November 2019 Kentucky Lake Section Meeting
Bethel University, McKenzie TN
Thursday, November 14, 2019
Dinner 6:00 pm
Meeting 7:00 pm
Dinner: Deli Sandwich Buffet
Price: $10 (students $5)
Program: “The Chemistry of Whisk(e)y” by Dr. Andrew Evans, Bethel University
Abstract: The Chemistry of whiskey, or, alternatively, whisky, is a complex topic that we will attempt to explore during this seminar. We will start by looking at a variety of spirits, but by the end we will focus mainly on whiskey, as most of the science that goes into making whiskey can be directly applied to a variety of spirits, including brandy, rum, sake, tequila, vodka, and the like. Much like beer, these spirits are made from the fermentation of any starch containing plants, from barley, wheat, and rye to rice, sugarcane, agave, corn, fruit, and even potatoes. These starchy grains are mashed, their sugars extracted into a solution called mash and the mash is fermented into an ethanol/water solution containing a complex mixture of byproducts. Here is where Liquor and beer go their separate ways; distillation serves both as means to concentrate the ethanol and flavorful byproducts, but to remove some of the more harmful ones. Different techniques can then used to add flavors or subtract them to create neutral spirits like vodka or various flavored liqueurs. Then maturation adds further complexity to the mixture through addition, subtraction, and reaction with the alcohols, acids and other functional groups to create subtle new flavors through complex equilibria reactions that generate these trace congeners. This talk will look briefly at the production of spirits of all types and how they differ, but it will focus on whiskey and its key technique responsible for its highly complex flavor, the science behind barrel maturation, and finally it will look at some of the ways science is trying (and not always succeeding) to bypass nature by catalyzing this maturation process.
Speaker Biography: Dr. Evans earned his Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Bradley University in Illinois. While at Bradley University, he briefly worked for the USDA Agriculture Lab studying plant proteins. He later went on to earn his MS and Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry at Purdue University in Indiana studying biofuel catalysis and magnetic nanoparticle synthesis. For the past five years, he has been teaching various chemistry subjects at Bethel University, including Inorganic Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, and Organic Spectroscopy. While being a moderate imbiber of whiskey since grad school, he has since become extremely interested in the chemistry behind aqua vitae. He is currently using his time to find out as much as he can about the chemistry of spirits.