Is it bourbon and can you trust review websites?

Let’s say you have a bottle Corn Whiskey, Wheat Whiskey, Rye Whiskey and Malt Whiskey and you blend those together with the Corn Whiskey being 51% of the total blend.  What have you just made? What if you are a licensed DSP and replaced bottles with barrels?

I hope my readers would know this product would be “Whiskey”.    If all the above were Straight, then it could even be “Straight Whiskey”.  What it is not and could never be is Bourbon Whiskey. Bourbon must be made from a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn with other grains that can be added for the remaining balance.  This must be done at the time of mashing/fermenting/distilling. It’s silly to think otherwise.

Yet that is exactly what a craft distillery in Florida did in creating the first Florida ‘Bourbon’.  Timber Creek Distillery separately distilled and aged these types of whiskies then blended them together to create their ‘Bourbon’.   They have a kit of these separate whiskies and encourage you to create your own ‘bourbon’ at home. They even trademarked this process at ‘Pureblend’.  

From their website:

Individual grain spirits are barreled individually after distillation.  Timber Creek individually barrels and ages each of their 100% whiskeys. Corn, Rye, Barley, Wheat and Oat corn whiskey’s are first given time to age before the distilling team selects the individual barrels. In order to blend bourbon whiskeys, specific barrels are hand selected since they have multiple grains. The hand selected barrels allow the individual flavors to blend to creating Timber Creeks Bourbon Blends.

As many distilleries do, Timber Creek hired a PR firm to send out samples to whiskey review sites. Note, my policy is this blog never accepts samples and if I ever do a whiskey review here, it will be of a bottle that was purchased at retail.  If you run a whiskey review site, you should know the definition of bourbon and at least question this process. That did not happen. The following ran articles on Timber Creek ‘Bourbon’.

Whiskey Wash – https://thewhiskeywash.com/reviews/whiskey-review-round-timber-creek-florida-bourbons

Bourbon Guy – http://www.bourbonguy.com/blog/2017/5/18/3-whiskeys-from-timber-creek-distillery3-whiskeys-from-timber-creek-distillery

-The Bourbon Guy updated his blog with some 2nd grade name calling but then states “…. blog is correct. I did make a mistake when I wrote this post. Though I know better, I didn’t call BS on the process that the distiller is using explicitly enough.”

Southern Living – https://www.southernliving.com/travel/travel/timber-creek-whiskey-distillery

Bourbon Sippers – http://bourbonsippers.com/timber-creek-distillery/

The Whiskey Reviewer – http://whiskeyreviewer.com/2017/01/timber-creek-florida-bourbon-review-011017/

Taste the Dram – https://www.tastethedram.com/single-post/2017/02/03/in-depth-whiskey-making-guide-by-camden-ford-of-the-timber-creek-distillery/

Timber Creek even managed to ‘win’ a few gold medals for their ‘bourbon’.  Of note, on their website they have now updated their product name and now properly call this Florida Whiskey.  Timber Creek is a 100% grain to glass distillery, so they earn my respect for that. I’ve reached out via email to the owner Camden Ford for comment about the change. He responded very quickly with a detailed response.  He felt no category in the TTB definitions accurately described their process. He stated “I have come to the conclusion that the goal of the descriptions were to attempt to describe common characteristics of each product and give them distinctive names that will let consumers understand that what they are tasting has a common set of flavor characteristics across brands and manufacturers in the same category.  With this view, I believe that what we make is, in fact Bourbon, in taste, profile, and chemical make up and follows the intent of the law.”

My reply was when you start trying to infer the intent of the law, you are going to have a 100 companies with 100 different interpretations and most of these are going to be wrong.

Please read the comments.  Camden has made several comments and received some good responses.

15 thoughts on “Is it bourbon and can you trust review websites?”

  1. Per my comments to Wade via email: What is Bourbon really? Is it a formula? Is it a process? Is it a flavor profile. We believe that Bourbon is a flavor profile and the TTB definition is an attempt to describe a process that delivers a consistent flavor profile…that is distinctly Bourbon.

