New to Spirits

Hi everyone...been lurking here for a bit reading up as much as I can. My name is Phil and I call Adelaide home. I used to be quite active on a beer forum, but don't make beer anymore - I make wine instead :) - just finished my first vintage. I was able to source close to a tonne of grapes - making 7 different wines. I don't do things in half measures, but this distilling thing I won't be jumping in the deep end as such with how expensive equipment can be. I actually found this website and forum after getting some oak dominoes for the wine.

I'm here for basically one thing only - high quality whisky. My background in all grain mashing will help I reckon. Not shy to a mash tun, so I wouldn't even flinch at doing a triple decoction or a hoch kurz mash schedule - especially if it was going to make a better end product. I really like high end alcoholic beverages - wine being my absolute favourite (hence why I made over 400 bottles for my first vintage). The very first (and only) whisky distillery I went to was in Hobart (Lark Distillery) - just their cellar door really - and I fell in love with their best whisky (which at the time was about $200 for a small bottle). I knew then that if I ventured any further into whisky I would find that I just couldn't afford to keep up with my palete.

Like all my other hobbies, they usually start with me reading, watching YouTube videos, more reading and asking questions on forums. So far I have been lurking this forum and reading all the great information, as well as watching 'Still It', 'Whisky Tribe' and George from barley and hops on YouTube. The information available is great - but my head is full of so many questions about not just producing whisky, but how to create world class, high end whisky. So I'm hoping someone can confirm my thought process and correct or direct me to some source of info.

From brewing beer, I understand that the brewing equipment isn't as important as the process - but it doesn't seem like that is the case with distilling. For the equipment...I was thinking of getting a simple 30 litre pot still with copper worm coil setup from eBay - do you think that will be sufficient to make a high end product? Remember, I am not too concerned with quantity or efficiency...just quality.

My thoughts on process would be to only do spirit runs and no stripping runs - on a pot still (I could borrow a reflux if need be but that seems like it strips the spirit of everything making something very pure - I know a few people that make their own spirits, but add the little flavouring bottles :-& ). I gather doing 1 stripping run and then adding that to a spirit run with the mash would create something with character and be more efficient, but my thought process was to create absolute highest quality. Is that a bit over kill only doing spirit runs?

Also a question on blending. Are the $100+ bottles of whisky going to be typically mostly the hearts from the run, or are they blending in a lot more of the tails and aging the whisky to let it smooth out...I've watched a few videos on blending (mostly from Still It) and saw that he started in the middle and tasted up and down until he found flavours he didn't want in the end product. I am in no rush to be drinking what I make, very happy to put some down for several years if that is what it takes. I've got some wine that won't be drinkable for 2 years and will start to taste fantastic after about 4-5 years, so I am very patient when it comes to this sort of thing.

I am very excited about potentially making something really tasty - and learning more about whisky along the way.

Cheers,
Phil

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  • Welcome to our community, @Phillip. That's quite a story and impressive background. Please keep in mind that it's better to dedicate an own discussion for specific topics and questions in the respective category and that links to web pages considered to be competition to the StillDragon® group are not allowed. Embrace the StillDragon® way of doing things and good luck with your whisky endeavor. :)

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  • Wow great story. Welcome.

    Can’t add much to the whiskey questions tho. We don’t have a lot of native grains where I’m at. Mostly cane based stuff.

    I think if you can do beer well then whiskey will be easy. Don’t get too focussed on equipment tho. I don’t think it needs to be overly expensive. I’d bet a small 50l boiler and 2” 4 plate column would work really well. Maybe a whiskey head. Talk with punkin. He’s the the Oz dealer and pretty clued in.

    I’m sure some of the guys can help with pointers.

  • edited April 28

    Thanks @Moonshine, I'll keep that in mine...it is basically my nature to break the rules though haha :)

    Cheers for the info on the still - I saw exactly that (or was it a 3" column) on a whisky doco on youtube. Old mate was heaps passionate about whisky. I reckon that might be out of my price range initially- but I do love bling :)

    Yeah I know of @punkin from the brewadelaide forum - I was speaking to an old brewing mate about whisky and he directed me to this forum. I will be heading to woolgoolga (near coffs harbour) late July, so if he lives close to there I might hit him up for a yarn. Got loads of questions about whisky...will be watching a lot of YouTube chasing more answers though.

