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Other Uses for Your Whiskey Still

 

Thinking Outside of the Box: Other Uses for Your Whiskey Still

It may never have occurred to you that your beloved whiskey still can be used for more than just making great tasting whiskey. Sure, you can make other fine alcoholic beverages but did you know that you could use your still to create distilled water or even an alternative fuel for your vehicle?

Distilled Water

The first question you may have is why would you want to distill your water. Not only is it great for drinking but having pure, uncontaminated water at your disposal is great for cleaning cuts, watering sensitive plants, filling car radiators, etc.

Essentially, you are using the intense heat from your still to separate the chemicals from the water molecules. It is the same principle as creating the finest whiskey known to man but your final product won’t get you drunk.

How to Make Alternative Fuel

During your years of distilling whiskey, you have probably created some batches that were better off as fuel than whiskey, especially if you forgot to add your water.

Creating ethanol fuel is not much different than creating a bourbon or other fine alcoholic beverage. The first step is to create your mash using rotten fruit or corn. Once you add your distillers yeast and sugar, wait about 10 days until the sugars has been consumed.

Now comes the fun part. Run the mash through your reflux still. It is very important to do this immediately after the sugar has been consumed as not doing so could add molecules from the environment that could damage your car.

Once you go through the distillery procures, filter your mixture and you should have some inexpensive fuel for your vehicle.

Those are just two uses for your still. If you have any other ideas, why not share them ?

The Difference Between Pot and Column Stills

If you are just getting started on your whiskey-distilling journey then you will need to know the difference between the pot still and the column still.

The Pot Still

The pot still has changed very little over the last hundred years or so and with good reason. The design is easy to use and it works very well, so why mess with a good thing?

How does the pot still work?

It all starts with the big chamber at the bottom, which is the “pot” that stores your whiskey. Once you apply heat to this large chamber, the contents will begin boiling and the vapor will start moving up the chamber into the large, narrow tube, known as the “Swan’s Neck”. At the end of this narrow tube is a condenser, which cools the vapor using cold water, turning it back into liquid form to be passed to a collection vessel.

As mentioned, this is a fairly easy method to use, which is why it is still around today. 

The Column Still

Although it is a little more complicated than the simple pot still, the column still creates higher alcohol levels in the final product, making it perfect for creating higher-gravity spirits.

How does the column still work?

Picture a large column filled with numerous pot stills on top of each other. The column still creates these chambers using perforated plates.

This still is constantly being heated from the bottom, so when you pour your mash in to the cooler top portion, it instantly begins falling. As the mash hits the steam, it vaporizes and sends the alcohol and other volatile particles back up the still.

Every time the alcohol-carrying vapor hits one of those perforated plates (or chambers) it condenses and drops out the heavier particles. As the vapor continues up the tube, only the alcohol remains and is eventually passed through a condenser at the top, turning it back into liquid form.

Those are the two most poplar stills in the industry and although there are others, they all work in a similar fashion to these two historic distillery methods.

How to Make Honey Moonshine

What To Do With a Gallon of Honey?

The other day, I was chatting with a good customer of mine when he mentioned they were able to get their hands on a gallon of honey from a local beekeeper (believe it or not, it only cost them $30). Naturally, my mind started racing with the idea of creating the perfect honey moonshine.

So, today I present you with a recipe for making the best tasting Honey Moonshine that will ever touch your lips.

Recipe for Honey Moonshine (aka: Honey Whiskey or Honeyshine)

Ingredients:

       1 Gallon of honey

       5 Gallons of water

       Distillers yeast

What To Do:

The first step of this process is heating 2.5 gallons of your water to 120°F before stirring in 1 gallon of honey until it is completely dissolved. Now we can add the second half of our water to the honey mixture. Make sure you keep this portion of your water at room temperature.

Now it is time to grab your immersion chiller and cool the mixture to a balmy 70°F. At this point, you will need to go back to your childhood years and aerate the mash by pouring it back and forth between two buckets. Okay, so maybe we were “aerating” mud back in the day but it is still the same process.

Before we transfer the mash to our glass carboy, add 2 tablespoons of yeast. Now we can transfer it to the carboy and don’t forget to install the air lock. 

This is the hard part. We have to wait 2 weeks while our honey whisky ferments and make sure you keep that temperature at 70°F at all times.

Once the fermentation process is complete, we have to wait for another 5 to 7 days for it to settle out. When this is finished, you are ready to siphon (not pour but siphon) your mash into a 5 or 10 gallon copper moonshine still.

Don’t forget to toss in your foreshots, heads and tails when distilling. If you are planning to drink this un-aged then make sure you cut your heads and tails.

Finish It Off:

Let’s bring the flavor home by aging it for 2 to 3 weeks using lightly toasted, American oak chips and for that extra little flavor, throw in a little bit of honey to the finished product.

That is it, now you are ready to enjoy your honeyshine. Can you think of a better way to use a gallon of honey?

 

 

Making Your Own Malt Easily

Malt is the basic component for a number of home-brewed beers, but luckily the hardest part in making it is getting around to finally doing it. It saves you a little money and gives you way more control over the way you make your homebrew. As with all crafts, though, it’s rather difficult to get things right the first time around. We’ll be focusing on barley-based malting here to keep things short.

Making malt consists of three stages, steeping, germination and kilning. Prior to malting, make sure you get barley that’s clear of pesticides and other nasty stuff that might make you sick. Buy a test pound from a source you like, and if the results are good (i.e., 9/10ths of the barley germinate, the beer tastes good) stick to the seller you like. Get whole barley, i.e. barley with the husks on, as only that can be used later on.

Steeping & Germination

Wash the barley thoroughly, waiting until the chaff floats to the surface. Drain and put the grain in a container with water reaching just two inches over it. After about eight hours have passed, drain and let it stand without water for eight more. During the final soaking of another eight hours there bulges should start appearing in the grain. These are roots beginning to emerge. Note that grain should never be left in water more than 8 hours as they might become infertile due to lack of oxygen.

Place the grain into a pan, over paper towels or absorbent cloth, and seal everything closely in a trash bag that will hold in the moisture and keep out everything else. After about four to six days the barley will have sprouted to about the right size, which is 3/4ths of the original grain size (keep only the main sprout into account, disregarding any ‘hair’). It should weigh roughly 50% more than originally. Now the time is ripe for turning it into real malt.

Kilning

Now you should heat the green malt in a temperature of 100° to 125° F for about 24 hours or until the weight is about 18 ounces for a pound of barley. Either use a household appliance, such as a hot refrigerator, or use the oven with only the light on. Afterwards dry it slowly in a temperature of 140° to 160° F until it reaches its original weight. Turn the malt every 30 minutes and slowly increase the temperature during the malt. You’ll probably need a floating thermometer for this. The final malt should be sweet and crunchy, but you’ll know something went awry if it’s rock-solid--try again if that’s the case.

 

Now put your homemade malt to some good use!

Freezing Distillation

Many varieties of alcohol are created via freezing distillation. Applejack, made by freezing hard cider, is perhaps the best-known of these, but other fun varieties of drink, such as Eisbock and ice beer, are also made through freezing distillation.

Freezing distillation, or better yet, ‘freezing concentration’ is a process in which a drink is frozen and then allowed to melt, removing excess water from it. ‘Distillation’ is a bit of a misnomer, because nothing is heated—one might say it’s rather the opposite.

During this process both the concentration of the drink and the alcohol content are increased. Contrary to regular distillation, freezing distillation is considered legal all over the world.

Why do it?

In addition to increasing the gravity of a drink, freeze distillation brings out the taste of any other drink, because you end up with a concentrate of the stuff you had before.

How to do it?

The easiest method is to pour the drink into a container, such as a plastic jug, and freeze it, either in the freezer or outdoors if you live somewhere cold. This may take up to a few days (still faster than aging) but you can speed it up by freeze distilling in a number of smaller bottles. Once it’s frozen, let it slowly unfreeze and drip into another vessel. Remove once most of what’s left in the jug is ice. Carefully stir and have a sip or two.

It’s hard to estimate the gravity of the final product--it depends on how much water was removed, which in turn depends on the temperature of the freezer, etc. If, however, half of the volume of the drink is lost, a bit less than double of the original alcohol percentage will be retained. Do note that there’s only so much you can do with freeze distillation—the end gravity depends not on the count of times freezing distillation is done, but rather on the end temperature.

Which drinks to freeze?

Go to town! As long as you start with something reasonably good, you can come up with your own varieties of cordial made from Apfelwein, with your own ice beer or perhaps good ole applejack. It’s been said that hopped drinks get too bitter, but maybe that’s just what you’re going for.

Identifying the Best Whiskey Still

If you are looking to make some proper moonshine, then you need to make sure you get the best whiskey still possible. This device is very important in the distillation process, hence choosing the right type and the right material is of high importance.

Generally, there are two primary types of whiskey stills used today: pot and reflux. The first one is used for distillation at smaller quantities, while the second one is used for large-scale distillation. By reading this only you realize that when producing moonshine, in the comfort of your home, the pot still is the one you need to look for.

History of Types of Stills

The process of distilling whiskey is already tradition and in order to do it properly you need to stay faithful to various old recipes. This is good for you, if you want to produce distill whiskey at home, because it means that modern stills are still pretty much the same with what they used to be, employing the same techniques and offering the same quality product in the end.

They are mainly four types of stills you need to know about: blackpot submarine, reflux, steam and turnip.

