Regrouping

Like most of the men, women and children living in Canada, I begin watching the weather closely in March. March, after all, should bring the first stretch of days that are consistently above freezing in approximately one million days. That’s right. The 2014-2015 winter season was more of an ice age than a proper season. Those of you keeping up with my projects will no doubt recall that I was sent packing with my tail between my legs in January both because of the unforgiving cold that made the whole experience abysmal, and because the mash was more the consistency of a foul breakfast cereal than anything approaching a proper vodka mash. It seems that the cyclical nature of the seasons is looking to fix the first problem. If mother nature’s going to take care of one of the issues it behooves me to look at taking on the second one.

A careful review of the manifold problems of the Vodka 1 batch has left me with a list of valuable lessons:

1. Don’t operate a still in the cold. For the veterans out there, this is probably a no brainer. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with ‘stilling in the cold. The issue is my personal reaction to the cold. It makes me impatient. Impatience when operating a still isn’t a good thing. I was so agitated by the time my first run was over that I threw in the towel. I won’t tell you that this was all due to the cold…after all, the issues with the thickness of the mash had a lot to do with my malaise. That all being said, last time I ran the still I learned that I’m just wasting my time unless I’ve got my head on straight.

2. There’s no prize for filling your fermenter. That’s right, no prize. Do you know what you get for trying to squeeze a little extra something something into your fermenter? You get an explosion of foul smelling snot all over the place. Perhaps explosion is overly dramatic, but I can tell you that it ain’t pretty. The basin I kept the fermenter in looked rather like the on-set aftermath of a less reputable adult film. In my defense, I thought to myself, “self, this mash is thick. It’s not going to work well so you need to squeeze every drop…or, you know, gelatinous chunk that you can into that fermenter if you’re going to get anything out of it.” Well, self, fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, well, that’s even more shame. There’s a fill line and I intend to use it from now on.

3. WTF is an adjunct? Historically, I’ve thought of adjuncts only as the slave labor of the academic community. However, it turns out that adjunct is also the word for non-malted grains that don’t cleanly break down into fermentable sugars. Don’t get me wrong, I understood that rye and oats (you know…pretty much everything that went into the vodka mash) don’t easily break down the way a distiller wants, but I thought that the problem would be solved with the addition of the DME and the fact that I more or less boiled the grain to death. Ah, the naivete of youth. It turns out that DME is not a magical powder that will solve all of the problems with high adjunct mash.

So, what am I going to do differently? After all, March marks the beginning of the season. I will need to be an industrious ant during the warm months if I am to produce enough to party it up grasshopper style through the winter. I spent the last several weeks doing some casual research and for my next batch, there will be two main differences.

First, I will not be using turbo yeast. I’ve picked up some whiskey distiller’s yeast and my hope is that the different yeast will take away some of the after taste that I experienced with my first batch – the all sugar wash I’ve talked about in the past.

Second, I’ve learned a thing or two about schooling those contemptible adjuncts. How do I intend on doing this? Amylase. It appears that a single teaspoon of the enzyme amylase is enough to take on 5 gallons of thick mash. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to heed the lessons of the past. I don’t think that the last batch could have been solved with amylase. It just means that I’ll have something on hand to increase the fermentable sugar content of the mash so that I can get more of the sweet, sweet ethanol at the end.

Lastly, I learned that I need to be careful when substituting ingredients (e.g. subbing flaked Rye for rye). I need to pay more attention to the consistency of the mash. I can’t simply follow a recipe blindly. I was so focused on doing it right that I ignored my instincts and kept on cooking and adding ingredients.

So, here we go again…onward and upward. I’m looking at bourbon recipes and am going to take that shot (pun intended) in the next few weeks.

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