Fields of dreams: Texas researchers seek to redefine U.S. whiskey

College STATION, Texas (Reuters) – A grasp distiller and a crop scientist who specializes in corn breeding are working on a project they hope a single working day will make whiskey drinkers consider of Texas in the exact way as enthusiasts of American wine consider of California.

White Puppy rye and wheated bourbon sit atop a barrel at the Firestone & Robertson (F&R) Whiskey Ranch in Forth Value, Texas, U.S., Could 23, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Seth Murray, a major corn breeder at Texas A&M College, and Rob Arnold, who is working on a doctorate at the college though generating whiskey for a Fort Value distiller, are trying to establish one of a kind and commercially practical strains of corn that will deliver unique preferences to whiskey.

The project could alter whiskey creation by offering new kinds of corn, reshaping the industry’s reliance on grain not particularly bred for generating into spirits.

The plan is to establish strains of corn to make whiskeys with one of a kind and identifiable flavors, in the exact way as certain grapes determine the style of, say, a Sonoma Valley zinfandel or a Bordeaux generated in southwest France.

“Nobody has at any time done that before,” mentioned Murray, an affiliate professor at Texas A&M’s Department of Soil and Crop Science, who is functioning the project.

At existing, most big American distillers make their whiskeys with related kinds of yellow corn developed from seeds developed in the U.S. Midwest and made to create higher yields.

“We were lacking all the one of a kind flavors that can reside in corn types,” Arnold mentioned.

In 2017, above 23 million nine-liter scenarios of American whiskey were sold in the United States, generating above $3.4 billion in income for distillers, according to field group the Distilled Spirits Council.

Bourbon is a single of the most popular forms of American whiskey. Stored in charred oak barrels, bourbon is made from a grain mash that is at the very least 51 percent corn, although most models are about 70 to 80 percent. Other kinds of whiskey also use corn as a major ingredient in the mash.

With related strains of corn applied in most mass-generated bourbons, most models derive their unique flavor from yeasts applied in fermentation and barrels exactly where the spirits age. Kentucky bourbon producers also like to say the limestone-filtered h2o in the area is a essential to their products’ style.

Murray and Arnold want to go a action further more. They are mixing and matching corn types from Latin The united states and heirloom types from North The united states, none of which has been genetically modified.

As properly as coming up with strains that are commercially practical to increase in Texas, the scientists are attempting to seize the locale’s terroir, or the characteristic style of its h2o, soil, and local weather.

The leather tops of TX Whiskey and TX Bourbon bottles are photographed at the Firestone & Robertson (F&R) Whiskey Ranch in Forth Value, Texas, U.S., Could 24, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

Some modest batch producers and even big distillers have presently experimented with generating whiskey from heirloom corns, developed from seeds of types that appeared generations ago.

But Murray mentioned that though the heirlooms can create appealing style compounds, yields on the more mature types can be about an eighth of a fashionable hybrid, calling into question their business likely.


With about 7,000 maize types out there at Texas A&M, the scientists have a multitude of options that extend far over and above the condition. A variety of corn developed for Texas may well create buttery roasted notes in bourbon, for illustration, but a strain developed for Colorado may well deliver a daring smoky style.

So far, Arnold and Murray have generated about 50 modest-batch check goods. Soon they will plant countless numbers of seeds on a business farm as they ramp up creation.

At the experimental field, Murray and graduate pupils perform countless numbers of pollinations by hand and fly drones overhead to observe crops destined for the distillery.

Arnold sees the research as a sport changer, significantly like the way the wine producers in the Napa area of California honed their neighborhood craft to consider on Aged Earth producers in France and elsewhere.

With 95 percent of the world’s source of bourbon made in Kentucky, Arnold mentioned it is producers in the Bluegrass State that he would like to “beat at their own sport.”

Doing the job at distillery Firestone & Robertson, which costs itself as the largest whiskey distiller west of the Mississippi, Arnold has a lab to check for preferences and the patience that will come from getting a distiller, exactly where his business goods sit in barrels for at the very least 4 a long time.

If the project proves prosperous, it may possibly not be till the middle of the upcoming 10 years that it will create a business whiskey.

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“‘Soon’ in the whiskey world is form of relative. Every thing for us is a long time and a long time down the street,” he mentioned.

Further reporting by Alan Devall enhancing by Frank McGurty and Rosalba O’Brien

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