1) The blackpot submarine still was mostly used to produce moonshine up until the first quarter of the 20th century. The pot was made of lumber panels and metal pieces, of either steel or copper. The advantage of the blackpot submarine was that the moonshiner ran the produced liquid through the still only once. However, the resulting beverage was not of a very good quality.

2) The reflux still is, probably, the best known type of still which is also widely used nowadays. Used for large-scale purification, its mechanism reduces the need for multiple distillations, thus making it more efficient as it produces whiskey faster and better.

3) A steam still was used occasionally and such still was never as famous as the other types of stills. The advantage of such a still was that the water put in the boiler was placed directly under heat, eliminating the need to stir the mash (as it happened with other versions).

4) The turnip still is one of the oldest types of stills and it produced better alcohol than the blackpot submarine. When using this still the distillation process could last from a couple of days to some good weeks. One disadvantage of it was the need to distill one more time, at least, the resulting liquid, thus taking even more time to produce quality whiskey.

What about the Material of the Still?

There are basically two types of materials used to make a whiskey still: copper and steel. Also, if you want to buy a whiskey still with a cadmium or lead-containing solder, then stop immediately, as these two will poison your body; a silver solder is a lot safer. And do not even think about plastic or synthetic boilers; avoid having such materials as part of your boiler.

Stainless steel is really solid and last more years than copper. However, it is a slow conductor of heat and does not influence the dissolution of substances such as esters and sulfuric compounds, which are important if you want your spirit to be of high quality.

Copper, on the other hand, is a lot safer. Dissolution is done at low rate, thus avoiding your exposure to it. Next, copper also preserves better the flavor of your drink, helps in breaking down compounds important to producing high quality alcohol and impedes the production of damaging substances (like ethylcarbamat). And, more than that, copper can improve the quality of your drink when the mash is not organically impeccable.

Add to copper’s qualities the fact that it is a great heat conductor, and you can surely see that even if there are two materials which are viewed as good for whiskey still production, only one is the real thing: copper.

Hence, when you look to buy the best whiskey still, remember to look for a pot still which is made of copper. You can find plenty on our website, so start browsing right away.

Describing the Whiskey Still

If you like whiskey and good drinks and would like to invest into a passion such as a making moonshine in the comfort of your own home, then you need to buy whiskey still, online, as soon as possible. But, before you do that, you need to understand what a whiskey still is and how it works.

Describing the Whiskey Still

A whiskey or moonshine still is an apparatus whose main purpose is to help you produce a mash in your home, which can be called homemade whiskey, thou, most commonly it is known as moonshine (hence the name of the still). The term “moonshine” first appeared in Great Britain, and was used to define any activity done at night, under only the light of the moon.

A classic still is made of a copper container that has a firm seal and a thin cone-shaped vent on top, which facilitates the circulation of vapors through a twisted copper tube into the storage pot. Copper is a traditional material in manufacturing whiskey stills, as it presents multiple beneficial characteristics for the distillation process and the end product, like uniform heating features.

How Do You Use The Whiskey Still?

First, you have to know that a whiskey still does not simply produce alcohol; a whiskey still just concentrates it. Hence, you need to start the distillation process with fermentation; for this, you need to pay attention to the type of grain used in the creation of each mash for the making and fermenting of primary alcohol. You need to crush the corn into meal and to then dip it in hot water in the still; next, add sugar and yeast. If you respected all the indications the fermentation process should start without a problem. The mixture you have in front of you, in this step, is what is called mash and it needs to be stirred and heated in the still for some time. Then, you can properly start the distillation process.

You also need to know that the only way the distilling process is possible is because alcohol has a boiling point inferior to water’s, meaning approximately 172°F (around 77.7°C). Hence, if you boil the liquid from completed grain mash somewhere between the boiling points of alcohol and water’s (meaning 212°F or 100°C), it will cause the alcohol to transform into vapors, leaving all other substances and water. These vapors will go through the spiraled coil into the second vessel, which needs to be constantly cooled, shortened and concerted until the content transforms into alcohol fluid.

Therefore, as you can easily see, a moonshine still is the centerpiece in creating homemade spirits and it helps you get a fun, quite easy and rather cheap passion. Hence, once you document yourself on the process of making moonshine, you can easily look where you can buy whiskey still or moonshine still online in order to indulge into your new found hobby.

How to Make Moonshine – The Basic Blueprint

The first thing anything needs to know before attempting to make moonshine is why such distilled drinks are also home made in the first place. All adds on how to make moonshine will tell you it’s a potentially dangerous process. It’s still worth it, anyway. Few people are aware that this drink represents an important cultural imprint, varying from one country to another. From the Colombian “tapetusa” to the Hungarian “palinca” and the Italian “grappa”, moonshine is an expression of diversity and infinite potential. In other words, it’s like a personal hallmark.

The classical Thin Mash recipe goes like this:

      5 Gallon water

     10 Lb. cane sugar

      2-  T yeast nutrient

      5T  lemon juice

      5 Ea. campden tablets

      1 cup of dry baker’s yeast 

Mix the lemon juice and the sugar in the fermenter, then fill the latter with the 5 gallons of boiled water. Make sure the sugar is properly dissolved and then cover the mixture. After cooling, add the yeast and other ingredients. The fermenter needs to be kept at 79-900 F to the end of the fermentation process. After this, the yeast dregs can be removed and the liquid can be distilled into whisky.

Obviously, the wash can contain other fruit juices, types of sugar or herbs, according to one’s preferences and available ingredients. While one of the most known types of moonshine in Europe will be plum-based, other combinations are equally pleasing and welcome.

As you already know, I'm really interested into the topic, so if you have any recipes you want to share, or even some funny moonshine experiences (don’t we all...), feel free to post here. 

Safety Measures During Distillation

Because safety is the most important thing, I make a point of going back to basic protection measures during distillation, every now and again. No matter how experienced of a distiller you are, safety should always come first, whether it’s the location, the equipment you use or your own behavior in the process of running your copper whiskey still. Alcohol is almost as dangerous as gasoline when it comes to fire and explosion hazards and although your mash isn’t flammable, the vapors from the first and successive run distillates certainly are, so it is essential to take great care every time you fire up your pot still.

So, here are some basic rules that you should stick to:

Don’t use an open flame indoors. In fact, don’t use an open flame at all if you can avoid it. Along these lines, might also help not to (carelessly) smoke next to your whiskey still during distillation.

Always ensure proper ventilation. Alcohol easily diffuses in the air and can explode at the very interaction with a spark or a flame.

Avoid using glass containers. Use metal and plastic only.

Never fill a pot while it is on the stove or near a heat source. A few drops of spilled alcohol could create an explosion if they reach a hot plate.

Place the receiver low on the floor, away from the heat source. Also, it is recommended to use a small-necked receiver so that, if a fire starts, the small-necked opening is easier to extinguish. You can also wrap a damp cloth loosely around the tubing where it enters the receiver, to keep the vapors in.

Never leave your pot still unattended. A hose line could fail, a receiver might overflow and dangerous vapors would get spread around causing trouble.

Avoid storing uncut alcohol around the house. Or, if you need to, make sure you keep it in the refrigerator. Anything warmer than that and you might be sitting next to a ticking bomb. Also, don’t store alcohol higher than 15% in plastic containers as some types of plastic might dissolve in alcohol.

Avoid vapor leaks in your copper still by making sure all the fittings are tight. If you do get a leak, stop the heat source first and then attend to it.

Keep a CO2 fire extinguisher on hand and make sure you know how to use if you need to.

Also, don’t forget to clean your still immediately after each distillation, while the copper is still warm. Rinse it thoroughly with water and wipe it with a clean cloth. Flush out all the tubing with clear water. You may also use a weak detergent solution every now and then, but not perfumed soap as it may leave an odor.

Enjoy your quality distilling time but always keep safe. Believe it or not, there are worse things than a failed recipe... although that’s pretty bad too!

Japanese Whisky

Because most of my friends know my love for my copper whiskey still, my passion for distilling, and whiskey in general, I do get a lot of awesome gifts. When a friend of mine from Japan visited me last week, he brought something quite fancy that I’d only tasted once before, at a whiskey fair: a bottle of Japanese malt. Very few people, including myself, know much about Japanese whisky but although it’s not as well-known as Scotch or Bourbon, it is a fine product with a long history.

The first and most famous Japanese whisky distillery is Yamazaki, owned by Suntory and founded in 1923. It is located outside Japan’s old capital, Kyoto, a great location for making whiskey, with pure waters and high humidity. Today, Suntory Yamazaki is the most popular single malt whisky in Japan, but it also gets exported to over 25 countries worldwide.

Whiskey reached Japan through a case of Scotch, sometime late 1800s. As these things go, they loved it so they started making their own. This is also what made them follow the Scottish recipe and why they spell it as the British: “whisky”. Suntory’s first master distiller actually studied and perfected his skills in Scotland and chose the distillery location in similar landscape and climate. Some years after opening the distillery, they also worked at developing a local taste for whisky and opened Suntory whisky bars throughout the country, making the drink popular with the Japanese people.

Although it does taste very similar to Scotch, there are also unique elements to the Japanese version. Obviously, local climate and water have an impact but what is also relevant is their use of numerous variations, priding themselves on the diversity of ingredients, malting and fermentation processes, various yeasts and peat levels. They use different shapes and sizes copper stills (though they claim their most common are their “giant copper pot stills”) and age their distillate in a wide variety of barrels, from new or used American oak, to sherry and wine casks. Essential to its distinctive flavor is the use of aromatic Japanese oak, which adds a strong incense note. So, although they produce high quality single malts, their blends are also subtle, complex... and quite expensive. The Hibiki blend is said to contain more than 20 different whiskies.

