Process Defines Product

Not all cheese is Parmigiano-Reggiano. Not all whiskey is bourbon. How these products are made defines what they are.

Process is integral—it’s why cow’s milk becomes Parmigiano-Reggiano instead of cheddar, why corn and water become bourbon and not scotch. Indeed, process can give rise to the name of the product itself. Bourbon is called bourbon for a reason, and in fact its making is codified in federal regulation. Bourbon can only be produced in the U.S. from at least 51% corn, aged in new, charred oak barrels and distilled, aged and bottled at specific alcohol levels. From large-scale manufacturing to artisan production, the method of making is fundamental to that which is made.

Process can elevate a product beyond the ordinary. Early American whiskey was mostly unaged hooch—aka white lightning—commonly transported in big barrels and sold in ceramic jugs. This gullet-burning concoction prevailed until some enterprising distillers, inspired by fine French brandies, took to aging their whiskey in charred oak barrels. The aging process instilled a smoky flavor, mellowed the spirit’s fire and created a golden, honeyed hue that became the hallmark of quality bourbon.

The place where the process of making unfolds stamps a product as unique. Aficionados swear that Kentucky bourbon —made with limestone-filtered spring water unique to that region, aged in multi-story structures purpose-built from local wood or stone—is the supreme expression of the spirit. In similar fashion, music that’s captured in a distinctive place, whether it’s an old barn or a legendary studio, carries a sonic profile all its own.

Sometimes, process has a mind of its own, yielding a finished product that’s unintended—and perhaps new or better. Regardless of how rigorously a maker follows the steps, things can go sideways—with occasionally fortunate results: Think of the unplanned secondary fermentation that produced all those lovely bubbles in the first bottle of Champagne. Or the maker might discover a previously unseen variable, like temperature during aging to make cheese.

Finally, there’s a certain serendipity involved in the process of making something. Call it ingenuity. Can’t find the raw materials you need? Begin with different ingredients. Untested inputs plus a proven method might yield a ground-breaking product, one that goes on to become the gold standard in its field.

Process can make all the difference in the end result.

*Process Notes from Hybrid Design: For this article we wanted typography that felt like it was taking shape. We made it with the classic photocopy method—just on a scanner. After getting some pieces we liked, we refined in Illustrator.

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This article was written by Bryn Mooth and originally published in Issue 11 of the Mohawk Maker Quarterly. The Mohawk Maker Quarterly is a vehicle to support a community of like-minded makers. Content focuses on stories of small manufacturers, artisans, printers, designers, and artists who are making their way in the midst of the digital revolution. Learn more about the quarterly here and sign up to receive future printed issues.

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