Do you ever ponder about the origin of that delicious glass of whiskey that you savor from time to time? How did it come to be? What processes are involved in the creation of such a savory and sensual treat?
Whiskey: An American Tradition
Back in Andrew Jackson’s day, Americans preferred whiskey as their drink of choice. In fact, they had it with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a few shots thrown in between for good measure. When the weather turned cold, they warmed themselves by downing hot toddies comprised of whiskey, water, and sugar. In the summer, they poured it over ice and added citrus, bitters, and even mint for a refreshing twist. Local renegades preferred it straight up, almost directly out of the still, for at that time, whiskey was never aged more than 30 days before consuming.
Thankfully, our consumption habits, as well as our production process, have greatly improved, making whiskey a bit more palatable and our drinking patterns much healthier. Let’s take a look at just what goes into making a batch of this golden brew; is it possible to appreciate this American institution any more than we already do?
Step 1: A base is chosen for each batch
Whiskey is, by definition, a grain-based spirit. Most mixtures start with a blend of corn, wheat, barley, rye, or mixtures of several different grains. A base is chosen with the end result of sugar extraction in mind---the easier it is to extract sugar from the grain when breaking it down, the easier it will be to make a quality batch of whiskey from it. Most American whiskeys are corn and rye based, as these yield sufficient sugar content to ensure volume.
Step 2: Grain base is cooked
Bringing a mixture of grain and water to a high temperature is essential to be able to extract sugars from the grain. These high temperatures are most efficient when pressurized, making the heating process much more efficient. Attempting the heating process using less than professional grade equipment is not advised, as the extreme heat and pressure are hard to regulate. This heating step is an important part of the mash process, where it begins to ferment.
Step 3: Grain is fermented
The mixture of grain and water is then combined with yeast and allowed to begin the process of fermentation. The mash/yeast combination is sealed at moderate temperatures and left to brew, causing a chain reaction of exciting changes known as the “puberty of whiskey.” Mash that was once sugary sweet now turns sour, and this is an indication that something magical is occurring. Buckle your seat belts; it’s about to get interesting!
Step 4: Fermented mash is placed in a still
Mash is then strained, and the byproduct of bulk is discarded while liquid gets placed into a still. Alcoholic vapor is produced as a result of high temperatures once again, and the vapor is left to condense in pipes that are much cooler than the still itself. Condensation is collected and filtered into a different container; this is the crudest form of your alcohol in its inception. More exciting changes are yet to come!
Step 5: Condensed alcohol must be tested for quality control purposes
At least the first 100 milliliters of a batch should be discarded for safety reasons. Not only is this byproduct almost entirely composed of methanol, but it also will not taste very good, either. Many small-time distillers have put themselves and their customers at risk by mixing it in with larger batches, which taints both flavor and quality. Making sure that whiskey undergoes a stringent quality control process is something that any reputable distiller is committed to, as reputation is everything when it comes to attracting and keeping a loyal client base.
Step 6: Whiskey must be aged
Few people view aging as a positive thing, but to distillers, aging a batch of quality whiskey is everything. Size of the barrel must be proportionate to volume, as you want your whiskey to retain as much of the flavor from the wood it is housed in as it can. Generally speaking, the longer you leave a batch in a barrel, the more flavorful and pleasing to the palette it will be.
Have questions? Are you curious? Come see us!
If you are curious about our world of distilling, Palmetto distillery is the place to have all of your curiosities satisfied. Whether it’s tasting quality spirits, purchasing product for your next get-together, or setting up a tour of our facility, we guarantee that you will gain a new appreciation of distilling and our top-notch whiskey. Contact us today to peek behind the curtain and see what all the buzz is about! Visit www.palmettodistillery.com for more information and to set up a tasting today!