The Tasting Panel magazine

JULY 2012

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 42 of 132

A Lesson in Whiskey Law FROM "SMALL BATCH" TO "STRAIGHT BOURBON," TERMS ON WHISKEY LABELS CAN BE CONFUSING. FRED MINNICK EXPLAINS It's whiskey trivia time: What's the legal definition of "small batch"? a) When you grab four barrels from the same area and blend them to make one whiskey. b) Production is less than 20,000 bottles a year. c) There is no legal definition. d) Only two barrels at a time are bottled. The answer is c: There is no legal definition. In fact, there is no legal defini- tion for "single barrel" either. That's why a Kentucky bourbon maker producing thousands of gallons a year can call its product a small batch bourbon in the same way a truly small distiller with one or two stills can. Luckily, the big boys adhere to the small batch technique perfected by Booker Noe and are not just pooling the juice from thousands of barrels. "Straight whiskey" is one common term that is regulated by federal code. According to the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits, straight whiskey must be stored in new charred oak barrels for two or more years. Producers commonly place the state name in front of this term, as in Stranahan's Colorado Straight Whiskey and Maker's Pushing the Limits In the past couple of years, whiskey makers have been pushing the innovation envelope. Maker's Mark finishes Maker's 46 in a barrel with French oak staves. Angel's Envy Bourbon spends its final months in a port barrel. For Woodford Reserve Double Oak, the juice is moved from the initial barrel to a heavier charred barrel. When making Parker's Heritage Collection, Heaven Hill Distilleries trans- fers the ten-year-old bourbon from bourbon barrels to used Limousin oak cognac barrels. For its Single Oak Project, Buffalo Trace Distillery selected 96 trees with different wood grains and yielded 192 unique sections. After all the staves were air dried, a single barrel was created from each tree section, result- ing in 192 total barrels. The experiment proved different sections of the tree create different-tasting whiskies. Meanwhile, smaller distillers, such as Booker's is part of the Beam Small Batch collection. Master Distiller Booker Noe per- fected the small batch technique. Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky (Maker's uses the Scottish spelling for whisky). This means the whis- key must have been aged in the respective state, and in the case of bourbons, the whiskey must also adhere to the bourbon standards. Maker's Mark is a Kentucky straight bourbon—stored in new charred oak barrels for two years or more. This is the very first bottle produced. 42 / the tasting panel / july 2012 New York's Tuthilltown, ages its Hudson Whiskey in ten-gallon barrels, theoreti- cally giving the liquid more surface contact with the wood. This tech- nique has challenged mainstream thinking about aging whiskey and has been widely adopted by microdistillers. But perhaps the greatest whiskey experiment of all is what Jefferson's Reserve is doing. This bourbon producer sent barrels out to sea on a 126-foot research vessel to test the effects on the whiskey of temperature, salt air and motion from the rocking of the boat. Only 600 bottles will be made of the incredibly dark whiskey. I'd love to see them call it "Straight Sea Whiskey." Everything these producers are doing is perfectly legal. They simply need to make their labels Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is innova- tive new bourbon that is aged in two barrels. represent the truth about the product; otherwise, they would face hefty federal fines. Considering that 60 percent of a whiskey's retail price comes from taxes, I don't think produc- ers want to pay Uncle Sam any more than they have to. To view U.S. federal code on alcohol, visit ecfr.gpoaccess. gov and search "Title 27: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms." PHOTO: FRED MINNICK

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Tasting Panel magazine - JULY 2012