Back in black.

So, to catch you all up, the spring run ended alright. There was nothing to write home about (or blog about for that matter). The yield was low, but that’s not a surprise given the fact that we had to shift the wash around so many times due to the leak in the fermentation tank. The jackassery mixing the turbo 48 yeast with the about to expire whiskey yeast was also a complication. In short, we took the last run as an opportunity to bring a friend up to speed with the fermentation and distillation process. We took the lessons learned from the spring run and did some good stuff in the fall.

That’s where we pick up our tale. Let’s take a trip back, waaaaaay back to September, 2016.

Resounding silence.

The bubbling at the airlocks has stopped. Two fermenters lie dormant and waiting – filled with the promise of ethanol. My fears surrounding the multiple moves and keeping the environments sterile seem to be behind me. There is no mold growing in either tank. They just need to hang tight for a few more days.

dun dun dunnnn….

 

In case you’re wondering…

Despite the fermentation setbacks, the May batch is moving forward. Here’s a shot I took to illustrate the color before and after it’s 5 days fermenting.

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We went from a deep, brown molasses color to the light brown that you see on the left (and also below in the transfer photos). Also, the brix measurement has decreased to about 4.8. That means that, as long as we don’t mold, the batch will be a success. There’s only about 2.4% more ABV to be gained under ideal circumstances. If, at the end of this, I only lose 2.4% I’ll consider it a success. I’ll also be looking to increase my OG in the next run. I’d like to get it back into the mid/high 20s. I just underestimated the need for the 13 gallon batch. Right now it’s at about 7% ABV which will yield almost a gallon at 100% (which is unattainable, so the yield will likely still be over a gallon before we cut.

A tale of woe.

So, how’s my week been? I know what you’re thinking, “any week ‘shinin’ is a good week,”. Ordinarily, I’d agree. However, remember that time I said something like, “I have a bunch of new equipment to try out. I don’t trust it, but I have high hopes,”? Well, the Chapman steel fermenter has left much to be desired…at least in my mind.

First, if you’re a home brewer or distiller, you’re probably aware that ants, to put it bluntly, fucking love the fermentation process. Why? Well, because where there’s fermentation there’s sugar. As Forrest Gump and/or Confucious said, “Fermentation and sugar go together like peas and carrots,”.  You simply can’t have one without the other. Mashes, washes and worts all have a high sugar content in the early stages.

But we know this, why is it relevant?

Because my superfly, deluxe Chapman 14 gallon stainless steel fermenter leaks. Yep. It leaks. Don’t get me wrong, the welding is all great. The problem is around the valve. Before you ask, yes, I did tighten it. I made sure it was closed. I placed the rubber washers appropriately, and I was judicious in the application of teflon tape. I have (what I hope) is a  $2.00 long term solution. I will let you know. Tonight is all about me ranting, so let’s get it on.

Here it is, the scene of the crime. You can see the soaking wet towel in the center of a scene of insectile slaughter. Truly, the 17th of May is a day that will live in ant infamy for generations to come.

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By the way, rum is both sticky and rank when it ferments.

Lest you be concerned, I assure you that the booze is currently safe. I’ll publish some stats on it in a later post, but the rum that survived the leak fermented rather delightfully. The ABV in the wash continues to climb though I expect it to plateau and cease in the next few hours.

So, what did I do? Simple. I moved it.

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You should note a few things in this picture. First, and foremost, the fermentation has bleached the color from the rich brown to the tan that most distillers know and love. Second, you should be able to see the line where the wash was when the yeast was added, and it’s current level. At the time of this photo, I had lost around a gallon.

Here’s the wash in transit. Should any of you ever have to move fermenting liquid always remember:

  1. Keep it sanitary. The last thing you want is to lose a batch because of haste or general carelessness. This means sanitizing hoses, pumps, kettles, whatever it takes. I used my sweet new brew kettle.
  2. Limit exposure to air. Do you know what the anaerobic respiration of yeast doesn’t need? More Oxygen.
  3. Try to get as much of the sludge on the bottom as you can. Dormant yeast sinks. You don’t really need dormant yeast. Unfortunately, many of the yeast nutrients also sink. Scrape as much of the sludge as you can (in a sterile way)

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Once the booze was safely and sterile-ly in the kettle, I took a look at the fermenter:

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Sorry for the terrible photo quality here. I’m pretty sure the brain inside of my Canon lost its mind trying to figure out what I was photographing. The point is that the leak occurred not between the washer and the tank (sealed with a rubber washer), but between the washer and the valve (sealed only with teflon tape). I’m going to solve this problem and I’ll tell you what works. I will also provide some less terrible photos of the fix.

