Even if you knew the exact Jack Daniels mash bill, you likely couldn’t replicate the iconic Tennessee whiskey taste. Why? A number of factors go into making its signature flavors.
Top 10 things that can change how whiskey tastes:
1. There’s something in the water.
Some distillers swear by limestone-filtered water, while others start with fresh spring water, glacier water, or just city water. Different waters can have added minerals, be naturally purified or act as an agent for keeping pH levels in check.
2. Get your grains.
Whether they’re locally sourced or hand-picked from around the world, the grains used in whiskey production make a huge difference in taste. Corn, barley, wheat and rye can be used to make different types of whiskey and each has distinct characteristics that impact flavor. In some cases, grains are malted or smoked to bring out new taste profiles.
3. Might be the mill.
In addition to the type of grain, how it’s processed also changes the taste. While a roller mill uses compression and less energy, the hammer mill provides an end product which more easily converts starch to sugars. Often, corn, wheat or rye use a hammer mill while malted barley is roller milled.
4. Pick your yeast.
One of many distillery’s closest kept secrets is often its yeast strain. A unique and carefully kept yeast will make a world of difference in a whiskey’s production. There are thousands of variations.
5. Temperature and time.
Depending on the length of time you ferment your mash, you will get drastically different end products. You could also ferment one mash at a higher temperature and end up with varied results.
6. Still selection.
When many people think of whiskey distillation, they think of the iconic copper pot still. While stainless steel and copper both conduct heat well, many distillers choose copper for the extra richness and flavor they believe it imparts. Copper allows a more delicate distillation process compared to the column still, which is efficient but harsh on the distillate.
7. What about wood?
A number of things can be done to the wood used in making your aging barrel (or other vessel). Levels and timing of char, origin of the tree, length of drying process or overall age are all factors.
8. Which warehouse?
Some are made of wood, others of stone or metal. Distillers may choose a single-story while others stack their barrels high. Whiskey makers could move barrels mid-aging and others let them rest.
9. There’s proof.
The entry proof a distillate goes into the barrel, the proof it’s distilled at and the strength it’s eventually served at make huge changes to flavor.
Every person has unique taste buds and likes different things. You could also try the same whiskey two days in a row and it would taste differently. Finally, add a drop of water or an ice cube and notice shifts in flavor and aroma.