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Distilling 101

What are the basic steps used to make Lake County's Spirits like Doc Howard's Award Winning Maple and Rum ?

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Mashing
Mashing consists of mixing cooked grain with malted barley and warm water. The amylase in the malted barley converts the starch in the other grains into sugars. After several hours the mixture is converted into a turbid, sugar-rich liquid known as mash.

Fermentation
The mash or wort is transferred to a fermentation vessel, usually closed in Scotland and open in the United States. These vessels may be made of wood or stainless steel. Yeast is added to begin fermentation, in which the single-celled yeast organisms convert the sugars in the mash or wort to alcohol. The yeast may be added in the form of new, never-used yeast cells (the sweet mash process) or in the form of a portion of a previous batch of fermentation (the sour mash process.) After three or four days, the end product of fermentation is a liquid containing about 10% alcohol known as distiller's beer in the United States or wash in Scotland.

 

Distillation
The wash is heated so that most of the alcohol (which boils at 172°F [78°C]) is transformed into vapor but most of the water (which boils at 212°F [100°C]) is not. This vapor is transferred back into liquid alcohol in a water-cooled condenser and collected. The temperature of distillation and other factors determine the proportions of water, alcohol, and flavors (called congeners) in the final product. If the final product has too many congeners of the wrong kind it will taste bad. Distillers remove bad-tasting congeners (usually aldehydes, acids, esters, and higher alcohols) by making ‘cuts’ in various ways. Some congeners boil at a lower temperature than alcohol and can be boiled off. Some are lighter than alcohol and will float on top, where they can be poured off

Aging
Whiskey is aged in wooden barrels, usually made from charred white oak. White oak is used because it is one of the few woods that can hold a liquid without leaking but which also allows the water in the whiskey to move back and forth within the pores of the wood, which helps to add flavor. The aging process is a complex one, still not fully understood, but at least three factors are involved. First, the original mixture of water, alcohol, and congeners react with each other over time. Second, these ingredients react with oxygen in the outside air in oxidation reactions. Third, the whiskey absorbs substances from the wood as it moves within it. (Charring the wood makes these substances more soluble in water.) All these factors change the flavor of the whiskey.

 

Blending
Straight whiskeys and single malt Scotch whiskeys are not blended; that is, they are produced from single batches and are ready to be bottled straight from the barrel. All other whiskeys are blended. Different batches of whiskey are mixed together to produce a better flavor.