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 p_elliott » Fri Aug 21, 2009 2:35 am

cowdery wrote: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.


And that would be why I drink primarily Wild Turkey 101.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Aug 21, 2009 3:24 am

Certainly the Wild Turkey products have a rich quality especially at older ages that surely owes something to their historically low entry proof. I believe their rye, if it would be issued at 8-12 years of age, would show the kind of caraway-like richness that has been noted of some traditional rye, in fact.

I just found out that Joseph Fleischman's book is on full view at Google Books:

http://books.google.com/books?id=ABoZAA ... q=&f=false

The full read is most worthwhile, for its inherent interest and e.g., statements such as his practice to age his blends (marry them) in barrels at the top of the warehouse at least 3 months. Or, his comment that bourbon 10-15 years old is too old except for blending purposes. (Wha...? Tell that to some of the mavens in these parts).

Look at his recipes for "tea extract" and "raisin extract" (pg. 16-17). His best rye whiskey blend, no. 17 on page 31, is 3 straight ryes: Guckenheimer, Hainesville, Monticello, all well-known historical names, plus tea extract. Note how heavy the raisin extract and tea extract are on raisins and currants, respectively. So if the Maryland blends had a raisiny taste, this would seem why. When I made my own version of no. 17 blend, I macerated raisins in tea liqueur. I didn't get a raisiny quality in the blend because, first, I don't think my flavouring was as concentrated as Fleischman's. Second, I used only the percentage he advises (scaled down of course), and it is very small, he uses only a half gallon flavouring to 45 gallons of pure whiskeys for his no. 17. One can envision that in the cheaper blends, even that same percentage of flavouring would stand out more, though, since it is being displayed by the GNS content. No. 17 used no GNS though, and nor did Melrose's blend of straight rye whiskeys according to the company history I mentioned earlier.

However, one can easily envision that regardless of the relative proportion of straight whiskeys and GNS used by the different rectifiers, some simply upped the amount of flavouring in their products, probably to boost profits. I recall Mike Veach reproducing rectifiers' recipes on BE some years ago showing such higher percentages, e.g., from a liquor broker in San Francisco, later 1800's. So Chuck, the "raisin" connection seems a longstanding one. In Byrn's book, he advises to add a raisin distillate to new malt whiskey (his malt whiskey is permitted alternately to use corn) to give it a "defining flavor". Chuck, didn't you once write that a raisin wine used in blending was being made at Michter's in the 1970's or early 80's? Or was it a prune wine? Anyway, it was something of this general type. Our forefathers liked the taste of raisins - currants are similar, prunes to a degree - and used it to enhance the taste of cereal grain whiskey.

I added some Southern Comfort, which is similar to some of Fleishman's fruit blends, in the percentage his no. 9 bourbon blend calls for, which again is just 1.5% or so, to a mixture of bourbons and some Canadian whiskies. Just as the Melrose book said, you could not tell the addition had been made, but it did marry the whiskeys very well. But again I surmise, and we know from some evidence, that many blenders went a little heavy in the fruit department. In fact, if the whiskeys used to blend were young, I think more flavouring was called for, as seems the approach with rock 'n rye liqueur for example. There, the fruit becomes fairly defining. But the artist in blending can mix his primary elements in his alembic as his materials and judgment call for: the final result will be what he designed and it will please palates who like that taste. Fleischman gives one approach (or variations on a theme) but allows that the formulas can be extended almost indefinitely. He does claim though to render the blends that were common in the market in his day.

Finally, a mingling of straight whiskeys can be confected without any marrying or flavouring agent: the Scots have been doing that a long time for their vatted malts and in a sense the minglers do it too at American distilleries since even bourbon of one make is often batched from stocks of different ages and/or warehouses and/or locations therein (and sometimes even from different plants). We are on a continuum here...

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Aug 21, 2009 7:47 am

Here is another angle on the Maryland fruit and whiskey thing. Fleischman states in passing in his comments on apple and peach brandies that these are particularly popular in New Jersey and ... Maryland. He is referring of course to applejack and similar white alcohol fruit distillates, similar to the alcools blanc of modern Alsace in France, although some surely were aged to a degree anyway.