The distillery has come a long way since its launch and Suntory had not only expanded its portfolio but it also created a market for competing newcomers. Their most known products are the Hibiki - a 12 year-old blend, the Hakushu – a 12 year-old malt, and Yamazaki – a 12 or 18 year-old single malt. The latter is the most expensive, at about $140 a bottle. Although I’ve only seen them at whiskey fairs and tasting events, I read that you can now find all of them in the States too.

 

 

 

 

Alcohol Yield

This is one of the questions we often get from our Whiskey Still customers: how much alcohol can I expect my copper whiskey still to yield? It is, of course, very difficult to offer an exact answer. Quantity depends on a number of factors: ingredients, amount of sugar, type of yeast or final proof. A generic rule is that you will get about 10-20% of a still’s capacity: a 5 gallon whiskey still could potentially yield 1 gallon of moonshine, while a 10 gallon copper still, 2 gallons of alcohol.

Before hitting the copper whiskey still, the amount of alcohol present in your starting wash can impact the final yield, as you can obtain more from a stronger wash. This is influenced by two main factors: the amount of sugar present in the mash and the type of yeast you choose to use. You will generally add different amounts of sugar, depending on recipe and personal preference, but what is important is that there is enough sugar for yeast to turn into alcohol. Whether you obtain it through fermentation or add it yourself, sugar is essential for a strong starting alcohol, which, as I already said, is important for a good yield. This doesn’t mean you should overdo it on the sugar, just that correctly following a good recipe is always a good idea. For 10 lb of sugar, you should be able to get somewhere between 1.5 - 2 gallons of pure ethanol.

The type of yeast you choose is also very important. Bakers yeast can produce around 10% alcohol, while stronger distillers yeast or “turbos” can take it up to about 20%. But choose your yeast carefully, also considering other factors, such as your fermenting conditions, ingredients or distillate you want to obtain. Good yeast will help you get a higher final yield thanks to having generated a higher starting alcohol.

I also mentioned final proof among the relevant factors on which alcohol yield is dependant because strength is directly related to quantity. Only about half of the final spirit leaving your copper whiskey still will be pure alcohol though so your yield is actually double than the ethanol you calculate depending on your sugar input.

And, of course, cutting might play a part as only experienced distillers will make the most of their distillate and collect just the right amount of tasty shine, not too much to have an off taste but not too little to waste any of the good stuff either.

Make your own Mead

I thought I’d stay in the sweet area for a little longer and move from discussing sugar to more natural ingredients, like honey. And what’s honey great for? Mead of course. Also known as Honey Wine, mead is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey and one of the oldest alcoholic drinks known to man. This is due to the easy making process but also availability of ingredients and great taste. If you want to give your copper pot still a break, all you need to brew some tasty mead of your own is honey, water and yeast.

Honey fermentation is a really easy process, even for beginner brewers so it’s worth trying out. If you don’t have access to large quantities of honey, buying some good, natural stuff can be expensive, which is why I recommend you start off with a smaller quantity, until you get the hang of it and perfect your own recipe.

The first step is getting your honey. It’s very important that you get some clean, natural honey and not the processed type you find in supermarkets, although the latter is usually cheaper. Try beekeepers directly, a farmer’s market or an organic shop for the real stuff, otherwise you might have trouble with it fermenting badly or having a poor taste. Depending on the predominant flower source around the hives, honey comes in different flavors. They’re all great for mead but some might taste better than others in combination with additional flavorings, such as fruit and spices, if you choose to add any.

Once you’ve got your honey, mix it with clean or distilled water. Quantities will vary depending on recipe but a good generalization is part honey to 3.5 - 4 parts water (although there are also European recipes which use only two units of water for one of honey). For mead, there is no need to heat the mix, this can alter the nutrients and flavor, and is unnecessary if you’ve used clean water, as honey is naturally anti-bacterial. Place your mix in a fermenter and then add yeast. As with most homemade drinks, the yeast you choose can influence the fermentation process and the taste of your final product. Bread yeast and white wine yeast work well. Place an airlock and let it ferment.

Fermentation can take somewhere between 2-8 weeks, depending on the honey, the yeast and the general environmental conditions. As the yeast eats the sugars, alcohol is produced. You can decide to end fermentation depending on how sweet or strong you want the mead to be. For this, use a hydrometer to measure the gravity and how much sugar is left. If you think it’s reached the strength you wanted, you can add preservatives to stop further fermentation, such as potassium sorbate. When the mead is clear and there are no more gas bubbles, fermentation is done.

Next step is transferring the mead into a second container to separate it from the yeast. You can use a siphon hose for this to make sure you leave as much sediment as possible in the fermenter. If you want to flavor your mead, this is the time to add additional ingredients. There are plenty of recipes with hops, fruit: berries usually work great or spices: cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg are common, especially for making mulled mead in wintertime. If you want to add flavorings, you need to let your mead absorb them for a while, weeks up to a few months.

Opinions on ageing are very different when it comes to mead. Most home-brewers I know don’t have the patience to wait for it to age. But there are some who say it’s worth waiting at least a few months before bottling, as this makes it a lot better.

The alcoholic content of mead can range from 8% to over 20% abv. You can also find it in a wide variety: still, sparkling, dry, semi-sweet or sweet. Because it’s had centuries of evolution, there are hundreds of mead recipes from America, Europe, Africa and Asia, each with its unique fermentation process and additional ingredients. But the great thing about it is that it kept its simplicity and more or less the same making process as hundreds of years ago.

Sugar and Moonshine

Even if you’re new to the ‘shiners club, you might have already figured out just how essential sugar is for making moonshine and all other distilled spirits. Basically, all you need, aside from your trusted copper pot still, is water, sugar and yeast as alcohol is obtained through the fermentation of natural sugars, with the help of yeast.

In fact, sugar is so indispensable that you can either obtain it through fermentation from fruit or cereal mashes or you can just use it as a sole ingredient, in what is called a sugar wash. Sugar washes are easy for learning to make your own moonshine as they’re fairly easy to prepare but can still yield a nice amount of clear, neutral moonshine, perfect for mixing and flavoring.

Types of sugar

Knowing the different types of fermentable sugars will help you distinguish variations in your final distillate. There are simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, and compound sugars, such as sucrose and maltose. Glucose is usually found in fruit and plant juice; fructose is the sweetest of sugars and can also be found in fruit, vegetables, sugar cane and honey. Sucrose is actually formed through the combination of a molecule of glucose with a molecule of fructose and is found in sugar cane stems or sugar beet roots, while maltose is the least sweet of sugars and is formed through the germination of grains, the most important being barley, which is converted into malt (For more information on malting read: http://www.whiskeystill.net/blogs/whiskey-still-co-blog/12638473-malt-whiskey)

You can either base your moonshine on a fruit or grain mash, from which natural sugars will be extracted through fermentation, or you can use already processed commercial sugar. The main forms you can find this in are white sugar, brown and raw sugar. Among these, raw and white sugars are used most for home distillation: they ferment easily and are affordable. Molasses, a sugar byproduct, is also used in distillation, most often in the process of making rum (http://www.whiskeystill.net/blogs/whiskey-still-co-blog/12175097-how-to-make-homemade-rum). 

White sugar is a processed sugar obtained generally from sugar cane. It comes in many different forms and levels of crystallizing, from the standard granulated sugar, to coarse and sanding larger crystal sugars, to superfine and powdered sugar.  

Brown sugar is a sucrose sugar with a distinctive brown color due to the presence of molasses, which is between 3.5%, for light brown sugar, to 6.5% for dark brown sugar. Natural brown sugar, or raw sugar, is obtained from the first crystallization of sugar cane and can be found as unrefined or partially refined. Unrefined brown sugar contains molasses syrup, which is higher in mineral content. Turbinado and demerara are partially processed sugars, obtained through crystallizing raw sugar cane, then removing water and impurities through the use of a centrifuge. Demerara has less molasses than light brown sugar, while turbinado has a golden color and a mild brown sugar flavor. Muscovado is an unrefined, dark brown sugar with a stronger molasses flavor and a sticky texture.

Sugar wash

A sugar wash is easily obtained through mixing your chosen type of sugar with water and yeast. First add the sugar to some hot water and mix, then once it’s dissolved, add colder water. You can decide proportions depending on recipe, ingredients or the equipment you have but as a general rule, you can use about 3 liters of water for 1kg of sugar. Add your yeast and let it ferment for 4-8 days. Once that’s done fire up your moonshine still and get to the next stage: distillation.

A typical yield from sugar wash is somewhere between 40-50%, meaning you should get about 550 ml of pure ethanol per kg of sugar. So, for 5kg of sugar, you should get some 2.75 liters of alcohol. If you run your pot still at 40%, you can get up to 7 liters of distillate from 5 kg of sugar.

So, whatever you decide to make your homemade moonshine from, sugar is your best friend. Although it might not come out as rich and tasty as a distillate obtained from malt or fruit mashes, a sugar wash is easy and cheap to make.

 

Home Distillation of Hydrosols and Essential Oils

Although I own my own copper still, I am not particularly experienced in the distillation of hydrosols and essential oils as I have so far used my copper pot still exclusively for distilling moonshine and other spirits. I do however know of customers who have used our smaller 1 gallon alembic still for making their own essential oils and hydrosols. So, I’ve also started to look into the process and have assembled some useful information on the topic, in the hope that I’ll get the time to try it myself.

Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids containing volatile aroma compounds extracted from aromatic plants. They carry the distinctive aroma or “essence” of the botanicals they are made of, which explains the name. They have been used for centuries for therapeutic, medicinal, culinary or cosmetic purposes and have especially contributed to a rise in the popularity of aromatherapy in the past few years. There are hundreds of plants that contain useful essential oils which can be extracted from their oil glands, roots, flowers, peel, veins and resin. And while some oils or hydrosols are very expensive to buy, they could be rather cheap to make at home, in your own copper pot still.

There are three main methods for making your own essential oils: distillation, expression and solvent extraction; out of which, distillation (and especially steam distillation) is the most common. Expression refers to mechanically extract the oils from a plant, such as the cold-pressing method known for extracting olive oil. For flowers or plants too delicate to withstand expression or the high temperatures of distillation, certain solvents can be used instead for extraction. Most essential oils today are obtained through distillation. Copper alembic stills are great for the process, especially since most only need a single process for extraction, but also thanks to copper’s antibacterial properties.

The first step is getting your botanicals. The quantity of oils in a plant varies depending on season, the origin of the plant and the method of harvesting. So, it’s important to read up on the specific plant you decide on before you start, so that you know when it’s best to harvest it, what part of the plant will yield the best results and when to begin and end distillation. Plants are usually very sensitive and need to be carefully handled in order to not waste any of their essential oils. It’s recommended to go for whole plants, not crushed, dried or powder, and, if possible, to pick them yourself. While distillation, especially in copper, removes impurities, it is best to use your own botanicals or organically grown ones, to make sure they were not contaminated by pesticides or other chemicals. After harvesting, some producers recommend drying the plants in order to increase the amount you can use in your batch. But make sure they are dried slowly, not in direct sunlight and not for too long.

Place your dried plants in the still over clean, either filtered or distilled, water. Once water reaches boiling point, the steam will pass through the plants, vaporizing the volatile compounds. The usual distillation process follows: vapors flow through the coil where they condense back to liquid and then reach the receiving vessel. The obtained recondensed steam is your hydrosol. You can make use of a separating funnel or an essential oil separator to separate the essential oil from the hydrosol. Hydrosols can be used on their own, such as rose water, lavender or pine hydrosol, lemon balm or orange blossom water, or re-used in distilling your next batch.

Result may vary in concentration from plant to plant. You should decide on whether you need an essential oil or a hydrosol would be more useful, and keep in mind that you need a large quantity of botanicals for a small amount of oil. The good news is, although essential oils keep for two years or even more, you most probably do not need large quantities for personal use, as they are extremely concentrated. This is also why it is advisable to dilute the result with other carrier oils or substances, depending on the final use. Almond or grape seed oils are usually preferred for this purpose. Store the oils or the hydrosols in clean colored glass or stainless steel containers, away from direct sunlight.

A very important thing that needs mentioning is that if you do choose to use a copper pot still for making both alcohol and hydrosols or essential oils, it is recommended that, for safety reasons, you use separate equipment. Cleaning the still may not be enough to make the distillation of alcohol safe if the still was previously used for the extraction of essential oils.

The Angel’s Share

Although very much about the loss of whiskey into thin air, there’s actually more to the Angel’s share concept than that. The term refers to the process of ethanol evaporation which occurs while the whiskey is stored in barrels, for ageing. The loss is called the Angel’s share because of the popular belief that guardian angels watch over the drink, as it matures. Angel’s share also occurs during wine or ale storage.

Barrels have been used for centuries for the storage and transportation of liquids, from water and olive oil to beer, wine and distilled spirits. But, aside from the technical advantages, that they were more resistant than clay pots and more easily carried over longer distances, quality benefits also came into play. It became obvious that the different types of wood improved the taste for many of the alcoholic drinks, such as beer, wine and spirits. The same story goes for the beginnings of using oak barrels for transporting moonshine. The distillate became mellower, rounder, richer in flavor and more complex after a longer contact with the wood. We now know that there are reasons behind every type of wood used for whiskey barrels: the new oak lets the moonshine soak up different aromas of vanilla, tobacco, spicy and nutty hints, while the charring generates sweetness, through a layer of caramelized sugars. The method used in making the barrel is also relevant to the flavoring and maturing process, whether it was sawn, hand-split, whether the staves were kiln or air-dried and bent through the use of steam, natural gas or wood fire.

Regardless of the type of wood or method used in putting it together, all barrels are porous. Oxidation is essential for the whiskey’s flavor, its acquired color and its final complex character. The angels take their share thanks to the nature of the material that lets the barrel breathe.

Barrels of whiskey get stacked in commercial warehouses for several years. Conditions also affect the produced distillate and the quantity of the angel’s share as storage is usually done at 60% humidity or higher. If it is a low-humidity area, more water will evaporate, making the liquor stronger. If the area has a higher-humidity level, then more alcohol will evaporate, lowering the proof. So, the process is not just about loss: as proof lowers, the whiskey can mellow and leave the barrel at a more enjoyable alcohol level, after having also allowed the more subtle sweet, spicy or nutty flavors of the wood to emerge.

The exact amount that is lost depends very much on conditions, as well as materials and methods used for making the barrels. This is why the process develops differently also depending on region: in America, especially in the South, where temperatures are higher but humidity lower, compared to Scotland or Ireland, where it’s colder but humidity higher. Producers estimate the angel’s share around an annual 2% loss per barrel. This means that a distilled whiskey which is maturing in a new charred oak barrel for 5 years, can lose up to 10% of its alcohol content to the angels.

In humid climates, the loss of ethanol is also what causes the growth of the dark fungus which can be easily noticed in areas where whiskey is distilled and stored. Especially around distilleries which have been around for a long time, the exterior of houses, trees, vegetation and anything located in the neighborhood are all visibly covered in the dark mold, also called Whiskey Fungus or Angel’s Share Fungus. During the Tennessee Whiskey Trail we were also told that this was a good way for revenuers to find illegal moonshiners during Prohibition, as the mold would give away areas in which whiskey and moonshine had been distilled and stored.

The market has referenced the Angel’s share theme in a series of products. Jim Beam launched a Bourbon called Devil’s Cut a couple of years back. They said it reclaimed the whiskey that had been soaked up by the wood in the barrels and then blend this pulled out whiskey with a 6 year aged bourbon. There’s also the Angel’s Envy Kentucky Bourbon, while Lost Abbey produces a strong ale called Angel’s Share which spends a year in freshly emptied bourbon and brandy barrels after having been brewed.

A recent Scottish movie also called Angel’s Share has been quite popular in Europe; it follows a young delinquent in his discovery of Scotch and the Angel’s share, which is about to change his life from hopeless to rich and refined.

 

 

 

Your Basic Moonshining Gear

Every now and again, I like to go back to the basics and not just write about ingredients and recipes for moonshine or other spirits, but also the equipment and utensils you need to make delicious moonshine.

So, to start from the beginning: you’ll need a fermenting vessel. This can be made from a wide variety of materials, as long as it can handle heat and temperature variations. Glass demijohns are a good choice but I would also recommend plastic food grade barrels or 5 gallon buckets, as they’re easier to move around and very resistant. Just make sure they are made from the special hard plastic or polythene (marked as type 4 plastic).

After you’ve decided on a moonshine recipe and made your mash, I would recommend getting an airlock in place. The airlock is a plastic device, with a water trap, which lets the carbon dioxide produced during fermentation out. Its role is to make sure this escapes without letting any air into your vessel, to protect the mash from oxidation and contamination. Make sure you fit it tightly onto the plastic lid, cap or cork to efficiently seal the container.

I guess the next one is pretty obvious: for distilling you will need… a moonshine still! I can’t help but be a little subjective here and recommend a copper moonshine still which is great for home distillation made in batches. Pot stills give an incomplete separation of water from alcohol, which is desirable if you want to retain the flavors of the mash. This is preferable if you’re making moonshine, whiskey or brandy at home, as pot stills make thick-textured and really tasty spirits. Reflux stills are more efficient for the commercial distilling of higher proof, clear and neutral flavored spirits.

Your moonshine will also benefit from a copper still thanks to the material’s well known properties: it removes sulfur compounds, it distributes heat evenly, it is resilient but also resistant to corrosion, has proven antimicrobial effects and improves the overall quality of your final product.

The choice of heat source depends on your preference and distilling conditions, as long as it’s efficient. Both gas and electricity are suitable, but electricity is probably safer than open flame. Distilling your moonshine indoors? An electric stove or a portable hot-plate are both excellent options, especially for moonshine stills of ten gallons or less. Avoid using natural gas or oil stoves indoors. Prefer distilling outdoors? A propane burner could do the trick. There are portable burners for backyard parties, tailgating and camping. Cookers need to be specially designed for safety, function and strength. It is advisable for the burner to have a 10 PSI regulator which could reach 55,000 BTUs.

Another useful tool for your moonshining is a thermometer. Especially for the novice distiller, the thermometer helps monitor the evolution of the process and indicates when you’ve reached the boiling point and when the right cutting time is. It should also allow you to maintain the top of the onion head at the right temperature. Our copper pot stills come with one affixed to the onion head but, if you’re using a different moonshine still or you chose to make your own, you can find one at any local hardware store.

Cutting times are best identified by using both a thermometer and a hydrometer. The two instruments can help you determine what type of alcohol is being produced at a certain time and when it is time to cut your heads and tails. The hydrometer measures the gravity, potential alcohol and sugar content of your distillate. It's a little float that sinks or floats according to the density of the liquid it's floating in. The further it sinks the higher proof alcohol in your moonshine still. Hydrometers can also determine when the fermentation has ceased activity. Experienced distillers can also identify cut off points by monitoring the taste, smell and cloudiness of the distillate.

