What have we learned?

Like any good children’s programming host, I feel it’s important to summarize what I’ve learned between my last run and the upcoming bourbon run. I’m inclined to summarize for two reasons. First, I hear tell that many people define insanity as doing the same thing multiple times and expecting different results. After all, as my momma would say, “you get what you give”. If you’re giving the same thing, and expecting something different, then you’ve obviously got a screw loose…rattlin’ around inside yo’ head. Ok, so my momma’s not a black woman from the deep south, but I think you’re probably pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down. Secondly, it’s important to note what I’ve learned because that’s the entire point of this blog. I want to make sure that you all know what I know and that you all are able to safely and comfortably make your own ‘shine.

That all being said, here’s the list:

1. Starch is not fermentable. It’s something that home brewers know. However, it seems absent in home distiller webpages. It’s nice to talk about making that, “Good Corn Liquor” as Buck Owens says. It’s another thing to understand how that, “Good Corn Liquor” comes to be. We talked before about, “high adjunct mashes”. Well, corn certainly falls into that category. You wanna make a bourbon? That’s super. I do too…but you need to know that a 50% corn mash is going to take a little TLC. Please note that TLC and THC are not the same thing. If you’re interested in THC, I’m sure there’s another blog for that.

2. It’s all about the enzymes, baby. I know that you probably thought that it’s, “all about the benjamins,” but it’s not. You need enzymes to break those adjuncts down into fermentable sugars. Does DME have the requisite enzymes? No. DME is wonderful, and sugary, and will be food for yeast. However, once the DME is over and done with…there’s nothing more for the yeast to eat. That means that the yeast will stop doing what you need it to do. You add malts to make sure that you have the enzymes required to support the conversion into alcohol.

3. Enzymes Die. That’s right, those beloved little chemicals will die and cease to function if you’re not careful. Seriously, check out recipe 2. It’s written by a man who understands the fragility of life. Do you notice how the instructions tell you to let the mash cool before you toss in your malt? It’s to prevent the enzymes from dying. Perhaps “dying” is the wrong word, but it amounts to the same thing. You need your enzymes to work for you or your yield will be terrible. Remember that fermentation is a large process that’s carried out by tiny little molecules (enzymes) or tiny little one celled organisms (yeast). respect the fragility of those structures and you’ll go far, kid.

4. Those little “L” Scores on Malt Mean Something. Here’s the deal. When you’re buying your grains (malts) you’ll see a range of say, 10L-120+L. You may wonder what that means. It’s the “Lovibond Scale”. Essentially, some dude named Joseph Lovibond was brewing in the 19th century, and he had one of those cheesy watershed moments. He was like, “woah, the longer i toast these malts, the darker they become. Additionally, the longer I toast these malts, their flavor profile keeps changing.”. I’m sure he said something almost exactly like that. Anyhow, the moral of the story is two fold:

  1. The Lovibond Scale will help you reach the desired flavor profile. When you go to buy your malts, you’ll see an (x)L number next to the name of the malt. This is the Lovibond scale. These malts are commonly referred to as “specialty malts”, and for good reason. They don’t provide a lot of fermentable sugars, but they can add a toasty quality to the mash. This toasty quality ranges from more or less neutral (0-30L) to malty (30-60L) to bitter (60+L). Please be aware that the flavor profile is my own and not necessarily indicative of your own preferences. Experiment, dammit…that’s what it’s all about.
  2. Remember that time I told you that enzymes will die? Well. I wasn’t kidding. Anything that you see with an “L” attachment means that it’s been toasted. Toasting Kills the enzymes. Don’t get me wrong, it leaves a little fermentable sugar crystal in its place, but the toasted, specialty malts will  NOT help you ferment corn or other high adjunct mashes. Respect your enzymes, and they’ll work for you. Take a look at your website. You should all know that I use http://www.beergrains.com. I use this site because it makes grains easily available in my area. They have a great product, and great service. Use this as a resource. If it says that a specific grain is a good, “base malt” that means something. Base malts help turn adjuncts into booze which is, after all, exactly what we want.

5. Remember What Game You’re Playing. What are you doing? You’re turning grains into booze. Let’s not even worry about technique beyond that at this point. I’m serious. You can look up recipes, you can look up testimonials. Hell, I’ll even say that you found me…so you must be digging deep. Anything you can do to further your objective is a good thing. I’m not going to lie. I have a Bourbon recipe (recipe 2). That does not mean that I don’t have my ace in the hole. I have a bag of Amylase and a refractometer (not just a hydrometer). If my mash doesn’t come out with sufficient Brix/SG, I will totally and unashamedly add amylase to the mash. I need sugar, dammit, and I will have sugar. It may not be beautiful, it may not be ideal, but it will be successful. There’s always room for improvement, but you need a product to improve upon. Be bold. It’s your still, it’s your time. Go get ’em.

Thanks for listening. I’ll be mashing soon. To all of those mashing, I say, “Good luck”. Please add a comment if you want my advice.

-SR

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