCMS papers which were kind of useless for the purpose of learning more about rum history or production. I’ve been aiming to highlight a unique thesis I found with some fantastic explanations of the evolution of chromatography, but I’m short on time and I think I may contact the author first to ask some questions.

In the paper, D.A. Allen reads two early (1966, 1970) rum-GCMS papers and wants to play along, but doesn’t have access to the same equipment. The authors used pentanes to extract congeners from very small samples of rums then analyzed them with GCMS to name volatile components. I’ve actually played with pentane extraction to produce artful creations, but that is another story for another day. Allen could not work with such small samples so he comes up with the novel idea of collecting fusel oil from the side stream of the Bundaberg production then toying with it. Allen’s idea is comparative to that studies that inspired it because most of the unique compounds everyone is looking for are less volatile. The paper ends a little bit abruptly, but he ends up finding the notorius reisling congeners TDN.

I’ll try to describe a little bit of the experiment, but what I should first note with disappointment is that Allen never organoleptically describes anything he is working on. Is he working with that peculiar, wonderful, desired rum oil or is this just low volatility junk? We never really find out here, but maybe we will in his other paper. The whole significance of this paper becomes the old fashioned extraction procedures he uses which may help the contemporary small scale fine producer. Another new possibility is that rum oil congeners may have appreciated in value enough (with our new found fine market) that it is now economically viable to harvest them from a formerly discarded fusel oil fraction. Maybe it is already done for the fragrance industry? Who knows.

Distillery oil, removed in litre quantities from the side of the still was shown to contain these compounds and can be considered as a concentrate of the higher boiling point flavour compounds of rum.


Fractional distillation of distillery oil produced « fusel oil » containing the higher alcohols (n-propanol, isobutanol, isoamyl alcohol and active amyl alcohol, BP to 132°C) and a residue termed « rum » oil containing compounds with a higher boiling point than isoamyl alcohol.  Only the analysis of the « rum » oil will be discussed.

Allen uses both a Lecky and Ewell still and a Bower and Cooke still to purify the fractions for analysis. He has citations for each still and it may be helpful to dig them up to see what they were like. A lot of this equipment is still very useful.

He has got an entire liter of rum oil and does not say how it smells. There are a lot of esters in the oil and they get hydrolyzed with sodium hydroxide to concentrate the remaining compounds. The hydrolysate gets fractionally distilled and the fractions analysed. Part of hydrolysate is alcohols that were liberated from the esters by the sodium hydroxide. Due to how the sample was separated from fusel oil, some compounds like acetals reported in rum oil by others may not have survived.

Allen goes on to perform continuous liquid-liquid extraction on multiple liter batches of raw rum. Its seems like he does five batches and winds up with 5 liters of pentane to distill from. The non volatile product is an oil and the volatile product is split into two fractions. The ethanol was in the first fraction and the second fraction was an oil-water azeotropic mixture. The oil was separated, dried with anhydrous calcium chloride and added to the water-free residue in the pot. It would be nice to know how they smell before he blended them together!

This oil gets redistilled in the same apparatus and separated into two fractions collected up to 132°C so everything is well over the boiling point of water. What isn’t clear is if pentane is used in this distillation. These days this distillation would be done under vacuum and a teflon coated spinning band distillation column would be used because holdup, or the clinging of liquid to the glass apparatus, starts to become significant. Descriptions of what is explicitly happening by now have become a little disjointed and I’m having trouble following the transitions.

This oil was redistilled in the same apparatus and separated into two fractions. The larger fraction, collected up to 132°C, contained the higher alcohols to isoamyl alcohol and was called fusel oil. The residue (100 mL) in the pot contained compounds with higher boiling point than 132°C and was called « rum » oil. After four more such distillations, the combined residue amounted to 500 mL.

If any of this smelled really good, wouldn’t he be likely to mention it? Wouldn’t he be likely to show it to a distiller and get some gears turning? Wouldn’t Bundaberg rum be less likely to be so lame?

In the next step, the specialized stills get some use which apparently feature vacuum and a series of 10mL sample were collected until the temperature hit a certain point. The pressure was dropped and more 10mL samples collected. This multi stage pressure drop to avoid decomposition may have been because the equipment was a little more primitive than what we commonly use today. All of the collected fractions see some spectroscopy to identify what they are.

The rum oil goes through some more hydrolysis with more sodium hydroxide with the products extracted into more pentane.

The paper seems to get cut short after Allen identifies 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene. Allen does not use the modern abbreviation of TDN, but this is a congener that is infamous in aged Reislings and is responsible for the petrol character which at the right levels is often prized. Allen drops a little bit of history on this compound but does not mention wine at all. I linked to this paper on TDN in the beginning, but here it is again if anyone wants a primer.

The entire work seems to be the basis of a masters thesis to which the next paper I’ve requested may add to.

I really don’t know what to make of the TDN discovery. Allen does torture his sample and we should remember that in continuous column distillates, this fraction is mostly discarded. Google searches for 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene +rum yield nothing.

But, when you read the AWRI paper, TDN is noted as related to carotenoids and extra smart blog reader Matt Power brought them up recently (Matt actually inspired the tracking down of this paper after mentioning 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene, but I did not immediately connect the dots):

Are components of rum oils microbiologically derived in these manners, rather than from the canes themselves? Carotenoid bio-decomposition is known to lead to a spectacular array of interesting chemicals

This comment come from the Arroyo’s Oidium post about ethyl tiglate and relates to my hypothesis that the peculiar character of rum oil comes from the splitting of glycosides by the enzymatic action of alt yeasts like Schizosacharomyces Pombe. Rum oil may be more complex and the product of more mechanisms.

