Stillwrights Award Winning Bourbon: It All Starts With Premium Ohio Grains
Bourbon is Whiskey, but not all Whiskey is Bourbon. To be called a Bourbon a few rules from the Government have to be followed.
- It has to be produced in the United States
- The grain mixture (or Mash Bill) has to comprise of at least 51% Corn
- Aged in brand new Charred American White Oak Barrels
- Distilled at less than 160 proof (to keep the grain like flavor)
- Barreled at 125 proof or less
- Put into a bottle at 80 proof of above
So, all that has to be followed to a “T” to make Bourbon. Well, the next question generally is, “how do you make it?”
Well, a lot was going on very quickly in the film. That was essentially a twelve hour work day compressed to two minutes, and only covers about half of the steps to make Bourbon. So we’re going to split up how we make Bourbon in two parts. In this post this week, we’ll talk about how we “cook” Bourbon, and produce our Mash Bill.
To start the day, in the video, you’ll see us put Corn, Wheat, and Malted Barley, and Water in our Pot still.
All three of the grains are ground up until the mixture inside of the pot is almost a soupy like substance. The enzymes in the Malted Barley are released, and start breaking down the carbohydrates stored in the corn. These carbs will be transformed into simple sugars. From there, we take this mixture, or at this point it’s referred to as a mash, and heat it up until it begins to boil. With the heat added, we release more carbohydrates go get broken up later. . You can see that process start about the 1:20 mark in the video. We’ll get to those sugars a bit later, but keep that sugar in your memory.
Once everything is mixed in and ready to go, we pump our mash into our fermenting tanks. This was the large stainless steel “box” sitting next to our pot still with the word “Mash Tank” on it. From here we let the enzymes continue to finish breaking down all the carbs until the only thing in the mash is a bunch of sugar, and parts of the grain that can’t be broken down (the outside of the cork kernel for instance). From here, we need to perform a very important step: Pasteurization. This process involves us directly injecting steam into our fermentation tank. We bring the heat back up again for the last time to make sure that any microorganisms that may have somehow found themselves in our mash are essentially destroyed. From here on out we know we have a clean, pure mash.
From this final bit of heat added, we start cooling the mash down to about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. While we start the cool down, we pull a bit of the mash aside, add just a bit of water, and bring it up to 96.8 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the ideal temperature for our Yeast to grow. At this temperature in an oxygen rich environment (the mash has a ton of air bubbles in it from mixing all day), the Yeast reproduce in mass quantities. In the video about two minutes in, shows them rapidly multiplying. That quick time lapse is actually about seven minutes in real time. Talk about watching paint dry. Here’s a shot of the Yeast multiplying in the pot waiting to be dumped in.
Once the Yeast have multiplied for awhile and almost fill the big pot we warmed them in, we dump it into our mash tank that’s sitting at about 70 degrees. From there, our Yeast will continue to multiply for a time being. Eventually when the Yeast run out of air, they will stop reproducing, and focus on staying alive. Instead of using oxygen, they will look to find a source of sugar. Remember us breaking down the carbs into sugar earlier? This is where they get important. The Yeast will start to eat the sugar and as byproducts will release Carbon Dioxide and Ethanol. So when you see our mash tanks bubble up, that’s a sign of happy Yeast eating sugar and producing alcohol.
Eventually over a few days, there won’t be any sugar left in the tank and we will be left with a tank full of water, yeast, and alcohol. This mixture is known as distillers beer from this point forward. It’s essentially a young Whiskey that tastes almost like a beer. From here we’ve reached the halfway point, and we’ll continue next week to show you the final steps to make Bourbon. From here out it’s a pretty simple and straightforward process, and mainly involves time, and a good deal of patience. Stay tuned for next week, when we finish this segment on how we distill our Bourbon and turn it into the award winning product you and I enjoy today.