Thursday, May 18, 2017

You Have to Burn Some Wood to Make Tennessee Whiskey

You have to burn some wood; maple, specifically, to make genuine Tennessee whiskey.

That's what distillers John Lunn and Allisa Henley did recently in Lunn's backyard. Pretty soon, they will use that charcoal to make pot still Tennessee whiskey at their distillery in Newport, Tennessee, owned by Sazerac. (Video provided by Sazerac.)

Traditionally, Tennessee whiskey is filtered through a thick bed of maple charcoal before aging, the famous 'Lincoln County Process.' Jack Daniel's, which is 99.9 percent (conservatively) of the Tennessee whiskey category, has always done it. George Dickel, where Lunn and Henley were previously employed, does it too. In 2013, that tradition became part of Tennessee law.

Late last year, Sazerac bought the brand new distillery in Newport, Tennessee (close to Gatlinburg and other Smoky Mountains attractions) that was built to make Popcorn Sutton Moonshine. The distillery is big, 50,000 square feet. Its solid copper Vendome pot stills are true alembics (no rectification section). The two beer stills are 2,500 gallons each. The spirit still is 1,500 gallons.

“We know it’s going to take many years for this whiskey to age up, so we were anxious to get started on production as soon as possible,” said Henley in a company press release. No start date has been announced.


Unknown said...

It's a simple recipe really. Take bourbon, filter out the flavor with charcoal and you get Tennessee whiskey!

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

I really love what the Lincoln Process bring to George Dickel products--both their own whiskey and the MGP rye. Contrary to the opinion of some, I believe a whiskey can be both very flavorful and mellow/smooth. Obviously the LP doesn't strip the whiskey of flavor, but it can round off some of the rough edges. I really enjoy the smoothness. I can appreciate some of those those edges, at times, too. Nothing quite like being able to enjoy a variety of styles, IMO.

As a lifelong American Whiskey drinker (since around 1973) one of the negatives I find with the "bourbon boom" is the snobbery some have brought to it. One of the great things about bourbon was, it always seemed to be snob-free, until relatively recently. Now I hear/read people saying stuff like, "Maker's Mark sucks!" "Booker's is terrible bourbon." etc. Wine suffered through that attitude for years. It wasn't all that long ago serious wine experts started understanding they needed to turn that kind of thinking around. (Although there are certainly plenty of wine snobs around.)

It's one thing to say a certain product isn't to your liking. It's quite another to bash it because it doesn't appeal to your taste. I like to think that, with the exception of some serious dreck (which can usually be generally agreed upon) it's my problem when I can't enjoy something others seem to really like. For example, everyone seems to be raving about Lot 40 these days. I finally got to try it the other day, and I thought "Thankfully I didn't buy a bottle of this." But I also thought, "What a shame I couldn't enjoy it." I would never trash it because it wasn't to my taste.

Fortunately, even with the increasing prices of traditional bourbon and the influx of overpriced and under aged "craft whiskey", there is still very affordable and enjoyable whisky easily available. I feel a bit sorry for those who can't enjoy something like Evan Williams black or Wild Turkey 101, and other good old standbys--like George Dickel.

Anyway, it's encouraging to see Lunn and Henley burning the wood, and getting ready to make whiskey in the tradition of the company from which they came--and built their reputations. I hope they produce good, honest Tennessee whiskey. I think they will.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Gunnar asked, "Any idea how much Whiskey they can filter with a burn like that?" I asked John Lunn and he said, "We are not sure yet. It will take a lot of sampling to figure out the answer."

Ah, 'sampling.' You know what that means.

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

Funny, Chuck. But since both spent time at Dickel, I'd think they have SOME idea of how much whiskey they can filter with that pile--at least a ballpark figure. I wonder why they are being evasive.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I'd say cautious, not evasive. I found his answer interesting for the same reason, but I know Lunn to be a straight-shooter so I'll take him at his word. This tells me that aren't just going to duplicate what Dickel and Daniel's do, which makes sense since their distillery is very different. Since their stills aren't continuous their filtering process may not be either.

Brian (AKA The Dean) said...

Gotcha, Chuck. Excellent point. It will be interesting to see what they end up doing.

Anonymous said...

It's a cute video, and great marketing. Unfortunately the maple charcoal is actually burned in an airtight oven or kiln. The lack of oxygen keeps the wood from being consumed by the fire.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Not true. I've seen them making charcoal at Jack Daniel's and they do it exactly the same way, in the open air, using water to keep the wood from being entirely consumed.

Anonymous said...

oh stop, no one makes charcoal that way for commercial use. They make a nice show of it, but it's all dog and pony.