Research has its benefits

I enjoy doing research for my novels. Research provides opportunities to travel to new places and experience new things. It lends authenticity and depth to characters, plot, and setting. Beyond that, research sparks new interests. Through research for my novels I discovered things I wanted to learn more about outside the bounds of my novel.Take bourbon, for instance. Bourbon plays a big role in my novel, Murder in G Major. I didn’t know much about whiskey in general or bourbon in particular before writing my manuscript. I  recognized some of the bigger brand names and knew some bourbon was meant to be mixed into cocktails while some was meant to be enjoyed on its own  (and the types are not interchangeable) but that’s about it. Through research I learned “bourbon” is legally codified: it must be distilled in the US (in any state; sorry, Kentucky) from a grain mash containing at least 51% corn in new charred oak barrels at no more than 160 proof. It must be aged in the barrel at least two years to be called straight bourbon and must be bottled at no more than 125 proof. Which equals 62.5% alcohol–enough to get your attention. Bourbon can be bottled as at blend from several barrels or can be bottled from a single barrel. A good percent of each barrel’s contents is lost to evaporation–the angels’s share–and some soaks into the barrel’s wood–the devil’s cut. Such romantic names for lost product. Bourbon distillers can only use a barrel once. But instead of wasting a good barrel they sell them to distillers in Ireland and Scotland. Whiskey and whisky have no restrictions against used barrels (an eco-friendly aspect of distilling). So when you enjoy a dram of Scotch or Irish whiskey, you may be enjoying a hint of the good ol’ USA.Another fun fact I learned while researching? Distilleries give tours. I recently toured the bucolic Holladay Distillery in Weston, Missouri. 160 years old, the former McCormick Distillery  (renamed after original founder, Benjamin Holladay) is back in the business of distilling spirits. The tour wound past gorgeous scenery, warehouses dating from the early 1900s to the 1950s, the original limestone well and, to quote our enthusiastic tour guide, a bad*** still. We learned about each step in the bourbon making process from roasting locally sourced corn to loading 500-pound locally made barrels onto the racks where they’ll spend the next three years waiting for their unaged whiskey to mellow into fine bourbon. I’ve already got my barrel picked out. (Not really. But I did buy a bottle of unaged spirits. Cheers!)

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