Maryland appears simply to have had a taste for fruity alcohols. (In turn that may have been connected to estery top-fermented ales brought in by British and pre-lagering German incomers). This may have inspired whisky-blenders in that State to give that extra dash of fruitiness to their products. Maybe a florid fruitiness did not appeal to the Metropolitan New York and other big city markets Fleischman was addressing in the main, hence his restrained 1.5% addition of flavouring. It also may simply reflect his professionalism, evident if only from the writing of a book on the rather arcane and suspect - at the time - practice of blending but also from many statements in the book. E.g., he deprecates the effort to age neutral spirits which he states by definition will not improve from the process other than to be a form of disguised, true whiskey. Savvy?

His comments are very interesting as I say in a number of respects. E.g., he states laconically of brandy and Scotch whisky imports that "the same goods are differently branded to suit the needs of the Trade" and adds, for good measure, "as is the case with domestic whiskeys". (In some respects, things haven't (much) changed!). But the professionalism again comes through, e.g., by his injunction not to add fusel oil to cheap blends - although he refers to the practice of doing so - and to drink California brandy in preference to imported because at least you know what you are getting.

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby Leopold » Fri Aug 21, 2009 12:46 pm

Well, do we know for certain that none of the current big US Whiskey producers are using blending materials? So far as I can tell, you don't have to list up to 2.5% "harmless flavors" on a COLA. I'll know for certain after we get our label approvals, as I believe we'll try and list our production methods on the back label or a neck tag rather than the front label.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby EllenJ » Fri Aug 21, 2009 12:57 pm

cowdery wrote:...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 pretty good metaphor I think. Raisins, and/or "grape" wine made from reconstituting raisins, has always been a popular product. In the days when beer and wine were simply part of a homemaker's everyday cooking repertoire, raisin wine was quite common. Usually it was considered a postprandial sweet, rather than a true beverage. Its use in commercial winemaking is mainly as an adjunct in some fortified wines, although it may occur more often than we know in cheaper regular wines and brandies (I'm unsure of the legal nooks and crannies for those products). Although it never occurred to me (due to my training that True Whiskey must not contain any ingredients other than grain and water) that the same might be true for distilled spirits, but now it seems like it not only was, but commonly so.

I agree with Chuck that (1) even aside from changes in distilling techniques, the old Maryland ryes (and Kentucky bourbon from that time as well) were quite dissimilar to modern styles, and (2) that a very obvious difference is just such a raisin-y flavor as he describes. Folks, we're not talking about "nuances of dried pitted fruit" here; this is much more in-your-face than that. But when Gary added that wonderful article about the use of fruit -- and raisins in particular -- that really nailed it for me. Thanks, Gary for the Fleishman reference. I do already have a copy of that, but hadn't studied it as you have.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Aug 21, 2009 1:22 pm

No problem, John, happy to do it. The more I think I know in this area, the more I learn all the time myself.

By the way I too value straight whiskey the highest - I really do - but I find exploration of the archeology of whiskey in its entirety irresistible. Plus, sometimes I do modify my ideas. I hold no truck now with attitudes that squarely reject blending whiskey. One of my influences was the Melrose history, which I believe you have as well. It is more than corporate myth-making to talk about the need to blend to satisfy the majority of palates, it reflects also some real insight into the limits of straight whiskey - and there are limits, especially at the younger age bands.

Hey John, if you and Linda may be in Louisville or Bardstown during KBF weekend (the 18th-20th), shoot me a PM. We will be in both places that weekend and I would like to see you there if possible. There is a chance, too, I may be in Cincinnati Thursday night - we are driving. My plans aren't gelled but tell me any you have and we can try to connect.

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby cowdery » Fri Aug 21, 2009 11:26 pm

When big changes occur, some babies always get thrown out with the bathwater. The babies, in this case, would have been the carefully constructed and delicately enhanced whiskeys that could not bear the name today because they contained too many additives. They were, however, made to be excellent and satisfying products, not something shoddy and cheap.

Where I think there is an opportunity for micro-distillers which only one, not in this country, has taken is in creating an inventory of fine blending whiskeys from which to produce an all-whiskey blend. The "one," of course, is John Hall at Kittling Ridge, but he is making a Canadian-style blend. No one is making an American-style blend of the type Fleischmann describes.

