Distiller's Notebook: Fresh Isn't Always Best
A New Hampshire Distiller on the Making of Bourbon
Often the definition of good food revolves around its freshness; it’s why we buy locally and seasonally. However, there are a few exceptions when fresh is not better. Some of the best foods and beverages we consume are a result of fermentation, which essentially means the opposite of fresh. There are many different types of fermentation, some result in food preservation such as sauerkraut, kimchi and crème.
Among fermentation’s many types, my favorite is alcoholic fermentation. Without it, early civilization probably would have struggled to keep water safe enough to drink and Edgar Allen Poe may not have successfully used much ink. But I love alcoholic fermentation because it is one of the most important steps in the production of bourbon.
Bourbon is one of the only spirits in the world that legally must be made on U.S. soil. It is as American as apple pie, but way easier to drink. A major component of bourbon production is a grain that has developed a bad reputation: corn. Being mostly grown from GMO seed produced by big companies whose names have become synonymous with poor business practice, corn has become the troubled child of the grain family. And yet, despite its recent slip in the public’s eye, I love corn. I love it because corn makes up at least fifty-one percent of bourbon by law. Some bourbon producers hover right at the fifty-one percent mark for their bourbon mash bill, but at Flag Hill Distillery, we like to be a little bit cornier. Corn defines seventy percent of our total mash bill. A higher percentage of corn provides extra oils that create greater body in the golden liquid that gets dumped from those American-made white oak barrels after years of slow maturation.
If winemaking is the art of gracefully “spoiling” fruit, then bourbon making is the discipline of not disturbing the dust collected on a barrel. Beautiful bourbon is the opposite of fresh. It has been grown from seed to seed, milled to flour, mashed to sugar, fermented for preservation, distilled to high-proof alcohol, then left to grow old, a barrel in a quiet shed. It defies the idea that “fresh equals better” that many of us have cultivated in our minds.
At Flag Hill, we believe that food grown here tastes like food from here, and that means bourbon made in New Hampshire tastes like bourbon from New Hampshire. The best part? We like to bring it full circle. Once we have distilled the alcohol out of the corn mash, we deliver the remainder to our heritage breed pigs so they can turn it into bacon. In case you thought the story couldn’t get any juicier.
From the dustiest part of the rick house.