Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

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

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby gillmang » Tue Aug 18, 2009 2:25 pm

Any mingling (i.e., even of straight whiskey of one type and even without addition of a blending agent), can smooth out a palate to be sure. This can occur even when a company mingles from its own stocks of a given type. I believe the smallness of the industry in Maryland - really small compared to PA and especially KY - was the main factor for companies to rely on blends of straight whiskey and blends proper as their mainstay.

However, we should note that straight rye was sold in Maryland of course. Apart from the original (post-Pro) Pikesville, there were numerous brands in the market as Bready's article notes. In the Melrose history alone, are mentioned Canton Maryland Straight Rye Whiskey, American Straight Rye Whiskey, Old Record Bottled in Bond Rye Whiskey. Also listed are two brands of blends of straight whiskeys (one all-rye) and two blended whiskeys per se. All these were products of the Melrose company. Did sales of the blends exceed the straights? I do not know but suspect they did. Head of the list in the book was Melrose - Blended Straight Rye Whiskies - clearly its flagship. Clearly though this was not a hugely popular category; if it was, there might be straight rye made in Maryland today.

The straight ryes of Maryland in my opinion were made with all-rye or mostly rye.

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby EllenJ » Wed Aug 19, 2009 3:28 pm

I don't think I'd characterize them quite so harshly as that, Chuck. For example I doubt, from the samples I've tasted, that GNS was ever a big factor in the old Eastern ryes (and of course not at all in Monongahela). Not one sample that I've tasted has borne any resemblance at all to modern blended whiskey. Are you, perhaps, referring to Canadian "rye" whisky? That product, with very few exceptions, has always benefitted from the talents of the whisky blender (and without the stigma attached on this side of the border). But other than the word "rye", there is little similarity between Canadian whisky and American rye, certainly not to those produced before Prohibition (one very notable exception is/was Lot No.40, if you can find any).

"Modern" ryes, at least the ones distilled by bourbon distilleries, really only lost that "depth and bite" as recently as the '70s and '80s, about the same time as modern bourbon did... and probably for the same reasons.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Aug 19, 2009 4:12 pm

So why not use coolers in the mash tubs? You do realize that they were patented at the Hermitage distillery in the 1860's so they were quite common in the pre-prohibition distilleries. The Oscar Getz museum has the patent papers - rescued I might add from the trash at the Old Crow distillery by employee who did not want to see that history in the land fill.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby Leopold » Wed Aug 19, 2009 5:41 pm

FWIW, we use coolers in our Mash Tub. We love it.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby Leopold » Wed Aug 19, 2009 7:22 pm

EllenJ wrote:"Modern" ryes, at least the ones distilled by bourbon distilleries, really only lost that "depth and bite" as recently as the '70s and '80s, about the same time as modern bourbon did... and probably for the same reasons.


Do you mind expanding on this thought?
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby EllenJ » Wed Aug 19, 2009 9:37 pm

Todd,
"Why ain't the whiskey as good as it was in the old days?" is a perpetual forum subject. There are, of course, myriad answers -- all (or most anyway) well-thought out and explained ad nauseum in forums, even excellent ones like this one. In fact, maybe even MORE in forums such as this one, which attracts folks with academic and historic viewpoints. One of those answers (the one I refered to, and am a proponent of) is that it resulted from:

    * A combination of economic slowdown
    * Standardized production practices, and
    * The transfer of ownership to companies for whom straight whiskey was a less-profitable competitor for their main products' market.

If you get a chance to sample a large number of whiskeys from a wide time horizon it quickly becomes apparent that a major shift in quality occurs around that period. It isn't just a matter "today's whiskey just ain't as good"; in fact, today's whiskey may be even better -- using a criteria of consistancy, accuracy, and predictability. But it no longer has the depth it had until then. That's why one can speak of "Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel" as if anything one says about it could be meaningful without specifying WHICH barrel. Notwithstanding that afficianados (me too, of course) will readily (and endlessly) discuss the nuances between examples from one barrel vs those from another the fact is that, to all intents and purposes, if you know what ETLSB tastes like, you know what ETLSB tastes like.

You have a brewing background, as well as distilling, so maybe this would be a good illustration...

As a home-brewer, I can make a pretty darn good English Extra Special Bitter using about six pounds of light DME, about a pound 20-L crystal malt and a quarter pound of 80-L. Maybe a little chocolate or Munich.

OR...

I can simply use nine pounds of amber DME and be done with it. Same OG; same FG; same ABV, same IBU, same SRM.

