Why does Jack Daniel’s call itself “sour mash” whiskey?

Credit: Caitlinator

Credit: Caitlinator

Ever wonder why Jack Daniel’s calls itself “sour mash” whiskey? Ever since doing shot after shot after shot of Jack in college, I’ve always wondered what “sour mash” meant.

It sure didn’t taste sour.

Now that it’s been years and I’ve become more invested in the process of drinking, rather than the result, I wanted to know.

So a little background, whisky production is a lot like beer production, except you distill the product and age it in barrels. (if you want to read about whisky production, WhiskyForEveryone has this great writeup on how whisky is made)

The part that matters when you talk about “sour mash” is the mashing process. It’s when the grounded down malt is added to warm water to pull out the sugars from the malt – that mixture is called mash. That sugar will be fermented by yeast to product alcohol.

Sour mash just means that the mash from a previous batch, which still has live yeast, is added to the current one to start the fermentation process. Using the sour mash from a previous batch helps with consistency, maintains an ideal PH, and a bunch of other good stuff.

Why is it called sour mash? It’s called “sour” because it’s just like how sourdough bread is made. It borrows the name from using a sourdough starter.

As it happens with a lot of marketing, sour mash is not unique to Jack Daniel’s. Nearly all bourbon is produced this way.

While I haven’t had Jack neat in a long long time (is it even considered neat when you just shoot it?), I do enjoy a Jack & Coke from time to time. It tastes like college. 🙂

5 thoughts on “Why does Jack Daniel’s call itself “sour mash” whiskey?

  1. “It sure didn’t taste sour.”

    Made me snort. Couldn’t ever stand the stuff it’s so sickly sweet. The only “whiskey” I can think of that’s worse is Southern Comfort.

    I suppose if you’re drinking it mixed with soda pop that doesn’t really matter. In that case, though, I’d rather have rum anyway.

  2. Sorry – but the following statement is incorrect:

    “Sour mash just means that the mash from a previous batch, which still has live yeast, is added to the current one to start the fermentation process”

    A mash is soured in the traditional way by adding ‘backset’ to the mash. Backset is another name for ‘stillage’ and that is the waste fluid left in the still after a run – It’s been boiled so there’s certainly no live yeast left to ‘start the fermentation’ but it is acidic and ‘sour’ and flavoursome – basically it’s used to drop the pH of the mash before pitching the yeast

    The volume of backset used varies between distilleries but may be in the range of 25% or so of the mash volume.

    It has an equivalent process in rum production where the stillage is called ‘dunder’ – it’s added back to the molasses wash in the same way although some allow/encourage the dunder to be infected with bacteria to enhance flavour

  3. so this happens at the the fermentation stage…??? surely the correct term should be Sour Wash..?? the word Mash refers to the start of the process when the Mash Bill is infused with hot water in the Mash Tun to extract the surgery Wort which then gets moved to the Wash Backs ( fermentation vessels ) where the yeast is added to then convert the sugars to Alcohol, if this back set happens at this stage it really shouldn’t refer to the Mash stage..?? just a thought 🙂

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