History: Stitzel and the wheat recipe

There's a lot of history and 'lore' behind bourbon so discuss both here.

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Unread postby gillmang » Wed Dec 12, 2007 2:13 pm

Interesting. Not only rye-based distilling comes from (some) German-settled parts of Europe, but now wheat-recipe too. What's next, the charred barrel originates in Cologne? :)

But seriously, that is interesting data, gents.

Genever gin always used a base of malt and wheat and/or rye: later corn was used as a component. Dutch genever was often (not always) flavored with juniper. Alsatian spirit was made and still is from fruits and evidently was also at one time from grains. Perhaps it was flavored with fruits in the home-country - a clue may be the fruit-based whiskey cordials and cocktails that took root in America.

Swiss people clearly too used various grains to distill.

But Scots people used mixed grains too. Wheat started to be used with the Scots column stills (still is). In the later 1800's, column distillation was common in Scotland and parts of Europe.

The important thing to me is, most of this spirit would have been unaged or little aged. So, it wouldn't have mattered really where the specific influence came from because it was not necessarily that distinct in any of these places. (Only towards the end of the 1800's did well-aged single malt whisky emerge as a separate style for example and on the Continent they never did age grain spirit systematically: to this day the German korns and Dutch genevers are white spirits, basically).

I think what may have happened is, in Alsace at the time, a primitive form of column stilling was being used and wheat was well-adapted to it. Wheat can create some fairly pungent fusels but this would not have mattered considering the relatively high proofs deriving from the column still.

So in other words while interesting, I think at most it suggests that new ideas from European distilling - drawn from different parts of Europe in different ways, e.g., through books, immigration of distilling families - influenced American practice. But the influences were not (I think) unique. F.X. Byrn in his 1870's book on distilling refers e.g., to the highest quality of genever being made from wheat (this referred then to Flanders and Northern France). These ideas were "in the air" at the time.

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Unread postby cowdery » Wed Dec 12, 2007 4:20 pm

I know about the 1897 Act, but I was thinking there was some precursor legislation that was passed in the 1880s. I can't find reference to it right now, so I must be wrong.

Anyway, regardless of legislation, I think in the 1880s and 1890s, the industry was becoming more industrialized and that may have led to a greater standardization of recipes. I'm pondering how the "standard" bourbon recipe became standard.

It's also interesting that PVW, at least initially, was attracted to the wheat recipe because it produced whiskey that was palatable at a younger age, but he proceded to use it for all of his whiskey, even the fully-aged stuff. It's also interesting that SW adopted the wheated recipe even though they didn't have Stitzels making it. The primary distillers at SW were Joe Beam, a couple of his sons, and primarily his brother-in-law, Will McGill, none of whom came up making wheated bourbon, so far as we know. Even when the company cranked up the still at Stitzel prior to repeal, before SW was built, it was McGill and the Beams who got things going, not, so far as we know, any Stitzels.
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Unread postby gillmang » Wed Dec 12, 2007 4:48 pm

We have to remember too that wheat whiskey was an established whiskey type in the late 1800's. Some of it was unaged, e.g., Seagram's white wheat whiskey, a label is shown in Jackson's 1980's World Guide To Whiskey. I believe some of these were distilled at relatively low proofs and were palatable at such young ages because precisely made from wheat (but distilled high enough to ensure most of the fusels were rid of - perhaps some were distilled between 160 and 190). Perhaps some was essentially like vodka.

So using wheat in a bourbon mashbill may have been a variation of the general use of wheat in distilling at the time. Byrn approves its use in distilling but says wheat is more costly and renders less than rye, so use that. Wheat in other words wasn't new in distilling (I think) in America in the 1800's. This is not to say a Stitzel ancestor might not have applied his native recipe for whiskey to bourbon-making - things can be in the air as I said. (Who invented the use of guitar feedback in rock and roll, for example?).

Whiskey in the later 1800's was only aged a few years at most (1-4 with rare exceptions). So a wheat recipe might have appealed for this reason, i.e., the feisty rye taste still apparent at 3-4 years was absent in the wheated bourbon. This may be why the first Stitzel used wheat in whiskey-making in America, but it doesn't mean he was the first to do whether in bourbon-making or whiskey distilling in general. Maybe wheat was abandoned in the bourbon mash once systematic aging (4-6-8 years or more) was established, which was the case by 1900. And maybe it was revived in 1933 in order to sell whiskey at an unusually young age but applied as we know ultimately to all the products of the S-W distillery and never changed thereafter. Hard to say.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Dec 13, 2007 10:55 am

Chuck,
A. Ph. Stitzel may not have been the day to day distiller, but he knew how to distill and probably oversaw the making of the whiskey with this new "formula". I also think that they knew it would age well simply because the recipe was 50 years old. There had to be some older barrels of the whiskey in the Glencoe warehouses as some point.

