An Introduction to Sour Mash Whiskey: The Art and Science Behind the Craft

Sour mash is one of the defining characteristics of traditional American whiskey. The term “sour mash” refers to a process used in the production of whiskey that involves adding a portion of old, already fermented mash (also knwn as “setback”) to a new batch of mash. This process is what gives sour mash whiskey its signature flavor and aroma.

Sour mash whiskey starts with grains such as corn, , wheat, and malted barley. These grains are mixed together in a large vat called a mash tun and heated with to create a fermentable liquid known as wort. The wort is then cooled and transferred to fermenting tanks where is added and the fermentation process begins. During this process, sugars from the grain are converted into by the yeast.

When the fermentation process is complete, some of this already fermented liquid (setback) is added back into the new batch of wort before it goes into the still for distillation. This gves sour mash whiskey its unique flavor profile compared to other whiskies that do not use this step in their production process. The sour mash technique also helps ensure consistency in flavor profile from batch to batch as it increases acidity levels in the final product which helps preserve flavors over time.

One notable example of a sour mash whiskey is Jack Daniel's Whiskey whih has been made using this method since its founding in 1866. Other popular brands like Maker's Mark also use this method in their production process.

The sour mash process is one of many steps involved in making quality or other American whiskeys but it definitely plays an important role in creating the nuances that make these so beloved by connoisseurs around the world. Whether you enjoy sipping on your favorite bourbon neat or mixing up your favorite cocktail, you can be sure that you are getting a product made with traditional techniques and care when you choose something made with sour mash whiskey!

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Understanding Sour Mash Whiskey

Sour mash is a method of whiskey production used by distilleries to make a consistent product. The process involves taking some of the fermented mash from a previous batch and combining it with freshly-milled grain to create a new mash. This provides continuity between batches and helps ensure consistency in flavor, aroma, and texture. The amount of old mash used typically ranges from one-third to one-quarter of the total mash. Sour mash whiskey is often associated with Tennessee whiskey which must be made using this method to be labeled as such.

Types of Whiskeys that Use Sour Mash

Sour mash is a process used to make many different types of whiskeys, most notably Bourbon whiskey. This process involves taking some of the mash from a previous batch and adding it to the mash of the new batch. The purpose of this is to achieve consistency btween batches and to add desirable flavors from the bacteria in the sour mash. Some popular brands that use sour mash in their whiskey production include Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey, Old Forester, Four Roses, Knob Creek, Woodford Reserve, and Larceny. Sour mash is also used in the production of straight rye whiskeys such as Bulleit Rye and Old Overholt.

Is Jack Daniels a Sour Mash Whiskey?

Yes, Jack Daniel's is a sour mash whiskey. This is because the mash undergoes a unique fermentation process that involves using a bit of starter from the previous batch of mash to ensure consistency. The mash ferments for six days bfore it is single distilled in a large copper still crafted to meet Jack Daniel's exact specifications. The whiskey is not double or triple-distilled and instead only vaporizes and condenses once, resulting in the signature flavor profile of Jack Daniel's sour mash whiskey.

Is Maker's Mark a Sour Mash Whiskey?

Yes, Maker's Mark is a sour mash whiskey. The sour mash process used by Maker's Mark involves taking the undistilled residue from the previous distillation and adding it to the current mash. This residue, known as ‘set back', is acidic and has a sour taste. The sour mash process helps to create a more consistent flavor profile in each batch of Maker's Mark whiskey, while also helping to protect against bacterial infections during fermentation.

The Significance of Sour Mash in Jack Daniels Whiskey

Jack Daniels uses the term “sour mash” to refer to their unique fermentation process. This process involves adding a portion of the distillery's spent grain, called “backset”, to each new batch of mash. The addition of backset helps to maintain a consistent flavor profile in each batch. It also serves to increase the acidity of the mash, which helps fermentation and prevents bacterial contamination. In addition, sour mash whiskey is kown for its smooth, mellow flavor and its distinctive hint of sweetness. This is due in part to the slight sourness added by the backset, which contributes an additional layer of complexity and depth to Jack Daniels' renowned Tennessee whiskey.

