Pfeiffer & Schwartzel Family History
How Whiskey Is Made
Whiskey (Ethyl Alcohol) begins with complex starches in the form of corn, rye, barley and sometimes wheat. These grains which are all complex starched need to be broken down into a simple sugar and then the sugar is fermented to convert it to alcohol. That sounds simple but it really is fairly complex.
We begin with barley which needs to be allowed to geminate or flower to begin the process. The malted barley and the other grains, i.e. corn, rye or wheat, are all sent through a grinding mill to form powders. Then the grains as powders are placed in water and cooked. The purpose of this is to allow the natural enzymes (proteins) that are in the gains to begin the process of breaking down the complex starches into simple sugar. These grains contain three very specialized enzymes, each acting in different way on the grain.
1st The enzyme Amylase breaks down the starch into Dextrin.
2nd The enzyme Diastase breaks down the Dextrin into a sugar, Maltose.
3rd The enzyme Maltase breaks down the Maltose into a simple sugar, Dextrose.
These enzymes are natural constituents of grains and some other starchy foods.
Once the grains are turned into Dextrose they are ready to be fermented. The dextrose which was prepared in a mash tub is transferred to a fermenter for processing. In the fermenter, yeast is added. Yeast is a tiny microscopic plant that thrives in sugar solutions such as fruit juice. Under the right conditions and in the presence of food, the yeast will subdivide and multiply many times over. Certain yeast as they consume sugar, will give off Alcohol and Carbon Dioxide. The yeast will consume all sugar available until they have polluted their environment with alcohol until they can no longer function. At about 16% alcohol by volume, yeast stop functioning whether sugar is present or not.
In order to raise the alcohol content above 14% to 16% it must be concentrated through distillation. Distillation or rectification as it is sometimes called, separates the alcohol from the other liquids and solids that make up the converted mash. This converted mash is called beer and in essence is the same as the bottled beer we drink. The beer is heated to the point where the alcohol boils. Fortunately alcohol boils at 172.9 degrees Fahrenheit, while water, the other main liquid in the beer boils at the higher temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Any solids in the beer are left behind during the boiling process. As the alcohol vapors are given off during boiling they are collected and passed through a cooler, The cooler condenses the hot vapors back into a liquid, minus most of the water. From here the alcohol is ready to use.
However, if we are making whiskey or better yet, Bourbon, the condensed alcohol is very harsh to the taste. To smoothen out the taste to where you have very drinkable alcohol, the alcohol is placed in wooden barrels that have been charred. The barrels are stored for a number of years, the more the better, where the alcohol takes on flavor and color from the charred barrels. After aging the alcohol is ready to bottle and consume.
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Making Bourbon - Based partly on the recipe for making Maker’s Mark
Whiskey (ethyl alcohol, C2H5OH) is produced by taking starch, corn, and converting the starch into sugar. Next, the sugar is converted into alcohol. The final step is to concentrate alcohol by removing water through distillation.
To be classified as Whiskey one grain has to at least 51% of the grains, to be Bourbon, there has to be at least 51% corn.
Water – best is from a spring where there is a lot of limestone. This water is free of iron and rich in minerals, especially magnesium and calcium. Kentucky and Tennessee has abundant sources of these “sweet waters”.
Malted Barley – barley that has sprouted or germinated
Hops - added to yeast to “sour” it.
Corn – the primary grain in bourbon
Rye or Wheat - one or the other is used, not both
Yeast – a live organism that feeds on fermentable (simple) sugars, such as glucose and fructose.
THE WATER Get Info
Kentucky spring water, purified as it flows over limestone rock formations, is perfect for bourbon distilling because it is free of minerals that affect taste. This iron-free limestone water is what makes Kentucky bourbon world-renowned. There are few places in the world where there is an abundance of this limestone water; Kentucky and Tennessee are blessed to have so much.
PROCESSING THE GRAINS Get Info
The bourbon recipes consist of a mixture of at least 51 percent corn, with a smaller percentage barley malt and rye or wheat. Each distiller takes great care in selecting the grains, making choices based on quality, ripeness and moisture content. For each type of grain, there are a number of individual varieties just as in wine, there are a number of varieties of grapes.
Each grain is dried and ground into meal. The barley in allowed to germinate and produce a partial flower before it is ground.
MAKING THE YEAST Get Info
Dona Tub -Preparation of yeast mash: A 55 gallon, double walled, stainless-steel Dona tub is used to cook a mixture of water, hops, malted barley and yeast.
Yeast Tub - 200 gallon tub:
CONVERTING THE GRAINS INTO SUGAR Get Info
The enzymes in the malted barley attack the starch in the mash and slowly break down the starch into a simple sugar.
Mash Tub - 11,000 gallon carbon-steel mash tub (15 ft diameter, 4 ft deep): Three step process.
CONVERTING THE SUGAR INTO ALCOHOL Get Info
The strains of yeast used in fermenting mash at the various whiskey distilleries is what make one brand of bourbon different from another and are closely guarded secrets in the industry. The yeast is believed to affect the body, aroma and taste of the whiskey as much as the aging process. Many strains have been passed from generation to generation in family-owned distilleries and are still used today.
