What do you know about how yeast is used in the making of Whiskey? How about how it is captured from the wild to produces unique flavors in whiskey? This week I had the chance to chat with Rob Arnold from Firestone and Robertson Distillery (TX Whiskey) located in Fort Worth, Texas and talk about the science of Texas whiskey. I felt like I was in a high school science class with him. He explained how he captured pecan nut yeast from a ranch in Glen Rose, Texas and with the grains that are grown on one farm give their whiskey its own unique flavors.
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Rob Arnold a native from Louisville, Kentucky has bourbon heritage running in his veins. He grew up around family that not only worked for distilleries like Brown-Forman but also built distilleries around the world. He holds degrees in microbiology and biochemistry. He focused his studies in microbial fermentation and analytical chemistry. He sounds like he might just know a thing or two about how to capture some wild yeast and make delicious whiskey from it right.
Like a mad scientist he went to work with Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson to create something special. Now if you didn’t know pecans are a pretty special thing in Texas. The mother tree is said to be in San Saba, Texas, which also calls itself the Pecan Capital of the world. Heck Glen Rose and San Saba both are just a short Texas drive from my hometown of Evant. He would have thought I would be talking about pecans and yeast 35 years ago. I should have paid a little more attention in science class. Now capturing the wild yeast was just the first step for Rob. He then used Texas Christian University Labs to finish the project.
He also worked closely with our good friends Dr. Pat Heist and Shane Baker from Wilderness Trail or really Ferm Solutions in Danville, Kentucky to finish the project and today thanks to his tenacity, we are rewarded with a splendid tasting wheated bourbon. Yeast has become just important as the grains or the barrels used in the process. Yeast is probably your most important flavor component in whiskey with those made from “wild” yeasts imparting the essence of local terroir.
If you don’t think that yeast is important then look at the major distilleries right here in Kentucky and you will see that their yeast strains are considered “proprietary,” with the mother, or starter, kept locked away in labs or refrigerated safes, often with a backup supply kept off-site—just in case. Some of these are over 200 years old. So Rob has did the same with his yeast adding flavors such as Fig, allspice, brown sugar, baked cinnamon apple, toasted vanilla, dark cherry and sugared raisins. Sounds like something the Wheated King of Kentucky might enjoy right?
Well with that go out and grab a bottle of TX Bourbon whiskey, a glass and see if you can pick up these notes. Until then listen as Big Chief takes another trip down The Bourbon Road to visit a Mad Kentucky Scientist making whiskey in The Great State of Texas with a little love from a little old pecan nut. Cheers
Mike (Big Chief)
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