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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Sipp’n Corn Review – Tudor Ice and Old Limestone Water.

Many enthusiasts will scoff at the idea adding anything to their Bourbon.  Most will acknowledge that a small amount of water can help open up flavors in some Bourbon, but it’s risky because it mutes the flavors sometimes, and there’s a risk of over-dilution.  Ice can be more controversial than a drop of water.  In a recent trip to Scotland, the distillery tour guides uniformly berated the idea of Scotch over ice.  Here, sentiment is much more forgiving, and personally, some hazmat-proof Bourbons become absolutely perfect with the slow melt of a single large cube or sphere.

Before you add water or ice to your whiskey, think before you turn on the faucet or open the freezer.  Water that is too hard or too soft, or which has too many minerals (or the wrong minerals), can influence the taste of your whiskey.  As your ice melts it can create those same issues, and if your freezer has an odor, it can be absorbed by your ice, and then your whiskey.  I’ve been to too many places with funky water that I’d never let get near my Bourbon.

In Louisville we’re blessed with fantastic tap water, so it is not really a concern here.  Louisville’s tap water has 159 mg/L of calcium carbonate per gallon, making it “moderately hard” (the range to avoid “soft” or “hard” designations is between 60 mg/L and 180 mg/L).  Although the Ohio River is Louisville’s water source, most of Kentucky’s interior rivers and spring-fed streams drain into it, thus contributing to Louisville water.  Louisville has won national and international awards for its water purity, quality, and taste, and when it costs a penny per day for 60 8-ounce glasses of water, there’s really no point for a Louisvillian to buy bottled water.

Of course, there’s a solution other than moving to Louisville for those who want to assure the quality of their water and ice.  Old Limestone bottles limestone-filtered Kentucky spring water.  Kentucky’s aquifer and naturally limestone-filtered, iron-free water played a role in the early development of Bourbon (along with frontier freedom, perfect weather, and abundant corn crops), and many people swear that Kentucky spring water is perfect for adding a splash back to Bourbon.

Tudor Ice Company traces its roots to 1806 when Frederic Tudor harvested ice from New England and shipped it to the Caribbean, and succeeded in convincing consumers that they wanted and needed ice.  Electric refrigeration put an end to the business, but now Tudor’s descendants are launching a reinvented Tudor Ice Company with pre-filled, sealed ice molds, using distilled water that removes most dissolved solids.  Tudor also uses a patent-pending process to remove dissolved oxygen from the water to create a denser ice cube.

Some people take their water and ice very seriously.  Bar ice has exponentially more surface area than even everyday home freezer cubes, which results in a fast melt and watered-down whiskey, so many people avoid standard bar ice.  For home use, most sphere molds have a release hole, which allows excess water to escape when filling the mold, and which also allows for expansion when freezing.  As an aesthetic annoyance, this also creates a small protrusion on the sphere.  For the truly obsessed, ice sphere presses can set you back over $1,000.00.  Some enthusiasts also strive for clarity in their ice.  If you have the time and inclination to do something that won’t affect the taste, you can boil and cool water twice to remove dissolved gasses that cause cloudiness.

The Test

To test the Tudor cube, I compared it to a sphere made with Old Limestone water, after freezing both for 24 hours.  My current sphere mold is silicone, so the spheres pop out effortlessly, but I’ve noticed that they are not particularly dense.  The Tudor cube mold was a little difficult to pop out, but its density was unmistakable.  I poured two ounces of 58.6% ABV Four Roses OBSV into each glass, and sipped them equally.

The first sip from each glass showed that the cube – which of course had more surface-area contact – had added a little more water to my Bourbon.  Additionally, after about eight minutes, my Bourbon had carved into at the cube, whereas the sphere was had a more even melt and was egg-shaped.  The sphere seemed to be performing better.

After about 10 minutes, however, the tide turned dramatically.  My Bourbon with the Tudor cube was much colder than my Bourbon with the sphere, and the sphere was melting fast.  By 14 minutes the sphere had essentially disintegrated into a small jagged mess with one curved side.  My Bourbon was considerably lighter in the glass with the sphere, and had that watered-down taste we want to avoid.  In the other glass, the cube still held its structure.  After 20 minutes, the cube looked more like a flat-top mushroom, but it was still sizeable, and my Bourbon was not at all watered-down.  This is when I called the experiment and finished each glass.

The taste of both Tudor and Limestone was equally remarkable, clean, and refreshing.  Both of these are perfect water for adding to Bourbon.  I was not about to ruin a fantastic Bourbon (even in the name of science) with water containing iron or some odd aroma, so I cannot offer a comparison or suggestions on water to avoid.  I also did not compare these to Louisville tap water, which might have performed just as well, although I never could have been able to replicate Tudor’s fantastic density.  Regardless, the quality of your water and ice can definitely make a difference, so sip wisely my friends.

Tudor Ice Co. and Old Limestone both kindly
sent me samples to try,
without any strings attached. Thank you.