Same result, no? Of course not.
That's where I believe the difference lies. I'm not even sure it was just "corporate cheapness", either. I think industry-wide standards were introduced around that time (perhaps as a result of de-regulation in the '80s) that (to use my illustration for an example) effectively prohibited the use of crystal malts and encouraged amber extracts.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby Leopold » Wed Aug 19, 2009 11:24 pm

EllenJ wrote:
I can simply use nine pounds of amber DME and be done with it. Same OG; same FG; same ABV, same IBU, same SRM.

Same result, no? Of course not.


As Georgia O'Keefe put it, "there's no there there".

I've always told people on tours that it's the little imperfections....losses here and there, not always end fermenting the very last drop of starch, changing your cut points because of changing flavors and aromas rather than going by straight abv in the parrot, etc. .....is what gives character.

I'm lucky in that our accountant (my older brother) lets me do what I wish.....within reason. I don't have to work with the super tight price points that the big guys have to deal with on a daily basis. I don't envy them, as what they do is quite difficult.

I'm glad you don't use DME! If you're ever in my neck of the woods, I must insist on a visit! Bring beer.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby EllenJ » Thu Aug 20, 2009 9:38 am

Supposing you didn't have a brewery where the accounting department consisted of your older brother. Imagine being CEO of a brewery where the ownership were convinced (probably correctly) that any variation in the product's currently-successful profile might result in at least some loss of market position. Which, in the world of competitive monster-breweries, could mean bankruptcy.

Your brewery makes a very high-quality beer, and a major contributor to that quality is your brewmaster. S/he is very hands-on and is constantly concerned with fermentation times, temps, correcting for variations, batch quality control, and so forth. Such masters don't come cheap. Takes years of training and experience, not to mention raw talent, and those who have those qualifications know it. On the other hand, you can hire such a person temporarily, or contract with them, to set up a system whereby practically anyone capable of operating the equipment and following a tasklist can produce consistant output, even in changing conditions.

Of course, all of those conditions, and the proper adjustments, must thought out in advance. And that's certainly easiest (i.e., cheapest to implement) if the possibilities for error are minimized. In the distilling world, a good example might be that, by taking spirit off the still at 140 proof you can be assured there'll be neither fusal oils nor methanol. Of course you'll be sacrificing a bunch of desirable esters you'd also be getting if you were distilling to 100 proof, but that takes skill your stockholders really would prefer not to pay for.

And if you insist on it, they'll simply replace you with someone less fussy.

I believe that, when Prohibition ended in 1934 there was a surfeit of highly qualified distillers ready to meet the challenges of bringing the industry back to life. And there were certainly stockholders ready to invest whatever it took to make that happen. Less than a dozen years later it all shut down again for The War. But by then, those old-timers had personally trained the next generation of master distillers who presided over American whiskey's glory years through the '50s and early '60s. But during that period, the modern business model came into fashion, and richness and depth gave way to easy reproducability and lowest-common-denominator quality.

If I showed your brother that your brewery would likely lose 8% in revenue by making small sacrifices to its quality, while saving over 12% in production costs, what do you think he'd say? Now suppose that he was hired by, and answerable to, investors who, quite rightly, see that lost 4% as a criterion for whether to sell their interest and invest in your competitor instead?
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby gillmang » Thu Aug 20, 2009 12:45 pm

Sometimes we can point (I think) to very specific changes. It was Mike Veach who first told me that maximum barrel entry proof for bourbon and straight rye was raised from 115 (I believe it was) to 125 sometime in the 1970's. This accords with the changeover period mentioned by John. Other factors mentioned in recent discussions here:

- probably less use of jug yeast and in any case a cleaner yeast than in earlier times (e.g., not multi-strain)

- probably more distilling out closer to 160 than before

- plants today overall probably are more sterile than earlier - and more mashes sterilized possibly than in the past

- younger tree stock than 30 and more years ago for barrels

- not as much outdoor curing of staves as before

- more cooling (e.g., via jackets as Mike V. mentioned for mash vessels) in more stages than earlier

- less cypress vats than earlier

- possibly less tasty modern grains although this is difficult to know.

- more insulated warehousing, in some cases palletized-style, than before.

No one element can be proven for all producers much less all elements. The impression withal (mine anyway) is impressionistic. This is all speculation, in other words, but I believe these factors may, overall, explain something.

(Not to say once again there isn't good bourbon today and no bad bourbon then - absolutely that is not the case).

