What is the difference between cheap & expensive bourbon?
Bourbon and whiskey are often pitted against each other. But bourbon is really a type of whiskey. Whiskey can be distilled from wheat, rye, barley, or corn, but bourbon must be distilled from a majority of corn. Whiskey must have a calorific value of 190 proof or less (30 proof points more than bourbon) and may come from any part of the world. Any bourbon must have been aged in fresh, charred oak barrels with a calorific value of 125 or less. Bourbon aged in fresh oak barrels has a rich and complex flavor that is unmatched by whiskey aged in used barrels. Since no artificial colors or flavors may be added, the fresh oak barrels are essential for the mature taste of the bourbon.
Kentucky Bourbon Vs Others
The state of Kentucky produces 95% of the world's bourbon. That percentage is more like 98% if you go back ten years. Thanks to micro-distilleries, bourbon is now also produced in Upstate New York, Texas, and other parts of the country. It was not always that way, though.
Because of the limestone water that is prevalent in Kentucky, most bourbon is made there. There is no iron in limestone water. Bourbon turns black when iron is present in the water. In addition, the changing seasons in Kentucky are beneficial to the aging process.
Hot summers and cold winters are essential for bourbon. During the summer, heat enters the barrel, causing it to expand. This pushes the bourbon deeper into the wood. In the winter, the barrel is compressed, pushing the bourbon out. You do not have this contact with the wood if you have too much heat but not enough cold, or the other way around.
All the natural sugars in the wood get into the charred areas of the barrel. The wood makes an attempt to heal itself. The color and flavor of the liquid are absorbed as it passes through the caramelized layer, often referred to as the red line. This would not exist if the seasons did not vary.
What Makes A Good Bourbon?
Bourbon evolves over time. The liquid absorbs 75% of the flavor from the wood as it passes through it. The unaged bourbon, before it goes into the wood, is called 'white dog' and is quite tart. However, when aged in the warehouse, where the bourbon goes in and out of the oak, it softens and sweetens and takes on pleasant flavors. Evaporation causes about 4% of the liquid to evaporate each year during the aging process. The "share for the angels", as they call it.
All bourbons have a similar basic flavor that comes from the grains that categorize them as bourbons. However, several chemical reactions create additional flavor molecules. Subtle flavors, both pleasant and unpleasant, vary between bourbons.
The flavor molecules, congeners, are synthesized during fermentation, while the additional flavors are created during distillation after the alcohol is produced. Distillation determines which flavors are collected. Additional flavors, congeners, are created when the alcohol reacts with various molecules in the wood as it ages.
As a result, a well-made bourbon will contain flavors of spice (such as cinnamon, ginger, mint, pepper, etc.), fruit (such as cherry, berry, red fruit, etc.), and richness (such as vanilla, caramel, etc.) in addition to the basic corn flavor.
Cheap bourbon has a taste reminiscent of some of the harmful chemicals produced during the fermentation process and that remains after distillation. Methanol, acetone, xylene, and other unwanted chemicals are routinely filtered out during distillation. This is done at various stages of the distillation process.
Cheaper bourbons will have more unwanted chemicals such as Acetaldehyde and Acetone.
Acetone: I am sure this is familiar to a lot of you as a cleaning solvent. But it is a substance in the group of ketones. This is used as the active ingredient in nail polish remover and in paint thinners. The boiling point of acetone is 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Acetone is one of the main reasons people will “blackout” when drinking alcohol, taste a burning sensation when drinking alcohol, and increases the hangover the next day.
Acetaldehyde: This chemical is the byproduct of plants as part of their normal metabolic processes. It can also be produced by the oxidation of ethanol. The Boiling point of acetaldehyde is 68.36 degrees Fahrenheit and is one of the reasons why you have a bad hangover the next day after a night of drinking and is also a cancer-causing agent, a carcinogen.
The process of distillation does not produce alcohol, it is able to concentrate alcohol. The process starts with the wort batch or a wash that contains a lesser concentration of an alcoholic liquid. This is the liquid that is heated up and separated to produce the concentrated alcohol. A wash or a wort batch is basically a beer or wine-like substance. Yeast is still used to produce the wash. Drinkable, or potable, alcohol is Ethanol. Water and ethanol boil at different temperatures and therefore can be separated. Ethanol boils at a temperature of 173.1 degrees Fahrenheit whereas water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. There are other important chemicals to know the boiling point of. These are Acetone which has a boiling point of 132.8 degrees Fahrenheit and acetaldehyde which has a boiling point of 68.36 degrees Fahrenheit. By heating up the wash in an enclosed and controlled environment these chemicals are attempted to be separated out in the attempt to create a purer concentrated solution. Other chemicals are present within the initial wash that are needed to be separated but often are not. This group of chemicals is called congeners. This process is complicated because of the different boiling points of each liquid/chemical. Some of these chemicals are wanted to remain in smaller amounts, but others are not desirable. When it pertains to Bourbon the emphasis is placed on trying to remove everything else besides the ethanol in order to make a pure and smooth product.
The first vapors that boil out of the wash are the more volatile chemical compounds that have a lower boiling point than water and ethanol. These are typically known as the “head. The desirable portion of the wash is the ethanol. Which is called the “heart”. For Bourbons, the goal is to create a purer ethanol concentration where the head is discarded by diverting the flow of vapor emerging during the distillation process at different temperatures. Where the “heart” would want to be separated out and saved to be used later.
Once the head and ethanol have been heated past their boiling points and separated the remaining alcohols are less volatile with higher boiling points. This is known as the “tail”. The distillation process continues to separate these chemicals from the rest. The heating up of the wash typically continues until the remaining liquid in the wash is <1% alcohol when tested. At this point, It is less economical to continue to try and separate further. The “head” and the “tail” are usually added to the next wort batch for the next distillation cycle to recycle any trapped ethanol that remains.
