Friday, January 4, 2019

How to make a popular bourbon

Among them was Jim Rutledge, the master distiller at Four Roses. Mr. Rutledge, who recently retired after 49 years with the distillery, is widely regarded as one of the greatest whiskey makers of his generation. Starting in 2010, Mr. Dedman would buy barrels of whiskey, then bring samples to Mr. Rutledge’s home for him to assess. 
Unfailingly polite but highly opinionated, Mr. Rutledge was not impressed. It turned out that even with access to good barrels, Mr. Dedman had something to learn about picking the right ones. “One day he had five samples, and we met over breakfast,” Mr. Rutledge recalled. “I tried them and thought, ‘How do I tell him not to ever put these in a bottle?’ I told him he might have to blend them” — a laborious process that involves taste-testing endless combinations of barrels. 
Undeterred, that’s what Mr. Dedman did. After closing up the inn at night, he would set up dozens of barrel samples at a table in the back of the restaurant and methodically mix them, paying close attention to their age, alcohol level, even where they had been sitting in the warehouse (temperature affects how a whiskey ages, and temperatures vary widely in an unheated warehouse). 
It took nearly four years, but he finally settled on a blend he liked. He combined the barrels, paid someone to bottle and label them, and then took them around to local liquor distributors... 
...By almost all accounts, that first batch of Kentucky Owl was a transcendently beautiful bourbon, reminiscent of whiskey made in the mid-20th century, often considered a golden age of distilling. “When you pick up that bottle, Kentucky Owl just feels like Kentucky,” Mr. Minnick said. “And when you taste the early releases of Owl, it just tastes like old Kentucky bourbon from the 1950s.”
I wonder if he kept a notebook? Maybe design of experiments techniques would have helped Mr. Dedman work faster? Still, a lot of tasting to blend a good bourbon.

UPDATE: In other important bourbon news, Thomas reminds us of a NPR story about the use of a GC to recreate an old bourbon.


  1. I would be happy to help them with high throughput blend optimization and testing

  2. I expected this one to be about the distiller who was using GC to try replicate a bourbon from a bottle she found when she and her partners were renovating a 100 year old distillery in Louisville.

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looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20