I’m getting ahead of myself. At this time yesterday, I didn’t know that the leak was persistent (after I tightened the fittings). I thought that I might have solved my issue, but I wasn’t convinced. What did I do…I trashed it. Classy, right?

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Unfortunately, it was not to be. The leak persisted and it needed to be moved once more to it’s final resting place (pre-still).

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Now all that’s left to do is wait and hope that my anal retentive sterilization was sufficient. The countdown ticks on. Hopefully the wash won’t mold.

Looking for a good read?

Just wanted to drop a quick note to let you all know that there’s a new book from King’s County Distillery – Dead Distillers: A History of the Upstarts and Outlaws Who Made American Spirits. I’m sure you all know of my affinity for their work. I have yet to actually drink their bourbon, but they built the recipe that I used. They also provided the distillation graph below, and drafted the bourbon family tree that I love so much.

I’ll admit to being enough of a nerd that I preordered the book. I received word from Amazon today that it’s on its way, and I’m excited to dive in. Their work is always a delight to read and chock full of information. Who knows, maybe my great grandfather will make an appearance somewhere in those pages.

Grab a bourbon and dive in!

So, you bake a lot?

Yep, that’s the question that I was asked when the young cashier at Bulk Barn rang up my jug o’ molasses and small mountain of brown sugar. I shrugged nonchalantly and said that these ingredients were the only way I know to make rum. He looked at me like I had gone mental and we parted ways.

You can take that introduction to mean that yes, the rum cookoff is officially complete. I modified the recipe to park the OG at 1.07 (17 brix). The conversion claims that it might spit out about 9.5 percent alcohol. We’ll see where it lands. The wash in the fermenter is high between 12 and 13 gallons. If we do, in fact, get 9.5% yield, we’ll have about a gallon of booze to play with. Sounds exciting, right?

A couple of other quick notes about this run:

  • I never brought the wash to boil. I figured hey, why invest the time in watching it cool. All I needed to do was dissolve sugar and molasses into it. It peaked at about 140 Fahrenheit. We worked to cool it quickly by tossing in ziplocs full of ice.
  • The new equipment (thus far) has performed admirably. I will be doing a more thorough review coming up. I even took pictures, I know…you’re shocked
  • I had to mix yeast since I didn’t have sufficient quantity of any one kind. I used high spirits 48 turbo (6.6 gallons) and high spirits whiskey yeast. We’ll see how it goes.

So now we wait, watch and ferment. The distillation will be a lot of fun this time both because there should be SO MUCH of it, and because I’ve got additional help thanks to family and the Man of Steele.

 

Rum for everyone.

I know, I know. This is how I’ll break your heart. The rye recipe is going to wait, and my upcoming batch will be, you guessed it, more rum.

Why?

How could I do this to you?

I understand that you’re all probably pretty tired of hearing about rum. I made rum last time, and, while it was very successful, it wasn’t particularly exciting. Making a sugar and molasses wash isn’t nearly as involved or as fun to read or write about as mashing rye and malt into an authentic Canadian whiskey. I’m doing the rum for a few reasons.

First, it’s a free time thing. Those meddlesome millennials (I may or may not be one) like to talk about work life balance. It’s a concept that other generations find somewhat laughable, but the long and short of it is that building the recipe and researching the technique takes time that hasn’t been readily available. I don’t want to provide the same old story – I mash some grains, I make some booze, we all go home happy. I want to be able to provide you all with solid information so that you can improve (or start making) your own. That requires good info and good info requires time. There, millennial tirade over.

