Barrel Proof

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Barrel Proof

Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Apr 09, 2008 4:45 pm

I had thought that I had figured out when the barrel proof was raised to 125 from 110 as the maximum proof. Everybody I talked to seemed to remember it as happening with Regan's deregulation of the industry. That would put the date in the early 1980's. Then John Lipman sent me this link:

http://www.ttb.gov/industry_circulars/a ... 62-16.html

Now I am confused. Oral history suggest the early 1980's and this document states 1962. There must be more to this story...
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Unread postby cowdery » Wed Apr 09, 2008 7:27 pm

What's confusing? The circular seems pretty clear.

The Reagan era deregulation did not, so far as I can recall, have any effect on Standards of Identity. The Reagan measures were all revenue-oriented: elimination of tax stamps, elimination of the storekeeper and gauger, and an increase in the FET.

I just learned yesterday that maximum absorption of barrel goodies occurs at 120 proof. Not sure if that has any bearing on the question or not.
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Unread postby barturtle » Wed Apr 09, 2008 10:51 pm

Interesting to have found that circular. Very good piece of info.

I also have a bit of fun info that is related. It seems there was a test period for higher proofs previous to this new decision being put into place.

From Grossman's Guide to Wine Beer and Spirits 4th Edition (1964, previous editions 1940,1943,1955)

Except from the standards of identity:

(b) Class 2, Whisky....and also includes mixtures of the foregoing distillates for which no specific standards of identity are prescribed in this part: Provided, That a maximum of 1,000 barrels of whisky per distillery, withdrawn prior to July 1, 1960, at above 110 proof for experimental storage but not more than 160 proof may be designated as whiskey or any type thereof to which it would have been entitled under these standards of identity but for the fact that it was withdrawn at over 110 proof. Those types of whisky specified in subparagraphs (1) to (10) of this paragraph shall be deemed "American Type" whiskies.

The types that go onto be specified are:
Rye, Bourbon, Wheat, Malt, Rye Malt, Corn, Straight, Straights of above types, Blended (by type), A Blend of (above types) and Spirit Whisky.

While this 1964 book still has the maximum proof at 110, this may be something that is left in from earlier editions and wasn't properly updated...I would like to know when this experiment started.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Apr 10, 2008 11:29 am

Parker Beam and Jim Rutledge indicated to me that it was in the Regan de-regulation era that the barrel proof was raised to 125. Maybe there was some other regulation attached to the increased proof that prevented it from happening industry wide until then. Maybe the Cooper's Union added that 1000 barrel figure preventing those companies that sold barrels to contract distributers from being able to use the higher proof because they only made 500 barrels. I think I would like some more information.
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Unread postby cowdery » Thu Apr 10, 2008 7:49 pm

Another possibility is that the regulation was in place since 1962 but something happened during the Reagan era, like the FET increase, that prompted the distilleries to all take advantage of it. I suspect the distillers opposed it but were forced into it by the accountants.

The guy who told me that 120 is ideal for maximum extraction also told me about an experiment that was done with 190-proof rum. They left it in the barrel for a decent period of time and except for some resins, nothing happened. In my ignorance of chemistry, I would have guessed that alcohol being a more powerful solvent than water, the higher the alcohol content the more the barrel would break down and become liquified, but apparently it doesn't work that way.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Apr 10, 2008 9:08 pm

Chuck,
Water is known as the "universal solvent". I suspect that water is needed to get the best flavors from the barrel.
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Unread postby EllenJ » Fri Apr 11, 2008 8:39 pm

Chuck and Mike,
Alcohol, as as solvent, has been promoted so thoroughly by its makers over the eons that we've pretty much all bought into their hype. The fact is, however that, while alcohol may be a terrific solvent... for grease and oil-based extractives, that's really about it. I'll bet the effect of ethyl alcohol on such things as tannin and wood products is minimal, if there's any effect at all beyond what the water removes. That's why Kentucky bourbon, distilled (usually) at lower proof than other spirits is able to extract so much more from a barrel than the others. Even a used barrel. Despite the influence of the cooperage industry, it may well be more the way that bourbon is made that produces its characteristic flavor than it's use of new, charred barrels. After all, legalities aside, Early Times /Kentucky-Style Whiskey(not allowed to be called "bourbon" because not all of it's distillate is aged in NEW charred barrels -- 20% uses previously used barrels) has arguably more "bourbon profile" flavor than does, say, Basil Hayden, which is a Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Although I've never tasted an Early Times "Single (but previously used) barrel" example, my guess is that it would have every bit the Early Times flavor profile applied to their export bourbon. And of course, examples of old '50s/'60s Early Times BOURBON are more flavorful than the aged-at-higher-proof bourbons of today.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Apr 14, 2008 11:46 am

