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Thursday, August 8, 2013

What is Bourbon Whiskey?

Bourbon Whiskey is great. Great because its history is firmly married to the history of the United States and its colonization. It is the story of the efforts of thousands of people who left their home countries and laid his head on American soil and fought hard to get a job in these wilds. It is the story of men and women in conditions other adverse founded and made possible this great nation and who worked hard to make it what it is today. You read the history of Bourbon Whiskey and you are walking through the history of the United States, for its colonization and then the struggle for independence. It felt a little aside these settlers who began manufacturing the drink to find a way out of the surplus of corn crops thanks to the bounty of the land and the efforts of its people. And now, after many ups and downs, trials and errors, its production have been optimized to its current quality standards that go with it. I invite you to join me and read this interesting story.

  • What is Bourbon Whiskey?

    Bourbon Whiskey is a distilled beverage family of whiskeys, slightly aromatic and caramel flavor. It is made from corn in a minimum concentration of 51% and usually 70%. It also includes, besides corn, other ingredients such as wheat, rye or barley malt.

    The aging period is usually a minimum of two years but no legal requirement exists for the minimum aging period. For a product in this category can be called straight bourbon the liquor shall be aged for a minimum of two years in new oak barrels previously charred. An anonymous reader (seems as being an expert, I'm not, I just like the whiskey) wrote me that there is no requirement for how old liquor has to be to be called Bourbon; it could spend two hours in a cask and be labeled Bourbon. Also that Straight Bourbon under four years old has to have an age statement. If someone has something to say about this just leave a comment to enrich the information.

    The liquor comes from the United States and seems it was in Kentucky where it was produced in its original way. It takes its name from Bourbon County in Kentucky, where presumably was built by first time in the late eighteenth century. The word Bourbon was took by the county from the name of the French royal family of the House of Bourbon.

    Legally the liquor can be produced in any part of the United States although traditionally it is produced in Kentucky and is in fact one of the bolster of the economy of that state. However it is also produced in Texas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas and Missouri.

    The story tells that in Kentucky the first farmers were settled around the year 1774. They began to plant corn for his own sustenance. With the passing of the years they collected large crops of pods and production was so abundant that they decided to make whiskey with surpluses.

    Eastman Johnson, Old Kentucky Home, 1859. American Genre Painting. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

  • Making Bourbon Whiskey

    The original and traditional manufacturing process of the Bourbon Whiskey starts with grinding corn for having flour. This flour is mixed with spring water of limestone and then cooked at high temperatures in a mixing barrel. Then the water temperature is lowered and ground rye is added to prepare the mix for a second cooking. After the second cooking water temperature is again reduced and malted barley is added for a third and last cooking. After this last cooking the mass is cooled to 55-60 Celsius degrees to prepare it for fermentation.

    The fermentation process is started by adding yeast to ferment the dough. The fermentation takes place in large stainless steel barrels, although in the original preparation cypress wood casks were used. During the fermentation sugar grains of the mixture are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide. After three or four days of fermentation the dough is ready for the next step of the process known as distillation.

    The distillation process is more complicated. The idea is to heat the fermented dough and collect its vapor. This vapor is cooled to get a liquid called first distillate. Heating process, collecting and cooling the vapor to pick up the first distillate is performed in a container called stills. The residue of the mass after heating, evaporation and collecting the first distillate is usually discarded and recycled to be used as or to manufacture animal feed.

    The first distillate, called "strong wine" or "white dog", is a liquor that could be consumed but is still very raw and it tastes gross and strong. Therefore, to produce a better quality liquor, a second distillation is made from the product obtained of the first distillate. The second distillation is similar to the first, ie, the liquid is boiled to collect their vapors or gases which in turn are cooled again to get a second distillate. Smaller size stills are used this time. The new distilled liquor is transparent and can be called corn whiskey.

    The next to the last and longest processes is called aging and it is here where investment for make ready of liquor is higher due to the time required for completion. It is in this process where the different options on the market boast of the quality and prestige of the brand, promoting aging time as a proof of quality.

    It is during the aging process that the liquor takes its last amber color and caramel flavor. The process takes place in new white oak barrels or casks previously charred. Temperature changes of the seasons make the barrels expand and contract causing the liquid to flow into the timber which will give the last taste and odor. We can imagine here the strong competition among specialists in the choice and curing of the best woods and in the monitoring and control of the aging process itself, to give the liquor a quality characteristics that allow them to compete successfully on the liquor market. In this process the aging time plays a major role, which is supposed that being longer improves quality of the product. For the straight bourbon whiskey minimum aging time is two years, although the process usually extends to a minimum of four years.

    The last phase of the production process is bottling which usually takes place in production lines equipped for that purpose and ends with the sealing of the bottle with the distinctive red sealing wax.

  • Why the name of bourbon?

    Bourbon's name comes from Bourbon County in the state of Kentucky in the United States of America. This county was founded on October 17, 1785 from sections of the ancient Fayette County and is one of the 120 counties in Kentucky. The name was given in honor of the French royal family of the House of Bourbon. To this house belonged the penultimate King of France, Louis XVI, who was guillotined during the French Revolution in the turbulent year of 1793. And belongs also the current King of Spain, Don Juan Carlos de Bourbon. The story so thought it was in the Bourbon County where corn whiskey production began based on this cereal surpluses led to good harvests.

