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“A Statistical Analysis of Kentucky Bourbon and Other Alcoholic Beverages” Presented by Jyoti Saraswat, Ph.D. and “A Chemical Analysis of Kentucky Bourbon” Presented by Bill Wetzel, Ph.D.

Awarded a President’s Faculty Innovation Grant as a faculty-driven research/project.

Synopsis: Kentucky produces and ages 95 percent of bourbon sold and consumed in the world, making it an extremely important and lucrative commodity for the Kentucky economy. Using 155 alcohol samples, Wetzel’s research determined the identity of each chemical component present in different bourbons. This chemical analysis conducted in our TMU labs identified chemical fingerprints for a variety of alcohol samples, including the presence of 202 unique chemical compounds, and resulted in the production of nearly one gigabyte of information to be analyzed. Saraswat’s mathematical analysis examined the patterns present in the chemical fingerprints of different Kentucky bourbons. These results were used to create a platform for assessing the authenticity of bourbon. These methods could also be used to identify counterfeit bourbons or for quality control. Future research and work on the project includes collaboration between Thomas More University and the OTR Still House, exploration of possible collaborations with other distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, determination of the chemical composition of the aroma associated with bourbon, and examination of other mathematical methods for pattern recognition.

Abstract presented by Saraswat:

It is a common saying: all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. According to Maker’s Mark Master distiller Greg  Davis, bourbon is made from 51% corn, and needs to be stored in new charred-oak barrels. The liquid needs to be distilled to no more than 160 proof and entered into the barrel at 125 proof. It is bottled at no less than 80 proof and must not contain any additives. These rules are not arbitrary – “it’s actual bourbon law.”  This is a complex and traditional process that results in a beverage that has both a high value and high degree of variability. Therefore, it is essential that distilleries avail the analytical technology to accurately and comprehensively characterize their products. This project investigates a process that can not only help keep counterfeit bourbons in check, it can also equip distilleries with measures to safeguard their product and brand. It may also be beneficial for bourbon producers to chemically profile their products as part of their quality control procedures to enable comparison of different production batches and detection of any changes in the production process over time. This will help ensure that the bottled bourbon is consistent in characteristics and contains the signature flavors as expected by the consumer. Chemical data collected from an exhaustive bourbon sample collection will be studied via sophisticated statistical methods including, but not limited to, Principal Component Analysis. This will allow in discriminating the core characteristics of different bourbons in a statistically meaningful way.


Abstract presented by Wetzel:

The chemical fingerprints of Kentucky bourbon and a variety of other alcohols were determined using Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry.  By comparing these fingerprints, differences and similarities in the patterns of chemical compounds were identified.  These unique patterns were used to distinguish bourbon from other alcohols, identify counterfeit alcohols, and describe the evolution of a bourbon as it matures.