By the way, according to a photograph album that Julian owns, the master distiller at Stitzel circa 1930 was Elmer (or was it Elmo?) Beam. He is the one that would have worked with Stitzel to put into place this new "formula" when they started distilling again in 1928. Since every mash bill needs to be tweeked when taken to a new distillery, I am sure that both Beam and McGill have their fingerprints on the modern wheat recipe from Stitzel-Weller, even if the majority of the credit goes to Stitzel.

The only legislation I can recall before Bottled-in-Bond involved extending the bonding period. As far as standardizing the mash bill, that would be the Taft decision of 1909. That is the first time it was places into law that "Bourbon" had to be 51% corn. Remember, the conflict of the Pure Food and Drug act was over people calling their product "bourbon" when ti was made in Kentucky even if it was made with Illinois neutral spirits (sometimes made from molasses) with artificial coloring and flavoring and maybe a little aged whiskey. The Taft decision was the first formal definitions of the different types of whiskey, including grain requirements.

Gary,
There was many well matured whiskeys up to 8 years old on the market in the 19th century. You can tell the progress in age by the extension of the bonding period that force the distillers to pay the taxes on their whiskey. I will have to look up the dates for you later, but you can see the progress from 1 year to two years very quickly after the Civil War. It then jumped to 4 years and finally 8 years. The tax was paid at the end of the bonding period and most distillers sold their produce at that time, but there were many barrels aged after that period as well.

It took until the late 1950's for the bonding period to be extended to 20 years. The distillers obviously saw need for the extension before that period because they considered their whiskey well matured at between 4 and 8 years old. It was only extended then because Schenley had over produced millions of proof gallons of whiskey because they feared the Korean War would shut down whiskey production and the taxes were coming due on all of that whiskey and the price would have bankrupted Schenley, so they asked for an extension of the bonding period and got it. They then started sellin 10 yo Old Charter, and later 12 yo Old Charter. This proves that if the distillers wanted a longer bonding period, they could have gotten it.
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Unread postby gillmang » Thu Dec 13, 2007 1:58 pm

Mike, I understand your last point, but I believe the bulk of the whiskey sold in the 1800's was not well-aged. Some was, and the bonding period extensions explained that part, but most people could not have afforded 8 year old whiskey in the 1800's. The distilleries would have had to be concerned to make a palatable whiskey at young ages: hence e.g., the growth of Jack Daniel's with its jump-started aging process, hence the use of charcoal leaching also in Canada at the time (mentioned in Lorraine Brown's book as you know), and the development everywhere of continuous distillation. The use of wheat in a mashbill would have been (I believe) one element of a strategy to make young but palatable whiskey.

Just the other day in Jerry THomas' 1862 Cocktails book I was reading in his hints section about whiskey: he said it is almost always kept on ice. In contrast, he noted that "cognac" is served at a "moderate" temperature so as not to lose its "velvet". An 8 year old bourbon, especially in the 1800's, would have had plenty of velvet. This shows me that most whiskey in commerce then, bourbons and blends, was sold young. You would not need to keep whiskey on ice unless it was young.

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Unread postby cowdery » Thu Dec 13, 2007 8:32 pm

I also meant to ask about this:

"You understand this whiskey has aged naturally, not having been subjected to any so-called pre-aging (or preambling) processing. We do not believe in this so-calleed pre-aging that is being indulged in by a lot of distillers. In fact, we think it hurts the whiskey. We have seen some whiskey that we know has simply been ruined by this so-called pre-aging process."

Is "pre-aging (or preambling) processing" something akin to the Lincoln County Process, perhaps?
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Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Dec 13, 2007 8:53 pm

Chuck there were a variety of "pre-aging" processes at that time. Some are real fun to read about. Most involve charcoaled wood chips add to the process and they could be found every where from the condensor to the barrel. Other were as simple as heating the warehouses in the winter. One person before preohibition even had the idea of adding a heating probe into the barrel via the bunghole. Other than heating the warehouses, none of them were very successfull and as Van Winkle states, they could even ruin good whiskey.
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Unread postby cowdery » Fri Dec 14, 2007 6:47 pm

The Lincoln County Process certainly could be characterized as "pre-aging" and it has a long and venerable tradition, in both the USA and Canada.

