So how are spirits made / distilled?
While there are many steps and nuances in the distilling process there are still the basic steps of:
Since grain is the basic ingredient used to make most distilled spirits, selecting the grain is where the process begins. The three grains used to make most distilled spirits are: Corn, Barley and Rye.
- Milling: Grain is ground into a coarse grain meal. The milling process breaks down the protective hull covering the grain kernels and frees the grain starch. This process results in Grain Starch.
- Mashing: The grain starch is converted to grain sugar. The grain meal is mixed with pure water and cooked. This produces a mash. Barley malt, which is barley that has been allowed to sprout, is added to the mash. This process results in Grain Sugar.
- Fermenting: Grain sugar is converted to alcohol and carbon dioxide by the addition of yeast. With the addition of yeast to the grain sugar, the yeast multiplies producing carbon dioxide which bubbles away and a mixture of alcohol, grain particles and congeners or Grain Alcohol is left. The congeners are responsible for some of the taste, aroma, and color.
- Distilling: The grain alcohol is heated. Since alcohol boils before water, the alcohol will vaporize first leaving the water, the grain particles and some of the congeners in the boiling vessel. The vaporized alcohol is then cooled or condensed forming clear drops of beverage alcohol–distilled spirits. At the end of this step, the process results in Beverage Alcohol which is also known as Distilled Spirits.
Two additional steps are taken in making some distilled spirits. They are aging and blending.
- Aging: Distilled spirits are sealed in charred oak barrels where they gradually develop their distinctive taste, aroma and color over the years. This aging period can last from two to as many as twelve years.
- Blending: Spirits of different ages and which are made from different grains are combined to produce a more pleasing beverage alcohol.
While the above is a basic overview. There are many books and classes available about the making and enjoying of distilled spirits, we have even listed some of our favorites in our Bookstore.
But, sometimes reading about something is not quite enough. We will be asking the various distillers we meet to share with us the various processes they use in their distilleries. These short videos will be available here and on YouTube as they are produced.
Sit back, open a bottle, pour a couple of fingers and enjoy.