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Spirits Question


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#1 xraydoc1

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 05:19 PM

In the production of whiskey/whisky, I assume the neutral spirits that result when the mash is distilled all pretty much taste the same, no matter what fermentable substance was used.

For example, when put into the barrel, the spirit produced by distilling a malted barley mash would pretty much taste the same as that produced by distilling a mash of corn, rye, potatoes, agave, or whatever.

Is that a valid assumption? Might there be some differences depending on how much head or tail is included by the distiller?

If this is true, the character/flavor we associate with any particular spirit would be due almost entirely to how it is treated after distillation. If so, why would it matter what raw material is used for fermentation other than to satisfy tradition or legal definition?

Anyone ever tasted the spirits for different types of liquor right off the still? I have often wondered how similar or different they would taste.

Edited by xraydoc1, 07 January 2010 - 05:21 PM.


#2 Not A Nice Person

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 06:27 PM

I'm going to go out on a limb and hazard a guess here that it DOES make a difference. Distillation being an imperfect and incomplete process generally conducted with antiquated, errrr, historical equipment, I just doubt the distillate is ever completely pure grain alcohol---isn't that why vodkas get multiple distillations?

And then there's gin . . . they put the juniper in the still and you can darn sure taste IT in the distillate.

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#3 punk_lawyer

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Posted 07 January 2010 - 06:33 PM

I'm going to go out on a limb and hazard a guess here that it DOES make a difference. Distillation being an imperfect and incomplete process generally conducted with antiquated, errrr, historical equipment, I just doubt the distillate is ever completely pure grain alcohol---isn't that why vodkas get multiple distillations?

And then there's gin . . . they put the juniper in the still and you can darn sure taste IT in the distillate.

~Boar


Right. In order for all of the mash to wind up the same the distilling process would have to turn the ingredients into pure 100% alcohol. That is not the case in most distilleries. In fact, barrel strength, while usually higher than bottle strength, is not 100% alcohol. The barrel strength is different from distillery to distillery and even from barrel to barrel.

#4 xraydoc1

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 04:13 PM

Thanks for the replies - and what you guys say is what I have always thought - I guess it all hinges on the fact that the distillation process, at least as used for these purposes, isn't 100% precise - the spirit coming off the still isn't just water and ethyl alcohol - it contains various amounts of "impurities", if you will, that depend not only on how the mash is made, but what type of still is used, etc.

#5 DePasta

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 07:51 PM

In the bourbon world that is called White Dog. Yes, there is a different taste based on the recipe of the mash, it is pretty difficult to dicern the differences though. I have tasted many different ones including those made from sugar and various fruits, corn with different percentages of wheat or rye as well as other grains.

#6 rdj735

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 09:43 PM

I'll throw in my .02, as well. If your question is just a theoretical one, then yes, I would assume that anything distilled to 100% pure alcohol would end up tasting the same until some other flavors were added. But most spirits aren't distilled that far. Using DePasta's example, Bourbon can't legally be distilled beyond 80% ABV. The initial flavor wouldn't come from an imperfection in the process (as it is controlled using high-tech electronics), but from the 20% + of water and mash "leftovers" in the end product. In fact, some distilleries will advertise their policy of distilling to a lower proof. Makers Mark, for instance, distills its low wine (first distillation) to 120 proof, and high wine (second and final distillation) to 130 proof. This would leave even more of the original mash flavor in the product.

#7 xraydoc1

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Posted 09 January 2010 - 12:24 AM

I'll throw in my .02, as well. If your question is just a theoretical one, then yes, I would assume that anything distilled to 100% pure alcohol would end up tasting the same until some other flavors were added. But most spirits aren't distilled that far. Using DePasta's example, Bourbon can't legally be distilled beyond 80% ABV. The initial flavor wouldn't come from an imperfection in the process (as it is controlled using high-tech electronics), but from the 20% + of water and mash "leftovers" in the end product. In fact, some distilleries will advertise their policy of distilling to a lower proof. Makers Mark, for instance, distills its low wine (first distillation) to 120 proof, and high wine (second and final distillation) to 130 proof. This would leave even more of the original mash flavor in the product.



Understood. This makes total sense, and goes along with what I have thought, and with what the other posters have mentioned. I guess i just wanted some reassurance that all the trouble the distillers go to BEFORE putting the spirit in the barrel isn't wasted!




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