    I reckon brewing beer should be 101 for any fermentation or alcohol making. It has helped me immensely with wine making...from being clean, to managing fermentation anxiety. Whether making kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, wine and spirits I reckon the experience gained from brewing really pays dividends. I might be in the minority, but I think beer brewing is much more difficult than wine making (if we dont include viticulture).

    Cheers

  • G'day @Phillip mate. Another Aussie here although I live in Mendoza Argentina. If you good at making beer making whiskey is easy. Your basically boiling beer. If you want to use a pot still then you will have to do two runs, the stripping run and a spirit run. I set up a composite still, ie a copper whiskey helmet and a 4" 4 plate SD column on top of a 200l boiler. I ran it about 10 times, using distillers beer that was average, but I was out of practice, trying to get single pass whiskey. And at the end of the day what I found tasted the best is simple pot stilling. But there is no way of getting around doing two runs or 3 if you want. Your questions about making the cuts are good. If your putting it down on oak for a few years you can used wider cuts. If you want a fantastic Absolutely world class whiskey only use the centre cut on your hearts but that will mean you might get 5 litres of product out of a 200litre wash.

    As for sizing if you have existing beer making equipment then use that or a multiple of that sizes. Ie if you have 100l fermenters for making beer, then buy a 100l milk can boiler from @punkin with a 5.5kw element and controller and a basic whiskey helmet on top. Then your in the distilling game. If you have 50litre fermenters then buy multiples of 50litres.

    If you want super cheap to start with go for the 50l milk can. If your a good beer brewer your already 70% on the way to making decent whiskey, you just have to boil your beer, make your cuts and put it in the barrel.

  • Hey @Phillip mate. You should try and get your hands on the book. Alt Whiskys by Darek Bell. Great book on different whiskey recipes. I have made about 13 different recipes inspired by that book and working through another five. Darek was a beer brewer in the US of some renown who moved to whiskey and used alternative grains and some beer inspired whiskeys and women lots of awards over a 3 year period. Great book for anyone wanting to make whiskey.

  • I reckon a single run for whiskey on a pot still is not going to give you a superior product.

    I reckon it's also a myth that a multiple plated column using forced reflux makes a lesser product.

    It's more about learning to drive the equipment you have than the equipment.

    StillDragon North America - Your StillDragon® Distributor for North America

  • @Smaug. Absolutely. I tried both multiplated columns and pot stills. My preference is to make whiskey with a pot still with the products that I am using and on grain ferments. Its just my preference. A single run on a pot still is not a nice product. Actually only once did I get a nice product from a single run, It was a scotch run with a little bit of oats and it was OK. The second spirit run was LOT better. Your right about learning to drive the equipment you have. Did you learn to drive a car the first time. Why is a still any different?

  • edited April 29

    Welcome @Phillip, as said the best way to pot still is multiple stripping runs then a combined spirit run. It ups the ratio of hearts and makes for a better product, it's how all the great distilleries do it.

    The plated columns are the most versatile of the setups available. They don't make the best neutral spirit (or do it the most efficiently anyway) but they can be used for that as well as whiskey or other brown spirits.

    You can do a single pass through a 3-4 plate still for a very good whiskey, maybe a little cleaner than a potstilled one?

    You don't have to buy a boiler, a 50l (best size for home use) beer keg is easily converted to a boiler by adding some ferrules and getting them welded in to fit elements, drain and column.

    I'm right in the heart of Woolgoolga and you are welcome to drop in, pick up goodies or just have a chat by appointment.

    My phone number is on my contact page at www.stilldragon.com.au

    StillDragon Australia & New Zealand - Your StillDragon® Distributor for Australia & New Zealand

  • @DonMateo - thanks mate. I stumbled upon the name of that book whilst 'researching' - I reckon I'll have to get a copy at some stage - my favourite beer brewing book was radical brewing, and alt whisky seems similar. Also "If you want a fantastic Absolutely world class whiskey only use the centre cut on your hearts but that will mean you might get 5 litres of product out of a 200litre wash." - that is exactly what I am after. Thanks for those figures - so about 2-3% of the wash is going to be the world class ultra premium that I am after :). I do also want to make something with strong peat - which from my small understanding of distilling, the peat part is quite 'heavy' and comes out further down the tails...so will experiment with some wider cuts and age that.

