Time does not fly when you’re waiting on full barrels of Bourbon Whiskey to grow up. Well, they used to be full. Damn angel’s keep making claims. I’m finally at the point where I’m proud to dump my first barrel. Dump meaning cut and bottle.
Mind you, I only have one barrel ready, but it’s good. AND, I made it. I didn’t buy it.
This first barrel was in the midst of its third winter, so it’s not quite three years old. Technically, that makes this a “Straight Bourbon Whiskey”, meaning it is a minimum of two years old. I like to count the winters because I have noticed that in my rick house in Meigs County, the most change seems to take place during this season of frequent and extreme temperature changes.
This Bourbon was distilled from a beer wash consisting of 51% non-GMO open pollinated yellow dent corn, grown by Cowdery Farms in Longbottom, Ohio. That’s Meigs county as well. The other 49% of the grist bill is organic Two-row barley malt from Briess Organics in Chilton WI. I guess you could call this a malted bourbon or a Barley’d Bourbon. If the percentages of the grist bill shifted to 49% corn and 51% barley malt, this would technically be a Malt Whiskey. Crazy semantics.
As to my process, I do everything from grain to glass. I cook the corn and do a decoction mash with the barley malt. I then lauter and sparge this mash to strip the sugar and separate the solids. This process leaves me with 200 gallons of a 14.5% sugar water solution, the wash, derived completely from the 400# of grains used. At this point, yeast is added and fermentation begins, ending with a beer at around 7.5% alcohol by volume. Most large bourbon distilleries ferment on the grains and distill this wash, grains and all. My process of separating the grains out is more in line with most Irish and Scotch whisky distilleries.
After fermentation, I did two distillations. The first was the “beer stripping” run. This distillation concentrates everything from the good flavors and alcohol to the bad toxins and fusel oils. After this first run, the 200 gallons of beer which started at 7.5% ABV were now only 50 gallons but concentrated to 38-42% ABV.
The next distillation run was for the final spirit, which went into barrels to age. This run pulled the spirit off the still between roughly 80% and 65% ABV. During this run, I separated out the Bad stuff and kept only the best clean and flavorful “Hearts”.
These sweet and tasty raw spirits went into barrels at 71% ABV. I say barrels because this batch started in three 15 gallon new American white oak #3 char barrels. After 6 months in the fresh wood, they had lots of wood character, almost too much. So I racked the spirit into a second-generation 53 gallon bourbon barrel from Labrot and Graham. This gave it the ability to age gracefully without taking on much more from the wood. Air and time is what it needed at that point. Almost three winters later, Father Time fulfilled his end of the deal. The final step was to cut the whiskey to 45% ABV with wonderful water from my farm and bottle. I now present to you the first Bourbon from Meigs County Ohio. Ever.
Note: This blog post originally appeared on the website of Dancing Tree Distillery, which became Fifth Element Spirits, and has now become West End Ciderworks & Distillery.More Blog Posts