Monday, June 6, 2016

Whiskey made in steel tanks?

Having lived in the Kentucky area for more than 20 years, I have tasted many types of bourbon whiskey, from the low-cost Jim Beam to the middle-level Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve. On a recent visit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame & Museum, I was served Cleveland Whiskey, which was covered in a recent Newscripts (C&EN, May 2, page 40). 
The flavor imparted was harsh and biting, with none of the smoky smoothness that comes from aging. Perhaps chemicals used during the bourbon whiskey’s aging process are getting into the spirit, because its makers have missed something during their analysis. When chemists evaluate alternate sources of raw materials, it is not usually the major components that provide the issue, but it is frequently a difference in a small residual material that is there or not there. 
Cleveland Whiskey still has a long way to go to achieve a drinkable basic bourbon whiskey. Maybe it will be better off competing with specialty niche products that cannot be compared to the smooth amber flavor of a well-aged bourbon. 
Michael Recchio
Louisville
Presumably Cleveland Whiskey is competing on price, and not on flavor, but I dunno. (I'm not a whiskey drinker, mostly.)  

12 comments:

  1. Two hypotheses come to mind:
    - Maybe the surface area of the wood added is small enough that steel-barrel-plus-wood is different from wood barrels.
    - Maybe there is something to the old brewer's notion that environmental influences drive the barrel contents in and out of the wood, where liquid loses compounds that taste bad and gains tasty vanillins; and this is not replicated in a steel barrel.

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  2. They need a garage band to do for Cleveland Whiskey what the Standells did for the Charles River. The song could be titled "Bitter Bourbon", with lyrics like

    I love that bitter bourbon
    Oh Cleveland you're so bad you're good

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  3. Art vs Science: Know nothing about Whisky Barrels but for aging wines heard there is much proprietary control and awareness regarding particular sources of the wood (even mixed oak varieties), process of curing and cutting of the lumber and treatments of the surface then reuse for influencing the wine taste. There may be some scientific elements involved that can be monitored in the labs however believe remains high reliance on Masters to select and balance to achieve desired results. Presumably whiskey has similar or even more complex factors involved that just do not readily duplicate when wood chips used instead of barrels. Isn't there time factors where it take years to reach premium state and hence whether in chips or barrels it can not be rushed and in this case have tried to short cut. Like most anything for scale-up one has to make adjustments and could be a matter of time and effort to potentially achieve more acceptable products but this is kind thing as mentioned may be tougher since have to deal with low level "impurities" that can vary significantly.

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    1. The article does say the whisky is being made in days to weeks vs 10 years via traditional process so not surprising flavor profiles dissimilar. Guess now have to learn how to perform accelerated stability to promoted formation of secondary by-products that enhance smoothness without total degradation of desirable tasting contributors.

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  4. what they won't have in this quick "improved process" is slow oxidation which is the key to degrading harsh-tasting compounds and forming some of the esters that taste nice.

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  5. I'm a single-malt Scotch guy but budget at times demands Bourbon. There's something inherently wrong and epicurean-ly criminal about "steel aged" whiskey. I would classify it as "rot-gut" and more suitable as a fuel additive.

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    1. Wasmund's Single Malt out of Virginia uses a similar process of pseudo-aging their whiskey with wood chips. It's different from Scotch...but not bad.

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  6. At $40 a bottle, it's not competing on price.

    They do something other than just float the wood pieces in the alcohol, the tanks are pressurized as well.

    I've had both their lower and higher proof stuff and actually enjoyed it. It definitely has a stronger flavor profile, but I didn't find it to be harsh. Maybe that's just my bourbon palate.

    I'm also from Cleveland originally, so maybe I'm just a homer....

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  7. I thought bourbon was supposed to be harsh? But that's probably why I drink Knob Creek all the time and I actually prefer it to the large stock of single malt Scotch that I have/have the potential of getting from the local store. I looked up the reviews of Knob Creek because of this post and they all rate it as 'smooth', which sounds just ridiculous if you're into Scotch that is not from Islay, as Knob Creek tastes very harsh indeed, but I guess I'm not much of one of 'em coinnoiseurs.

    Anyways, this makes me really want to try this Cleveland shit, even though I made fun of Ohio in some previous post about some company based in a city called 'Plainsville'. I'd be willing to pay 40 bucks for it just for the novelty value, and because I'm not a postdoc anymore. But I can't promise I won't flush the whole bottle down the sink as with that recent cheap Japanese shit after I had a glass (I've had decent Japanese whiskey before, but if it's cheap, forget about it).

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    1. I'm thinking the city you mean is Painsville. Ricerca is located there

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  8. Industrial production of beer and liquor inevitably produces garbage. We've had the same problem with beers over here in the UK, particularly continental lagers brewed 'under licence' by large industrial brewers for the mass market (Stella Artois is a good example - an quite drinkable Belgian lager in Belgium, a horrible brew in the UK).

    Good Whiskey/Whisky is made with craft, skill and attention to detail. Barrel-ageing is a clear part of that process (choosing what barrels to use is incredibly important) and chucking a few bits of wood into a steel tank is hardly a substitute, it is just laziness.

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  9. I'll bet it's because the angel's don't get their share!

    In an oak barrel, the liquid that passes through the wood and is lost is call "the angel's share". This is a loss for the distiller as they have less product to sell, but I don't think any reputable distiller would dare change it, by say, encasing the barrels in aluminum foil or such. It would not be the same product.

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