The Whiskey Trust

When it comes to the history of American whiskey, there is no more important topic than that of the Whiskey Trust. In fact, American whiskey history should probably be divided into 2 eras: Pre-Whiskey Trust and Post-Whiskey Trust. Even the staggering effects on the whiskey trade caused by Prohibition would not have been as impactful without the machinations of the Whiskey Trust. The story of the Whiskey Trust, as described by whiskey historians, often stops in 1895 when the company was dissolved, but it does not end there. Each iteration of the Whiskey Trust became more influential and impactful than the last. Its legacy lives on with us today and is reflected in the state of modern America’s whiskey industry. The concept of a “whiskey trust” began to congeal...

Why Are the Insides of Whiskey Barrels Charred?

Occum’s razor basically states that “the simplest explanation is most likely the right one”. While that may not always be the case, when we address the questions “When did whiskey begin being aged in charred barrels” and “What is the history that led to coopers adopting this technique for whiskey making”, I think we often miss the obvious answers because they’re not clever. The idea that a cow could light a barn on fire and accidentally char the inside of Kentucky’s first distiller, Elijah Craig’s whiskey barrels is…romantic. A complete load of nonsense, but romantic. Leaving aside the fact that Elijah Craig was NOT Kentucky’s first distiller or that bourbon most certainly was NOT the first whiskey to be aged in charred oak…well, let’s just disregard that...

“Old Hickory” and “The Hickoryites”

“Old Hickory” and “The Hickoryites”

Andrew Jackson was an interesting character. He was born to Scots-Irish immigrants (most likely landing first in Philadelphia) somewhere between the border of North and South Carolina in 1767. He was an orphan without siblings by the age of 14. His eldest brother, Hugh, died during the Revolution and his other brother, Robert, died of smallpox after he and Andrew had been held captives of the British. You can imagine how losing your family at so young an age would begin to harden the man. Jackson may not have come from wealth, but his years as a frontier lawyer down in Tennessee certainly changed that. He would go on to have a distinguished career as a lawyer, a judge, a politician and a land speculator. His purchase of the Hermitage, his plantation near...

Is Beer More Varied Than Whiskey?

Is Beer More Varied Than Whiskey?

Last night I found myself in defense of whiskey!  A conversation arose about how much variety exists in whiskey and someone said, ”Beer is much more varied than whiskey…”  I found myself arguing how that was not true, but then had a take a moment to realize that most people do not have as much experience with whiskey as they do with beer.  This is due, in part, to the fact that the beer revolution has become a part of the mainstream for bar culture nowadays.  Beer drinkers in metropolitan areas are much more likely to order a foreign beer or a micro-brew than the “standard domestics” like Coors or Bud.  Some will even look down their noses at you if you choose to drink “corporate beer.” The same cannot necessarily be said for whiskey drinkers (except for the...

Pennsylvania and Its Whiskey Rebellion

Pennsylvania and Its Whiskey Rebellion

With the American Whiskey Convention coming to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s whiskey history has been on the brain.  Our most famous Pennsylvanian claim to historic infamy is the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. After the Revolutionary War, the newly formed United States were in a great deal of debt.  Alexander Hamilton estimated that debt to be around $54 million.  Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury during George Washington’s presidency and he proposed the taxation of alcohol to pay off the country’s looming debt.  The tax called for 11 cents per gallon of spirits.  (To think that that amount of money could pay off that huge debt in a few years just goes to show how much Americans were drinking at the time.)  In 1791, Washington and his new government began to...

Lets Hear It For The Maltsters!

Lets Hear It For The Maltsters!

One of the most amazing steps in making whiskey is the one of the first steps and is often overlooked in its importance. The first step is farming the grain, of course.  This is incredibly important in determining the quality of the grain.  So much is dependent upon the growing season, weather, rainfall and soil quality.  One harvest will differ from the next.   After the harvest, it’s the maltsters turn… Many grains are used in making whiskey, especially now that so much experimentation is being done to create craft whiskeys.  They can all be malted, but no grain has the diastatic power (enzyme power to convert starches to sugars) that barley has.  It is called the “workhorse grain” because it is often added to a mash in small amounts just for its wonderful...

What’s the Sweet Spot in Age for Bourbon?

What’s the Sweet Spot in Age for Bourbon?

So I’ve been asked “What is the sweet spot in age for bourbon?” The answer always goes the same way. “The right age whiskey is the whiskey you enjoy.  If you like it young, than that’s the right one.  If you like it old, than that’s right for you.” It’s like answering the question, “Who’s the best artist in the museum” or “What’s the best food on the menu?”  The truth is that the best is relative.  You have to develop your palate and determine which you prefer.  The more you’re exposed to, the better your own understanding will be of  those preferences.  What I can tell you is there are reasons that your bourbon tastes the way it does.  Knowing how age affects your whiskey is the first step to knowing which ones to sample next.   That, and knowing that price has...

What is a Sour Mash Whiskey?

What is a Sour Mash Whiskey?

So what is sour mash whiskey anyway? The term sour mash gets thrown around a lot, but it’s really just a technique used in making whiskey.  It is not particular to any one brand of whiskey.  In fact, most whiskeys are made using this technique. Before you can distill, you have to make the alcohol.  Distillation is just the process of removing and refining the alcohol that yeasts produce in the fermentation process beforehand.   The whole reason that distillers are so concerned with quality of grain is because they want their yeasts to have the best grains that can produce the best food for them to “eat”.  The distiller cooks those grains in a big pot called a mashtun to create a delicious, warm, sugary mash for their yeasts to feast upon.  Those yeasts, when not...