Second, rum is pretty cheap and easy to make. I have a significant amount of new equipment and I don’t want it’s maiden voyage to be overly technical. The new burner for example will output significantly more heat than the old one. The new kettle is about 3 times the volume of the old one, and the fermenter is a little over twice as large. I want a simple run to test the scalability of my processes and to make sure that the new equipment is up to snuff. What if, for example, my brew kettle has leaky nipples. Yeah, I said it. Good luck getting that image out of your head. If I lose sugar and molasses I’ll be bummed, but not heartbroken.

Third, I’m going to (finally) put together the carbon filter, and the man of steele has graciously offered to let me use his home wine making plate filter to clarify the product. Again, I would prefer to take a run at the new processes with a batch I’m not particularly in love with.

So, what’s the game plan

Step 1 – Fermentation. I’m going to get the wash going in about 2 weeks. I’m going to let it ferment for another 1-2 weeks. I’ll probably let it go for 2.

Step 2 – Distillation. I now have a 14 gallon fermenter, and an 8 gallon still. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, right? Wrong. Remember when we talked about stripping runs and spirit runs and then making your cuts? The plan for distillation is to split the batch into 2 stripping runs and then double the quantity going into the spirit run and eventually into the cutting process. I should be able to double my output without doubling the labor associated with it.

Step 3 – Make the cuts. I’ll have twice the product which means I can probably be more selective in how I make decisions. I won’t be staring at a half empty jar and contemplating how I spend my time.

Step 4 – Filtering. Very exciting. I’ll keep you in the loop.

Step 5 – Splitting the batch. I’ll age some, liquer some, and, well…yes, probably drink some too.

The long and short of it is that despite the fact that rum isn’t the most interesting thing to make, and it’s not my favorite thing to drink, it’s simple and cheap to make and the yield is high enough that the margin of error will be comfortable with the new equipment.

More to come…

 

 

Things that are badass for 500 please, Alex.

For those of you wondering how I’m spending my time these days, I’m spending my time researching. I want 2016 to be a legendary watershed sort of year for my distilling. Unfortunately, that takes a lot of reading and math. Yep, math. I know, I know…I’m not great with it either. Now that I’m well into my thirties I can honestly say that if my high school teacher had only told me that I could use my powers to make booze if I studied harder I probably would have. Anyway, let’s let bygones be bygones. I graduated ignorant and am playing catch up. Woe is me.

There has been a little ray of sunshine in all of this studying. For those of you keeping track, I have some pretty lofty goals this year. I want to fine tune the flavor of my liquor, and that means an upgrade to some equipment. Let’s not get crazy and think that it’s time to grab a new copper still. I believe wholeheartedly in my tried and true Brewhaus. The rest of my equipment, however, left much to be desired. So, let’s take a look at what I got.

For those of you who live in Canada and are interested, all of this equipment came from beergrains.com. I’m still a big fan of that site and they’ve never once let me down. In the interest of full disclosure, there was an issue with my order. However, they shipped me too much not too little. They’re straight up awesome to work with and I still recommend them. So, what did I get? I got 3 things:

  1. A sweet new brew kettle to mash the grains.
  2. An amazing stainless steel fermenter
  3. The Godzilla of all propane burners

Here’s some info on the new equipment:

Let’s start with the brew kettle.

A good sized pot is important for any distiller. As you know, I’ve been using a Turkey frier pot for the last 2 years. It was a good run, but it wasn’t sufficient to meet my long term needs. It fell short when it came to volume, and also when it came to flexibility. Let’s start by looking at the new kettle.

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See that? It looks like it’s just as happy to see you as you are to see it. Rawr.

I jest at the large screen attachment, but in all seriousness you can see that the volume of the pot is substantially larger. In addition, it has welds that facilitate a valve for training and an angled thermometer that will help me control the mashing process. The screen attachment will be invaluable when it comes to sparging (which is something we’ll discuss soon).

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I may need to rotate the face of the thermometer, but you can’t get better than that when it comes to visibility. The second (top) weld puts the probe straight into the middle of the mash. You may also note the valve below the thermometer. The quality there seems fantastic. It has a ball valve and a lock so that you can’t flip it on accident. Here’s a shot of the valve.

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This pot, coupled with the new burner, should really let me control the mashing process. Exciting times.

With that introduction, let’s look at the new burner. It’s a popular model with the homebrew crowd. Behold the majesty of the Bayou Classic Banjo burner.