The reason this is an opportunity is that you can really demonstrate your talents as a craft distiller. All distillers know the ugly truth, even if they won't admit it, which is that there is no craft in making vodka. It's in brandy and whiskey.

I hesitate to say "rum" because without the historical anomaly of the early Colonial period, rum never would have been made in the United States, at least not until Florida joined the Union.

There is also damn little craft in making whiskey from wash you bought from a brewer, but that's perhaps a subject for another time.

In making blending whiskeys, you do whatever you can to create unique and bold flavors. You mess around with different grain varieties, even within a single grain group such as rye. You use different yeasts. You distill out at different proofs, a lot of them low (around 100 proof). You use different equipment, including both pot and column stills. Maybe you use different woods for aging. You have different options in finish aging. There's a tremendous amount of actual craft that will undoubtedly and quickly separate the men from the boys.

The reference to raisins at Michter's is that in the early 1970s, they distilled raisin brandy which they sold to wineries for use in making fortified wines such as sherries and ports (and, let's be real, Ripple and Mad Dog). It was a very high proof spirit that probably didn't convey much raisin character. What the Maryland distillers were using was more along the line of a raisin concentrate. I'm not sure how you would make such a thing, since raisins are already so concentrated, but that's what it sounds like. Black tea always comes up in these discussions too.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby gillmang » Sat Aug 22, 2009 12:05 am

Chuck, I am largely in agreement, except I do think the raisin brandy would have had raisiny character (else many other less odd fermentables could have been chosen for the job).

Fleischman gives a precise recipe for making raisin extract, it's very simple.

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby cowdery » Sat Aug 22, 2009 12:32 am

Certainly raisin brandy is used to fortify wine because it is a grape product and not the product of some other fermentable. Why raisins instead of grapes? Again, you probably are right that raisins had some quality they valued that regular grapes did not.

Also, I was really just talking about what Michter's made in the 1970s, based on talking to Dick Stoll, the guy who made it. I didn't mean that to be taken as commentary about the wider use of raisin brandy.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby gillmang » Sat Aug 22, 2009 7:35 am

Points taken. Using the amazing Google books, I just found a reference from 1830 (English) which states that raisin spirit is used to add to malt spirit to emulate brandy. Voila:

http://books.google.com/books?id=IS0aAA ... it&f=false

Once again we see that so many practices have their origin in an attempt to copy something deemed fashionable. I believe the later 1800's rectifiers' raisin and currants extracts were a variation on this theme.

Why though add such things to aged Monticello and other fine straight ryes of the time? Well, ideas linger for a long time, and also get mixed, matched and altered with time, don't they? Then too, even 6 year old rye from 1885 might have been a fairly pungent product, so it is hard to say... While it is true I don't know the age of the straight ryes used for Fleischman's best blends, I would think they were not above 10 years old. He deems whiskeys over 10 generally too old. Probably they were 4-6 years old with perhaps one oldie used to balance the taste. (Or perhaps two ryes were 2 or 3 years old and the oldie 6! Very Old Barton (6 years old) was named for a reason...).

Anyway, I do feel raisin products in blending have their origin as mentioned, which would explain too their use in fortified wines. Brandy is used to strengthen and stop fermentation of sweet wines. Raisin spirit might have been a substitute even in the era you were mentioning, Chuck, for this purpose. Today, so much true brandy is made in California and elsewhere that I would think the real thing is always used for this purpose now.

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby gillmang » Sat Aug 22, 2009 9:31 am

And I just remembered: some years ago Beam put out a luxury bourbon which had received finishing in a cognac barrel. Seagram put out its Cask No. 16 Canadian Whisky some years ago, same idea. These are I believe a distant echo of the idea, seen clearly in 1830, that grape brandy was the king of drinks.

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby gillmang » Sat Aug 22, 2009 10:05 am

And now look here, from the same book as above:

http://books.google.com/books?id=cK0UAA ... q=&f=false

This is perhaps the earliest, detailed (scientific) distilling description I have seen for rye whiskey, again from 1830. I am sure Todd and Tom would find this of interest. Note the suggestion alternately to use rye instead of raw barley as the base. I thought this was odd for an English book. Looking more closely at the book, it is clear it is an American adaptation of an English original. A Vermont Professor adapted an English book by Gray on practical chemistry for industry. I'll bet the Vermonter added the reference to rye.