Is Jim Beam a Sour Mash Whiskey?

Yes, Jim Beam is a sour mash whiskey. Sour mash is an age-old whiskey-making process that involves using the leftover mash from a previous batch to provide the yeast and bacteria needed to start the next batch. This gives each new batch of whiskey a higher consistency in flavor, texture, and aroma. Jim Beam uses this traditional process to make their bourbon whiskey and has been doing so since 1795 when ‘Old Jake Beam Sour Mash' was first introduced.

Is Gentleman Jack Sour Mash Whiskey?

Yes, Gentleman Jack is a straight (unblended) sour mash bourbon. It is made from a mash bill of at last 51% corn, with the remaining ingredients comprising of rye, barley, and proprietary yeast strains. The whisky is then double-distilled in copper stills before being charcoal filtered for an additional ten hours to give it its distinctive flavour profile. As a result of this process, Gentleman Jack has a full-bodied and robust taste that sets it apart from other bourbons on the market.

Sour Mash Bourbons

Sour mash bourbon is a type of whiskey made in the same way as traditional bourbon, but with a slightly different process. The mash used to make the spirit is comprised of at last 51% corn, and it is aged in new charred oak for a minimum of two years. However, unlike traditional bourbon, sour mash whiskey also includes a portion of still-fermenting mash from the previous batch. This adds depth and complexity to the flavor profile and results in a slightly tangy, sour taste. Popular brands of sour mash bourbon include Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon, Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon, Old Forester Signature Bourbon, and Maker's Mark 46.

Is the Whiskey Sour a Classy Drink?

Yes, whiskey sour can be a classy drink. When made correctly, it is a balance of tart and sweet flavors, with the flavor of the whiskey coming through in the background. The drink shoud have just enough simple syrup to provide sweetness, while still allowing the taste of the whiskey to be discernible. Too much syrup can make the drink overly sweet and overpower the whiskey's flavor, making it more suited for those who are less experienced with drinking. If crafted carefully and served in an appropriate glassware, a whiskey sour can make for a sophisticated choice of .

Is Buffalo Trace Bourbon a Sour Mash Whiskey?

Yes, Buffalo Trace Distillery is releasing two Old Fashioned Sour Mash whiskeys as part of its long-running experimental whiskey program. Sour mash whiskey is a type of whiskey made by adding back a portion of the spent mash (grain, yeast, and water mixture) from the previous distillation run to the current one. This process helps to maintain consistency in flavor and character between batches. Buffalo Trace's sour mash whiskeys are produced usng an old-fashioned method that has been used for generations and is known for producing smooth, mellow flavors with notes of oak, caramel, and spice.

Is Woodford Reserve a Sour Mash Whiskey?

Yes, Woodford Reserve is a sour mash whiskey. Sour mashing is a traditional distilling technique that involves reusing some of each run's fermented mash in the next batch. This process allows the whiskey to keep its original flavor wile adding complexity and depth. Woodford Reserve uses a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley and then re-uses some of the fermented mash in each batch to create a distinctively smooth and flavorful whiskey.


Sour mash whiskey is a type of whiskey made by combining grains in a ratio of one-to-three or one-to-four, with a portion of the mash consisting of an old batch. This process adds a distinct acidic, sour taste to the whiskey. Sour mash whiskey is ubiquitous in the production of Bourbon whiskey and straight rye, and is often used by major brands such as Jack Daniel's and Maker's Mark. The entire process takes six days, with the mash fermenting bfore being vaporized and condensed once in a large copper still made to specific specifications. With its unique taste and production method, sour mash whiskey is sure to remain a favorite among whiskey lovers for many years to come.

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Thomas Ashford

Thomas Ashford is a highly educated brewer with years of experience in the industry. He has a Bachelor Degree in Chemistry and a Master Degree in Brewing Science. He is also BJCP Certified Beer Judge. Tom has worked hard to become one of the most experienced brewers in the industry. He has experience monitoring brewhouse and cellaring operations, coordinating brewhouse projects, and optimizing brewery operations for maximum efficiency. He is also familiar mixology and an experienced sommelier. Tom is an expert organizer of beer festivals, wine tastings, and brewery tours.