    By the way, if you want to learn french (a very rich language and culture) I recommend you my teacher Johan, in fact, most that I know about french is thanks to Johan and Jacques Brel. Johan has a very natural method for learning french that really works. Have a look at Francais Authentique.

    When you read the history of Louis XVI one does not quite understand why he died on the guillotine. In fact, maybe it's not very well-known, but Louis XVI was one of the men who most contributed to the freedom of the United States of America. Listen to this video to learn more about this man.

  • What is the difference between Scotch Whiskey and Bourbon Whiskey?

    The first difference between scotch and bourbon whiskey is the raw material for the manufacture of each liquor. The Scotch is a whiskey made from barley and aged in reusable barrels that give the product a smoky flavor. The bourbon is a whiskey made primarily from corn aged in new white oak barrels. But even among whiskeys called "bourbon" there are differences depending on the grains that are added to the basic mixture of corn at the time of manufacture.

    For example, in some cases barley malt is added to facilitate the fermentation process and in some other wheat or rye is added to improve flavor. The wheat bourbon is a little sweeter and with a flavor reminiscent of nuts, while rye bourbon is drier and taste a little spicy or aggressive. The original recipe used in Kentucky was 75% corn, 15% rye and 10% barley. There is a manufacturer, Maker's Mark, which replaces rye with red wheat giving to the liquor a more caramel flavor. The Maker's Mark is a premium quality whiskey, i.e., its production is high grade craftsmanship. They use both a continuous column still and a copper pot still to remove impurities and special attention is paid to the selection of raw materials and the processes of maceration and fermentation. Additionally, the aging process is done in new white oak barrels and undergoes a maturation process that is based on the rotation of the barrels, ending with bottling in bottles sealed with sealing wax hallmark.

  • Types of whiskey

    There are different types of whiskey depending on the feedstock used, the place of origin and the process used. In our classification we will build on the place of origin as important as it defines the type of raw material to be used, mixtures of these and the development process itself. We start with the best known, the so-called Scotch.

    • Scotch Whiskey:

      These liquors are distilled twice and in some cases up to three times. Is distilled and aged exclusively in Scotland and is the most reputed and most renowned whiskey in the world. It should be made according to the quality standards of the Order of Scottish Whiskey 1990. This rule mandates that the liquor must be distilled at a Scottish distillery with water and malted barley to 94.8 percent alcohol by volume, and aged in oak barrels that previously contained bourbon, with a capacity not exceeding 700 liters for at least three years, and can not contain other substances than water and caramel as a coloring, and have to be bottled with less than 40 percent alcohol by volume.

      Note: Thinking a secondary business is here with old bourbon oak barrels. They use them to age scotch whiskey but to age beer according this article by Daniel Hartis: Many Charlotte breweries age beer in bourbon barrels.

    • Irish Whiskey:

      Irish whiskey is made from barley and is characterized by a triple distillation which makes it soft and delicate on the palate. The manufacturing process is similar to the Scotch whiskey. After selecting the cereal a specific mixture is performed according to each distillery. Subsequently the mixture is washed and soaked to lead a germination process by which cereal starch is converted into soluble sugars. Then the beans are ground and the mass is fermented for 72 hours. After the wine is obtained three distillations are performed and finally an aging process for a minimum of seven years, i.e., four years more than the Scotch whiskey.

    • Canadian Whiskey:

      This liquor is softer and lighter than other types of whiskey. Malted rye is used as raw material which provides more flavor and smoothness. Must be manufactured in Canada by a mixture of corn and rye and is distilled in stills over which a great control is performed to guarantee the product quality. Before aging is diluted with water to reduce the alcohol and then aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years.

    • American Whiskey:

      This liquor should be prepared by law with a mixture containing at least 51% corn, though usually 70% is used and in some distilleries up to 80-85% of corn in the mixture. The other ingredients that are usually added are wheat, rye or barley malt. There are in turn various kinds of American whiskey:

      • Bourbon Whiskey: must be made with at least 51% corn and should be distilled and aged in Kentucky to trade name appears on the label.
      • Rye Whiskey: must be made with at least 51% rye.
      • Corn Whiskey: must be made with at least 80% corn.

      The U.S. liquor must be distilled to no more than 80 degrees alcohol by volume and must be aged in new white oak barrels previously charred, except for corn whiskey that is aged in not charred oak barrels or in used barrels. Aging of corn whiskey must be short, for example, six months. If an American whiskey reaches an aging of two years or more shall be further designated as "straight".

      Finally, although it is not defined by law, exists in the market which is known as Tennessee Whiskey, being Jack Daniel's the best known brand. This liquor has a distillation method identical to the bourbon in almost everything, but is filtered in sugar maple charcoal, which gives it a unique flavor and aroma.

  • Some interesting videos from YouTube about this thrilling theme

  • A final note

    If you like Whiskey probably you like Soul too. Then let's have a drink and relax listen this excellent group (Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart) that I found for you, dear lector.

Image courtesy of Stuart Tyson/Studio D.