Kentucky Artisan Distillery started to make the Bourbon Bill and I want to bottle for Jack Rose in DC. Rosemary and I met Maggie out at the distillery on December 27th. Unfortunately Bill is not in town for this part of the project. They are making this Bourbon to our specifications. It is 60% Hickory Cane white corn. This is an heirloom variety of corn that MY Dad’s family still grow down in Barren County today. It cost us quite a bit more than it would have if we used the standard yellow corn, but I fell it will be worth it. A 25% rye and 12% barley malt content left use 3% to use for chocolate malt in the mash. We are making four barrels so that is two batches in the fermenters.
We arrived at the distillery as they were cooling the mash, getting ready to fill the fermenters and add the yeast. I was worried the corn might be difficult to work with but Jade told me there was no problem. The grinding process went fine and it was added to the cooker with no problems in either batch. I liked what I tasted in the just cooked mash. There was a complexity of flavors that reminded me of a Chex Mix with chocolate chips in the mix. There was that corn and rye flavors of corn Chex and rye bread with a hint of chocolate and coffee. This would make a great breakfast cereal. The higher rye content also gave the mash a bit of nutty flavor like toasted hazelnuts. I began to really look forward to tasting the fermented mash. A couple of days later I would have that chance.
Rosemary and I returned to the distillery on Friday the 29th of December to taste the fermented mash. Walking in the door we could smell the mash it was a wonderful aroma. Several of the employees in the gift shop and tour guide mentioned the fact that the air smelled different than what they were used to and they liked it. There was the normal bread dough and beer aromas that comes with fermenting mash, but there was a little of that coffee/chocolate/mocha aroma in the air as well.
We met Jade in the distillery and I asked him what he thought so far. He was very pleased with the way it was proceeding and is excited about this process. It was time for me to taste for myself. I climbed the stairs to the fermenter and stuck my finger in the mash. I found the fermented beer very pleasing. There was still a little of that corn Chex and rye bread flavor but there was an additional fruitiness that reminded me of a ripe plum and the mocha flavors were more chocolate and less coffee. Once again I am looking forward to the next step. Distillation. Jade was going to do the first distillation the next day, Saturday the 30th and the second distillation on New Year’s Eve. Rosemary and I agreed that we would come back on the 31st for the final distillation.
The second distillation took place on the 31st. The 1,125 gallon copper pot still with a column on it was the still and it was coming off right at 120 proof. Jade was very pleased with the new make and waited with pride as I poured off a glass from the tail box. It was very clean distillate and had a wonderful aroma as the glass was filling. The nose was a little fruity and a hint of the chocolate from the malt. It tasted very nice. It was fruity with either plums or apricots with the chocolate coming through in the end. There was as a slightly smoky note to the chocolate that Rosemary found very pleasing, Jade took a sample and tested it for proof and it was 119.34 proof. Right at the goal we had set. Bill and I wanted a lower distillation proof like they did in the 19th century so the grain flavor would come through. You could taste the corn and the rye grains in this new make.
We filled the barrels on January 4 using a gravity fed system from a holding tank. The Bourbon was cut to 103.51 proof and taste wonderful at that proof. I found the chocolate note on the finish was lengthened and there was not alcohol burn at all. The other flavors stayed true and Jade was excited to be putting it in the barrel. The barrels were traditional barrels of 53 gallons made at Kelvin Cooperage with a number three char. Now we wait.
I don’t plan on tasting from the barrels for many months. It will probably be September or October before I taste because I want to wait until a summer has passed so that there will be plenty of barrel interaction before tasting. I don’t expect too much in that amount of time but it should give me an idea of how well it is progressing. I will let you know how that turns out.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl and Rosemary Miller