Where's the Whiskey?
Where's the Whiskey? This has become a common mantra uttered at Ethanology. The quick and dirty answer? It’s in the ground. We have been lucky enough to contract with local farms (shout out the the Shooks and Boyers on this one!) to grow the raw materials necessary to make alcohol, and we are getting pretty excited about this year’s harvest. We are fortunate to have proprietary access to the only 90 day blue corn in existence (still not sure how we got so lucky on this one). We are expecting to harvest soon, the wet fall has pushed back our expected harvest in early November by several weeks, which at first bummed me out terribly… however was quickly remediated by the delivery of 1000 lbs of lovely white grape skins out of the blue (yes folks… grappa is in the works… and I feel fairly confident that its fucking delicious).
This is where things get confusing for people, so the purpose of this blog is really to hopefully shed a little light on how whiskey/ey is born and why we don’t have one yet (these things take time). Let’s start with a fun fact, the Federal Government actually makes the rules for defining a whiskey, and has it listed in impossibly small print in several difficult to find and vague locations…shocker, I know. So here it is: Spirits distilled from a fermented mash of grain at less than 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof) having the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whiskey and bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof). That’s a lot of language to describe a few simple things… again, I know this is shocking from the government. Here’s the most important parts:
These are the three things that all whiskey has in common. Beyond this, the government has at least 41 different delineations to specify everything from bourbon to scotch to straight to blended, these go on to be further separated and classified. Some common differing factors include, length of time in a barrel, what type of wood, and geographic location. For instance, contrary to popular belief, a Scotch Whiskey can absolutely be produced in America… we just can’t call it that, so we settle on a label like “single malt” or one of dozens of other designations.
Given all this information, I am now able to more accurately answer the original question, where’s the whiskey? Once our corn is harvested, I will need time to develop a recipe in order to decide at what proof (remember it just has to be somewhere below 190) things taste best… tasting will be rigorous and exhausting I’m sure… Once this recipe is developed I can create something commonly called “white whiskey”, which depending on the source you ask is not even a real designation. It is called white because the spirit is clear instead of brown. Brown color comes from oak exposure, or added synthetic caramel coloring if you cheat... and yes folks, this happens a lot, it doesn’t even have to be stated on the label in some cases. I can say 100%, for sure, this will never occur at our distillery while I am still sucking air. Next our whiskey will enter a brand new charred American oak barrel, an important distinction if we decide to make this product a true bourbon (along with a few other specifications like distillation proof and mash bill make-up), and it will need to take a nap there for at least 6 months most likely. This designation is mandated by the federal government and helps to protect the integrity of the bourbon industry in America. In addition to this minimum 6 month aging, the intention for this product is to be transferred and finished in our barrels previously used for our distilled honey (is your mouth watering yet). It is highly likely that this will be for at least 2 years (I know, this is a big bummer). However, it will ensure a lot of complexity in the product, and also add another possible designation “straight”. Straight is a type of whiskey that must be aged in uncharred or previously used barrels for a minimum of two years. I can’t say with absolute certainty what the final product designation will be, as my goal is to create the best possible product, not necessarily a product that fits nicely in with narrow definitions.
All this being said, an aged whiskey is at least a toddler away. As a brand new company it is impossible to open with a brown product unless it was purchased from another source and re-branded (which isn’t inherently bad, just sort of crappy if the company brands it as their own) or the distillery was in production long before it was open to the public (possible… but not usually financially feasible). Good things take time... cliché yes, but true. I feel hopeful that this product will be worth the wait.
For the ultimate spirit geeks out there, I encourage you to visit https://www.ttb.gov/spirits/bam/chapter4.pdf ...a great read if you would like to promptly fall asleep, or learn more about the products you are spending your hard earned green on.
This blog is our journey. Distilled.