The chips are down Credit: Boston Public Library, Jack Daniel's, public domain
The chips are down
Credit: Boston Public Library, Jack Daniel's, public domain

Altered carbon: Why Tennessee whiskey tastes like no other

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We’re big fans of science, especially when it helps us know our favorite drink better. To that end, some U.S. scientists have started to decode why Tennessee whiskey is a thing unto itself. Led by chemist John Munafo, these nerds recently identified aroma-active compounds that give the drink its unique flavor profile, Jennifer Ouellette of Ars Technica explains.

Although both bourbon and Tennessee whiskey are both barrel-aged delights made from corn, rye and barley, the latter usually gets extra charcoal filtering known as the Lincoln County Process before it goes into the cask. The source of that charcoal: local sugar maple trees.

Having identified the compounds crucial to the flavor profile of Tennessee whiskey before and after Lincoln, Munafo and his team showed that steeping in charcoal chips delivers a mellower taste—and a big change in chemical composition. For science’s sake, it may be time for a nip of Uncle Nearest 1856, winner of Best Tennessee Whiskey at the latest World Whiskies Awards.

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