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Trevor

Distilling History Trivia. Heard of Sour Mash? Sweet Mash? How About "Fire Copper"?

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As long as there have been labels on spirits there have been marketing terms to differentiate one product from another. Sometimes they use terms to describe ingredients like Rye, Wheat, Corn or Molasses. "Old" and "pure "were often used and abused to imply age and purity. They also used terms like Bourbon, Monongahela, Irish  and Scotch that imply to both a special process and geographic area. Sometimes they used terms like "sour mash", "Sweet Mash" to describe the process used to create the spirit. "Double Distilled", "Triple distilled" were terms referred to the number of times the product was run through the still. Of all these terms, most have survived prohibition or have seen some sort of rebirth as the number of new craft distilleries booms. But one important term has yet to make a meaningful comeback - "Fire Copper". When the continuous patent still was patented by Aeneas Coffey in 1822 it created a revolution in the distilling industry. Before then distillers largely had to use large pot stills to mass produce as they became popular. With an industrial method of producing spirits as a continuous process it quickly threatened many of the smaller spirits producers. These smaller producers needed a way to market to their customers to show their product was a true craft product made in batches in copper stills. "Fire copper" and "Pure Fire Copper" quickly became that term. From the 1850s through the Prohibition in the US the term was frequently seen on labels. After Prohibition the term was largely lost to history. Today about the only remnant is the Old Fire Copper (O.F.C.) label but more often the OFC is said to mean Old Fashioned Copper.

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Did "Fire Copper" refer to the use of direct flame heated copper pot stills? Sweet mash was just not using the sour mash process, although ironically, sweet mash could be "soured" after fermentation, by allowing secondary bacterial fermentation.

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cool bit of history @Trevor Thanks for sharing

 

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The term fire copper seems to have come from the brewery process.  "steam fire copper" is another variant that used steam. Here area few descriptions:

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The boiling of the wort with hops is the next operation involved in the manufacture of beer. The copper is the vessel in which this is carried out. There are two kinds in use, the "fire-copper," which is directly heated by fire, and the "steam-copper," heated by steam.

Fire-coppers are built over a brick furnace; the lower end is pan-shaped. Half-way up it widens out slightly, thence to the top the sides are vertical or sloping. The old-fashioned coppers are open, but in many breweries they are closed, and the contents are boiled under a slight pressure. Some brewers prefer to boil pale ale worts in open coppers.

Modern breweries are often fitted with steam coppers. Each of these has a jacketed bottom forming the steam-chamber, where steam is injected under pressure, and, the wort thus heated in the copper above. The copper may also be heated by a steam coil placed inside near the bottom. Steam coppers may be open at the top, but often they are closed. The accompanying figure shows the construction of a modern form of a closed copper heated by a furnace. It is provided with stirring gear so that the contents of the vessel may be thoroughly mixed.

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Steam-Coppers.—These differ considerably in shape from fire-coppers. The bottom is bellied outwards, and is made of considerable thickness to withstand the pressure of the steam (Fig. 69a). The sides may, as shown in the figure, be carried straight up or they may slightly taper outwards. Attached to and surrounding the bottom of the copper there is an iron dome, which is somewhat larger in size, so that a cavity of from three or four inches, B, is left between its interior and the bottom of the copper. Into this high-pressure steam is admitted by a cock, C, an air-tap being provided to allow the imprisoned air to escape when steam is turned on. This is a very necessary precaution, since, as air is so highly expansible by heat, if its exit were not amply provided for an explosion might occur. A pipe for carrying off the condensed water passes from the bottom of the steamjacket to the steam-trap, D, which latter permits the water to escape but holds back the steam. The wort-pipe, E, passes through the centre of the copper bottom. The steam-copper possesses several distinct advantages over the older fire-copper. It can be heated up before the introduction of the wort, and the wort quickly raised to a temperature which puts an end to all further diastatic action. The readiness with which the heat can be applied or arrested is a point very much in its favour. It is also vastly more economical; a fire-copper, according to Professor Schwackhb'fer,1 only utilises about 30 per cent, of the available heat of the fuel consumed, while a steam-copper utilises 70 per cent., and thus a saving of more than half the fuel employed is effected.

 

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https://books.google.com/books?id=1VvXAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA88&dq=steam+"fire+copper"&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiftcLO5IXiAhWCdN8KHc0gCvMQ6AEIRTAF#v=onepage&q=steam "fire copper"&f=false

 

https://books.google.com/books?pg=PA88&dq=steam+"fire+copper"&id=1VvXAAAAMAAJ&output=text

https://books.google.com/books?id=iIsoAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA441&dq=steam+"fire+copper"&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiftcLO5IXiAhWCdN8KHc0gCvMQ6AEIPzAE#v=onepage&q=steam "fire copper"&f=false

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I was always under the impression that the OFC designation stood for Old Fire Copper when E.H. Taylor founded the distillery in the 1800s, not Old Fashioned Copper, as used today in the marketing materials.

Looking at the trade advertisements you posted, this pretty much proves it.

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6 hours ago, Silk City Distillers said:

I was always under the impression that the OFC designation stood for Old Fire Copper when E.H. Taylor founded the distillery in the 1800s, not Old Fashioned Copper, as used today in the marketing materials.

Looking at the trade advertisements you posted, this pretty much proves it.

I think the OFC name confusion goes back a long way. Here's a link to a 1895 case that shows they were confused on what it stood for and either way, neither Old Fashioned Copper nor Old Fire Copper are able to be trademarked for the same reason you cant trademark Old Sour Mash. It might also explain why they let the 1880 O.F.C. trademark lapse and created a new OFC trademark.

https://books.google.com/books?id=MkosAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA654&dq="Old+Fashioned+Copper"+whiskey&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiGu9PcnIXiAhWnUt8KHf1UAfEQ6AEITTAH#v=onepage&q="Old Fashioned Copper" whiskey&f=false

 

 

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