    @Smaug, cheers for the insight. Glad to hear that there is no hard and fast rule. It will be interesting dialling and getting in tune with my still - which I have yet to make. I'm liking the idea of a 50 litre beer keg converted to boiler.

    @punkin - I will most def hit you up for a chat late july. I like the idea of converting the keg into the boiler, so will likely go down that route and get some nice fittings to finish it off.

    Thanks everyone for welcoming me and answering my questions :) You've given me some direction and I'll do more researching and learning.

    Cheers

  • @Phillip, we do a lot of (barley, of course) malt whiskeys of which I'm enormously proud, and customer input (and sales) seem to confirm that I'm not entirely full of shit. Our Irish-ish is frequently rated above Jameson's (and I don't even consider Bushmill's as competition), and we've just released a peated single malt in the extreme Islay style that seems to be holding it's own in taste tests against Laphraoig.

    We use nothing but potstills, and all whiskeys are triple-potstilled, but NOT by collecting low wines for a final spirit run. In an extension of what the Scots do in 2 runs (and I suspect the Irish do in 3), runs 2 and 3 each use the distillate from the previous run topped off with fresh beer. Foreshots are discarded on each run. Trying to add a bit of reflux to this process seems like a tiny step in the wrong direction, at least if you want flavor. The 3-run system insures both rich flavor and smoothness.

    I used to be a cuts Nazi, and collect only the sweetest of the hearts, but if your malt ferments are good, and after 3 distillations, some of what folks might call heads and tails, WITH CORRECT AGING, can make a wonderfully complex and flavorful whisk(e)y.

    As for aging, we use only once-used bourbon barrel staves, ground clean, cut for more wood surface exposure, and re-heat-treated at 420F. This way, you avoid the raw young oak tannins that many call "over-oaking", and you get a bonus of aging pre-cursor compounds from the bourbon aging, but with no bourbon flavor.

    Anyway, it works for us.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • @zymurgybob thanks for your insights - love your attitude. I'm going to have to quiz you about 'correct aging'.

    I'm definitely going to be playing around with the cuts...I'll make up a big batch (big for me) and do a little bit straight hearts and others with varying widths of cuts.

    I definitely should have taken moonshines advice and started a dedicated discussion for making whisky.

    Cheers

  • edited April 30

    @zymurgybob said: I used to be a cuts Nazi, and collect only the sweetest of the hearts, but if your malt ferments are good, and after 3 distillations, some of what folks might call heads and tails, WITH CORRECT AGING, can make a wonderfully complex and flavorful whisk(e)y.

    I second this motion.

  • Ageing can be either accomplished or finished off very well with oak domino's. Seems to me that even 3 year barrel aged shine at home is better off with a couple of months on old staves.

    StillDragon Australia & New Zealand - Your StillDragon® Distributor for Australia & New Zealand

  • I've never used dominos, so I have no idea. Are they typically new oak?

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • @zymurgybob - I got the medium toast french and american oak - smelt very new to me. I didn't want the new flavour in my wine so I used them during the ferment to try and dull them down a bit. I was going to use the dominoes from the wine in the whisky....well, some of the whisky.

  • @Phillip, I didn't catch where you are, but if you're in the US, the cooperage company Speyside Kentucky sells once-used bourbon barrel staves in 20-pound lots. We grind the barrel schmutz off the outside of the stave and the leftover char off the inside, bore lots of 1" holes to increase endgrain access, and then heat treat the oak for the flavor profile we desire, as in the following image.

    image

    For both the peated and unpeated single malts we use the 420F profile, which gives us big vanilla notes. THat, combined with the lack of raw new oak tannins and leftover precursor compounds, gives us a very nice flavor profile in just a few months.

    I hope this helps.

    image.png
    285 x 152 - 7K

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • I'm in Adelaide, Australia. Its basically one of the best places in the world to live (just not to visit). Red wine country - hence why it was easy for me to get into wine.

    Interesting that you are wanting more end grain exposure...what I liked about the dominoes (compared to shavings etc) is that it is more long grain exposure which I thought would give less of a courser or harsher oak character....seems I have a lot to learn.