Depending on what you plan to do with your moonshine after distillation, you can either get some mason jars for storing or, if you want to turn it into a homemade whiskey, get yourself a new charred oak barrel. If you can’t wait that long, just get yourself a glass and enjoy your fresh homemade moonshine!

Malt Whiskey

Malt whiskey, and especially single malt, might sound a little sophisticated to some but actually, it is just as easy to make if you know what you’re doing. I’m sure many copper pot still owners out there know what I’m talking about but, if you’re new and are thinking about giving it a try, I’ll try to offer some more information on the malting process and the characteristics of malt whiskey below.

In America, regulated malt whiskey needs to be made from a fermented mash of no less than 51% malted barley and aged in new charred oak barrels at less than 125 proof. Malt whiskey can also me made from the same amount of rye but then will be called rye malt whiskey. If it’s been aged for at least two years, with no added coloring or flavoring and has not been blended with any other spirits or type of whiskey, it can also be called straight.

The malting process is basically creating the necessary conditions for grains to sprout, and then germination needs to be stopped by applying heat. Germination is produced through repeatedly soaking the grains in water which is followed by drying them with hot air, or in a hot environment. The malting process is used in order to develop the necessary enzymes to transform the starch into sugars. Malting also helps develop other enzymes, such as proteases, which give the grain a form that can be used by yeast.

Commercial breweries or distilleries perform the process in designated spaces which they call malthouse or malting floors. The specific flavor of different distilleries is obtained through the type and quality of the grains, but also the water they use for soaking and even the type of wood or fuel they use in the drying process. When the grain reached a moisture level of about 45%, it gets transferred to the malting floor, were it is constantly turned for about 5 days while it’s air-dried. The sprouted barley gets dried in a kiln to specific colors, from pale to crystal, amber, chocolate or black malts. Large industrial fans are now also used to blow hot air through the germinating air beds.

But to malt your own grains at home, all you need is some improvised equipment, which can hold your grains for sprouting and germination, and an oven or a kiln for drying and roasting. You can also try malting other grains, such as rye or wheat, then go on to brewing your own beer or making your homemade whiskey, by following the entire whiskey making process from choosing your mash bill, fermenting and distilling in your copper pot still.

Malting barley

Place about 3-4 pounds of raw barley grain (feed barley works well) in a bucket or a pot and fill it up with water until covered completely. Let it sit for about 6h – some prefer 4h, some 8h so just see what works for you, then drain it. Let it rest for another 6-8h, then fill it back and repeat over 48h.

After this you’ll want to keep your grains moist, at a warm temperature but stir often, about 3 times a day, to avoid mold from forming. You can have them laid on a tray (or a large terracotta pot as some think it absorbs excess water) and covered for about 3-5 days in order for the grains to air-dry at room temperature. You can also use a malt roller with a self-turning timer for this, which you can easily build yourself following some online videos; this can make the process faster and have your grains ready in about 2-3 days.

You’ll know it’s ready for the next step once the main shoot, the growing acrospires or plant embryo, has grown to approximately 75-100% the length of the grain – so make sure you cut open a few grains to double check that this is the case with the majority of them. At this stage, the grain is called green malt.

Next thing to do is dry the grains to stop germination and lock in the enzymes that convert the starch into sugars. This is usually done in a kiln or an oven, although I’ve also heard of people just leaving the grains in the sun during summer. Set the oven at about 100-125F for 24h. Try a grain and if it’s crunchy, it’s dry. Next, turn up the heat to about 210-215F and roast the grains for 2-3h to get your final product. You can then also run them through a sieve to get rid of the roots.

How to Make Homemade Gin

I have to say, gin is not a spirit that I’ve always been a fan of. In fact, I used to see it as more of cocktail spirit and not so much about flavor. But maybe I’d simply had the wrong gin. It was in Europe when I started enjoying it more. I then read up more on it and, finally, decided to try making my own. I started with compound gin and after, once I found a flavor I liked, I also distilled my own in my copper pot still.

What makes gin special is its predominant flavor of juniper berries. It’s been around since the Middle Ages, when it was used as herbal medicine and then evolved towards one the most popular spirits worldwide. The spirit has its origins in Dutch and Flemish distilleries in the 17th century and spread to England later on as a cheap and easy to produce spirit, especially after taxes on all imported spirits were raised. English gin history is actually very exciting, as gin became so popular with all social classes that it was thought to have highly contributed to various social problems of the time, such as high death rates and population growth. The state tried to limit the distilling of gin and impose stricter regulations throughout the 18th century, attempts which lead to a series of street riots. In 18th century London, there were thought to have been around 1,500 residential stills, producing legal gin in Londoners’ homes.

Gin became popular in the US during Prohibition, in the 1920s. That’s when the term Bathtub gin also appeared and referred to the poor quality homemade gin of the time. It was called that because it usually came in tall bottles, too tall to be topped up with water from a sink, so the bathtub tap was used. Some stories also talk of fermentation and distillation having taken place in bathtubs. It was predominant in cocktails as other ingredients could mask the awful taste of the poorly produced drink. In America, gin is currently defined as an alcoholic beverage of a minimum of 80 proof with the characteristic flavor of juniper berries.

There are two main types of gin: compound and distilled gin. As I was saying, I started off with compound gin as it is much easier to make. It is basically made through infusing neutral spirits with essences or natural flavorings, without redistillation. Although the predominant flavor for the infusion needs to be juniper, you are free to make a very wide variety of combinations from ingredients such as:coriander seeds, angelica root, orris root, sweet orange peel, lemon, lime, licorice powder (root), cloves, cinnamon sticks, anise, fennel, rosemary, cardamom seeds, cassia or others. You can even add the chosen mix of botanicals to spirits you’ve made in your own copper pot still, such as vodka or moonshine.

Distilled gin involves the distillation of a grain mash and then redistilling it with the same type of botanicals, juniper in particular, to obtain the aroma and necessary flavor. The earliest type of known gin was produces in pot stills, through the fermentation of a grain mash, of wheat, rye, barley or other grains, then redistilling it with the natural flavorings. A double gin can be produced by redistilling the first again and adding fresh botanicals. Alcohol content is not high, around 135 proof after the first distillation and 150 proof for a double gin, but the use of pot stills gives it a stronger flavor.

But even for distilled gin, there are several different methods in use, from the ingredients you choose to use, to how you add them to the recipe and different ways of distilling. It is believed that you get the strongest juniper flavor through soaking the botanicals in the mash first, as well as afterwards inside your pot still, during the distillation process. A different method is soaking the botanicals for up to 24h in the base spirit, filtering them out and then redistilling. Commercial distillers such as Gordon’s, Beefeater and Plymouth use his method, soaking their flavorings for 24h or less. A lighter type of gin can be produced by using the “gin head “ still, which involves the suspension of a gin basket in the head of the still, making the vapors go through the spices and plants for a lighter, softer taste. Bombay Sapphire Gin is obtained through this method in column stills.

For a homemade distilled gin, I would personally go for variations on traditional Dutch gin (genever) recipes. Starting with a mash from wheat, rye and malted barley and distilling it in your copper pot still. Add juniper berries for your second distillation and then add a more varied mix of spices, alongside fresh juniper, for the 3rd run. A 4th run can also be done, for a stronger flavor and higher proof. You can add the botanicals loose in the pot still or place them in a cotton sack.

As a basic rule, you can add about 1oz of botanical mix per liter of alcohol. Typically, a fine gin contains between 6-10 botanicals but the combination depends very much on taste and quantities, as long as you make sure that juniper is predominant.

Gin is a great drink with a very particular aroma. You can experiment with different combinations of ingredients and try them out through a simple infusion process but also put your copper pot still to good use in a redistilling method, once you’ve found a flavor you like. I also highly recommend you read up on gin history, it is truly fascinating how the drink was invented as herbal medicine, then became popular as a spirit and tailored its flavor and production processes to the different regions it travelled to.

The Sour Mash Process

You may have heard the term Sour mash being used many times when talking about making whiskey and have also probably seen it on many whiskey, and particularly bourbon bottles. But, if you’re a novice distiller who is looking into making his own homemade sour mash whiskey, you might still be trying to figure out what it is and how it works.

First of all, you need to know that Sour mash has nothing to do with it being sour. It gets its name from the process of making sourdough bread as it uses the same technique: it reuses material left over from the previous run in the process of fermenting a new batch. Secondly, to avoid confusion, remember that sour mash also goes by the names of stillage, spent mash, spent grain, backset, spent beer and some others, probably depending on the area you’re in.

Before hitting your copper pot still for distillation, you need to go through the process of fermentation. Your mixture of grains, water and yeast is what the mash consists of. Yeast is your essential micro-organism that lives in water, eats sugar from grains or starch, and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol as waste. In the sour mash process, your mash will also benefit from additional spent mash – a part of the old mash from your previous distillation (could be about 1/3 or a ¼ of it), which still contains live yeast. This spent mash is added for a number of reasons. First of all, it is used to control the growth of bacteria which could impact the whiskey’s taste and create a pH balance for the yeast by controlling acidity levels. Another reason is that using the established or known fermented active live yeast, it is easier to control flavor consistency and continuity between batches. This is a key aspect for commercial producers who want to keep their liquor just as tasty with every new batch they make, but it can also help you once you’ve found a recipe you enjoy.

Sour mash is a traditional and widespread process in bourbon making and a legal requirement for Tennessee Whiskey. Traditional sour mash bourbon is also double distilled in pot stills.

