Science of Spirits: Sugarlands teams with UT to make even better whiskey

When Sugarlands created an aged rye whiskey, they turn to modern technology and food science to make an even better product.
When Sugarlands created an aged rye whiskey, they turn to modern technology and food science to make an even better product.
Published: Nov. 7, 2022 at 10:48 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 7, 2022 at 10:50 PM EST
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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT) - In East Tennessee, whiskey is a very big business. The distilleries turn to modern technology and food science to make an even better product.

“I think that’s what separates good distilleries from great distilleries is the ability to produce something really good every single day,” Master Distiller Greg Eidam from Sugarlands said.

Sugarlands barrels and bottles Roaming Man, a Tennessee rye whiskey made in America’s largest pot still.

“Really differentiate ourselves from all of the other whiskey that’s out there,” Eidam said.

At 4,5000 gallons, this batch process makes for a unique flavor, according to Eidam

“The caramel, the vanilla, you’re going to get some fruitiness,” Eidam said.

Hitting the right notes every time is a challenge, which is why they have a team, including scientists from the University of Tennessee.

The Vols’ scientists have some very special machinery, including an industrial vacuum tied to hand-blown glass tubing.

“It’s almost like a jet engine,” Dr. John Munafo told WVLT News.

Through the glass tubes and then super chilled, the scientists end up with a thimble of pure flavor.

“As each of the compounds come out, I can smell the different character as well as the intensity of a compound,” UT doctoral candidate Melissa Dein said.

Dein uses a specialized gas chromatographer to analyze individual flavor compounds and aromas. Each shot of whiskey can contain up to a hundred, giving them “a fingerprint of that whiskey.”

“Having them do lab analysis, and gas chromatograms for us, that allows us to kind of learn as we go,” Eidam said.

“As far as drinking your whiskey at home, you don’t necessarily need to know those chemical compounds. And, you don’t have to nerd out on it like that,” Eidam said.

However, those flavor compounds offer many benefits. A consistent whiskey is gifted to the industry, and the researchers get to aid the private sector in Tennessee.

“Manufacturers can have a lot more control over the flavor profiles,” Dein said, which helps you to ensure every sip is smooth.