Jack and George

Jack and George

In the latest in our series we look at the letters T,U,V,and consider Tennessee whiskey

Production | 31 Oct 2008 | Issue 75 | By Rob Allanson

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It is one of the whisky world’s biggest ironies that what is considered to be the world’s biggest bourbon isn’t actually a bourbon at all.Although it might stick in the craw of the whiskey makers of Kentucky, Jack Daniel’s is about as far as many people’s American whiskey knowledge stretches. Jack Daniel’s, though, isn’t a bourbon at all. It’s a Tennessee whiskey.You don’t have to be in Kentucky to make bourbon.You can make bourbon anywhere in the United States as long as you stay to a rigid set of rules.And that’s Jack’s problem: it doesn’t stick rigidly to the rules.Not that Jack, or the State of Tennessee’s other distillery,George A Dickel, see it as a problem.Indeed they see their ‘rule breaking’ as an essential addition to the nature of the spirit of Tennessee whiskey.Tennessee whiskey resembles bourbon in most ways. It is made from a combination of corn, barley and rye and is distilled in continuous stills.Sour mash is added in just the same way as it is with bourbon.The big difference comes after the distillation is completed.Under what is known as the Lincoln Country Process, piles of maple wood charcoal are burned and then doused by water.Smoke is deliberately retained in the charcoal wall, and the new make Tennessee spirit is slowly dripped though the wood.This removes some oils and heavier and unwanted flavour compounds,making for a smoother whisky.But the process also imparts flavour from the sweet wood smoke, and this is contrary to bourbon rules that prohibit the addition of anything at all to the whiskey-making process. In Tennessee, of course, they say this makes for a better whiskey, and certainly the millions of loyal Jack drinkers would suggest it might have a point.Whatever your view, the point here is that Tennessee whiskey – or in the case of Dickel, whisky – is a distinct and separate style.So if you can’t charcoal filter bourbon,how come the words sometimes appear on bourbon labels? This is because some bourbon is passed through charcoal after it has finished maturing and has been taken out of the barrel. In this case charcoal is used merely to remove solids and sediments that are floating in the whiskey from the barrel. Nothing is being added to the bourbon at the end of the process they say.The technique was more common in the days before technology was able to remove such impurities, but some bourbon makers still do it to keep some of the old timers happy.GLOSSARY
During the final distillation
process the middle part of
the run will be collected to
be put in the cask.But the
alcohol coming off the still
gets increasingly weaker
until it is not worth
collecting.It is therefore
discarded and recycled for
a future distillation.This
part of the run is known as
the tails or feints.
Thin stillage
Stillage is the name given
in North America to the
non-alcoholic mix of liquid
and solids left after
fermentation.When the
solids are removed it is
known as thin stillage.
Uisge beathe
Gaelic for ‘water of life’
from which the word
Vatted malt
Original name given to a
mixture of malts from
different distilleries but
including no grain whisky.
Now known as blended
malt whisky.
The process of
mixing malts from
different distilleries.
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