Sour mashing is also a process which can be used in brewing. Brewers use it to enhance the quick production of lactic acid, which gives beer its sourness. Some beers that use the sour mash process will be fermented together with brewing yeast but no boil, while other sour mashed beers will be boiled and then fermented with brewing yeast.

Sour mash is presently a very common process in the commercial distillation of whiskey but home distilling can also use the spent mash benefits, especially in the creation of a healthier, more efficient fermentation, together with consistency in flavor.

How to Make Homemade Rum

As you might have seen on our Facebook page, this past weekend we packed up our shiny copper pot stills and took them to Vegas. They sat pretty on display at the Golden Nuggets Whiskey Fest, while we kept busy doing distilling demonstrations for those interested in the process and our copper stills. I even had the opportunity to try out some homemade rum made in one of our very own copper pot stills by a customer, which was absolutely delicious. So I thought that’s something I haven’t made in a very long time and should definitely go back to distilling: rum.

Rum is usually made from sugarcane byproducts, such as molasses or directly from sugarcane juice or brown sugar. The distillate is then aged in oak barrels for color and flavor. The liquor originates from the Caribbean and Latin America, where the majority of rum is still being produced today as the area is rich in sugarcane and sugar beets. Molasses is the dark, sweet, syrup-like byproduct obtained through the extraction of sugar from sugarcane and sugar beets. Molasses varies by amount of sugar and method of extraction, and age of plant.

I’ll only go through the process, steps and ingredients but you can decide on quantities depending on personal preferences. So, what you need for your own homemade rum are the following: molasses, brown sugar, yeast, water, your trusted copper still and a barrel of your choosing for the ageing process. To start off, dissolve your sugar and molasses into boiling water. Cool off the mix by adding colder water until it reaches approx. 80F, and then add yeast to your base ingredients to kick off fermentation. Distillers prefer faster-working yeast for lighter rums and a slower-working one for dark rum, as the latter causes more esters to accumulate during fermentation which results in a fuller taste. Install airlock and let it ferment. Fermentation is complete once bubbles stop passing through the airlock. After that, wait for 3-7 days until the mix is ready for distilling.

Distillation in a pot still is preferred because this gives the rum a richer flavor. Rum is usually distilled somewhere between 85-96% ABV. Fill the boiler up and follow the standard distilling procedure. After you’ve obtained your distillate, you can move on to the ageing process. Ageing is not necessary but does mellow the rum and give it its color and more flavor.

Many countries require for rum to be aged for a minimum of one year but the process can also take up to 12 years… though you’re probably not going to be waiting this long to enjoy your homemade product. Ageing is usually done in bourbon casks but other types of wooden barrels can also be used; stainless steel tanks are also an option. As with whiskey, the liquor takes its color and flavor from the wood: new casks contribute to a lighter flavor, while heavily charred ones to richer flavors. When aged in oak casks, the rum becomes darker, while the one aged in stainless steel usually remains colorless. Due to the warm climate rum is usually produced in, it matures at a much higher rate than whiskey or cognac, the angel’s share going up to 10% each year, compared to products aged at lower temperatures, which only reach 2% per year. After ageing, rum is usually blended. Light rums might undergo filtering to remove any color gained though ageing, while caramel might be added to darker rums for color adjustment. You can easily caramelize your own sugar and add it to the distillate.

After your copper still has done its job, you can also make your own spiced rum, by ageing the distillate together with your choice of spices, such as vanilla, peppercorns, cinnamon, star anise etc.

Rum is a delicious, cheap and easy to make drink which is preferably made in copper pot stills. You can adjust the recipe to your own preferences – you can only use molasses, for example, or decide between different types of yeast; as well as choose what type of cask to age it in, if you choose to age the rum at all.

 

 

 

 

Make Your Own Homemade Vodka

Vodka is a neutral, colorless and mostly flavorless spirit with a worldwide reach, both in terms of production and consumption. US regulations require that vodka produced in the US be "neutral" and be sold "without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color". Although it can very much be enjoyed neat, it’s also perfect for infusions and combined in cocktails. Vodka originates from Eastern Europe, although pinpointing a specific country and an accurate starting point seem to very controversial topics. So, let’s not get into that. The fact that it does not need ageing and that it can be made from a variety of common ingredients makes vodka easy and cheap to produce, in a relatively short amount of time. So, why not put your pretty copper pot still to good use and make some homemade vodka of your own?

Starting with the ingredients: what to make it out of? Most vodka today is made from grains such as wheat, rye, barley or corn – rye and wheat vodka is generally considered superior. But grains are not mandatory, as you can also make your vodka from potatoes, molasses, grapes, rice or sugar beets. The important thing is that the base ingredients are rich in starch and sugars. There are, of course, many possible mash recipes and, depending on the source you choose, different techniques might apply. So prepare your mash, strain it and let it ferment. Add your yeast of choice and make sure you keep the mash at the right temperature, about 80-85F for a good, efficient fermentation. If you’re not so lucky with natural temperature, you can always use a heating belt.

Next step: distillation. Transfer your fermented alcoholic wash into your copper pot still and fire it up. After the wash heats up, alcohol and other substances vaporize and condense in the water-cooled area of the still. Remove the heads – maybe discard around 2oz of liquid to 5 gallons of wash. After that, your pot still will contain ethanol, water and some other compounds. Watch your copper still closely through the rest of the distillation process and don’t forget to also remove the tails towards the end. Vodka gets its clarity and purity through its many distillation stages. That’s why it’s necessary to run it through your copper pot still at least three or four times. This leads to a high purity distillate with high alcohol content. Heads and tails need to be removed each time you redistill.

Something which sets the process of vodka production apart from other spirits is the extensive use of filtration, which takes away the roughness, making it smoother. Filtering can be done in the pot still, during distillation, as well as afterwards, when the distilled vodka is filtered through a carbon filter to absorb certain unwanted volatile substances and flavors. For the home distiller, this can easily be done through a funnel, with a cotton ball at the bottom. Add some activated carbon and pour the distillate into a bottle. You can repeat this as many times as you see fit. Traditional Eastern European producers prefer to use very accurate distillation and minimal filtering, as they aim to preserve the flavors and characteristics of the initial product.

The next step is diluting your vodka. Because of the high alcohol percentage obtained through repeated distillation, vodka is one drink which needs diluting in order to be safely enjoyed. You can add purified water to the distillate to reach a desired strength. An alcoholmeter is necessary to help you measure the alcohol percentage. Commercial vodka is usually bottled at a minimum of 30% ABV in the US and 37.5% ABV in the EU.

That’s it, your vodka is ready to drink neat or flavored. Vodka puts your copper pot still to good use, it’s fast and relatively easy to make, but most importantly, cheap. You can choose from a wide range of ingredients and then mix the final product with anything you like, either by infusing it with flavorings or simply being creative with some cocktails.

Rye Whiskey

It seems I’ve dedicated quite a few posts to bourbons on this blog but have left out another great American classic: rye whiskey. Different in taste, less smooth but with a strong spicy character of its own, rye whiskey has just as impressive a history as bourbon.

In the United States, rye whiskey is, by law, required to contain a minimum of 51% rye in its mash. It is distilled to no more than 160 proof and aged in the same charred, new oak barrels I’ve already mentioned numerous times. As it leaves the whiskey still, it must enter the barrel at no more than 125 proof. It is bottled at no less than 80 proof. The labeling rules are the same as for bourbon: it is considered “straight rye” if it’s been aged for at least two years, if aged for less than four years, the label must state the age. If the exact age is not stated, that means the whiskey has been aged for a minimum of four years. If it’s a blended whiskey, then it needs to state the age of the youngest whiskey in the blend. It should contain no added colorings, flavorings or additional sprits.

Although many refer to Canadian whisky as “rye whiskey”, there’s no justified reason for that. It’s true that historically Canadian whisky contained more rye than the American, but it wasn’t necessarily made from a majority of rye. Canadian Food and Drug regulations actually state there is no requirement for rye to be used to make whiskies with the legally-identical labels "Canadian Whisky", "Canadian Rye Whisky" or "Rye Whisky" in Canada, provided they "possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky". Today, most Canadian whiskies are blended to achieve that character, adding a flavoring whisky made from a rye mash (and distilled at a lower proof) to a high-proof base usually made from corn or wheat. In fact, Canadian whiskies with most or all of their mash consisting of rye are an exception. Unlike US "straight rye whiskey", a minimum of 3 years aging in 180 gallon wooden barrels is required for a “straight Canadian rye”; barrels don’t have to be new oak though, nor charred.

Compared to bourbon, rye is noticeably spicier, fruitier and drier. As bourbon gets its sweetness from corn, this also impacts the rye taste, depending on what grains the rest of the 49% is made up of and how much of that is corn. Usually, those grains include corn, wheat, malted rye, and malted barley, in any combination. The proportions used by large commercial producers are usually 51% rye, 39% corn and 10% malted barley. Large Kentucky distilleries generally use this formula, but since rye has regained its popularity in the last few years, craft distilleries are also producing more rye, as well as experimenting with different grain options and even 100% rye mashes.

Rye whiskey was very popular, especially in the North-East, in states like Pennsylvania and Maryland but was produced in other areas too, each region adding a distinctly unique character to the liquor. Pittsburgh was the main rye production spot in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In the beginning, the rye made in Pennsylvania was actually 100%, with some malted rye in the blend but no corn or barley; this was known as Monongahela-style. Rye largely disappeared after Prohibition and since Kentucky remained the main place where it kept being produced, many of the other regional styles died out.