    So, while our Blending process may not meet the letter of the law for Bourbon type…..our Florida Bourbon/Florida Whiskey tastes like Bourbon. Our PureBlend(TM) process is a proprietary distilling and blending process we developed that allows us to maximize the flavors of each grain individually. It lets us cook each grain at the optimal temperature, ferment at optimal temperature, and make our distilling cuts based on the flavors of each grain. It lets us create very pure individual grain whiskeys and then blend those pure flavors into many different flavor profiles. We current have 2 Bourbon profiles, a 100% Rye and a 100% single malt. Much like a chef does by selecting individual ingredients, preparing those ingredients, then blending those ingredients to create a flavorful main course….we do the same with our whiskeys. This process also allows us to blend for consistency from batch to batch. We have seen many new distilleries find their distilling processes, barreling processes and blending processes vary from batch to batch, so the flavors are very inconsistent from batch to batch. Our process allows us to blend to a specific flavor profile and that includes matching the flavor profile from previous batches….so we have much more consistency batch to batch.

    BTW, we apply our PureBlend(TM) process to all of our products. We are able to get the same benefits when blending our Gin, Rums, and even Vodkas

    Thanks

    Cam

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    1. Cam, you’re wrong, period. The Standards of Identity clearly require Bourbon to be distilled from a mash of grains with at least 51% corn, and Wade was correct in calling you out on it. What you’ve done is nothing new. It’s the way Canadian Whisky distillers have been doing things for many, many years. Want more proof? It’s the exact same thing Freddie Noe Jr. did at Beam with his Little Book last year by blending corn, rye, wheat, and malt whiskies…and was properly called an “American Whiskey.”

      (For the record, your PR folks never contacted me…I would have gladly debated this point with you on WhiskyCast.)

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    2. 100% wrong. Bourbon is a legal term defined by the TTB to protect consumers from ‘rectifiers’ who would add artificial flavor to whiskey to get the taste profile they wanted. Reading a little history would help you understand the reasoning behind the laws. It is not open to interpretation, it’s a clearly defined legal definition. It also requires aging in charred new oak containers.

      Nothing wrong with some blended whiskies. You just can’t call them something they are not, no matter the ‘taste profile’.

      Fortunately many consumers are smart enough to see through the obfuscation.

      And the only way you can really trust a reviewer is to find one with similar preferences to your own.

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  2. Hi Mark,

    I appreciate your view, but let me ask a few probing questions.

    1. Why does Bourbon require a single mash bill? why was the Type definition defined that way? What is it about a single mash bill that makes Bourbon Bourbon?

    2. Have you tried my Whiskey? If not, I would love to hear your thoughts about the quality of the product.

    3. I would like to offer you a gentlemen’s bet…..do a blind tasting of my whiskey next to 3 other similar aged craft Bourbons that you have never tried…..and pick the one that is NOT Bourbon.

    If you can do that, I will publically apologize for having such an obscure view….because as I have stated, my view is that the Type definitions were created many years ago to describe the process that was historically in place to create a unique flavor profile for a whiskey that is predominantly made from Corn. Each element specified in the Type definition was created to describe an element that contribute to the unique flavor of the whiskey….charred barrels vs. uncharred barrels, new barrels vs. used barrels, coming off the still at <80% vs. 90% like Canadian whiskey, etc. My argument is that Bourbon is a flavor profile. The Type definition describes one method of achieving that flavor profile. My method is another method to achieve that flavor profile.

    It appears that this is a hard line in the sand for some folks….so lets be clear on which side you are on. One side says the letter of the law is the ONLY way to make Bourbon….whether it tastes like Bourbon or not….whether it is quality Bourbon or not. The other side says that times change there can be many other ways to make Bourbon….and its time for the TTB rules to be updated.

