Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co., Fort Worth’s premier artisanal whiskey distillery that is being acquired by the USA arm of French spirits giant Pernod Ricard, has gotten a little scientific.
The company announced Aug. 15 that head distiller, Rob Arnold, and whiskey scientist, Ale Ochoa, have been published in a scientific journal for their research on “Assessing the Impact of Corn Variety and Texas Terroir on the Flavor and Alcohol Yield in New-Make Bourbon Whiskey.” The paper, published by PLOS One, is the first-ever scientific paper published that proves corn variety and terroir – basically environmental factors – impact whiskey flavors.
Similar to how grape varieties, climate and location are the main focus for winemakers, Arnold and Ochoa looked at how corn varieties and terroir affect the flavor profile in whiskey. This approach is cutting-edge to the industry, as most large-scale distilleries utilize commodity corn, which by nature blends numerous varieties and terroirs so that flavor distinctions are lost, according to Firestone & Robertson Distilling.
In the paper, Arnold and Ochoa have proved that terroir and corn variety do indeed have a major effect on the flavor profile of whiskey, according to the F&R news release. Through extensive research, they were able to identify over thirty flavor compounds impacted by corn variety and terroir. Building on this chemical analysis, they then showed through rigorous sensory analysis that popular flavor notes such as “sweet,” “cereal,” “sweet corn,” “malty,” and “molasses” directly correlated back to corn variety and terroir.
They also discovered that benzaldehyde – an organic compound – in corn positively correlated with desirable flavors in whiskey, and that the concentration of the compound is affected by variety and terroir. The team discovered this through research of their own products, which utilize a single-farm expression – obtaining their corn from Sawyer Farms, a family-owned farm in the Hill County. The corn from Sawyer Farms showed to have the highest concentration of the compound, which resulted in an extremely high-quality whiskey.
Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. currently boasts a portfolio of TX Blended Whiskey and TX Straight Bourbon with a new barrel strength bourbon release slated for this fall. Arnold, lead author on the paper, is currently writing a book titled “The Terroir of Whiskey,” which will expand on the above noted research, investigating further how grain variety and terroir impact flavor in bourbon, rye, and malt whiskeys across the world. The book is slated to be published in 2020 by Columbia University Press.