George Washington was famous for his distilling and his rye recipe. The distillery on his estate, opened in 1797, was one of the most successful business enterprises at Mount Vernon and the largest in America by 1799.  Five copper pot stills produced whiskey using Washington’s original mash bill: 60% rye, 35% corn and 5% malted barley.  When George Washington died, an inventory listed peach, apple and persimmon brandy, plain whiskey, and cinnamon whiskey stored in the mansion’s basement.  It is thought that all these items were made at Washington’s distillery and served to guests.

Anchor Distilling in San Francisco were the first to dust off historic recipes in 2003 and make rye in the style of George Washington: with small copper pot stills and little aging, which is generally what mellows the spirit. Anchor takes pride in their small batches of rye and their use of beautiful custom-made copper pot stills (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/25/travel/rye-whiskey-is-back-with-flavors-of-american-history.html?_r=0&pagewanted=1 ).

Mount Vernon Distillery  has set out to recreate the original recipe in the slightest details, including the same place, and was asking, earlier this year, for $95 per bottle of the most authentic Washington rye available today (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/26/george-washington-whiskey_n_2955062.html).

Ageing and Flavoring

Although it’s proverbially wine that’s known for getting better with age, we all know it is the same with whiskey. Even more so, whiskey doesn’t even turn into whiskey without the ageing and flavoring processes, which simultaneously happen inside the “magic”barrels. I’ve touched upon the subject quite a few times before, especially when talking about Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky Bourbon, but I find it a very complex topic which I could write many posts about.

After leaving the whiskey still, the raw liquor, moonshine at this stage, enters barrels for ageing. The wood is where the whiskey gets about 40-70% of its distinctive aroma and color. Maturing is the ultimate goal, not a specific age but, it’s a general rule that the older the whiskey, the stronger the flavor. Wood to whiskey ratio is also very important, as the bigger the contact surface, the stronger, or quicker to obtain, the flavor. What is interesting to observe during visits to distilleries is that, no matter how many revolutionary, accurate, modern equipment has come out in the past decades (gas chromatographs, mass spectrometers and computersthat can break down chemical components to the very last cell), it is still a man-mastered art, completely dependent on a skilled master distiller and his senses.

For American whiskeys, the standard whiskey barrels of 53 gallons are made from new white oak. American white oak's durability, as well as its ability to hold water and oxygenate it, make it favorable for whiskey barrels; the wood is denser and harder than French oak, making barrels less prone to leakage. French oak also has a different flavor profile, it’s spicier; the wood is also lighter, allowing oxygen to interact differently with the spirit. In United States, the barrels have to be new so that as much of the flavor as possible gets soaked out of the wood by the whiskey and many commercial distilleries now re-barrel their whiskey in new charred oak barrels to reinforce the wood notes.

For drying the new oak staves, before turning them into barrels, some choose to use a kiln, which is obviously faster, but many distilleries still use the traditional, natural option of air-drying. They usually leave the wood outside for 9-12 months as they believe exposure to the elements prepares it much better for its next task: flavoring. The exposure is believed to reduce the level of certain chemicals which are unfavorable to the whiskey aroma. This is not a general rule though, as some distilleries also air-dry their wood indoors.

Back in the day, the wood was held over fire to make it easier for it to bend and turn into barrels. In time, the fire was replaced with steam. Although steam was much more efficient for softening the wood, whiskey makers discovered they were missing some of the flavors that originated from the fire. That’s why, today, barrels are toasted on the inside: the process modifies the wood’s chemical components, turning some into sugars. The sugars caramelize in the heat and give the whiskey its caramel-vanilla sweetness and its amber color. It’s also where the smoky flavor comes from. The charring process, which we’ve seen before with bourbon, is different from the toasting. It’s an additional quick burning of the inside of the barrel, which produces more caramel and creates a thin charcoal layer which filters the liquor during its maturation.

Once the moonshine’s out of the copper whiskey still and moved into barrels, the maturing process begins. Many distilleries have observed that storing their freshly-filled whiskey barrels at the top of the warehouse for the first 2-3 years, helps exert more pressure onto them. In this way, the spirit is pushed deep inside the whiskey, bringing out more intense flavors. They then move the barrels in the lower half of the warehouse, where the temperature variations throughout the year are more moderate, compared to the hot top half. Other distilleries simply leave their barrels in place for the length of the maturation, then make a selection of barrels from the top and lower areas and blend them together. And for some, aging has even gone beyond stationary warehouses: such as Jefferson's Reserve with their Ocean-Aged Bourbon, which was left to mature on a ship for nearly four years. The founder of the distillery said the Panama Canal's extreme heat pushed the whiskey deeper inside the wood, causing the wood sugars to caramelize and add a rum-like black hue. He said the bourbon also breathed differently at sea, and the salt air added a unique briny taste to the whiskey.

Many distilleries have tried to come up with new, tastier or more interesting products. As seen with experiments like the one above, most distillers choose to alter the wood or the aging process. The Woodford Reserve Distillery put standard 6-7 year-old Woodford Reserve in a maple wood barrel as well as former sweet wine casks to lend more chocolate, nutty and dark cherry flavors not usually found in bourbon. The former fortified wine barrels had wine soaked into the wood and the fruity flavors that remained from the barrel's former alcohol enriched the flavor of the bourbon.

In an effort to create a spicier-finishing whiskey, Maker's Mark added toasted French white oak staves to its existing bourbon barrel for its 2010 Maker's 46 . When the bourbon hit the barrel and mingled with the French and American oak, it took on both woods’ profile characteristics and became a combination of French spice and American sweetness.

The owner of an upstart distillery from Ohio called Cleveland Whiskey decided the conventional method of producing whiskey simply wasn't fast enough to meet that demand. But rather than water down an existing recipe, he also started experimenting with wood. His new method: he ages the whiskey in a new oak barrel for the first six months, and then deposits it in stainless steel tanks. He cuts up the used barrel, processes the wood and adds it into the tank. In the tank, the spirit is agitated and undergoes a series of differences in pressure to squeeze in and out of the wood pores. After a week in the tubs, the hyper-aged whiskey is ready for bottling. Cleveland Whiskey hopes to produce 20,000 cases of the whiskey in 2014.

But the Buffalo Trace Distillery  is said to hold the record for whiskey experimentation. Since 1987 the company has conducted more than 1,500 barrel experiments for its Experimental Whiskey collection. The tests included studying sections of the tree to determine which heartwood should go into which stave and making a French oak barrel three times the size of a standard barrel. In the latest experiment the distillery charred a regular bourbon barrel for 3.5 minutes instead of the standard 55 seconds. 

The wood and the ageing are the points where the most important differences between American whiskey and Scotch whisky come up. Very few Scottish distilleries use new oak casks and most Scottish distillers don't even want new barrels since they claim the flavors from the wood would overpower the character of their distillate. Traditionally, 132 gallons sherry casks called butts have been used. But these became scarce during the Spanish civil war of the 1930s and that’s when many Scotch distilleries turned to used bourbon barrels as an alternative. Sometimes, other cask types like port, rum or wine are used as well.  The process of re-filling whisky into a fresh cask for the final months of the maturation is called finishing. Most whisky casks are re-used several times by Scottish distilleries. During maturation, the spirit extracts flavoring and coloring both from the wood and the remains of the previous cask filling, which makes the flavor palette much wider. The longer it stays in the cask, the darker the whisky gets. But every cask is different: there are 5 year old whiskies that are dark brown, and there are 30 year old whiskies that are only slightly yellow.

Maturation, too, differs between American whiskey and Scottish whisky. Although Scotch can legally be sold once it is three years old, it’s usually decades that create distinction. But that is mostly to do with the climate. As an experiment, Maker's Mark swapped barrels with a Scottish distiller to see how much the environments of the two places affected the whisky's maturation. The experiment's outcome was that one year in Kentucky, with its hot summers and cold winters, was roughly equal to four in Scotland, with its much more constant and humid climate.

The list of experiments can go on for many more pages, but the essential process has been the same for centuries: fermentation, distillation, most often in a copper whiskey still, ageing and flavoring in new or “second-hand” wood barrels. And although the first two are key foundations for the final product, it’s the last two that give the spirit its unique flavor and distinctive notes.

 

Sources:

www.scientificamerican.com

www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2013/05/29/cleveland-whiskey-ages-bourbon-in-one-week/

www.economist.com/node/457125

 

 

 

Tasting Whiskey

As the end of 2013 is getting close, I have to say it’s been a pretty good year. I’ve enjoyed my family, had awesome adventures with my friends and, of course, managed to spend some quality time with my beautiful copper whiskey still. I’ve succeeded some incredibly tasty moonshine recipes… and failed a few too. But hopefully I also learned a thing or two in the process.

I think you’ll agree that discovering and learning new things is one of the most important things in life. So I thought I’ll share with you an essential set of tips which every whiskey still owner and whiskey passionate should know: how to taste whiskey. I got most of my information from the tastings and visits to distilleries that I’ve made in the past, but also from chats both with fellow moonshiners and master distillers. Although certain details differ between different countries, areas and even distillers, some things they all agree on.

The trick to get you to spot certain characteristics is to build up experiences of tasting different things, even unrelated to whiskey, and taking 'taste snapshots' of the characteristics of the flavors. The more you do this, the more precise your whiskey tasting becomes. What I think is most important is that whiskey shouldn’t be gulped down in shots. It’s a fine drink that needs to be sipped and savored so that all the flavors have time to reach your taste buds. It’s also important to remember that tasting is a very personal and subjective thing. There’s no right or wrong answers and there’s certainly very few chances you’ll pick up the same aromas as your friends, especially if you’re not experts. 

