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Production of American whiskies: bourbon, corn, rye and Tennessee


Chapter 14 Production of American whiskies: bourbon, corn, rye and Tennessee
R. Ralph Ron Ralph & Associates Inc., Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Introduction: definitions of bourbon, corn, rye, wheat, and Tennessee whiskies
The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) has set specific guidelines to define alltypes of alcoholic beverages produced in the United States. The general definition of whisky is ‘a spirit aged in wood, obtained from the distillation of a fermented mash of grain.’ This spirit can be produced from any grain or combination of grains; but corn, rye and malted barley are the principle grains used. Whisky is an alcohol distillate from a fermented mash produced at less than 190o proofin such a manner that the distillate possesses the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whisky; stored in an oak container, and bottled at not less than 80 o proof. Also, whisky may contain mixtures of other distillates for which no specific standards of identity are noted. Bourbon, rye, wheat whiskies are produced (distilled) at a proof no higher than 160o from a fermented mashof not less that 51% corn, rye or wheat and aged in new, charred oak barrels at a proof no greater than 125o. Also, these whiskies may include mixtures of whiskies of the same type. Corn whisky differs in that it may be

aged in used or uncharred new oak barrels. Also, corn whisky may include a mixture of other whiskies. Tennessee whisky has the same definition of all four whisky types, but tobe labeled ‘Tennessee’ it must be produced and aged in wood in the state of Tennessee. All whiskies conforming to Section 5.22 of the BATF regulations must be aged a minimum of two years. To be designated a ‘straight’ whisky, it must conform to all regulations for its type and be aged not less than two years. ‘Light’ whisky is another type of whisky produced in the US. It is distilled at more than160o but less than 190o proof and aged at least two years in used or uncharred new oak barrels. In the US regulations, neutral spirits, vodka, Scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, and Canadian whisky are further defined. Neutral spirits are distilled spirits produced from any material distilled at or above 190o proof and bottled at not less than 80o proof. Vodka is a neutral spirit distilled and treatedwith charcoal or other materials to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color. Scotch, Irish and Canadian whiskies are defined as ‘distinctive products of Scotland, Ireland, and Canada, respectively, and produced and distilled under the laws of those countries’.

212 R. Ralph

History of North American whisky production
Whisky production began in the US in 1733 when theBritish government passed the Molasses Act. Until that time, the colonists produced distilled spirits from molasses. The Molasses Act imposed a duty on molasses of non-British origin. Since the American colonists imported most of their molasses from the French and Spanish islands, they were greatly concerned. Since non-British molasses was cheaper and more abundant, smuggling and ignoring the MolassesAct (and the later Sugar Act) was the basis for much of the ‘Spirit of ‘76’. Pre-revolution grain whisky production was small; although history notes that settlers in western Maryland and Pennsylvania produced rye whisky from their abundant rye grain crops and that rye whisky began to replace the popular molasses-based rums. After the Revolution, the Embargo Act cut off the supply of molasses; andwith abolition of the slave trade by the new Congress, both molasses and slaves were smuggled into the US. These events increased the cost of molasses and accelerated the decline of rum. The westward migration Early settlers crossing the Allegheny Mountains included many Scots and Irish immigrants who were grain farmers and distillers with knowledge of pot still operation from their homelands....
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