What is Alabama Single Malt Whiskey?

It’s not Scotch and it’s not Bourbon. So what is it? Well, the Federal Government says it is a “Malt Whisky” and defines it as follows: “Whisky produced at not exceeding 80% alcohol by volume (160 proof) from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent malted barley and stored at not more than 62.5% alcohol by volume (125 proof) in charred new oak containers.”

I guess that clears it up, NOT. Those are government requirements and once they are met the skies the limit. So let’s dissect John’s Alabama Single Malt Whiskey.

But first let’s ponder a fundamental question. What’s the difference between Whisky and Whiskey? Answer: Absolutely nothing. The grammar police would say Whisky is of Scottish origin and Whiskey with an “e” is of Irish or American origin. So we use whiskey with an “e” even though our family hailed from Scotland a long, long time ago and that would technically mean everything we create is of Scottish origin. But, as our revolutionary forefathers figured out we are American’s and more precisely we and Alabama Americans. So our whiskey holds the “e”.

Throughout our recipe development we strive to use as much American and Alabama products as possible. With that in mind we made our first test batch of whiskey with American distillers malted barley. I can report that we now have 5 cases of the most God awful whiskey ever made. You see, the variety of American distillers malted barley we used was never designed to stand alone as it was specifically grown to be an adjunct to corn based whiskey providing the enzyme activity of converting starch to sugar.

With our head first jump into malt whiskey our palettes quickly convinced us a search for a better distiller’s malted barley was needed. Ironically we found the best malt for John’s Alabama Single Malt in Ireland. I guess that further justifies the “e”.

So with our barley found, we began making whiskey. Just throwing malted barley in the mash tun (the vessel where starch in the grain is converted to sugar) was not going to be good enough. We needed a Southern flavor. To that end we began smoking a portion of our grain recipe with Peach and Pecan wood. Not a whole lot different than you smoking a rack of baby back ribs in you backyard.

Once the whiskey is mashed, fermented and distilled we barrel our whiskey in

charred barrels that come from the Missouri Ozarks. Absolutely the best wood in the world for whiskey. Why not use a barrel made of Alabama white oak? First of all, there aren’t many barrels made from Alabama white oak, and for good reason. They would leak. We use Ozark white oak because the cell structure of the wood allows the barrel to breath, but not leak. This amazing feat is due to the tree growing up with cold winters.

Now that we’ve determined Ozark barrels are OK the Alabama touch continues. During the barreling process we add oak chips soaked in Cynthiana wine from Whippoorwill Winery in Notasulga, Alabama. This addition paired with the smoked barley adds another dimension of Southern flavor.

Our Ozark barrels are 15 gallon barrels while a standard whiskey barrel is 53 gallons. Why small barrels, because the smaller the barrel the more the whiskey contacts the charred oak inside of the barrel. More contact means a faster maturation and better taste. We also needed a way to move the whiskey around inside the barrel, ensuring all the liquid comes in contact with the charred wood inside the barrel. Folks go to great lengths to move the whiskey inside the barrel. Some play bass music to them while others take them for boat rides hoping for rough seas. However, we opted for a slightly more conventional method. We use temperature change. You see a 13 degree F change of the whiskey in the barrel results in mobile whiskey. By heating the barrel storage room we literally pressurize the whiskey in the barrel causing the liquid to move through the charred area into the wood where it picks up color and flavor. Conversely, cooling the liquid causes the whiskey to contract toward the center of the barrel. The big boys of the spirit industry use this same method except they simply put their barrels in a big warehouse and let Mother Nature do the work – summer, winter, fall and spring. We can’t wait for years of seasons, so we change the season in our barrel room every other week.