    What are you thoughts on aging or exposing the white spirit to oak at different levels of ABV? They would have different solvent capacity (if that makes sense) at different ABV....another thing I was going to do...flavour some with oak at ~60% and some at ~40%...taste and then blend.

    I am in need of some more info....is your book available in PDF to download?

  • I agree on the cuts. The first few whiskeys I did I made the cuts pretty tight but now I make them pretty broad. I am toasting my own dominos becuase I am using alternative woods as I have said previously. But definitely if your aging in barrels then you can make the cuts a bit wide. And @Phillip in a smoked whiskey a lot of the smokey flavors come out in the end of the run. You have it all the way through the run but it gets a lot more noticable at the end. And below 25% abv it can be strong. The only way your going to know how to do it and what you personally like is to just do it.

    One more comment on cuts, different recipes do require different cuts. I did a really nice wheat whiskey with a bit of quinoa and oats in it for some more body. I chased the tails down to about 15% abv and there was hardly any nasty flavor. Then just last week I was doing a stripping run on an irish wash it was really nice down to about 25% which is where I normally cut it and then I kept it going down, at about 20 % still no nasty flavors, then bang at 19 turned from the smoaky oaty taste that I wanted as this recipe had some oats in it, to nasty sharp spent teabag tails and I cut it. About 2 months ago I did a scotch wash that had was nice down to about 25 and then bang at 22%abv started to get really really sharp and bitter so that was where it was cut. Have at it mate.

  • edited May 2

    Yes they are new wood, they are a cracker of a finishing tool though.

    Oak Dominoe Comparo

    StillDragon Australia & New Zealand - Your StillDragon® Distributor for Australia & New Zealand

  • @Phillip, I've been using used bourbon-barrel oak for so long I may have forgotten why I do it, but I virtually never have any of the "over-oaking" or "oak tea" problems that I often hear about. To the contrary, customers (and me, too) love the oak notes even more on the longer-oaked products.

    Here's part of what happens: tannins are a whole class of compounds, varying in, among other things, molecular weight, or molecule size. In solution, as in aging whiskey, the smaller lighter tannin molecules have harsher flavors than the heavier molecules, and I'm guessing the lighter molecules are more readily leached out of the wood by the aging whiskey, for a harsher flavor at the beginning. I believe that second-use oak contains less of those lighter, harsher tannins.

    One of the things that happens in aging is that the molecules grow in size over time (perhaps polymerization, but I don't know for sure), and so the wood flavor in the whiskey seems softer and nicer. Interestingly, when the tannin molecules get large enough, they are insoluble and so fall out of solution.

    When we found ourselves having made a nice grape brandy that might profit from oak, I read that some nice brandies were oaked with twice-used oak. We aged the brandy in ex-commecial-bourbon and ex-our-Irish oak, and it turned out great, and the wood notes were kinda spicy.

    You're right on about aging at different ABVs as far as oak compound extraction. Whatever ABV a distiller chooses to age in, typically between ~120 and 135, is called "cask strength". We sell our peated single-malt at both 100 proof and cask strength strength, which for us and that product is ~125 proof. I'm amazed that about half of our tasting visitors prefer drinking 124 proof (in this batch) over the 100 proof, but that's the case.

    I sell quite a few books to Australia from our website (in my signature line), but my publisher doesn't like the idea of ebooks or PDFs, so we don't do it.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • @zymurgybob said: In solution, as in aging whiskey, the smaller lighter tannin molecules have harsher flavors than the heavier molecules, and I'm guessing the lighter molecules are more readily leached out of the wood by the aging whiskey, for a harsher flavor at the beginning. I believe that second-use oak contains less of those lighter, harsher tannins.

    One of the things that happens in aging is that the molecules grow in size over time (perhaps polymerization, but I don't know for sure), and so the wood flavor in the whiskey seems softer and nicer. Interestingly, when the tannin molecules get large enough, they are insoluble and so fall out of solution.

    Ahhh, that all make total sense...that is exactly the same for wine, however, the seed and stem tannins are short chain (harsh) and the skin tannins are long chain (smooth) - so most people then try to avoid the seeds and stems and ideally just want the skins....but it isn't so cut and dry - over time they elongate and create different structures than what is extracted. Once they are so long they can fall out and create the sediment on the shoulder of the bottle....but that is just one of a thousand different outcomes for the tannins...some say they can break down and go back into suspension. With enough funding, research into tannins seems to be an endless journey. Part of the reason of getting into spirits and whisky is to better understand how wood affects the end product.

