My friend Malik visiting his still at Vendome Copper and Brass in Louisville KY in January 2019
Well, it started out as an idea, but five years and a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears later. it has become a passion. A passion for perfecting the centuries old art of hand-crafting distilled spirits.
We have earned our stripes in this craft through “trial by fire”. We spent the past five years studying every aspect of distilling; From the history of alcohol and distilled spirits, to where the craft finds itself today.
Just to put this knowledge into perspective, I will list a fraction of that information here in a "Readers Digest version":
-Many chemicals and alcohols are produced during Fermentation. We are trying to produce Ethanol. When yeast is fed the things it likes to eat, it will produce (mostly) a particular type of alcohol The good news is; we know what types of yeast actually like to produce Ethanol, and we know what that yeast likes to eat more than anything else; Dextrose, or simple sugar.
-Whiskey is made from sugar that is derived wholly and entirely from grains. Cane sugar makes Rum. Fruit sugar makes Wine, Potatoes make Vodka (actually vodka can also be made from cane, or grains as well)
Here, we are mainly concerned with the process of how to get the sugar from grains in order to make Whiskey.
-So... how do you get sugar out of grains in the first place? This is a multi step process and although its as simple as making cream style corn, and adding in some other grains and it gets sweet...there is a lot more to it than that.
-This step is called Mashing. Mashing is a multi-step process that is a science in itself. It starts with a Base Grain, and adding water to hydrate it. it helps if the surface contact area is increased by gristing the grain first. Each grain used has a temperature range that is optimal for that grain. The selection of grains and the order they are added (and temperature they are added at) are each factors to consider in your process. Each grain will become saturated (unable to absorb any further water) at different rates, depending on the grain. This state is known as "Gelatinization". Gelatinization is the state in which the grain has released its optimal amount of starch. But wait, I thought we were making Sugar, not Starch? How do we go from making Starch, to making Sugar?
- The next step in this process involves a process called Malting. Malting is the introduction of an enzyme known as Amylase at just the right temperature, and for just the right length of time to your Starch. What the Amylase does is to break those complex starch chains into random shorter chains that are a mix of different sugar types. The first Amylase is known as Alpha-Amylase, and it works at a particular temperature range between 152 degrees Farenheit and apx. 175 degrees Farenheit. The Second Amylase is known as Beta- Amylase, and it works in the range of 143 degrees Farenheit to 152 degrees Farenheit. What the Beta-Amylase does is to further break these chains into mostly two strand chains. There are still about 20% of those two strand chains that are joined with other two strand chains at the original Hub that formed the starch molecule... these are still largely un-fermentable complex sugars. Your mash would ferment well if you stopped here, but this affects your potential yield. The last Amylase we researched is known as Gluco-Amylase, and this version of the Amylase enzyme works from 142 Degrees Farenheit, all the way down to the temperatures found in the fermentation process... say.. 75 degrees Farenheit. Yes Gluco-Amylase continues to convert complex sugars to dextrin/glucose throughout the fermentation process... which explains why some mashes will continue to bubble for weeks to months as the un-converted starches continue to break down into complex sugars and the complex sugars continue to break down further...Whew!
The Temperature you cook these grains at affects the complexity of the sugar chains and their fermentability... cook too low and you will be waiting a very long time for "Gelatinization". Cook too high and you end up with some very long chains that are mostly un-fermentable.
Sugars and their names are defined by how many links there are per chain in the sugar molecule. Dextrin/glucose is a two link chain, and it is 100% fermentable. This is the optimal sugar for yeast to produce Ethanol.
-more on this subject to come soon