This is important to note because, with Bands that boast multiple distillation cycles, although this may reduce unwanted congeners, most of the remaining unwanted chemicals are trapped and are unable to be separated with additional distillation alone.
There is skill involved with the distillation process and the master distiller needs to be able to judge and know when the right moment is to cut the distillation outflow from the “head” to start collecting the ”heart” and then turning it off when it’s the “tail”.
For example, if the Bourbons are distilled eight times to improve the taste, the concept is outdated. This is because, after the initial distillation cycle, it has reached saturation and is no longer relevant. The taste will not change no matter how many times you distill it after that.
This process of distillation has been perfected over the last century. Many bourbon brands advertise their products by telling potential buyers how many times the drink has been distilled. However, this is merely a marketing ploy that does little to improve the taste. There is another facet to this idea. The number of distillations does not matter if the ingredients used to make it are cheap, low-quality, and full of impurities. Therefore, even several distillations cannot mask the taste of impurities in the spirit.
More recently the technology that has improved the taste and quality of spirits is in the aging process and the filtering process of spirits after distillation has been performed. With bourbons specifically, we don’t age the final product. So in order to further reduce the remaining unwanted chemicals filtering is needed to be performed.
Filtering and aging is a time-consuming process and many distilleries will use basic technology that is not very effective in reducing unwanted chemicals to a meaningful extent. When it comes to filtering there are two main chemicals that are wanted to be removed in order to increase the quality and smoothness.
Due to the time it takes to reduce these chemicals further, most brands of bourbon elect not to. The best option a consumer has in reducing these chemicals on their own is in buying specialized filters and filtration systems and doing it on their own.
There are not very many options, but the best one is Classy Spirits Filtration system which has been proven to reduce acetone by up to 58% and acetaldehyde by up to 10%. This filtration system is to be used by the consumer after you purchase the bottle of bourbon. You pour the bourbon through Classy Spirits filtration system, it takes 30-45 seconds to filter 2.4 fluid ounces of bourbon. Classy Spirits sells countertop units that can be used very easily and each of their filters lasts for up to 15 bottles of bourbon and then you would need to buy a replacement filter.
This is a very easy and cost-effective way to purchase cheaper bourbons and turn them into very high-end high-quality bourbon.
In conclusion, the reality of the bourbon market today is that the additional brands and flavors have created a lot of bourbon “connoisseurs” and they are the ones for whom bourbon was created. Bourbon was created to be drunk, and it was created to be better than just an oaky vodka.
If one distillery has managed to do that better than the other, that's great. And all of the connoisseurs will be able to appreciate it a lot more. But the truth is that distilled spirits were never meant to be so elite. They were specifically designed to be more effective in the transportation and storing of alcohol so it would not rot or go bad while being distributed to places with limited storage options and logistical networks.
It is absurd to think that a bottle of EH Taylor bourbon is worth over $2000 or that a single barrel of MGP aged 12 years is worth $3000. There is no whiskey that tastes like four-figure amounts. You can find excellent bourbons for under $50 today, such as a Woodford Reserve or Makers Mark. Even in the eyes of the beholder, whiskey is nothing more than a few dollars worth of grain and a cheap wooden barrel. Because of the ingredients that are created when oak is toasted and distilled, you usually get caramel and vanilla. The desire of bourbon distillers to produce more desirable whiskey will lead to an increase in the quality and value of the bourbon we can enjoy and afford.
The process of distillation has been perfected over the last century and there aren’t a lot of new technological advancements that can be introduced into distillation. More recently the technology that has improved the taste and quality of spirits the most is in the filtering process of spirits after distillation has been performed. in order to further reduce the remaining unwanted chemicals, filtering is needed.
Filtering and aging is a time-consuming process and many distilleries will use basic technology that is not very effective in reducing unwanted chemicals to a noticeable extent. With filtering, some processes can reduce acetone and acetaldehyde which will improve the taste, quality, and smoothness.
Due to the time it takes to reduce these chemicals further, most distilleries elect not to. The best option a consumer has in reducing these chemicals on their own is in buying specialized filters and filtration systems and doing it on their own.
There are not very many options, but the best one is Classy Spirits Filtration system which has been proven to reduce acetone by up to 58% and acetaldehyde by up to 10%. This filtration system is by the consumer after you purchase the bottle of bourbon. Classy Spirits sells countertop units that can be used very easily and each of their filters lasts for up to 15 bottles of alcohol and additional replacement filters can be purchased making this a very easy and cost-effective way to increase the quality of bourbon.
Finally, the most important thing that separates a good bourbon from a bad bourbon is that a good bourbon has a nice bouquet; it is slightly sweet, floral or has hints of dark fruit. The aroma is light, almost beguiling, and stimulates the taste buds. After swirling it a bit to release its nose, you should almost be able to taste the bourbon. A little spiciness is fine, but you do not want to be overpowered. The flavor should be smooth. An excellent bourbon should have characteristics of vanilla, smoke, leather, caramel or dark fruit, and charred oak. It should linger on your tongue. A bourbon that disappears with no discernible aftertaste and has a chemical methanol taste is bad and should be avoided.
Classy Spirits Filtration from home has introduced a new liquor filter that has been lab-tested to show decreased levels of Acetone and Acetaldehyde while still retaining the alcohol content.
This filtering is said to not reduce the percentage of alcohol in your bottled spirits. Readers who want to learn more about Classy Spirits liquor filtration can access https://classyspirits.com and follow more of the absolute best tasting alcohol recipes and superior flavor through our revolutionary new alcohol filtration system.