    Chapter 4 Class and Type is a guideline for labeling and that issue is passed as my Whiskey is Florida Whiskey…..but every one that tries it knows it Bourbon….because thats what it tastes like…..and a damn good Bourbon at that.

    Regards,

    Cam

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    1. So Cam, if I took NGS, flavored it with artificial bourbon flavoring, and bottled it to 80 proof, and no one could tell its not bourbon based upon comparisons to other actual bourbons, would you agree that it should be labelled as bourbon? I would hope to god not, but that is exactly what the regulations are in place to prevent and what your line blurring arguments would lead to. If you research the history of our whiskey laws, they were put in place specifically to prevent fraud on the customer by rectifiers who took one spirit and tried to pass it off as another with various additives. Just because it tastes like bourbon, doesn’t mean it is bourbon. While I understand you do not use any additives and are attempting to do something different but within the spirit of the law, the black letter law specifically prohibits labeling your product bourbon, and any justification, no matter how well intentioned, is in violation of the both the letter and intent of the law. Bourbon is a formulaic process, and if you use a different process, its simply not bourbon.

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      1. Hi aurthur,

        You bring up an excellent point. You are really not going to agree with my response…..but IF a manufacturer can create a spirit that matches the chemical composition, flavor profile, mouth feel and texture of bourbon without any artificial chemicals or artificial additives…then it is bourbon in my book. Your example is not valid as you have recognized, but mine is.

        Please tell me why the requirements for bourbon were specified the way that they were….the writers of the class and type had to have a clear objective in mind when they selected the requirements and specified them the way that they did…so what were they trying to achieve by stating the requirements the way that they did?

        Times change, technologies change, processes change…
        And eventually the rules change to recognize progress.

        Cam

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      2. How about this example. The FDA publishes a recipe for making apple pie.

        1. Make dough and roll out 2 sheets.
        2. Out one piece of dough in the pie pan
        3. Chop apples, mix with cinnamon and sugar
        4. Put apples in pie pan
        5 put 2nd dough sheet on top.
        6. Trim dough and bake at 375 for 1 hour.

        Now, my recipe is a little different.

        1.. make dough and roll out.
        2. Put dough in pie pan and bake
        3. Put 2nd dough sheet in another pan and bake.
        4. Chop apples and bake
        5. Mix cinnamon sugar syrup
        6. Add cinnamon syrup to apples to taste.
        7. Take bottom and top dough out of the oven
        8. Place baked apples/syrup into pan and top with baked crust

        I used all the same ingredients. I baked everything separately, I assembled the complete pie at the end. In the end….it looks like an apple pie, tastes like an apple pie….it is an apple pie.

        The only difference is the FDA says I have to use their recipe in order to label the box apple pie…..so my apple pie has to just be called pie….seems a bit silly…right.

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      3. While Bourbon has rules that must be met, there are plenty of variations available to distillers. Beyond 51% corn, all kinds of other grains could be used. Different size barrels, different oak types, different barrel entry proofs, etc the list goes on. So there of plenty of variations within the rules allowed. Go outside the rules, then you made whiskey. It might even be very good whiskey, it just ain’t bourbon.

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      4. Hi Wade,

        Thanks for indulging my ramblings. This will be my last post…and I will leave you guys alone.

        None of you have answered my question about the objective of the type definition….you just keep stating that the rules are the rules regardless of any logic….so your position is clear and I cannot possibly persuade you to question the rules.

        Just like my apple pie recipe….the specifications for bourbon is a known process that delivers a “product” with a specific flavor profile…..Bourbon is a product….period. the government in trying to regulate folks trying to take short cuts cannot regulate flavor….they can only specify the ingredients and process that delivers a specific product with specific characteristics…..that’s why the bourbon is described the way it is described.

        My apple pie example is exactly the same thing. Everyone makes apple pie the same way….some use different apples….some use more cinnamon, some use white sugar, some use brown, some use raisins…..but everyone makes apple pie the way I described….that’s the way it has always been….so why do I want to make apple pie a different way?