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  2. Great site! Loads of information on topics usually loaded with bull. You seem to have the skinny on bourbon and water so I'll ask you about something I can't find any info about - my g-g-grandfather owned a distillery near Lebanon, KY in the 19th cen. and its water source was a year-round spring that was considered "chalybeate or heavily charged with iron". He even joked with temperance friends that he was making "Brown's Iron Bitters" - a then popular iron supplement. I got that info from the Louisville Dots column of "Bonfort's Wine and Spirit Circular" vol. XXIX, no.1, Nov.10, 1887. I always heard iron was the last thing you wanted in distilling - either in the water, the mash, or the finished product. It leaves me very puzzled. Help.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! Do you know the name of the distillery? That would help me look into it. I'm not aware of an iron-heavy spring in Lebanon, and every distiller I've spoken with insists that they need high-calcium and iron-free water. I'd be happy to look into it further.

    2. Talk about rapid response! The distillery was the "Belle of Marion Distillery", located at Calvary, KY, four miles from Lebanon. Started in 1880, it produced bourbon and rye for various wholesalers such as Bernheim Bros. and John Roach in Kentucky, Casey & Swasey (Kentucky Comfort) and Focke, Wilkens & Lange in Texas, Eugene Lynch Co. (Commercial Club Rye) and L.J. Logan & Co. (Pride of Boston) in the north-east. It also produced "Belle of Marion" and "Old Mitchell" sour mash bourbons and "Callaghan's Hand-Made Rye" - the latter for partner John Callaghan, as its main advertised brands. The distillery was sold to the KDWC in 1899 and ran in a diminished capacity until 1913 when it was closed and dismantled. The info from "Bonfort's" was contained in a letter from its Louisville market correspondant and would seem rather pointless to relate if it had no basis in fact. I had never heard of any water source in the area that was affected in such a manner.

    3. Thanks. This is fantastic information! I found the Bonforts article on the Belle of Marion, and this is the first time I've seen anyone tout high iron content. I asked Mike Veach about it and sent the Bonforts article to him. He hadn't seen advertising for The Belle of Marion, but he remembered a different distillery that touted its "scorched flavor" from iron-heavy water, so it does seem like there was at least a small market for this counter-intuitive style of Bourbon. I'll be looking into this further for sure!

  3. Ftboldrick@yahoo.comMay 8, 2016 at 2:57 PM

    I am grateful for the help with this oddity about my g-grandfather's distillery. The comment about "scorched flavor" reminded me of the reference in Gerald Carson's "The Social History of Bourbon" (1963), p.44 where he relates that, as late as 1900, consumers were requesting "the bourbon with the burned flavor" or an "empyreumatic taste". Does Mr. Veech
    recall the name of the distillery which promoted its product with the "scorched flavor"?

    1. I spoke with Mike about this yesterday. He recalls the advertisement but not the distillery, and knows that it's in deep storage while the Filson undergoes renovations. I'll have to look it up later, unfortunately.

  4. Ftboldrick@yahoo.comJune 8, 2016 at 10:56 AM

    Every reference to chalybeate or ferruginous spring water mentions its pronounced qualities, namely "strong smell, with an "astringent but not fetid taste." The question presented by these references is - could the use of chalybeate water create whiskies with an empyreumatic or "scorched" flavor similar to Scotch or Irish whiskies ? Most of the same references refer to the iron-rich waters as restorative or healthful, having the same qualities of those waters found at many spa resorts or springs throughout the country. My g-grandfather advertised the beneficial qualities of his "Belle of Marion" whiskey as a "restorative and "pure and healthful" in nature. He also used comments from influential industry figures such as William Mida who commented on the quality of the whiskey and the benefits of its use in hospitals. Could the alchemyic knowledge of the old distillers have transformed the taint of iron-rich waters to produce drinkable whiskey ? Or were the scorched-tasting whiskies merely a product of accident or inattentive distilling ?

    1. This is fascinating to me. I need to explore this some more.

  5. Ftboldrick@yahoo.comSeptember 3, 2016 at 12:10 PM

    After a lengthy review of any reference to my G-grandfather's whiskey "Belle of Marion" in liquor industry journals such as "Bonfort's Wine and Spirit Circular", Louisville's "Wine & Spirit Bulletin" and San Francisco's "Pacific Wine and Spirit Review", I have come to believe that the reference to the "iron-rich" spring water used in the production of that whiskey, as stated in that one issue of Bonfort's, was part of an advertising promotion meant to emphasize the so-called "healthful" qualities of his product. A search of the Calvary, KY. area records of Marion County, location of the "Belle of Marion" R.D.#370, finds no iron-rich springs in that location. Indeed the "waters" of that part of the county were considered to be "sweet" and ideal for distilling. Every reference to the whiskey describes it as a "sour mash bourbon" or "hand-made sour mash whiskey". As for its actual taste or flavor, one can only speculate. I can reasonably assume that it was a standard sour-mash with the usual bourbon attributes. The emphasis on its "healthfulness" and its "restorative qualities" as well as the sanitary conditions under which it was distilled, barreled and aged was a marketing ploy to distinguish it from the rest of the brands in the then-current liquor industry. The comment about "Belle of Marion" being compared to "Brown's Iron Bitters" may have been more of a jest to deflect the disapproving attitudes of the strengthening local Prohibition movement in a small central Kentucky town where soothing strong, contrary opinions between neighbors was a real plus. My G-grandfather had several run-ins over the years with the "drys" which were repeated in the local papers for their humorous effect and perhaps this is but one example. Perhaps, at most, a sign of the times.


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