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Psilocide
01-13-2010, 14:23
I wonder if anyone has anything to offer about the art of actually making the bourbon - what factors play in, what temperature ranges are best for aging, types of corn and grain, shape, size and type of still, if there's any variation among methods of making the barrels - unfortunately I don't have the knowledge to offer any comment, but I'm very interested to learn more from our members with this kind of knowledge.
Forgive me if this has been discussed, but I didn't see any other threads on the subject. Of course this discussion would be for the purpose of bourbon education only, and not used for violating any laws.

fishnbowljoe
01-13-2010, 14:34
Try doing a little more research here. I know that there's been many posts about bourbon making. Some might be only bits and pieces here and there, and not a thorough step by step review of the process. Also check out some of the distillery websites. A lot can be found there too. Good luck. I hope this has helped a little. Joe

Gillman
01-13-2010, 14:38
A large subject. The weather cycles you get in Kentucky seem to be ideal for aging whiskey - it's not bourbon until aged for a certain period - albeit this is controlled now in some cases by HVAC equipment. You need in any case a regular day and night and especially seasonal range of temperatures which suit whiskey maturation in new charred barrels, which again Kentucky weather (but not only there) offers, so you might check its typical weather patterns.

A good flow of air is important so the warehouses should not be too low and should be opened to air by opening windows although again HVAC control in modern large insulated buildings can skip this step.

Any corn will do, commercial grade is fine. Heritage grains might produce interesting effects but little experimentation has been done as yet.

Seasoned oak is needed for the wood, either ripened outdoors or more commonly today indoors artificially.

Different char levels in the wood, generally 4 are used, will determine the effects of the barrel and red layer (caramelized wood) on the spirit.

Continuous stills are traditionally used but pot stills used to be and are making a sort of comeback. The latter tend to produce an oily spirit that needs long aging to convert the co-products of fermentation to pleasant esters and other compounds. Continuous stills do just fine.

Atmospheric cooking of the grains was felt to result in more flavour, but the norm today is pressurised cooking at high temps.

That's about it. :)

Gary

tmckenzie
01-14-2010, 05:30
I think that any corn will not do. A lot of corn on the open market is pretty much just starch. Bred for feed, no flavor at all.

theDon
01-14-2010, 07:19
Home beer brewing stores usually sell corn, rye and wheat that works pretty well. Don't tell'em what it's for or they might write down your liscense plate number.

kickert
01-14-2010, 07:57
In some ways, your question would be like going to a Corvette Enthusiast forum and asking "How do you make a corvette."

The fact is that many people know the answer, but the question is so broad it would take books to answer....

And that brings me to my next point... depending on what you are after there are plenty of books you can read on the subject. If you are looking for small scale operations I would suggest books by Bill Owens (from ADI) or from the Amphora Society. If you are looking for large scale operations I would suggest a distillery tour or Chuck Cowdery's book Bourbon Straight.

Psilocide
01-14-2010, 15:49
Thanks for the info so far. I know this is a pretty broad question, but it seemed like there should be a thread devoted to discussion od the elements involved in the process.
I'm also curious about what you guys think about the yeasts - people seem to put a great deal of value on their particular strains, any opinions about how much they affect flavor, or what types of yeasts affect the flavor in different ways?

And Any more comment about the still type? Do any commercial producers use pot stills? Do they produce an inferior product? Do continuous stills produce a low enough reflux to keep a high level of flavor?

I appreciate the book suggestions - I'm slowly making my way through the booklist.

kickert
01-14-2010, 16:40
If you are interested in the process, The American Distilling Institute (ADI) has a forum that really focuses on the nitty gritty questions of distilling. You may find it interesting.

Gillman
01-14-2010, 16:45
I was referring to the standard corn that is marketed widely as a bulk product and used (I understand) by almost all distillers. Chuck Cowdery describes it in more detail in Bourbon, Straight. Since there are numerous bourbons on the market I and many others admire, I would think it does the job well enough. As I said earlier, I look forward to use of heritage varieties by craft and any other distillers willing to try - if it makes better bourbon, all the better.

Gary

cowdery
01-15-2010, 12:37
Yeast is important, so is water.

Only one major American distiller, Woodford Reserve, uses pot stills exclusively. The rest use a column still for the first distillation and a pot still for the second.

Gary, I don't know if it's correct to say most American whiskey distillers cook under pressure. Some do, and I don't have a list of who does and who doesn't, but I think atmospheric cooking is still the most common.

Apparently, wheated mashes cannot be cooked under pressure because they foam up too much. That means MM, BT and HH aren't using pressure cookers. The one distillery I know off hand that does is Four Roses.

Gillman
01-15-2010, 13:02
Thanks Chuck, and that's interesting about Four Roses - my favorite distillery (with Heaven Hill).

Gary

Bourbon Geek
01-16-2010, 10:01
Yeast is important, so is water.

Only one major American distiller, Woodford Reserve, uses pot stills exclusively. The rest use a column still for the first distillation and a pot still for the second.