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby Leopold » Thu Aug 20, 2009 1:14 pm

Same thing has happened to the German Brewing industry. I made unfiltered kellerbier, which has disappeared so fast that homebrewers would come in and tell me that my beer wasn't "true to style". Frustrating. Of course, now slightly sour beer and strange yeast strains are all the rage.

Of course, my beer was nothing like the overfiltered, technology-driven beer that dominates the German market these days. While I love many of those beers, unfiltered lager crafted using unusual yeast strains and unblended hops are rapidly becoming a thing of the past....

I think that there were maybe one or two other breweries in the US that used a flotation tank as I did.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby gillmang » Thu Aug 20, 2009 3:23 pm

Pilsener Urquel is still very good though, Todd. I had one yesterday on draft in Toronto and it was phenomenal, showing subtleties one would think should only manifest in Pilsen or Western Europe at least. Even the canned one (which I prefer to the bottled due to imperviousness to light) arrives here often under 3 months from packaging. Always an exception to the rule.

Creemore, now owned by Molson Coors, just released a kellerbier here and it is very good.

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby Leopold » Thu Aug 20, 2009 3:53 pm

Oh, I agree that there are exceptions. Many, actually. Augustiner Edestoff is still my favorite beer in the world. It just saddens me to see the other styles disappear.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby EllenJ » Thu Aug 20, 2009 8:53 pm

gillmang wrote:...Other factors mentioned in recent discussions here:

- probably less use of jug yeast and in any case a cleaner yeast than in earlier times (e.g., not multi-strain)

- probably more distilling out closer to 160 than before

- plants today overall probably are more sterile than earlier - and more mashes sterilized possibly than in the past

- younger tree stock than 30 and more years ago for barrels

- not as much outdoor curing of staves as before

- more cooling (e.g., via jackets as Mike V. mentioned for mash vessels) in more stages than earlier

- less cypress vats than earlier

- possibly less tasty modern grains although this is difficult to know.

- more insulated warehousing, in some cases palletized-style, than before.


Dead on point, Gary!
And that goes for every single point you listed. Especially the first three.

In a live discussion, I'll happily present my "Lord of the Cypress Universe" theory of yeast propigation and how it relates to spirit production. But I wouldn't even attempt it here. For one thing it's a saga of (literally) Biblical proportions and would probably require a link to its own server just for storage. Secondly, it's so controversial even I disagree with parts of it. If anyone wants to hear it ya gotta come visit me. Actually, Gary, I think we may have talked about it a little bit when you were here, but I don't remember. That seems to be an easy state to reach in our little "shrine" (or maybe it was while Beauregard the Plant Cop was chasing our butts out of the old N.D. (now Beam) distillery in Elmwood Place :cowboy: :cowboy: ). Suffice it to say that it recognizes what you're saying about yeast purity and sanitation and goes on from there to include The Book of Genesis, the New World Order, and the ongoing Middle East Crisis.
Not to mention that subtle butterscotch flavor you don't find anymore. :drunken:
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby gillmang » Thu Aug 20, 2009 9:28 pm

John, interesting you say that about yeast and cypress (everything you say is interesting, even when you disagree with yourself! :)).

I was just reading that some New Zealand scientists isolated a culture of wild yeasts resident in a new French cask sent to NZ for wine storage. The bugs were related but not identical to a resident (wild) NZ yeast group. So imagine what well-used cypress wood would impart to a mash.

Of course some of that influence was bad, so there was wastage: but with experience the old still men knew I think how to get good results.

Something explains anyway the winy richness of '82 Old Taylor...

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby cowdery » Fri Aug 21, 2009 1:50 am

The comparison to modern blends was a stretch. I've tasted some of John's samples from Maryland and they hardly even taste like whiskey. They are very hard to describe. 'Liquid raisins' comes to mind as a metaphor.

A factor not yet mentioned in why whiskey has changed: changing tastes. Good, bad, or indifferent, producers tend to make the products consumers will buy. We may decry Bud's style of beer, or Jack Daniel's style of whiskey, but that's what sells. After Prohibition, American consumers found the old style of straight bourbon and rye too heavy-tasting. They wanted something more like the scotches and Canadians they had during the drought, and for better or worse, American distillers did their best to comply.

The happenstance of the Great Whiskey Glut gave us the extra-aged whiskeys that characterize the current American whiskey renaissance. The next step is for producers (micro or macro) to go back to the lower distillation and entry proofs of yesteryear.

Also, Wild Turkey will tell you they are the last of the old-time distillers, with probably the lowest distillation and entry proofs in the business today.
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