Corn Whiskey Research in Aggieland

Story and Photos by Beth Ann Luedeker

 

Dr. Seth Murray, Texas A&M Soil and Crop Sciences Associate Professor and Butler Chair, primarily focuses his research on improving the

Dr. Seth Murray putting corn tassles into collection bag

Dr. Seth Murray collects pollen from the tassles of a corn plant in his research field west of College Station, TX.

productivity, sustainability and quality of agriculture production through scientific research; most of his work is in corn (maize).

He has recently branched out, slightly, to help his graduate student, Rob Arnold, search for the ideal Texas-grown corn for the production of whiskey.

Arnold, who is working on his doctoral degree in Plant Breeding under Murray, is also the head distiller for Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company, of Fort Worth. Through controlled plant breeding, he and Murray are trying to develop Texas-grown corn varieties with distinctive and identifiable flavors to use in the production of whiskey.

Research is being conducted on non-GMO varieties of corn at the Texas A&M Farm outside College Station. Seed from selected varieties of corn are planted and hand-pollinated to control the genetics of each ear.

first shoot on corn stalk

The first shoots are covered as soon as they emerge, kept covered until pollination, and then re-covered.

Reuters recently wrote and article and created a video about these men, the distillery and Texas whiskey. It can be found at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-texas-whiskey/fields-of-dreams-texas-researchers-seek-to-redefine-u-s-whiskey-idUSKBN1JD09C

pollen being dumped on corn silks

Corn silks are uncovered, pollinated by hand and immediately re-covered to prevent additional pollen from contacting the plant.

“Despite being less than 1% of my research program, the amount of press interest this generated blew me away, from KBTX to the Eagle to NPR and the New York Times,” Murray said. “I found that colleagues at other institutions had similar experiences with their beer and wine related breeding and genetics.”

“I also learned there are opportunities to change the conversation if you are prepared,” he said. “I have interjected the importance of science, of public sector research, and the great things Texas A&M is doing every chance I got!”

girl bagging shoots in corn field

Regan Lindsey, senior Plant and Environmental Soil Science major, assisted Dr. Murray and his graduate students with the pollinating process.

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