        Well…in this case, it takes 2 years for the pie to cook. Some apples are sour, some are sweet, some cook to mush, and some stay firm. Different apples need different amounts of sugar and cinnamon depending on how sweet they are, some apples need to be cooked less than others. So, by deconstructing my apple pie…..I can guarantee that my top crust and bottom crusts are cooked to perfection every time….regardless of whether I am making apple pie or peach pie. I can cook my filling differently depending on the type of apples available to me…some I cook less so they don’t turn to mush….some I add more sugar because they are tart. Using my process, I can guarantee that the filling will be exactly the flavor I want before I assembled the pie…and I can adjust based on the ingredients I have to work with. And by using this process, I can easily make blueberry pie, and peach pie using the same crust, same sugar, same cinnamon, etc. If the market prefers apple pie….I can make more apple pie…but if the market demand shifts to blueberry pie, I can easily shift production as needed. I can also create new variations of apple pie by adjusting my ingredients on the fly. Using the traditional method…..I dont have to wait 2 years to see how my pie turns out….using my method, I can make sure my pie turns out exactly the way I want every time.

        Sara Lee is great at making apple pie and they have done it the same way for the late hundred years….and they know exactly what their pie will taste like. But at the end of the day…as long as the pie maker used flour, sugar, apples, and cinnamon and it looks and taste like apple pie…..then it is apple pie. The steps in between and how you get the ingredients cooked and assembled shouldn’t matter as long as the final product looks and tastes like apple pie.

        I know….I know….that’s not what the rules say. I worked in Silicon Valley for 16 years where everyone questions the rules every day. Breaking the rules, changing the rules, and being disruptive is what its all about. This industry changing….it will change very slowly…but it will change….and you are not going to like it.

        Thanks for your time and blog space. Best of luck.

        Regards

        Cam

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      5. Cam:

        I have not responded to your comments yet because of a lack of time, not because of a lack of interest.

        There’s a big difference between making apple pies and Bourbon, as you well know. Whiskey and other alcoholic beverages are regulated for a very good reason – people have cut corners in producing them in the past, and that’s why we have the regulations we have in place today. I didn’t write them, and I don’t enforce them, but they’re there for a reason. The Scots have a provision in their laws requiring distillers to abide by “traditional practices” in making Scotch Whisky, and while US law doesn’t have that requirement in specific language, the requirements for distilling Bourbon from “a mash of grains” serves the same purpose.

        I’m not saying your whiskey is inferior to Bourbon at all. In fact, some people may well prefer it to Bourbon, just as others prefer Canadian Whisky to Bourbon. Under the current regulatory system, though…your whiskey isn’t a Bourbon. You want to change that? Anyone can write the TTB and request that the agency open a rulemaking proposal to amend the Standards of Identity.

        I’ll even go one step further…if you want to come on WhiskyCast and make your case, let me know. Be prepared for a debate, though…

        Mark

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  3. I think, for me at least, it’s not just the taste of bourbon that I enjoy, but also the tedious PROCESS involved in making it. Knowing that the distiller followed the RULES (not guidelines) for making bourbon, that the bourbon aged in casks sitting in rickhouses, and that it was tested and tasted until it was deemed ready for sale. THIS is what I think about when I enjoy a glass of good bourbon – not just the taste.

    It could be argued that a computer could be programmed to analyze, copy and paint the Mona Lisa with a paintbrush and a canvas and the result would be a painting that would be indistinguishable from the original by the average person. But in the end, it is not the original, because it does not contain the care, the expertise, and the time it took to create the original. And this is what I think we need to consider here in this discussion.

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  4. All I would like to say is Timber Creek makes some tasty stuff. Their Florida Black Rye has a very unique taste and their Reserve WHISKEY holds its own with similarly aged bourbons. I like their approach to making spirits and hope they don’t change their process. Do yourself a favor and try a few of their offerings. You won’t be disappointed.

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