Fermenter - a 10,000 gallon cypress tank:
Mash - Liquid composed of ground-up grain mixed with boiling water. This extracts soluble starch, which is converted into maltose by the enzyme amylase. the liquid is drained from the mash tub and fermented into wart.
Mash bill - The grain recipe used to make whiskey
Wart or Beer - the liquid that goes into the still.
SOUR MASH Get Info
Sour mash is the name for a process in the distilling industry that uses material from an older batch of mash to start fermentation in the batch currently being made, analogous to the making of sourdough bread. The term sour mash can also be used as the name of the type of mash used in that process, and a whiskey made using this process can be referred to as a sour mash whiskey. Sour mash does not refer to the flavor of the whiskey, as is sometimes thought.
The sour mash process was developed by either Dr. James C. Crow or Dr. Jason S. Amburgey while they were working at the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery (now the Woodford Reserve Distillery) in Woodford County, Kentucky.
In the sour mash process, the mash – a mixture of grain, malt and water – is conditioned with some amount of spent mash (previously fermented mash that still contains live yeast). Spent mash is also known as spent beer, distillers' spent grain, stillage, and slop or feed mash, so named because it is used as animal feed. The acid introduced by using the sour mash controls the growth of bacteria that could taint the whiskey and creates a proper pH balance for the yeast to work. An established and active strain of live yeast is introduced into the mash that is to be fermented. By using an established and known fermented "sour", this fermentation process controls the introduction and growth of foreign bacteria and yeasts that could damage the whiskey, and improves the consistency and quality of the liquor, so that every bottle tastes as close to the same as possible. Sour mash is popular in bourbon whiskey and Tennessee whiskey.
INCREASING THE STRENGTH OF THE ALCOHOL Get Info
The normal type of still used today in the U.S. is the continuous distillation column which is often 60 to 70 feet tall. Older stills and the type used for Scotch are pot stills. However, there is one distillery making bourbon today using the old pot still, that is Labrot & Graham distillery who makes Woodford Reserve. Many stills today are made of copper with some of the newer ones today being made mostly of stainless steel with a small amount of copper. The copper has the effect of removing sulfur compounds from the whiskey.
Still - An apparatus, usually made of copper, in which the distiller's beer is purified by means of hearing the liquid to at least 176 degrees Fahrenheit, but less than 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Because alcohol boils at a temperature lower than water, the alcohol can be evaporated, collected and condensed and thus separated from the water that makes up part of the mash.
Beer - A general term for all fermented malt beverages flavored with hops. A low level (6 to 12 percent) alcohol solution derived from the fermentation of mash by microorganisms.
Beer Still - The stripping section of a distillation column for concentrating ethanol.
Rectifying Column - The portion of a distillation column above the feed tray in which rising vapor is enriched by interaction with a countercurrent falling stream of condensed vapor.
Stripping Column - The section of the distillation column in which the alcohol concentration in the starting beer solution is decreased. This section is below the beer injection point.
Stripping Section - The section of a distillation column below the feed in which the condensate is progressively decreased in the fraction of more volatile component by stripping.
White Dog - Un-aged distillate, just as it comes from the still, is colorless. Also known as "green whiskey" or "high wine."
Fire Copper - a term used in the late 1800's to describe a “sweet mash” whiskey.
Double Distilled - Most distilleries take the output from the still and pass it through a second still called a “doubler” or through a similar device called a “thumber” to increase the proof of the whiskey.
BARRELS Get Info
The new, white oak barrels are filled to capacity with the high wine (alcohol), ready for several years of aging. The barrels are charred on the inside, giving bourbon its amber color and mellow but potent taste. A barrel has a liquid measure equal to 42 American gallons.
Angel's Share - The portion of the whiskey that evaporates from the barrel during the aging process. Typically around 2%, by volume, evaporates per year.
Barrel - A liquid measure equal to 42 American gallons or about 306 pounds; one barrel equals 5.6 cubic feet or .159 cubic meters; for crude oil, one barrel is about .136 metric tons, .134 long tons, and .150 short tons.
Proof – The scale, measured in degrees, used to denote alcohol content; in the United Stated, 200° is equal to 100% alcohol. The term ''proof '' means that liquid which contains one-half its volume of ethyl alcohol of a specific gravity of 0.7939 at 60 degrees Fahrenheit (referring to water at 60 degrees Fahrenheit as unity).
Proof Gallon – One gallon of alcohol at 100° proof.
AGING THE WHISKEY Get Info
Aging must take place for a minimum of two years.
If aged less than four years, labeling must include age. Most bourbons are aged
from four to eight years.
BOTTLING Get Info
The final step before shipping and selling the whiskey to the consumer.
ANIMAL FOOD Get Info
The left over mash has a lot of food value left over and makes excellent animal feed.
See Whiskey - What's the Difference for a comparison of different brands of whisky.
The recipe listed above came from "the Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys" by Gary Regan & Mardee Haidin Regan, 1995