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Do Distilleries Have Signature Aromas?

Bourbon Buffalo Trace

There's an argument going on about terroir in whiskey. Terroir (pronounced tear-wah because the French couldn't pronounce an "r" if their lives depended on it) is a wine term that refers to the sum of all environmental factors (soil, sunlight, weather) that give wines a distinct sense of place. 

We don't really have an opinion on terroir as it pertains to whiskey. Our hunch is whatever role place plays in fermentation and distillation is far outweighed by other factors but -- to be honest -- we don't really care. We just like whiskey.

That said, we ran across this paragraph from a 2013 report from the American Chemical Society about the molecular make-up of whiskey that may add weight to the argument that terroir matters:

Though the ratios of grains used to make (whiskies) differ significantly, bourbons and rye whiskeys made in the same distillery developed chemical signatures that looked more like each other than those of bourbons and rye whiskeys, respectively, of another producer. “In some cases, there’s a distillery fingerprint that overrides the difference in the grains,” he said.

Buffalo Trace makes most of its brands using its Mash Bill #2, and if you ask just about anyone they'll tell you there's a commonality between BT whiskies that results. The analysis, however, showed chemical similarities across the different expressions in distilleries that didn't use identical mashbills. So, perhaps, the similarities are not a function of grain but inherent to a particular place.

We think that's interesting, but is it an argument that terroir matters in whiskey? We don't know, but we think it'll make an interesting topic of conversation next time we're drinking. 



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