Difference between scotch and bourbon whisky and tequila

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My understanding is that whisky is a distilled product. The "mash" is made of corn, barley, cactus, or other material that is allowed to ferment into ethyl alcohol. Then the mixture is distilled to separate the alcohol from the rest of the mixture. After the alcohol is removed, I believe almost pure ethyl alcohol, the alcohol is stored in kegs for flavor and then mixed with water to make the required "proof". So, if I am correct here, then it seems that the only difference between all of these whiskys is the barrels they are allowed to soak up the flavor, and the time in the barrels. Is this the case? If so, can the distilled alcohol be made into any of the whiskies depending on the barrels they are stored in? Is the difference merely how the alcohol is stored and for how long? Does the flavor pass through the distillation process?
 

jim mcnamara

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Distilling is a "sloppy" operation on purpose. A lot of the volatiles in the mash kind of may tag along into the final product.

Sure you could repeatedly distill until you had about 95% alcohol:water. So-called "Everclear 190 proof" is produced this way. In the US, a gallon of lab ethyl alcohol is cheap, as is denatured alcohol. The huge cost of a gallon of Everclear-like vodka is the result of a federal excise tax. Amazon lists a gallon of Klean Strip denatured alcohol for about $15.00USD, at the moment.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Everclear_(alcohol) Note the corn on the label

So why use sugar cane or pieces of cactus instead?

Stop and think. Assume that is not the case. Then the very lowest cost method of ethyl alcohol production would be used by everyone. In the US that would probably be the cost of government subsidized corn, as now in the production of ethyl alcohol as a gasoline additive. Our rum, rye and every other grain based booze would really be corn derived ETOH and water, plus faux flavoring. Not saying some booze is never made this way (never underestimate the profit motive), but having visited several local distilleries, this method does not seem to be in favor.
 
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I don't quite follow your last paragraph. What is ETOH, ethyl alcohol? Are you saying the cost of alcohol is based on subsidized corn?

I wonder..could I take some Everclear and store it in oak barrels for 5 years, then cut it with water to make 80 proof (40%alcohol) and have bourbon?

How does the flavor get into the whisky other than from the barrels they are stored in? Does some of the flavor get through the distillation process?

I am asking this because I just watched a story on 60 minutes about the making of Scotch whisky in Ireland and this got me to thinking.
 

phyzguy

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My understanding is that whisky is a distilled product. The "mash" is made of corn, barley, cactus, or other material that is allowed to ferment into ethyl alcohol. Then the mixture is distilled to separate the alcohol from the rest of the mixture. After the alcohol is removed, I believe almost pure ethyl alcohol, the alcohol is stored in kegs for flavor and then mixed with water to make the required "proof". So, if I am correct here, then it seems that the only difference between all of these whiskys is the barrels they are allowed to soak up the flavor, and the time in the barrels. Is this the case? If so, can the distilled alcohol be made into any of the whiskies depending on the barrels they are stored in? Is the difference merely how the alcohol is stored and for how long? Does the flavor pass through the distillation process?
A couple of misconceptions here:

(1) Whiskey, by definition, is made from fermented grain (usually corn, wheat, or barley), which is then distilled. Tequila is not a whiskey. It is made from agave syrup, which is fermented and then distilled.

(2) The distillation process requires several stages to reach "nearly pure alcohol". So it's not true that whiskey (or tequila) is distilled to nearly pure alcohol, then diluted. It is distilled typically in one stage, which gives an alcohol percentage on the order of 50%. The remaining liquid is water plus byproducts from the original mash and fermentation process. These byproducts are what gives each distilled liquor its distinctive taste.
 

Borek

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Does the flavor pass through the distillation process?
Short answer that explains where you are wrong: yes.

How much depends on the exact process. It is possible to design the distillation so that the ethanol produced is of a very high purity, but that's not what the whiskey distilleries do (nor distilleries producing brandy and many other similar products). Final effect is often a result of the imperfections of the distillation process, one of the things that give some brands highly specific taste.
 

DrDu

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From what I learned from a visit to a whiskey distillery is that the flawor even changes when the form of the condenser is changed. This contributes to the difference between whiskey from different distilleries.
Depending on the substrate (barley or cane or ...), yeast, water (which is on purpose not pure in whiskey production but contains organic compounds) numerous aromes are produced during fermentation.
Take in mind that the taste of food or drinks is generated mainly in the nose, while the tongue can only distinguish very few notes (sweet, bitter, sour, salty, umami). Hence all aromes are volatile compounds which will partially end up in your distillate along with the alcohol and part of the water.
 

Klystron

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Historically grains were difficult to store for long periods due to molds, pests, and other problems, particularly in damp climates. Fermentation became a storage method for excess fruit and grains, even honey; with a goal of retaining nutrients. Alcohol content varied according to local methods, storage conditions and eventually taste.

Fresh clean water supplies are a relatively new innovation. Ale, beer, wine, ciders, agave tequilas, rice wines, rum, mead, etc., depending on locale, were much safer to drink even for children then questionable ground water. Wood casks and clay jars were required as animal skins deteriorate and have limited capacity. Our luxuries derive from earlier necessities.
 
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Does some of the flavor get through the distillation process?
:warning:Not just the flavor, but a bit of everything else too. Professional distilleries are safe, but amateurs are easy to mess up, ending with a product what definitely requires the 'if it does not kill you it'll make you stronger' lie before consumption. :warning:
 
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"...easy to mess up..."
May I second this ?
With 'Skull & Crossbones' HAZCHEM on top ??
The temperature switch from initial, toxic 'wood alcohol' tainted, Methanol-rich yield to the 'good stuff' is subtle, varies with atmospheric pressure.
Yup, varies by altitude AND weather...
If you're working without appropriate, narrow range hydrometer and thermometer, are using a traditional, inefficient 'carry over' still rather than a distillation column, consumers are playing 'Russian Roulette'...

FWIW, when a sizeable consignment of industrial alcohol was delivered to our lab in the wrong drums, such the varnish dissolved, tainted our equipment and bollixed analyses, I had to distill a lot ASAP, a litre or so at a time, using our big rotary evaporator, to which I'd added a dip-pipe...
It's only fun for the first few gallons.
 

symbolipoint

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I thought a simple reading in Wikipedia would answer the main question, but through reading the relevant parts, this is not so clear.

You can find and read, too and make your decision:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whisky

Look for the heading sections, American, and look at "Bourbon Whiskey"; and look in Scotch.
 

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