Everything you need to know on getting schooled on bourbon!
Every few months we find a guest that scratches that itch when we want to get into the science of bourbon, and today we’re talking about wood. Everyone has a different answer when it comes to the question of “how much influence does the barrel have on the whiskey?”. Is it 20%? 90%? 70%? Our guest today is going to help us get closer to finding that magic number. Andrew Wiehebrink is the Director of Spirit Research and Innovation at Independent Stave Company and his job is to get real deep and nerdy into wood and the millions of permutations you can have that affects the taste of your whiskey. We ask all the questions you want to know about the effects of char levels, toasting, stave seasoning, and storage on a hypothetical and scientific level. His role at ISC has him working on multi-year experiments with wood varietals and aging conditions to see what hasn’t been discovered yet. He has worked directly with Maker’s Mark to create the finishing staves used in their private barrel program and we try to figure out why they would even consider getting rid of the mocha stave.
- Above the Char with Fred Minnick (@fredminnick) talks about union strikes.
- Talk about your background and journey
- Why seek out wood science vs mechanical engineering with distillation?
- What was oak R&D like 5 years ago?
- What was the wine industry doing to start making the bourbon industry look at alternatives to just Char 4?
- What made Char 3 or 4 the gold standard?
- What’s the highest char level you’ve tested?
- Was there any bookkeeping to see what barrel experimentation has been done through ISC’s history?
- What are your key metrics you’re trying to hit? Flavor? Faster aging?
- When you start an experiment do you have a hypothesis or just wait for data?
- Any experiments when it comes to sustainability?
- Any experiments with the same oak grown in different locations?
- What is the average age of a harvested oak tree?
- How does stave seasoning play a role in this process?
- Talk about the process of figuring out the stave profiles at Maker’s Mark
- What do you think about them getting rid of the mocha stave?
- Do you have a special day set aside for tasting experiments?
- Is it easier to work with Maker’s Mark because they have a more consistent product?
- When you use a toasted barrel once, is its lifespan over?
- Can you name one experiment that was a mistake?
- Do you feel that consumers take the barrel for granted?
- Say I have bad distillate, what barrels can you suggest?
- Has a customer ever asked you for something so off-the-wall that you had to decline them?
- Are mizunara cask trends here to stay?
- Support this podcast on Patreon
If you don’t live in Kentucky, you still need to listen because this is the first piece of legislature that could hit your state next. Adam Koenig, State Representative and Chairman for the Licensing and Occupation Committee in the House, and Christy Trout, Lawyer, Former Commissioner the KY Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and Special Counsel to the Speaker of the House, give us a break down of the Kentucky House Bill 415. HB415 is the beginning of dismantling the three tier system. Giving consumers the ability to buy directly from distilleries and producers themselves, putting more money back into the pockets of the distillery. No distributor in the equation AND the distiller also acts as the retailer. Second is shipping. Distilleries, as well as breweries and wineries, can now ship to your doorstep in reciprocal states. Listen to get all the details
Are you ready to geek out? Like super bourbon geek out? Dr. Tom Collins has dedicated part of his career to the details of different spirits and wine. His studies looking at the chemical composition of bourbon as well as the chemical influence from barrels is what intrigued us. We examine, at a scientific level, what char levels create different compounds and reactions, how entry proof affects these compounds, and how bourbon and rye are different in their molecular makeup. Like I said, get ready to geek out!
- New EU Tariffs: https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2020-01-04/trump-wine-tariffs and https://qz.com/1779258/a-us-wine-tariff-on-the-eu-isnt-great-for-california/
- Scotland ankle monitoring: https://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/news/5128975/scottish-criminals-alcohol-ankle-tags/
- This week’s Above the Char with Fred Minnick talks about turning your hobby into a career.
- What is viticulture and enology?
- How did you choose this profession?
- Tell us about your research.
- What compounds are you looking for from toasted barrels?
- Are there times where a toasted barrel provides a certain flavor profile in the lab, but not in the real world?
- Is it hard to get consistency from the barrel?
- What was the outcome of your research?
- How do you get a buttery taste out of a barrel?
- Can you tell different whiskies apart chemically?
- What are the different compounds in rye vs. bourbon?
- Do bourbons have more differentiation compounds than ryes?
- How does each compound contribute to the bourbon?
- What kind of budget did you get to buy the bottles for research?
- Where do the fruity notes come from in bourbon?
- What are your thoughts on barrel entry proof?
- Do you think you could look at dusty bourbons from the 60’s or 70’s and see differences compared today?
- What’s a big takeaway from your research?
- What happens when a whiskey is aged in a wine cask?
It’s time for the blind battle of private barrel selections! Three heavyweight bouts between barrels that have sweet stickers and demand a hefty market price. During this fight of flights we are joined by Ben Pickett and Paul Warnott to discuss blind tasting strategies, barrel selection processes, and overall thoughts on our competing picks.