Moonshiners frequently employ the wood chip trick.
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Unread postby TNbourbon » Fri Dec 14, 2007 8:42 pm

cowdery wrote:I know about the 1897 Act, but I was thinking there was some precursor legislation that was passed in the 1880s. I can't find reference to it right now, so I must be wrong...


Perhaps not. Were you thinking, maybe, of the Canadian "Bottled In Bond" law of 1883 which, essentially, guaranteed age under a government aegis?
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Unread postby cowdery » Fri Dec 14, 2007 9:13 pm

TNbourbon wrote:
cowdery wrote:I know about the 1897 Act, but I was thinking there was some precursor legislation that was passed in the 1880s. I can't find reference to it right now, so I must be wrong...


Perhaps not. Were you thinking, maybe, of the Canadian "Bottled In Bond" law of 1883 which, essentially, guaranteed age under a government aegis?


You know, I bet I was, and even if I wasn't that's a darn good answer.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Sat Dec 15, 2007 10:36 am

Chuck,
Another way they "preambled" the whiskey was through agitation. The old legend of the sea Captain in his rocking chair with his keg strapped to the rockers under the seat is the inspiration for this method. In simplest form it was simply rolling the barrels from floor to floor of the warehouse on a regular basis. I am sure they also came up with more mechanical means as well. Agitation of barrels with charcoal chips in a heated warehouse was probably the most drastic of the pre-aging methods and probably produced a whiskey that tasted of oak tannins and young whiskey.
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Unread postby gillmang » Sat Dec 15, 2007 10:49 am

I wonder in what way Van Winkle felt that pre-aging hurt the product. Maybe by imparting tannins too soon and thereby unbalancing the whiskey.

You will not get chemical changes, or as many, from interaction of air and the fusels in the whiskey, with a fast maturation process.

Certainly some fusels can be diminished by some methods, e.g., Lincoln County Process, but the long slow oxidation from natural aging is probably not fully to be duplicated by any other method.

The Canadians and Scots tried (I have inferred) to make a clean, matured whisky quickly by using a thorough column still distillation process and a just a few years barrel aging. You get a good palatable product that way, but blending is necessary to present it at its best. And it does not resemble single malt or matured bourbon.

With liquors distilled under 160, they need many years barrel aging to present a traditional palate, IMO. I think the most that can be done - and it is by some - to accelerate the aging is the use of cycling, the heating and cooling of warehouses at certain times by mechanical means. This may improve to a degree on Mother Nature if carefully done.

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Last edited by gillmang on Sat Dec 15, 2007 7:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread postby cowdery » Sat Dec 15, 2007 6:47 pm

I think Pappy was merely a good marketer, which boils down to "my way = good, other guy's way = bad." I don't think it was any more technical than that.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Sat Dec 15, 2007 7:41 pm

Chuck is right, but I have read other peoples opinions on the quick aging processess and in this case, Papy waqs probably also right. I think the big drawback is the fact that many of the sugars are slow to come out of the wood and the whiskey was very tannic without any sweetness to balance it. That would be the general opinion of the pre-aged whiskey from Stitzel-Weller, Glenmore, Taylor and Williams and Schenley quality control people.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Dec 21, 2007 11:14 am

Chuck,
You may find this bit interesting. It is from a 1905 trademark dispute and Marion Taylor is describing how his Old Crow's Nest whiskey arrived at a 9 yo age statement.

"That whiskey may not have existed nine years before it was put into the bottle, but it is the treatment of that whiskey, by changing it from the original barrel into new charred barrels and shaking it and placing it under the roof, which ages the whiskey much quicker than allowing it to remain in the original package. That brand of whiskey which we brand as "nine years old blend" means it is equal to nine years old whiskey in smoothness and quality"

Q980 "How did you arrive at the fact which you put upon the bottle of "Crow Nest" that the whiskey was nine years old?"

A "Because it is comparatively nine years old."

Q981 "How did you arrive at that result?"

A "By Sampling."

Q "Explain that, please."

A "You take whiskey that is allowed to remain in the original package for nine years and compare it with our nine years old blend and you will find the smoothness the same. Therefore, we classit as nine years old whiskey, and it is customary among all blenders and dealers so to aid all their whiskey."

I find this an interesting example of "pre-aging" whiskey. This is a prime example of why there was a huge dispute about what is whiskey in 1906 and very harsh feelings between straight whiskey distillers and rectifiers.
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