The arguement for higher barrel proof has been "why age water?" The answer to that statement is because aged water is needed to get some of the best flavors from the barrel wood. The carmelized sugars and vanilla from lignons seem to disolve better in water than in alcohol making for a sweeter product without the dry, bitter tannic flavors that come with higher alcohol content. I personally would like to see more products put into the barrel at the old limit of 110. I would be even happier to see product placed in the barrel at the 19th century norm of 100 proof.
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Unread postby cowdery » Thu Apr 17, 2008 1:46 pm

Eddie Russell told me that Wild Turkey reluctantly raised their barrelling proof to 115 because they were having a problem with too many barrels dropping below 101, the proof at which most of their output is bottled. It had been 107 for many years, then they went to 110 but still had the problem, so they went to 115. That's still one of the industry's lowest.
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Unread postby barturtle » Thu Apr 17, 2008 5:25 pm

cowdery wrote:Eddie Russell told me that Wild Turkey reluctantly raised their barrelling proof to 115 because they were having a problem with too many barrels dropping below 101, the proof at which most of their output is bottled. It had been 107 for many years, then they went to 110 but still had the problem, so they went to 115. That's still one of the industry's lowest.


Well Russel's Reserve should help take care of that..drop it back down.

Hold on they're charging us extra for the barrels they were having trouble using....?
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Unread postby Dump Bucket » Thu Apr 17, 2008 6:19 pm

barturtle wrote:
cowdery wrote:Eddie Russell told me that Wild Turkey reluctantly raised their barrelling proof to 115 because they were having a problem with too many barrels dropping below 101, the proof at which most of their output is bottled. It had been 107 for many years, then they went to 110 but still had the problem, so they went to 115. That's still one of the industry's lowest.


Well Russel's Reserve should help take care of that..drop it back down.

Hold on they're charging us extra for the barrels they were having trouble using....?


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Unread postby bunghole » Fri Apr 18, 2008 11:42 pm

Well we all know that Kentuckians never lie, but it seems to me that a very few of them are heavy fibbers. Mayhaps Eddie Russel just might be a fibber. Wild Turkey never reported such a problem in the past, have they?

In countries with colder climes, such as Scotland, barrel (or cask if you perfer) proof declines with time. In Kentucky, however, barrel proof increases with age. Witness George T. Stagg as a prime example.

How is it that Wild Turkey barrels decrease in proof over time while the rest of Kentucky's barrels increase in proof over time? Global warming? :roll: :dontknow: :booty:

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Unread postby barturtle » Sat Apr 19, 2008 10:28 am

While it is true that on average barrel proof increases in KY, it can go down. The Four Rose Rutledge bottle that was under 100 proof seems to be evidence of that. However, I'd think it wasn't a common enough occurrence to be something that can't be worked around. These guys know their rickhouses and if there's a floor or section of the place that is known to have lower proofs, there's just as likely another that has higher.

Yup, them KY boys know how to weave a good tale, stretch the truth, and lay it on thick.
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Unread postby cowdery » Sat Apr 19, 2008 8:44 pm

When business is slow you might do things or allow things to happen that are untenable when business is good. Like moving barrels to a hotter part of the warehouse and letting them age a bit longer to bring the proof up, or just not using the cool parts of the warehouses where proof drops below 104-105 (you can't cut it too close). When you can sell everything that's ready to sell, and you're building new warehouses because every slot you have is full, including the bad ones, having whiskey that overall is ready to sell except the proof's too low is a luxury you can't afford, so you make a small change to fix it. One-fifteen is still pretty low. Eddie has no reason to fib and his explanation is entirely credible to me. One reason they can't allow the proof to drop too low is that they are the only distillery that is selling most of its output at 101-proof and above.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Apr 23, 2008 12:35 pm

I have heard that excuse for raising barrel proof from a couple of different sources at Wild Turkey. i don't buy it myself - I think it has more to do with accounts, cost of barrels and saving room in the warehouses by using less barrels. The "official" reason of the drop in proof sounds better than "we are making the product cheaper" so that is the story the official representatives of the distillery will use. It does have some validity and let the company act like they were forced into the action by factors other than economics.

The fact is that economics is a factor in any distiller. Most of them have shareholders to answer to and they expect maximum profits so they get the largest dividend. That is why the accountants have so much power to influence the product's production. I would be willing to bet that Jimmy and Eddie fought this change as long as possible, but finally gave in because they had no choice. A similar choice involved moving the bottling line to Arkansas. Jimmy fought to keep it at Tyrone until finally it just became to expensive to justify. Now Wild Turkey is bootled in Arkansas with all of the other products sold by PR.
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