Many bloggers and readers alike are experimenting with blending their own stock of whiskeys – like Bourbonr’s “Poor Man’s Pappy” and Bourbontruth’s 60-40 blend of Bernheim Wheat and Rare Breed. Many others have started aging their own white dog in miniature barrels or blending different brands together. I took the route several years ago of trying “Risky Whisky,” which is a kit containing a bottle of white dog, a mason jar and a handful of charred oak wood chips. While a friend ended up with a remarkable end product, mine was absolutely horrible (hence the “risky” name). It smelled like model airplane glue and tasted worse.
It’s been sitting on my shelf since then, where I periodically dare a guest to taste it. But after being inspired by the rectifiers of the 1800’s, who were a thorn in the side of Bourbon purists like Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr., I decided to see if I could rectify this abomination that I had created.
Some rectifiers of the 1800’s did not use safe additives. They’re not my inspiration. Other rectifiers used neutral spirits, harmless coloring and flavor additives to simulate the appearance and taste of Bourbon. Even though their product would have been safe to drink, some of them still passed off their concoctions as Bourbon. Selling something under false pretenses is deplorable, but the ability to mimic Bourbon is intriguing. It was also big business.
In the mid-1800’s Pierre Lacour published The Manufacture of Liquors, Wines and Cordials Without the Aid of Distillation, which contained a recipe for “Old Bourbon Whiskey” that blended neutral spirits, simple syrup, tea, oil of wintergreen, tincture of cochineal (a bug that when crushed provided red coloring) and burnt sugar. Around the same time, Joseph Fleischman published The Art of Blending and Compounding Liquors and Wines, which contained a variety of recipes that could be passed off as Bourbon and Rye, mostly involving neutral spirits, prune and other juices, simple syrup and coloring
The Kentucky Court of Appeals in E. H. Taylor, Jr. & Sons Co. v. Marion E. Taylor, 27 Ky.L.Rptr., 124 Ky. 173, 85 S.W. 1085 (1905) noted the difference between rectified whiskey and straight Bourbon, and, interestingly, noted that it was favored over true Bourbon:
[R]rectifiers or blenders take a barrel of whisky, and draw off a large part of it, filling it up with water, and then adding spirits or other chemicals to make it proof, and give it age, bead, etc. The proof also shows that from 50 to 75 percent of the whisky sold in the United States now is blended whisky, and that a large part of the trade prefer it to the straight goods. It is a cheaper article, and there is therefore a temptation to simulate the more expensive whisky.
Col. Taylor was instrumental in changing that tide, running rectifiers out of town, and in passage of the Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897, which was drafted to protect the public and to give assurances about the actual spirits contained in a bottle. Among other requirements, the Act originally required that any spirit labeled as “Bottled-in-Bond” identify and be the product of one distiller at one distillery during one distillation season, be aged in a federally-bonded warehouse under federal governmental supervision for at least four years, have no additives, be bottled at exactly 100 proof and be sealed with an engraved strip stamp. And later, President William Howard Taft’s famous “Taft Decision” in 1909 defined “straight,” “blended” and “imitation” whiskey, to further protect the public and to provide assurances that the public could know exactly what they were buying and drinking.
Still, I was surprised to learn how downright easy it was to turn my swill into something that competes with many mid-shelf Bourbons. After some experimentation with smaller samples and a long list of flavoring agents from pomegranate juice to fresh herbs, my final additives included:
· One vanilla bean
· Almond extract
· Fresh mint leaf
· Fresh lemon balm leaf
· Caramel extract
The result was dramatic. So instead of dumping it, experiment with your Town Branch, Old Crow, or whatever you think is rot gut that has been collecting dust in the back of your bottom shelf, and try your hand at rectifying.