The first thing to do is choose the right glass for nosing and tasting. The so-called ‘snifter’, a tulip-shaped sherry or brandy glass, is ideal for this or something similar; even a wine glass will do. Some come with an additional glass plate which, placed over the top of the glass, helps trap the aromas inside. The essential thing is that it has a stem and is narrower towards the top, so that it forces the bouquet towards your nostrils and lets you capture the whole aroma. The shape also helps you swirl the drink and still keep it in the glass, without wasting any of it. Make sure the glass is at room-temperature and that you only hold it by the low end of the stem, as it’s important that you don’t transfer body heat to the drink.

Pour about an ounce of whiskey, which should be enough for a tasting. Take note of the color while you are waiting during this short time - holding it against a white background is a good tip.  Swirl it around for a bit, so as to allow oxygen to get to the liquid and evaporation to begin. This is important as the whiskey has been taken out of a whiskey still and trapped in a cask or a bottle for all of its life until this point and needs a little time to express itself and start to show its true characteristics. Once you have swirled, allow the spirit to settle so that your first sensations will not be full of alcohol. 

Then on to the ‘sniffing’. Some distillers actually say this is the essential step and that the actual tasting will only confirm what your nose has already told you. But you need a pretty well-trained nose for that… I guess the most important thing is to do it right, slowly and carefully, and pay attention to every single note. Firstly, stick your whole nose into the glass and gently sniff it. The alcohol vapors will be the first thing you encounter so that’s why you need to pull back, swirl it in the glass for a bit, wait a few seconds, then go back to it. Go back a third time, bury your nose into the lip of the glass, and roll the glass from one nostril to the other. Even if you don’t recognize all the aromas, some distillers encourage you to try and associate the scents with memories, which might lead you to remember a certain room (a desk, wood, leather, age), a memory related to home (Christmas cake, dried fruit, spices), summer holidays (grass, smoke, salt) and so on. From this, try to predict what the taste of the whiskey will be like.

The next step is adding a bit of water to bring the whiskey down to somewhere between 20-35% abv – this depends on personal preference. Adding the water opens it up, gives you more information on the drink and makes it easier to identify the palate. Distillers say that especially for whiskeys 12 years or younger, water is always advisable. For whiskeys 15 years and up, don't add water before you first taste it. But no matter what the age of the whiskey is, if it still bites when you take a sip, that means it's too strong and you should add water a little bit at a time, otherwise it will just numb your nose and your taste buds. Don't use sparkling water. Any good still water will do, but distilled water is best. Don't use ice, it will only mask the flavors. Some distillers actually recommend you don’t add water at all and just try it as it is first, to then decide for yourself how much water would help you discover the remaining flavors after the first sip.

Finally, taste it! Take a small sip into your mouth and move it around. Start by putting the whisky in the middle of the tongue, then under the tongue, then back in the middle of the tongue. Keep it there a few seconds and assess the flavors, then let it go down. As it goes down, the tongue will reveal more interesting flavors. Let the flavors linger for at least 20-30 seconds. Always take a second taste, which usually reveals different layers of flavor than the first. After two-three slow tastes, tip the rest back for a good finish. The finish is the after taste that comes once you have swallowed the whiskey. Some people say the complexity of the finish in whiskey is what differentiates it from all other spirits. Also, ask yourself whether the flavors remain for a short, medium or long time. This is called the length of the finish.

If you want to compare different types of whiskey, there are two types of processes you can try: the vertical or the horizontal tasting. Vertical tasting refers to comparing two (or more) whiskeys belonging to the same distillery, while for a horizontal tasting you can choose whiskeys from different distilleries or areas, but which still have some common elements – either try two different Kentucky Bourbons or try an American and a Scottish rye whiskey, of more or less the same age.

Although this is a topic you can never know enough about, I hope this adds a small point to your list of ‘interesting things I learned in 2013’. I also hope you have an amazing new year and that we can learn more new things together.

Thank you for your love of copper whiskey stills and for being part of The Whiskey Still Company community! Wishing you all lovely holidays and a ‘shining 2014!

Kentucky Bourbon

Kentucky Bourbon is probably just as famous as Tennessee Whiskey worldwide but, unlike it, it isn’t an official brand but more of a generally-agreed proof of quality as, although it can officially be made anywhere in the US, it’s usually associated with the South and, especially with Kentucky. The main reason for that is history but also the fact that even today, most bourbon distilleries are still in the state of Kentucky. According to USA Today, as of this year, approximately 95% of all bourbon is produced in Kentucky, and the state has 4.9 million barrels of bourbon that are currently aging – a figure that exceeds the state population. 

The history of bourbon probably has just as many versions as distilleries. It’s generally thought that it began in the 1700s with the first European settlers in the area. Since, essentially, any type of grain can be used to make whiskey, and the practice of aging whiskey, and even charring the barrels for better flavor, had also been known in Europe for centuries, the use of the local American corn for the mash and oak for the barrels was simply a logical combination of the materials at hand for the settlers. Like most farmers in that time, they discovered that turning their corn and grains into whiskey made it a lot easier for them to make a profit, than having to struggle with transporting their crops to the market, because of the rough landscape. Back when Kentucky was still part of Virginia, in the late 18th century, some of its original counties formed Bourbon County, named to honor the French Royal Family. Farmers made liquor in copper stills, then stamped their oak barrels with “Bourbon County” and shipped their whiskey down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. The long trip, allegedly, aged the whiskey and the oak gave it its distinct mellow flavor and amber color. As the whiskey from the region became more and more popular, it was already known as Bourbon whiskey. An alternative origin for the name was offered by a historian who suggested it actually came from Bourbon Street, in New Orleans, where the Tarascon brothers' shipments of Kentucky whiskey sold well as a cheaper alternative to French cognac. In 1964, the 88th Congress of the United States declared Bourbon Whiskey ‘a distinctive product of the United States’.

The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits is the regulator which states that to be labeled as bourbon, a whiskey must be made in the US, from a mixture of at least 51% corn. Different distilleries use different recipes, some use more corn, some add rye, barley, wheat and other grains, but the minimum 51% corn is non-negotiable. When bourbon leaves the whiskey still, it cannot exceed 160 proof and it needs to be no more than 125 proof when it’s put inside the barrel. It’s also general practice that if it’s a higher proof, when coming out of the whiskey copper still, to be cut with water until it reaches 125 proof. But the watering down has to be done carefully and professionally, as Maker's Mark found out the hard way earlier this year, when it tried to ‘stretch supplies’ of its flagship spirit by lowering alcohol content and adding extra water. Their announcement was followed by a wave of complaints and so, within a few days, they came out with a statement cancelling the plan.

When bottled, all bourbons must be at least 80 proof although, some distillers we met on the trail said many exceed this requirement and it’s common to find bourbon whiskeys anywhere between 90-127 proof. It must be aged in new, charred oak barrels and cannot have any artificial colorings or additives. This also includes natural coloring agents like caramel, which can be used in other types of whiskey.

Kentucky distillers say it’s the sweet, iron-free water that has been filtered through the high concentrations of limestone, unique to the area, which give Kentucky bourbon its unique flavor.

As distillers agree that 40-70% of the flavor comes from the wood, the barrel is a central point for the taste and quality of the product. After leaving the whiskey still, the spirit gets its color and distinct flavor from the caramelized sugar in the charred oak. Bourbons gain more color and flavor the longer they mature. Maturity, not a particular age, is the goal. Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period so you can find products aged for as little as three months that are sold as bourbon. Bourbon that has been aged for a minimum of two years qualifies as straight, but if it’s less than four years, the duration of aging must be stated on the label. Blended  bourbon has to be at least 51% straight bourbon.

A refinement which came with time was the sour mash process, by which each new fermentation process was conditioned with some amount of spent mash (the wet solids strained from a previous batch of fermented mash, which still contain live yeast). As of 2005, all straight bourbons use a sour mash process.

As with every whiskey, although there are strict regulations producers need to follow to meet the requirements, each distiller needs to add that extra something to make their bourbon different. Many make the difference in the mash, as the grain combination added on top of the corn adds to the flavor palette: barley can add a bit of a nutty tinge, rye makes it spicier and wheat adds softer, caramel and vanilla aromas. Four Roses claims to be the only Bourbon Distillery that combines 5 proprietary yeast strains with two separate mashbills to produce 10 distinct bourbon recipes. Woodford Reserve produce twice-barreled bourbon, matured in separate, charred oak barrels - the second barrel deeply toasted before a light charring – to ‘extract additional amounts of soft, sweet oak character’. It’s also Woodford Reserve who uses the only copper pot still and triple distillation process used to handcraft Bourbon. Maker’s Mark claim they are the only distillery in the world to hand rotate barrels in their warehouses to ensure flavor consistency, while Wild Turkey distil at a lower proof – which is meant to seal in the taste, and makes it possible to add very little water when the bourbon comes out of the warehouse.

Most Kentucky bourbon distilleries take pride in still being family businesses, some of them, like Jim Beam with an impressive history of generations of distillers. They also try to set themselves apart by using high quality ingredients, longer ageing periods, special yeast strains and a wider offer.

And, as I said before, trying all the different types made me realize that, even within fairly tight restrictions, you can easily get different flavors, strengths and degrees of refinement. I’ve collected a few interesting recipes on the trail and I can’t wait to try them in my very own handcrafted copper whiskey still.