Todd, I believe this kind of recipe is the origin of the one in Byrn for rye whiskey. The proportions are about right, the malt is about 20% of the total grist. Note that in the attached, the author states sometimes you can drop the malt to 10%. It depends, as you indicated yourself earlier, on the diastase efficacy of the malt.

Tom or Todd, does the attached description bear any connection to the way a barley or rye spirit might be distilled today? I am not sure what he means by pits for fermenting. Could they have dug cellars and lined them to serve as fermenting vessels? But apart from this, the description sounds like it can be easily followed by anyone with a scientific bent. I have a feeling that this 1830 rye spirit and, say, the honey-tasting one Mike Veach mentioned would be very similar.

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby Leopold » Sun Aug 23, 2009 12:39 pm

gillmang wrote:
Tom or Todd, does the attached description bear any connection to the way a barley or rye spirit might be distilled today? I am not sure what he means by pits for fermenting. Could they have dug cellars and lined them to serve as fermenting vessels? But apart from this, the description sounds like it can be easily followed by anyone with a scientific bent. I have a feeling that this 1830 rye spirit and, say, the honey-tasting one Mike Veach mentioned would be very similar.

Gary


Well, as I know you know, we can't be sure what, precisely, he means by pits for fermentation. I will say that anytime I see a mention of a pit, I think wild yeast and bacteria. I have always had the general impression that sanitary conditions today are much better than they were in the past.

There's a thread in here somewhere that discusses using sour mash, and that perhaps the meaning of this term has changed over the years. I would think that a very common practice back in the day would be to use open fermenters, and perhaps (perhaps), harvest the top fermenting yeast off the top of the open tank. This would certainly be easier that growing new yeast each and every time, and it is, of course, a very common practice in breweries.

Unlike beer, US whiskey has solids in it, so harvesting yeast can be a bit tricky for a number of yeast strains. As a result, you're going to pull some of the wash solids over with that yeast if you're trying to repitch a new wash. If you do this, you're going to wind up acidifying the wash rather than the mash, and you're going to move any wild yeasts or bacteria that was floating on the top of the fermenter into the new wash. You'd really be affecting the flavor of the wash if you did this. If.

Just a thought.
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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby gillmang » Sun Aug 23, 2009 1:44 pm

Todd, thanks, and I just found this description of pit fermentation as used by some Pacific Islanders:

http://books.google.com/books?id=soqy__ ... ts&f=false

Some of the points you make seem relevant to this description, and it may have been an early way to batch ferment mashes without pumping or other such equipment. Wild yeast sounds likely.

Yet, in other ways, the 1830 account is very "modern" with its detailed references to gravities, quantities, heads removal, etc.

Really I was wondering if any modern distiller could follow the account, scaled-down maybe, i.e., would it work as a set of instructions for distilling rye whiskey apart from the reference to pit fermentation?

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Re: Maryland and Monongahela Rye?

Unread postby Leopold » Sun Aug 23, 2009 2:19 pm

Unless I'm misreading something, for the most part, this is pretty much how I make whiskey right now. Except I use stillage to acidify the mash water. And actually, the mash in water that I use is spot on 170 F, as per the text. It drops to 144 after adding the grist. Wouldn't be too difficult to put down a barrel or two following this recipe to the letter.

I use square open fermenters, pitch low, and let temp run naturally. No cooling. Even in the dead of summer it doesn't get any warmer than the 80's. I like doing things naturally, but I also hate refrigeration with a passion. Too many moving parts, and it always breaks down when you need it most. Plus, it's a total waste of energy. No need for it in distillation, imho.

There were four Caribbean distillers/blenders in my class at distilling school. One of them was the blender at a high ester rum plant. They used lined open pits. He told me that, next to the blender, the groundskeeper was the most important person at the plant. He had to have the right amount of plants near the open pits in a perfect state of health. He said the the more vile and foul the fermentation was, the better the resulting rum was.

I can only imagine the stench coming out of those pits....
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