Saturday, September 19, 2015

How Do You Make Ten Different Bourbons at One Distillery?

There has been a lot of symbolic torch passing at this year's Kentucky Bourbon Festival (KBF), underway now in Bardstown and other locations.

Having a whiskey event at multiple locations, some quite distant from each other, would seem like a bad idea considering that drinking and driving shouldn't be encouraged. Yet they do it, during the KBF and the Bourbon Affair. They encourage designated drivers, of course, and you can pay for transportation, but still.

One of the best KBF events has always been 'Let's Talk Bourbon,' which takes place on Friday morning at Four Roses. It's a great event because Jim Rutledge gives a presentation that really gets into detail about how bourbon is made. It's generally free of marketing fluff. They serve a nice breakfast too. They have capped attendance at about 300 people and always sell out.

They do a great job and you can understand why Four Roses wants to have it at the distillery and not somewhere in Bardstown, but Four Roses is about 42 miles from Bardstown.

Yesterday morning, Rutledge, who is recently retired, passed the torch to Brent Elliott, the new Four Roses Master Distiller.

After the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame Induction on Wednesday, I happened to walk with Elliot to where our cars were parked at My Old Kentucky Home State Park. Rutledge was never able to explain to me how Four Roses is able to make ten different recipes 'in line,' i.e., without shutting down to change over. The inability to understand is entirely my fault, not Jim's, so I thought I would give Elliott a try. He gave me a little more detail that helped my understanding.

In even more fairness to Rutledge, I've asked him the question at events with lots of other people vying for his attention. I had Elliot all to myself on a warm Kentucky afternoon when neither of us minded spending a few more minutes standing in the sun.

The key is timing, he explained, which begins when the last fermenter of a given recipe heads to the beer well, followed by the first fermenter from the next recipe. There is a little bit of overlap in the beer well itself, he conceded, because it has to be maintained at a constant level. They know how long it takes for that last fermenter of mash to get from the beer well through distillation to barrel entry, and that's when they change over the barrel head stencils to indicate the new recipe.

This means, of course, that a tiny handful of OESV barrels might have a little bit of OESK in them. The mind reels.


Jmafisher said...

Thanks for the explanation. It's just like the gas pipeline. They run regular then run premium and at some point change the tank it's going into. Fluid engineering

Anonymous said...

Petroleum pipelines don't use pigs anymore to separate product. It's all in the timing. Back when you could still get leaded gas they would run the diesel after the leaded to absorb the lead and then run the unleaded.

Sam Komlenic said...

I met Brent at WhiskyFest New York. He seems ready and able to assume the duties left to him by his predecessor.