View Full Version : Ah, Water?

06-16-2007, 23:51
As we know many distillers talk about the water source they used to make their whiskey, some have even had to stop using this same source of water for everything else they do in the plant.

So this started as me taking an alternative thought process about the water usage in a distillery and how all water in the bottle comes from such and such a source...but what if the steam they are using to run the still and strip the alcohol out of the mash isn't from that source... how much of that steam, instead of the water in the mash ends up in the bottle?

At first thought, it doesn't seem like much, right? But thinking about it more, steam has a much lower capacity to hold heat compared to water (less than half, by mass)...it is even lower than the heat capacity of ethanol, actually. Which means you have to pump a hell of a lot of steam into the mix to vaporize the alcohol and the water in the mash to get them to vaporize.

So lets just say they are actually using very hot water to strip the alcohol off (212F/100C) and the mash is 70F/21C and use a fairly simplified version of some math and say that the reasonably low amount of alcohol in the mash hasn't changed the heat capacity enough to bother to take into account.

This means we have to add in enough hot water to raise the temp to 172F/78C, which is the boiling point of ethanol, for distillation to happen.

This means that for every gallon of mash you want to distill you have to add 3 gallons of hot water to reach this temp...

So this means that if they were to distill to only 100 proof, 3/8s of what comes out of the still wasn't ever part of the mash.

Any thoughts? or anyone with a better grasp of thermodynamics wanna correct my numbers to be more accurate?

06-17-2007, 21:08
Your grasp of thermodynamics is far beyond mine but it's moot, because I'm pretty sure the water used for the steam in the still is from the same privileged source as the mashing and dilution water.

The things that aren't are the water used for cleaning, cooling, flushing the toilets in the visitors center, that sort of thing.

06-18-2007, 20:58
Even if they use 'bad' water to produce the steam, the steam is distilled water - so how could it matter?

The thermodynamic assumptions are incorrect. I'll work the numbers if I get a chance, but in short:

When steam contacts a liquid (or surface) having a temperature lower than 212F, it condenses and that state-change releases an enormous amount of energy (the Enthalpy of Condensation, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_of_vaporization (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heat_of_vaporization) for details). The energy content of the steam due to its temperature pales in comparison to the energy released from the state-change of condensation.

06-18-2007, 23:09
Ah, but my basis was not so much that the water is bad (though I might not have explained my thoughts well), but that they are not the liquid that has been flavored by the fermentation.

Even if the water being used for the steam is from the same source, that water has been heated to the point that it has likely lost all of the components that make it unique. Those components may be building up on the interior of the steam plant or whatever, but regardless it was never part of the mash, and therefore is a neutral component, analogous to the GNS used in blends.

As far as the heat of Vaporization...wouldn't there be a canceling effect...the steam is being condensed, yes...but the alcohol and water are both being raised in temp to the vaporization point...so while there is quite a bit of heat that has to be released before condensation...there is also a bunch that has to be absorbed before vaporization...maybe not quite enough-even though the differences between alcohol and water are fairly close-to be at equilibrium, but probably close enough for an order of magnitude calculation. But then my grasp of thermodynamics could use some more study.

I would like to see some more accurate numbers, if you get a chance to do them.

06-18-2007, 23:30
I had some further thoughts here...lets just assume my numbers are even close...even if they were to distill that same mash to 125proof and barrel it without having to cut it, then the fact that there is less water (both mash liquid and condensed steam) will be more than offset by the water used to bring it down to proof for bottling. So, again-assuming my numbers were correct- then at least 3/8ths of every bottle of 100 proof whiskey you would buy was never mash, and this doesn't account for any rise in proof in the barrel that would require additional water to lower its proof.

Now as an interesting thought....what if a distiller was to use what I'm going to term "spent wash"(the clarified, solid-free mash that has already been stripped of its alcohol) as the steam...I'll call this "Sour-Distilling":lol:. This way you would not be adding flavorless water, but instead, using the beer itself, reducing the watering-down effect of using neutral water. This would also reduce the amount of water needed by the distillery, as it would be self-sustaining (actually the volume of spent wash would increase constantly) instead of constantly having to draw this water from either the "Hallowed source" or other water supply. You would still loose the leftover water component of each mash as waste, but at least you wouldn't be increasing the fresh water usage by having to use new water each time...this would I think also help to maintain that continuity from mash to mash as the steam would act as its own Solera system.


06-19-2007, 10:43
As an academic exercise I did run the numbers and estimate that the water in the distillate would only be roughly 1/8 of steam origin.
See pic for details.

I'd need information about typical operation of bourbon distillation columns and how the effluent is disposed of to comment further, but I'll say that the distillation is done in batches and during each batch, the contents of the column are primarily (7/8 according to my estimate) bathed in water of Beer origin, so there is not a lot of room for 'improvement'.

But I stand by my original statement that all distilled water is neutral anyway.


I did another run of estimates accounting for what is mentioned in assumption #5 (see the PDF) and this had a minimal effect.

06-19-2007, 11:45
Thanks for running those numbers. Very interesting. The numbers are much lower than my estimates. Distilled to 100 proof about 1/16th of total volume is non-mash, neutral, flavorless water. That's 6x lower than my estimate, but still the difference in the amount of water in 100 proof and 107 proof spirits.

06-19-2007, 16:53
The whole spring-water versus city-water thing is mostly image. One place I specifically know of where so-called city water gets into the bottles of Jack Daniel's is the new recovery effort I talk about in the "Squeezin' a Barrel" thread. (http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=7440) I specifically asked if that process uses spring or city water (and I had the top JD people present, including Jimmy Bedford) and the answer was "city." That water is some of what is used to dilute the whiskey down to bottling proof.

06-19-2007, 17:25
...I specifically asked if that process uses spring or city water (and I had the top JD people present, including Jimmy Bedford) and the answer was "city."...

:lol: Did you know that the first 'city' water Metropolitan Moore County (the only other 'Metro' Tennessee County is Davidson/Nashville, by the way) used was gotten by way of a steel pipe from Jack Daniel's Cave Spring?:

Now they take it from nearby Elk River and Mulberry Creek, serving 1,800 customers in the 6,000-head county:

I realize, of course, that 'city', in Chuck's usage, means 'treated'. Still, kind of ironic.