- Buy your tickets to the Speed Museum’s Art of Bourbon hosted by Fred Minnick
- This week’s “Above the Char” focuses on the myth that bourbon can only be made in Kentucky
- Paul invited us to come, what was the motivation behind it?
- Ben, how do you disperse 150 bottles between 1000 people?
- Are you spoiled by being able to go on every single barrel pick?
- Do you see people faking store picks now because there are hang tags?
- Time to do our first blind tasting
- [Russell’s Reserve Results between Blind Monkey, Bluegrass Berries, and Twix]
- Does trying anything in a particular order skew the results?
- Tell the story behind Bluegrass Berries
- Do you use anything as a palate cleanser
- When you’re going into blind tastings, do you have a method for setting it up and breaking it down?
- Time do our 2nd blind tasting
- Have you tried a bottled-in-bond blind to remove the proof variable?
- Do you pick for the group or the store?
- Have you ever done a barrel proof line up and is that harder or easier than something that’s 90 or 110 proof.
- What do legs do for you?
- What do you think the attraction is to NCF or is it all mental?
Is there any way you can get a barrel proof single barrel any more that is outside of MGP?
- Time to do our 3rd blind tasting
- What was your impression of picking a barrel at New Riff/OKI vs Wild Turkey or Buffalo Trace?
- When going back and forth between two, do you look for big discerning differences?
- When you are doing blind, is it harder to do 8 or more together or should you narrow the field?
- How often do you, if ever, spit anything out when tasting?
- [Barrel Proof Results between EH Taylor Barrel Proof and OKI 12 year “Ricky Bobby”]
- Stop in at Jake’s Cigar Bar to learn more and try some of these barrels.
Can you name all the distilleries in Lawrenceburg? How is it possible that a straight bourbon is only 70 proof? Wade Woodard, blogger at tater-talk.com and witty comedic relief on Facebook forums, leads us through a series of bourbon brain teasers to see if we really know our stuff. Wade is an advocate for bourbon laws and makes sure that everyone is playing by the rules so he knows them inside and out. Listen to see if we get stumped and see if you can answer the questions before we can.
- None! Because I want you to listen and try to guess the answers for yourself!
- First let’s give an overview of the company and then we will dive into the history.
- So do yo know about the history of storing barrels before the idea of rick houses?
- There’s all different kinds of ways to store barrels. But you all are pretty much renowned for it. Talk about how that came to be.
- Why wood?
- Talk about the design of the rick itself
- Why is your design better than pallet? More economical? Does it make it easier to move barrels in and out?
- Is a rackhouse made to survive acts of nature?
- What sort of maintenance is involved?
- You also have a patented process, right?
- Give us the basic idea of why a rick house is constructed the way it is
- What man power is involved? I hear you all have a machine that is beginning to automate a bit?
- How long to get one stood up?
- What’s the sustained weight?
- Why is there hardly ever electricity ran to these?
- Do people ask for other amenities like running water?
- How has the engineering of the construction changed over the years or are they just getting bigger?
Many seasoned bourbon drinkers know all too well the climate of things, but rarely ever stop to think how newcomers to this hobby view it. This episode takes an outside look in from experimenting with high rye, low rye, and wheated bourbons as well as a look into how our guest views allocated items. Darin Mellor, a spirits enthusiast, has been on the beer and tequila chase in the past and recently got into bourbon. Learn about his journey into the crazy hobby that can be very frustrating at times.
- What first attracted you to bourbon?
- Talk about the tequila and beer chase for a bit.
- Before you started really getting into it, was there anything that made you anxious or nervous?
- What made you want to know more?
- How did you start exploring high rye vs low rye vs wheated bourbon?
- Did you even know these different kind of bourbons existed before you dove in?
- What made you go with something barrel proof when you first started getting your few bottles?
- Being new to the scene, what’s your take on non-distilling producers?
- When you go to a store and see a hangtag or sticker that says “Won Double Gold”, does that influence your decision?
- How did you come to find out about Facebook groups or reddit?
- What was the most surprising thing you saw when you started reading more into bourbon?
- It took me almost 6 years until I found out about limited edition bourbons. How did you find out?
- Am I creating the problem or are new bourbon drinkers the problem when it comes to the allocation issue?
- So talk about your first reactions when you see an acronym like WLW. Are you like what the hell are these guys talking about?
- Now that you are getting into the bourbon scene, what’s the most frustrating part?
- What advice can you give to seasoned veterans of bourbon when all the new people are coming into the hobby?
- Are you surprised people are waiting in lines and lotteries for bourbon?
- Have you found yourself sneaking bottles in the house from your significant other?
