Science separates mystery from bourbon

Talk all you want about the good old-fashioned manufacturing of bourbon. If there are improvements to be made through new technology, tradition will just have to move over.

Witness this announcement, from the folks at Photonics Spectra magazine in Pittsfield, MA:

"To enable distillers of Tennessee whiskey to produce a better and more uniform product, scientists at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Southern Research Station in Pineville, LA, are analyzing wood charcoal using mid-infrared spectroscopy. With the chemical information they gather, they hope to apply near-IR spectroscopy and other techniques for online process monitoring in the spirits industry."

Fascinating. Sort of. If you're fluent in spectro-speak. Maybe.

But, don't despair. The article suddenly appears in English just a few paragraphs down. And what it says actually is quite interesting. Among the points:

"The manufacture of Tennessee whiskey is distinguished by the use of the Lincoln County process, a days-long mellowing step in which the newly distilled spirit is filtered through a 10-ft-thick layer of charcoal made from sugar maple. Infrared spectroscopy offers distillers a means of verifying that the charcoal they produce for the process is of the proper species of maple. ...

"Given the importance of tradition in the branding of spirits and the anecdotal evidence that suggests that the quality of Tennessee whiskey depends on the species of maple used to make the charcoal, there is a strong incentive for distillers to confirm that sugar maple is the source material, explained Nicole LabbĂ©, an assistant professor at the university’s Tennessee Forest Products Center."

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