Gary, I don't know if it's correct to say most American whiskey distillers cook under pressure. Some do, and I don't have a list of who does and who doesn't, but I think atmospheric cooking is still the most common.

Apparently, wheated mashes cannot be cooked under pressure because they foam up too much. That means MM, BT and HH aren't using pressure cookers. The one distillery I know off hand that does is Four Roses.

Chuck,

Almost all of the big U.S. bourbon and Tenessee whiskey distillers cook at essentially atmospheric conditions (cook temp 212 to 215 F)... only a couple cook under some pressure (around 259 F).

The decision is more of equipment that of handling wheat, because the pressure would be applied during the corn cooking phase ... then released for flash cooling, then cooled further before the wheat is added... so the wheat wouldn't get pressure cooked anyway.

nor02lei
02-20-2010, 07:34
A large subject. The weather cycles you get in Kentucky seem to be ideal for aging whiskey - it's not bourbon until aged for a certain period - albeit this is controlled now in some cases by HVAC equipment. You need in any case a regular day and night and especially seasonal range of temperatures which suit whiskey maturation in new charred barrels, which again Kentucky weather (but not only there) offers, so you might check its typical weather patterns.

Gary

When at a conference less than 2 weeks ago I had an interesting discussion. It was with a lady that had lived 10 years in Sweden, but originally came from Ukraine. When I asked her whatís the most odd thing was about her former country she answered the enormous weather cycles between summer and winter. Winters were much colder than Sweden and the summerís breathtaking hot with the temperatures often above 40 Celsius. That is bigger cycles than Kentucky and it is very much inland as well. As Ukraineís is a typical vodka belt country they are probably not interested in making bourbon type of whiskey, but it would probably be possible climate wise.

Leif

cowdery
02-20-2010, 21:19
I'm sure it won't surprise Dave to know that the information about not cooking wheat under pressure came from Bill Samuels, offered as an example of something his father learned from Pappy Van Winkle.

What Dave says makes sense since it's only corn that really needs aggressive cooking, but everybody cooks their grains in sequence, whether they use pressure or not, so there would be no need to use pressure with wheat or rye, and malt just needs a little warm water.

I know Four Roses uses pressure because they played a trick on me, making sure I was standing next to the cooker when they released the flash cooling water. The result is a very loud and startling sound if you're not expected it and, as intended, I nearly wet myself.

ethangsmith
03-21-2010, 15:29
Going along with learning the distilling process-

Is it actually legal to distill at home for yourself? I know people that have in the past, but I can't find anywhere stating whether it is legal or not. I live in PA, not sure if that makes a difference or not. I've often wanted to do it myself, but I only will do it if it is legal!

callmeox
03-21-2010, 15:31
Going along with learning the distilling process-

Is it actually legal to distill at home for yourself? I know people that have in the past, but I can't find anywhere stating whether it is legal or not. I live in PA, not sure if that makes a difference or not. I've often wanted to do it myself, but I only will do it if it is legal!

It is illegal to distill without a license.

ethangsmith
03-21-2010, 16:11
How hard and expensive is it to get a license and what all is needed (training, facilities) to get it?

matthew0715
03-21-2010, 16:46
Here's one answer, though you may not like it. The author claims, "There are numerous requirements that must be met that make it impractical to produce spirits for personal or beverage use." As they say, YMMV.

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_do_you_obtain_an_alcohol_distilling_license

In addition to federal regulations, your state may have its own requirements.

Matt

ethangsmith
03-21-2010, 18:06
That looks like fun. (sarcasm)

I know of a few people that own small stills and use them from time to time and they certainly don't have any special licenses. I wonder how prevalent home distilling is. I see you can even buy stills on EBay with instructions and everything!

cowdery
03-21-2010, 21:03
"There are numerous requirements that must be met that make it impractical to produce spirits for personal or beverage use."

While that may still be true, it isn't quite as true as it used to be.

During the big push for fuel ethanol a few years ago, the feds lowered the bar for small distillers, primarily to encourage farmers to use their own corn to make their own fuel. Suddenly, it was pretty easy to get a federal license to distill, for fuel or beverage purposes. Now, states are the bigger problem, and state laws vary a lot.

For anyone who is interested in home distilling or any other kind of small scale distilling, you have to read Chasing the White Dog (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1416571787/charlekcowder) by Max Watman. It's very informative and a very enjoyable read.

Josh
03-22-2010, 04:17
From what I understand, in Michigan it is legal to distill at home if your intent is to make a fuel additive. Now if you happen to store that fuel additive in oak barrels for a few years...:yum:

p_elliott
03-22-2010, 08:13
From what I understand, in Michigan it is legal to distill at home if your intent is to make a fuel additive. Now if you happen to store that fuel additive in oak barrels for a few years...:yum:

Maybe strain it through the system once just for a purity check:grin:

cowdery
03-22-2010, 09:30
You still need a federal license.