When distillers talk about the process of making vodka, gin or most other spirits, they will often refer to the step when the malted and mashed grains are fermented and waiting to be run through the still as the "wash". What is less well known is that this wash is essentially beer. Not necessarily beer you would enjoy drinking if poured directly into your mug, but beer nonetheless. The limits of natural fermentation are reached at this stage when grain is converted to beer because yeast are hungry little buggers and basically have eaten their way through all of their preferred food sources available during the initial combination of ingredients. As the yeast eat through their food source, they create ethanol as a byproduct - and it winds up being the very thing that will eventually kill them. The alcohol content in the batch raises slowly as the yeast make their way through all edible aspects of their surrounding and once the alcohol content rises above roughly 15%, the yeast can no longer survive.
Why are we explaining this? A couple of reasons - first, understanding the science behind this will make you look like smarty-pants at summer grill-outs. Primarily, however, this is relevant because a milk tanker truck full of 1500 gallons of fresh, custom-designed beer will be pulling up to our building later this week. Our equipment has the ability to do grain-to-spirit distillation over the course of approximately 5 days and we plan to run the full process for certain spirits where we need to be very picky about flavor, alcohol content or other specifications. However, in order to get all of you friendly people the quantities of gin and whisky that you're telling us you will need in the near future, we've shifted some of our plans to incorporate a ready-made beer base as the jumping off point for our distilling runs.
Luckily for us, Octopi Brewing, a state-of-the-art contract brewing facility, is just a few miles away in Waunakee. [Wisconsin is a wonderful place for many reasons, including the fact that you are rarely more than 5 minutes away from fresh beer, cheese or other foods that contain beer and cheese.] Octopi has a very experienced team of brewmasters and other technical folks that work together to make beer on behalf of a number of regional and national breweries. Our request for a beer created specifically for distillation (low hops, high alcohol) was fairly different than what they normally plan for, but they were happy to experiment along with us and help fine tune our recipe. [Dave has been in to test the batch we're expecting and says it has a light, sweet flavor.] The Octopi team was kind enough to let us start working with a number of leftover barrels they had sitting around (#perks!) and we've have had some early successes while we've been learning the nuances of the flavors. Rumor has it there may be some Madagascar Vanilla ale that was distilled and is now hanging out in a barrel, turning into a fairly delicious young whiskey - but you didn't hear that from me. By working with Octopi, we can maintain the ability to carefully plan the grain and flavor profiles while also scaling up to the volumes we need to be at in the near future.
This is the first of many collaborations we are hoping to pursue with other small Wisconsin businesses at all points along our supply chain. We are in early talks regarding sourcing local wine into brandy and we're considering things a bit further off the beaten bath, including a coffee-based spirit. We're excited to combine what other people do best with our technology and create something great together.
Wish us luck with the tanker truck drop-off and keep an eye out for pictures....