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Yep, it’s huge. What do I like about it? In a word, surface area. But wait, that’s two words. I DO WHAT I WANT.

Anyhow, I love the fact that I can kick this puppy on low and get a nice simmer going on both the kettle and the still. For those of you who have recently checked out the pictures of my old rig, you’ll see the turkey frier setup had a few issues.

  1. It had a damnable 10 minute shutoff. The shutoff was more of an inconvenience than an issue in mashing. It was a HUGE issue in distilling.
  2. It was built to hold a turkey frier pot. That means that it had these weird little prong things that I had to rest the still on. I like the low profile (read: center of gravity) here. I also like the large and presumably stable bracket.

The size of the burner should give me incredible temperature control through the mashing and distillation processes.

look at the size and quality of the hardware. I love the guard.

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It has a nice, big gas intake. It also has a really nice adjustable air regulator.

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See those 2 little holes in the stainless steel plate (where the hose connects)? You can adjust that to adjust the amount of fresh air that’s mixed with the LP to power the burner. Cool, right? Also…NO DAMNABLE TIMER. That’s right. It’ll stay right where I put it. This is perhaps a good time to remind you all not to leave your stills unattended. Stable heat is important. Constant supervision and attention is more important.

Well, now that we’ve gone through those 2 things, let’s talk about the last one. The stainless steel fermenter. I’ll be honest and say that I’m an idiot and didn’t take good pictures of it. You can see it for yourself on the beergrains.com website.

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In my defense, I told you that the pictures were bad. Despite the bad pictures, I’m excited about this gem. I’m excited because:

  1. Stainless steel means that I can use steam rather than chemicals (if I so choose) to sanitize. I’m trying to improve my flavor. I’m not saying the chemicals are a contributing factor, but i’m interested. I’ll also be honest and say that I picked up a new liquid sanitizer. I’ll let you all know how that goes.
  2. It has a fricking valve so I can easily move the fermented product into the still. How cool is that?
  3. The weight, strength and overall construction indicates that the quality is fantastic. I’m very impressed with how this thing is put together.
  4. It’s all inclusive. I know that might sound silly, but this thing came with the teflon tape required to seal it. It actually came with enough for me to seal the brew kettle as well. That’s awesome. It was a complete solution for me.

I guess that the summary here is that I’m really excited about all of this equipment. I had done a fair bit of research leading up to it and I think I’ll be very pleased with it.

The next batch is coming soon. I’ll let you all know the new equipment performs.

Rye of the tiger.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the winner for the spring run is, you guessed it, rye whiskey. It’ll be my first attempt at a Canadian classic, and I’m pretty excited about it. I’m still looking to do something with seasonal fruit this year, but let’s face it – there isn’t exactly a whole lot growing out there. Besides, starting off with a whiskey that needs to age should prove a good decision. I still have a whole lot of bourbon, rum and limoncello to go through.

So, what’s the plan? I’ve started doing some preliminary research on the distillation of rye and it seems relatively straight forward. For those of you interested in my source material, I’m pretty pleased with this link. It brings up some interesting points on rye, like the fact that rye contains the alpha-amylase enzyme that we discussed earlier (on the topic of high adjunct mashes). The fact that the grain will contain the enzyme required to convert starches to fermentable sugar  is a big plus in my book. It also appears that malted rye contains a delightfully high diastatic enzyme count. It’s not surprising given that the base grain contains amylase, but it’s still nice to hear.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the 2016 presidential campaign, it’s that I need to do some fact checking. I’ll do some more poking around to work towards a recipe. While I do enjoy a high rye count (like Ryemageddon from Corsair Distillery), I don’t think I will go strictly rye. I don’t think that I’ll go corn either, though I may add some corn. I want to stick with grains – Rye, barley and maybe a bit of wheat. I will certainly keep proportions in mind (stick with at least 3 parts rye to 2 parts (x)). I will also take a long look at yeast options for this run.

More than anything else, I really just need the weather to cooperate. I’d really like to mash above freezing. Whimsical Canada…

A special thanks to my mashin’ muse John (the Man of Steel). Without him, I’d probably still be wondering what to whip out for the spring. Good call buddy.