Quality aspects of bourbon
A premium product depends on a quality production process as well as on the quality of the ingredients.
The Quality of Water
Water comes into play in the production of whiskey in the mashing process of the grain, during the filling of the barrels (both when rinsing the barrel itself, and when reducing the distillate to bar strength) and finally when bottling, the whiskey may be reduced in ABVs.
Water easily absorbs aromas, both positive and negative. The typical taste of a particular water can give a whiskey a personal touch that makes it unique. A perfect example of absorbing negative flavors is for instance ice. When ice is stored in a freezer with food during cooling, the ice quickly absorbs these odors.
The Quality of the grains
The quality of the grain is based on intrinsic and extrinsic factors. The intrinsic factors of cereals include color, composition, bulk density, odor, aroma, size and shape. The extrinsic factors include: age, broken grain, immature grains, foreign matter, infected grain and moisture content.
The most important compositions of cereals are carbohydrates (energy), protein, lipids, minerals, fiber, phytic acid and tannins. This composition varies considerably depending on the type of grain, genetics, varieties, agricultural practices and handling of the grain.
The Quality of the yeast
Yeast differs in different aspects, namely the pricing, the speed of fermentation, the taste of the final product, the alcohol content after fermentation. In the bourbon industry, some distilleries devote much of their energy to creating their own yeast culture. These yeast cultures are continuously propagated to be available to the distillery.
The Quality of wood
Since the end of World War II, American Oak (quercus alba) has been used in the whiskey industry. At that time the law was passed, according to which all American whiskeys must be matured in new wooden barrels. The original idea for this was to promote the coopering industry, which collapsed during prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s. As a result, the number of available barrels increased massively.
However, the American bourbon whiskey industry was recovering very slowly from prohibition and the Scots and Irish began to use the American barrels for ripening which, after being used once, were inexpensive to buy on the market. The number of more traditional sherry casks sank and the price became more expensive.
American oak is considered to be perfect for whiskey barrel making, as the trees grow quickly with tall, straight stems and produce very good wood quality and high levels of vanillin. The size of the barrel produced (known as ASB – American Standard Barrel) is also considered the optimum ripeness for whiskey, as the ratio between the amount of liquid and the surface of the barrel interior is almost perfect. The result of this is that nearly 90% of all whiskey in the world has matured in American oak bourbon barrels. Flavor profiles are ranging from vanilla, honey, nuts to coconut, almonds, hazelnuts, butterscotch, fudge, spices, and ginger.
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