    I find it interesting (the cask strength vs 100 proof), that people prefer the higher ABV. Saw in a few youtube videos of people tasting cask strength vs like 43% ABV, either not being able to pick which is which from the nose - finding the cask strength smoother and more approachable, which on paper doesn't make sense initially. This is all very exciting.

    @DonMateo - cheers for the info on going deeper into the tails. When you start tasting the flavours you don't like (teabag, sharp and bitter etc), is it common practise to cut there and end it? I'm asking as I was thinking that I could allow some of that to get in to create more complexity, I mean, with most of the distillate being good (by that I mean no off flavours) and then adding by volume only a small % - it should thin out the off flavours and then develop into something a bit more complex after aging (could be TOTALLY off on that though, hence why asking :) )

    I should be doing my first runs come mid - late August....can't rush these things.

    Cheers

  • Great discussion here.

    StillDragon North America - Your StillDragon® Distributor for North America

  • edited May 2

    Around the world, there is no standardization of these terms.

    Barrel Strength/Cask Strength typically refers to bottling the product at the ABV it was removed from the cask at, with no (or very minimal) water additions. If water is added, it's generally only to standardize the variable barrel dump proof to a common strength to match pre-printed labels (more below). This does not refer to a specific range of proof. There are plenty of products around the world that fit the "definition", but don't use the words on the label.

    Original Proof/Entry Proof - refers to bottling the product at the ABV is was entered into the barrel at, assuming the proof has increased through maturation. I've seen around the world, folks use the term Barrel Proof to refer to Entry Proof.

    If you go lower, you'd use neither of these designations.

    But, like I said, there is absolutely no standardization of these terms globally.

    There is an old TTB ruling on this, which clarifies it a bit for folks in the US, but you need to assume that barrel = cask.

    ATF Ruling 79-9:

    The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has recently recognized the need to establish guidelines for use of the terms "Original Proof," "Original Barrel Proof," "Entry Proof" and "Barrel Proof" on distilled spirits labels.

    No standard definitions have been issued by the Bureau specifying when and under what conditions distilled spirits labels may bear phrases indicating that the proof of the spirits when originally produced and when bottled is the same. Previously, the Bureau commented on the use of terms such as "Original Proof," "Original Barrel Proof," "Entry Proof" and "Barrel Proof" on a case-by-case basis.

    Although these terms are to defined in the regulations, they have acquired certain meanings when used on distilled spirits labels.

    To preclude any misunderstanding and to effect standardization in the use of these terms, the Bureau is issuing guidelines as follows:

    Held, a distilled spirits label bearing the phrase "Original Proof," "Original Barrel Proof" or "Entry Proof" indicates that the proof of the spirits entered into the barrel and the proof of the bottled spirits are the same.

    Held further, "Barrel Proof" on a distilled spirits label indicates that the bottling proof is not more than two degrees lower than the proof established at the time the spirits were gauged for tax determination.

    Compare the last line to Scotch, for example, which permits no water additions in a Cask Strength labeled product (vs a 2 proof difference in the US) - at least how I understand it.

  • @Smaug said: Great discussion here.

    You got that right. I love it when I learn stuff that applies to what I'm trying to do. Thanks everyone; I'm saving this stuff.

    Zymurgy Bob, a simple potstiller

    my book, Making Fine Spirits

  • @phillip to answer your question as to how deep into the tails you want to go, the answer is its up to you. Before i started making whiskey and gins i read that it is a personal thing. I cant tell you what tastes good for you. So i cant answer your question. You cant either until you are next to your still and your at the end of a run and tasting every couple of minutes and the at some point you will taste it and go nope, thats the cut. And then thats the cut for that run. Its the art that goes into artesan. Every distiller is different. Not something you can explore with out your tongue and a still at the end of a run. I read everything i could about distilling before i started but what i didnt understand is each recipe and each run is different but its not a tasting and personal decision.

  • @donmateo - Cheers, I reckon that has sunk in now :)

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