So last week, we cooked up a batch of Bourbon Whiskey, and now that fermentation is complete, we can run it through the distillation process. The purpose of distillation is to separate and concentrate the ethanol produced during fermentation. So how does this work?
Distillation is the process by which a liquid is heated, becomes a vapor, and is condensed back into a liquid. The key to separating ethanol from other components in our freshly fermented grain mash, now called the wash, is temperature. Ethanol boils at 173 degrees Fahrenheit. Water boils at...you know this one...212 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are able to heat a liquid containing both water and ethanol to 173 degrees but not 212 degrees, you can boil off the ethanol and leave the water behind. That is distillation theory in a nutshell.
But our Bourbon wash has a lot more in it than just ethanol and water, and it is here where you begin to find the "craft" in craft distilling. When we distill a Bourbon wash, we want to keep certain components and eliminate other components. Ethanol is the most important component we keep. But when making Bourbon, we also want flavor. To retain flavor, we distill our Bourbon wash to approximately 60% ethanol. For comparison, vodka is distilled to 95% ethanol. Vodka is considered a neutral spirit and should have very little aroma or flavor. Bourbon Whiskey, on the other hand, should have richness and flavor, and controlling ethanol content also retains flavor. The column on our whiskey still has four windows...which is basically the same as saying our whiskey is four times distilled. A vodka column may have as many as thirteen windows. More windows, less flavor. Fewer windows, more flavor.
Once the distillation process is complete, our Bourbon will be laid down to age in new 15-gallon American oak barrels. Did you know that the distillation process always produces crystal clear liquid? The deep, rich color of finished Bourbon is all created in the barrel. Barrel aging also adds complexity, and it is during aging that rich components like caramel, mocha and vanilla are developed. How that occurs is a topic for another day!
Join us again next week as we head back outside to see how this snowy spring has affected progress in the vineyard. With green grass FINALLY making an appearance again, we are hard at work prepping the vines for the upcoming growing season.