Tag Archives: spirits

A Lesson on Distilling (or maybe just brewing beer)

Distillation is the process of separating mixtures based on the differences in their volatilities in a boiling liquid mixture. It is a unit operation, or a physical separation process, and not a chemical reaction. Distillation has been used for a variety of purposes since at least 1st Century AD. Not surprisingly, I’ll be focusing on the production of the alcoholic beverage in this discussion.

Alcohol can be made from a variety of agricultural products using a basic three-step sequence:

1. The feed-stock (the raw material) is broken down chemically, usually through cooking or the addition of enzymes.

2. Fermentation, i.e., the action of micro-organisms (usually yeast) to produce a “beer” (The term “beer” describes the liquid traction of a fermented mixture of water and ground or crushed grain that is usually no more than 6-10% alcohol, hence the similarity of the process and the final alcohol content to that of domestic beer.) containing a small percentage of alcohol. In addition to alcohol, the mixture contains the remains of the feedstock, the yeast cells and various other substances dissolved in water.

3. Separating the alcohol from the water and other components in the beer, by distillation, to obtain the alcohol in a purer form.
Since the first two steps in the distilling process are the same as the steps for brewing beer, I will begin by describing the process for brewing a stout similar to Guinness. Then, since the initial ingredients in the two beverages are strikingly similar, I will process to describe the distillation of a whiskey similar to Bushmills. And so we begin.

First, we must break down the raw material (this is actually a fairly simple process). We begin by taking some barley and malting it. What is malting? Malting is the process of allowing a grain to germinate (or sprout) and then halting that process. This develops the enzymes required to modify the grain’s starches into sugars, including monosaccharides (glucose, fructose, etc.) and disaccharides (sucrose, maltose, etc.). It also develops other enzymes, such as proteases, which break down the proteins in the grain into forms that can be utilized by yeast.

After the grains are malted, we must grind them into a very rough flour, often called grist. An important part of the milling of the grains is the retention of the grain’s husk. This allows the mash of converted grain to create a filter bed during lautering, which we will get to in a moment.

Now that we have milled grain, we place it into a container called a Mash Tun and add water at a specified temperature. This is where science comes into play. Some brewers/distillers use a single temperature of water (usually around 152°F) and infuse the mash for 60-90 min. Then the grains are drained (or lautered) and rinsed with hotter water (170°F) to ensure that all of the sugars are rinsed out of the grains. This is called a single-infusion mash. Others take a more complex approach where water is added at around 104°F and allowed to sit for twenty minutes. This process is repeated at temperatures of 122°F, 144°F, and 162°F. This is called multi-step or decoction mashing. The more complex mashing is often utilized because at each temperature different enzymes are released and as these enzymes are released, they break down different forms of sugars, proteins, and starches. Every brewery and distillery has their own system and fine tunes the temperatures at which they mash. Once the mashing is complete, the liquid (now called wort) is drained, cooled, and sent to the next part of the process.

Fermentation is a simple, yet crucial part of the entire process. We place the wort into a container and add yeast. After a few hours, the yeast starts to feed on the sugars present in the liquid. As the yeast consumes the sugars, it releases carbon dioxide, and more importantly, alcohol. This process can take as little as 56 hours, or as long as 4 days. After fermentation is complete, the process for beer and spirits depart from one another.

Before we go on, a quick note about yeast: Distillers typically use distillers yeast, while brewers, use a host of strains, each contributing to the flavor of the individual beers. Many breweries have their own secret strands of yeast.

Following the fermentation process, beer is often aged, sometimes for months, and then carbonated in kegs, bottles or cans, either by natural carbonation using small amounts of yeast, or artificial carbonation using co2, nitrogen, or a combination of the two. From there it makes its way to distributors, then stores and finally to your home where you enjoy it.

Copper Pot Still

Spirits on the other hand, must be distilled following the fermentation process. From the fermentor, we must pump the liquid into either a pot or a column still. Once in the still, we heat the liquid. Since alcohol and water have separate boiling temperatures, the alcohol begins to vaporize before the water. Alcohol vapors travel up the neck of the still and down into a condensing tube that is usually cooled by water. There, the vapors are then turned back into a liquid and we drain the alcohol out. The crucial part of the distillation process is when the alcohol starts to flow out of the condenser, in addition to the alcohol, the first and last parts of the distillate usually contain unwanted contaminants. A good distiller knows the right points to “cut” the spirit in order to obtain only the best of the run without wasting valuable spirit. Good spirits result not from the number of distillations, but from the quality of the distillations.

From the still, we place the spirit into wooden barrels for aging, and after a predetermined amount of time, smooth whiskey is brought forth from the cask, bottled, and enjoyed by people around the world. Cheers!

Arnauds Special

Vintage Cocktails #3: Arnaud’s Special

Arnaud’s Special is an interesting cocktail in that it contains Scotch. There are only 4 drinks in Vintage Cocktails that include Scotch, and most people have only heard of one: the
Blood and Sand. I am curious as to why there are not more Scotch drinks however, as it is a whisky and there seems to be plenty of those. Granted it’s bolder flavors and smokiness can prove difficult, but all the more reason that people should be taking on the challenge.

The Arnaud’s is really a variation on the Manhattan, and a succesful one at that.

2 oz Scotch
1 oz Dubonnet Rouge
2 dashes orange bitters

Alamagoozlum Cocktail

Vintage Cocktails #2: The Alamagoozlum

First appearing in The Gentleman’s Companion, or Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask (1939) by Charles Baker,  The Alamagoozlum Cocktail is the next exploration of the vintage spirits. Reportedly created by the one and only J.P. Morgan, this is an unusual drink in that it calls for an extraordinary amount of ingredients, as well as an unusually large dose of bitters.

