I have been a fan of Kentucky Peerless Distillery since I first visited there over a year ago. They are making some excellent products that you are going to have to wait at least another year before you can purchase a bottle. Even then it will only be the rye whiskey because the Bourbon is going to be released as a bonded product. One of the things they are doing different than other distilleries is making nothing but sweet mash whiskey.
Sweet mash whiskey does not use any back set in the fermentation process. They cook their grains, add their yeast and let it ferment. The sour mash process is the standard in the industry and it has become so for a reason – there is less that can go wrong in the fermentation process. Yeast like an acidic or “sour” environment but bacteria does not. By “souring” the mash it creates an environment that is favorable to the yeast, but not to bacteria. Yeast creates alcohol and fermentation while naturally creating that acidic environment. Bacteria rots the grains. It is obvious which one the distiller prefers to happen.
Historically both processes have been used to create whiskey. Back in 1818 Catherine Carpenter wrote down her recipes for both Sweet Mash and Sour Mash whiskeys. The Sour Mash process became the dominate form of fermentation after James Crow studied it and perfected his own method in 1830s. The advantage is that there is less that can go wrong in fermentation so the chances are that your whiskey will be better. This is still true and Chris Morris has told me that when they did the Sweet Mash experiment at Woodford Reserve he had to throw away a mash from a fermenter that did go wrong with a bacterial infection, making it an expensive experiment.
Kentucky Peerless is well aware of what can go wrong with a Sweet Mash, but they feel they have such good control of their distilling process and have such high standard for cleaning fermenters that they can keep things from going wrong. So far this seems to be working. Having tasted both their Bourbon and Rye whiskeys, I have no complaints and would not have them change a thing. I think though that this would be hard to do for most any other distillery. Kentucky Peerless is a very well designed distillery with some of the most sophisticated, computer controlled equipment I have ever seen. They are also a smaller operation that makes the chores of cleaning the equipment a bit easier to control. They also put their whiskey into the barrel at 107 proof, but that is for a different story later.
Having tasted their products here is what I find: The Bourbon at 13 months old has a nice nose of corn and vanilla with a hint of fruit, ripe apple and apricots. The taste is still young but not as young as others of the same age. Lots of vanilla and corn with the apple fruit and sweet baking spices. It has a nice finish that has just a hint of oak tannins.
The Rye at 13 months has a nose that reminds me of a Christmas cookie with sweet molasses and baking spice with just a hint of the grassiness I find in most rye whiskey. The taste follows through with molasses and spice with a hint of fruit like raisons and dates. The finish starts sweet but get a bit drier as the oak comes through.
Kentucky Peerless has me waiting impatiently for these products. They will release the rye next year in April as a 2 years old straight rye whiskey, but they plan to wait until the Bourbon is at least 4 years old and release it as a bonded Bourbon. Every time I taste their whiskey it seems to get better so I am looking forward to being able to purchase a bottle of each of these products.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl
September 16, 2021 at 5:32 pm
I didn’t really get a feel in this article for the benefits of using sweet mash. It’s clear that sweet mash is far more difficult to produce properly and more likely to spoil in the process. If so, what’s the point of putting this much time, money, and effort into a product that appears to have no real taste advantage over the sour mash variety
September 16, 2021 at 10:01 pm
It does have a different flavor profile and Peerless likes it. More difficult, but the quality makes it worth their while.