Outlining the mechanisms may even unlock the potential for finding more terroir in rum from molasses. A rum can only tell us a story of a place if we learn to read it.

[It may be possible to take a modern GC-MS look at a heavy rum and try to categorize all the low volatility congeners found. This may give us a distribution of what channels they come from.]

Whiskey Verdigris

A search for something to help a blog reader prompted me to take a trip back through the databases. More and more literature is digitized every year or has its copyright expired.

This paper on Whiskey Verdigris was a fun one for me because I love looks at distillation phenomena that are seldom explored. If you encountered a still puking verdigris as a first time distiller it may be a ‘wtf?, that’s not in the text books!’, but it is a phenomenon understood to be normal by experienced commercial scale distillers. My very first explanation of the phenomenon was back in 2014, A Still Operation Phenomenon Explained.

The paper is from 1937 and the experiments were conducted down in Kentucky from a sample of whiskey verdigris secured for the authors by a former University of Kentucky alum. This is all pre chromatography era so they explore and torture their sample MacGyver style to elucidate what the hell it is and how the hell it got there.

Copper is reactive and distillation is all about concentration so waves of reactive compounds move through the still. The end of a spirits run also has a unique relationship with the beginning of the next as we learned in Demisting and the Spirits Safe. Stuff at the end of the run, distilling primarily with water vapor (but not necessarily water soluble), has a tendency to be sticky. This stuff often gets stuck in the condenser, affixing to the copper, but is liberated by the next run where it is soluble in the very high alcohol content of the heads fraction. Chemical reactions happen with the copper producing a colored patina that takes the name whiskey verdigris though it is chemically different from the classic verdigris of the decorative arts (but no less beautiful!). Another strange phenomenon can also come along depending on how a distillery preps its beer (they usually try to avoid this). If the beer has not been de-gassed and liberated of its CO2, as it heats, it will have a tendency to belch. The liberated CO2 has both a corrosive action and a force that can scour the inside of the still and puke out whiskey verdigris. If you have this going on you may want to figure out how to de-gas your beer because the raw copper revealed can negatively impact your flavor.

The short paper is worth a read. These chemists were brilliant and it is fun to try and keep up with an understanding of what the hell they are doing. Among the many parts of their experiment, they are making whiskey soap and getting to smell isolated fractions that few of us will ever get to experience. Wonderful stuff.

If you have some, either send in a photo or mail me a canning jar of the stuff. I will turn it into paint and create a neo-pointalist self portrait.

As the concentration of alcohol falls in the doubler a white, insoluble, fatlike material appears in the trial box. Although most of this goes back into the singling tank, some collects in the condenser and is partially dissolved and washed out by the higher alcoholic content of the next distillation. This appears in the heads or foreshots of the next distillation and is colored a distinct green. This part of the insoluble material goes directly into the whisky well and dissolves in the strong alcohol present. Thus a part of the original volatile fatty material collects in the singling tank, and part finds its way into the whisky. The trade calls this material “verdigris” which is an unfortunate name since it has no connection with the verdigris of commerce.


The amount of this material is small in comparison to the volume of alcohol produced. Probably 250 grams per 30,000 liters of high wines would be a fair approximation, although no exact figures are available and would be very difficult to obtain.


UNSAPONIFIABLE MATTER. The ether extracts of the soap solutions upon evaporation yielded 1.4 grams of a viscous oil having somewhat the odor of corn.


The green solid when leached with hot alcohol was dissolved, leaving a brown solid. Upon filtering and cooling, the alcohol solution deposited green crystals; hence the palmitic acid is considered to be held as a cupric salt.


The higher fatty acids and their derivatives found in whisky verdigris without doubt originate mainly in the corn (3) which makes up from 60 to 89 per cent of the total grain used in making Bourbon whisky from which the sample was obtained. The corn oil alone does not offer an explanation of the presence of laurate and caprate esters, although Hilger (6) reported the free acids to be present in fusel oil. The occurrence of the various fatty acids and their derivatives in the beer is easily understood, but their presence in the distillate is more difficult to explain. Although it is known that the higher fatty acids are volatile in steam, or at least volatile in steam containing the vapors of more volatile acids, it must be remembered that this is not purely a steam distillation.


It is possible that the acids distill and cling to the copper condenser, and that partial salt formation (11) and esterification take place there. The majority of the esters are probably formed in the beer, and many other possibilities are obvious although none appears to explain satisfactorily the absence of stearic acid or its derivatives. Although this acid has been reported in fusel oil (6), the writers were unable to find any indication of its presence in whisky verdigris.


Whisky verdigris has a strong odor of green whisky and may be said to be yeasty: although none of the substances mentioned by Hochwalt and others (7) were found, their hydrogenation process may owe part of its effectiveness to the reduction of the unsaturated derivatives which otherwise become rancid.

These two photos come from rum distiller James Copeland christening a new still.

An accumulation of beautiful whiskey verdigris.

Insoluble flecks collected in a low wines receiver.

Whiskey verdigris can even end up as a precipitate in the tales fraction.

Insoluble flecks can be collected in cheese cloth suspected over the low wines receiver.

The last four photos were courtesy the wonderful Kings County Distillery which primarily produces a bourbon.

This last photo is from the Auchentoshan distillery in Scotland. Courtesy an astute reader with an eye that doesn’t miss much.

Feel free to write in and add to the photos. They can be attributed or submitted anonymously with the type of spirit distilled.