This particular cocktail will probably be one that I will leave to the books and not partake of for a long time, if ever. While I am a fan of gin and rum together, as well as using egg whites in cocktails, The large amount of bitters, coupled with the chartreuse created a drink that for me was far too spicy and complex. Perhaps either dialing down the bitters, and/or reducing the Chartreuse may create a drink more to my liking, but as far as J.P.’s cocktail, this one is a bust for me.

The Alamagoozlum
1/2 Egg White
2 oz Genever Gin
2 oz water
1 1/2 oz Jamaican Rum
1 1/2 oz Chartreuse
1 1/2 oz gomme Syrup
1/2 oz Orange Curacao
1/2 oz Angostura Bitters
Shake long and hard in an iced cocktail shaker, and strain into several chilled glasses.

A note on gomme syrup. Gomme syrup is purely simple syrup combined with gum arabic. The gum arabic was added to the simple syrup to add a smoother, silky feel to the cocktail. My feeling is that in this drink, the egg white adds plenty of texture, and plain old simple syrup will suffice.

The Quest

It is the new year, and I am on a mission. A mission that may turn out to be a complete failure, or may turn into something great. As Julie Powell attempted to make all the recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook in a year, so I shall attempt to make and enjoy every single cocktail in the reissued Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails. For me this is no small task. For one, here in Washington State our lovely governing bodies get to decide which brands of alcohols and beers are allowed to be sold here. In addition, most companies will not ship product of a high proof nature into the state. Which leaves me a little annoyed as I can already see that several drinks are going to be a challenge. However, I shall go forth with vigor and conquer.

Wherever possible I will try to go through the book in alphabetical order to keep from a chaotic mess, although time and money will be the ultimate dictation when new or hard to acquire ingredients come into play. Cheers!

Imbibers 100

Originally posted by Darcy O’Neil, Art of Drink, this is the top 100 liquid items you should consume before kicking the bucket. I say items, because some of these cannot really be classified as beverages in the traditional sense of the word. If you want to participate, please do. It’s great fun.


1) Copy this list into your blog, with instructions.
2) Bold all the drinks you’ve imbibed.
3) Cross out any items that you won’t touch
4) Post a comment at Art of Drink, and link to your results.


If you don’t have a blog, just count the ones you’ve tried and post the number in the comments section.

List of Drinks You Must Try Before You Expire

1. Manhattan Cocktail
2. Kopi Luwak (Weasle Coffee)
3. French / Swiss Absinthe
4. Rootbeer
5. Gin Martini
6. Sauternes
7. Whole Milk
8. Tequila (100% Agave)
9. XO Cognac
10. Espresso
11. Spring Water (directly from the spring)
12. Gin & Tonic
13. Mead
14. Westvleteren 12 (Yellow Cap) Trappist Ale
15. Chateau d’Yquem
16. Budwieser
17. Maraschino Liqueur
18. Mojito
19. Orgeat
20. Grand Marnier
21. Mai Tai (original)
22. Ice Wine (Canadian)
23. Red Bull
24. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
25. Bubble Tea
26. Tokaji
27. Chicory (in a blend, does that count?)
28. Islay Scotch
29. Pusser’s Navy Rum
30. Fernet Branca
31. Fresh Pressed Apple Cider
32. Bourbon
33. Australian Shiraz
34. Buckley’s Cough Syrup (unfortunately I have had the pleasure of this unique Canadian product)
35. Orange Bitters
36. Margarita (classic recipe)
37. Molasses & Milk
38. Chimay Blue
39. Wine of Pines (Tepache)
40. Green Tea
41. Daiginjo Sake
42. Chai Tea
43. Vodka (chilled, straight)
44. Coca-Cola
45. Zombie (Beachcomber recipe)
46. Barley Wine
47. Brewed Choclate (Xocolatl)
48. Pisco Sour
49. Lemonade
50. Speyside Single Malt
51. Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
52. Champagne (Vintage)
53. Rosé (French)
54. Bellini
55. Caipirinha
56. White Zinfandel (Blush)
57. Coconut Water
58. Cerveza
59. Cafe au Lait
60. Ice Tea
61. Pedro Ximenez Sherry
62. Vintage Port
63. Hot Chocolate (about eight cups a day for the last week)
64. German Riesling
65. Pina Colada
66. El Dorado 15 Year Rum
67. Chartreuse
68. Greek Wine
69. Negroni
70. Jägermeister
71. Chicha
72. Guiness
73. Rhum Agricole
74. Palm Wine
75. Soju
76. Ceylon Tea (High Grown)
77. Belgian Lambic
78. Mongolian Airag
79. Doogh, Lassi or Ayran
80. Sugarcane Juice
81. Ramos Gin Fizz
82. Singapore Sling
83. Mint Julep
84. Old Fashioned
85. Perique
86. Jenever (Holland Gin)
87. Chocolate Milkshake
88. Traditional Italian Barolo
89. Pulque
90. Natural Sparkling Water
91. Cuban Rum
92. Asti Spumante
93. Irish Whiskey
94. Château Margaux
95. Two Buck Chuck
96. Screech
97. Akvavit
98. Rye Whisky
99. German Weissbier
100. Daiquiri (classic)

I’m at a healthy 59 of 100.  Since I still have at least 2/3 of my life to look forward to, I think I’m well on my way to completing the list.  Thanks to Darcy for posting this up, and giving us all the challenge.

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