- You can read more about Darin at mempxl and on Instagram at @mempxl
You may remember of Dr. Pat Heist of Ferm-Solutions back on episode 121 talking about the science of yeast. This episode feature his counterpart Shane Baker, Master Distiller of Wilderness Trail Distillery, as he answers all the questions you ever wanted to know from a Master Distiller. These guys are very well known in the bourbon world amongst distillers who know what they are doing. We take a deeper dive into grains and how this distillery has been aging product for almost 4 years and still hasn’t released a bourbon yet.
- Tell us a bit about Wilderness Trail?
- Where are you located?
- Do you use the same yeast strain in all your different mash bills?
- Adam Kessell I’d like the hear about all crop yield, and the agricultural footprint of bourbon/whiskey and what safe guards we take for the long term success of the product.
- Can you continue to keep it local?
- How often do you turn away grains?
- What do you think about the bourbon boom from a craft standpoint. what needs to be done to maintain this momentum?
- Aged stock vs making money. where’s that balance?
- What advice to give to other craft distillers?
- What in your opinion is the biggest factor in distilling/aging? Mash?,distillation temperature?, entry proof?, barrel type or aging location?
- Chris Scott I want to hear more about sourcing grains. We already heard Jimmy Russell say he must source rye from Europe. That blew my mind.
- Dustin Charles Herr Discuss year to year variation of crops affect on flavors.
- Steven Granger Discuss how sourcing grains from different parts of the world makes a difference in the finished product.
Many of us understand Bourbon 101 and 102 knowledge, but what about level 400? Dr. Pat Heist of Ferm Solutions joins the show to explain what is chemically happening when you’re producing bourbon and gives an in-depth look at yeast and how it becomes one of the most critical components of the process. You will learn all about the breakdowns of enzymes during mash cooking and species of yeast for distilling. If you’re a science buff, this episode is for you.
- What does Ferm Solutions do as well as how big Wilderness Trail Distillery?
- What was your first real job out of college and how did that get you into spirits?
- Are you tailoring yourself to craft whiskey or do you help with big names on the market as well?
- Talk about the science behind corn
- Is there really a difference between red corn or blue corn vs the traditional white/yellow corn? Difference in flavor? Economical?
- Talk about pesticides and GMO for the grains
- What about barley, rye, or wheat? Is the breakdown of the pathogens different or the enzymes?
- Go a bit more in depth about what the scientific differences between sour vs sweet mash
- How does yeast compete? What about the sanitary levels and how that contributes?
- What are the differences in the species of yeast and which ones are typically used in beer and spirits production?
- True or False. Does yeast contribute 15% to the flavor of a bourbon?
- What are the differences between low-gravity and high-gravity fermenters?
- What is the cause of a mutated yeast? Jim Rutledge discovered it at one time when it was a part of some limited edition offerings at Four Roses
- When you’re monitoring the yeast during fermentation, what are you looking for?
- When I was at Castle and Key they talked about doing yeast forensics to find a closely resembled strain. Is this actually possible or just marketing hype?
- Gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. What does this even mean?
- When does the yeast stop playing a roll? When it’s in the barrel? out of the barrel? in the bottle?
- Is yeast like a fungi where it can reproduce when it get puts back into a normalized environment?
- What about beers that go bad?
- One last question about corn, how long do you age corn in a silo to dehydrate corn and remove moisture?
Is the madness ever going to end? Are those unicorn bottles going to continue to climb in price for the future? How did we end up here? Past guest Chuck Cowdery, a bourbon authority, enlightens us to how the history of bourbon being an unwanted commodity created stocks of well aged whiskey that led us to the market we see today.
- Let’s talk about the past and the bourbon, crisis, was it an overall understanding that bourbon might be extinct?
- At what point did you come in to see some of this first hand?
- How did advertising work for bourbon? How did you get it into the hands of elders?
- How did no one see this coming? Like literally no one.
- You talk about the resurgence of bourbon was partly because of the lack of drinkers because it led to the unintentional benefit of very well-aged whiskey
- What were distillers doing with this better aged whiskey?
- Do you think exports are the biggest benefactor?
- What were bourbon brands doing at the time to appeal to the Japanese and European markets?
- So people are buying whiskey again, how are distillers ramping up production?
- Was there a surge of more NDPs and independent bottlers buying sourced whiskey?
- Why do you call this a “not so attractive” trend?
- At what point did we start seeing the “shortage”? or is there really a shortage?
- Have NDPs died off because they can’t source or contract distill now?
- Will craft distillers put a dent in the market or are they just looking for their piece of the pie?
- Do you think any of these companies will be “under water” on their investments when the bourbon matures for sales in 4-12 years? Especially when they have to compete with the big boys as they are expanding.
- Do you think we are going to see people drop off because we don’t have a lot of well-aged whiskey now? We have distillers and craft distillers removing age statements. How will that effect the future?
- What’s the key to making this trend last?