Thursday, January 9, 2014

Flavors of Grain

In most distilleries there are several common grains used to produce varieties of Whiskey, Bourbon, Vodka and Gin.  The four most common gains include corn, wheat, barley and rye.  Each grain provides a different flavor to the finished spirit, and here, we share a description of each grain.

Corn – corn is believed to have been used in the first whiskies ever made.  Corn is plentifully available in the United States – especially in Central Illinois!  Distillers typically use clean number two yellow corn, which provides a sweet flavor to distilled spirits.  Corn offers an abundant supply of fermentable sugars, which yields high amounts of alcohol.

Wheat – wheat is a widely used grain, typically processed into flour for bread.  When used in whiskey, wheat offers the ability to balance a spirit and adds a buttery soft finish. 

Barley – malted barley is commonly used in the production of beer and provides a number of flavor profiles depending on the amount or level of malting applied.  For example, chocolate malt is traditionally used in a stout beer.  In whiskey, a mildly toasted barley is used most often.  While barley helps to balance the pH in the mashing process, it also adds a rich caramel flavor to the end spirit.

Rye – rye is frequently used in rye whiskey and bourbon, as well as other well known spirits.  Rye adds a spicy, robust flavor which cannot be mistaken.  During the post-prohibition era, rye whiskey was very popular and seems to be returning in popularity.
While corn, wheat, barley and rye all provide unique individual flavors, they can also be blended to create a well balanced spirit.  For example, law requires that all bourbon include a minimum of 51% corn within the grain bill.  In addition to corn, bourbon usually includes malted barley.  Some bourbon includes rye while others include wheat.  The decision to use rye or wheat in bourbon is dependent on the desired finish of the product – either spicy and bold (rye) or warm and buttery (wheat).

 At J.K. Williams Distilling, our Corn Whiskey and Bourbon have a grain bill that includes corn, wheat, and malted barley.  Married together, these grains along with a skilled distilling process produce a warm, soft, and flavorfully unique spirit.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Why Craft Whiskey?

We get asked the question - what is different about craft distilling over our larger brethren?  We also get asked, is the whiskey better?  Here is an attempt to answer these questions.

For starters, most large distilleries use a continuous distillation process – we equate this to a water faucet.  You can turn the faucet on, and under normal circumstances, the water never stops coming.  With a continuous distillation process the still rarely stops… why does that matter?

Alcohol and other various chemicals produced by the mashing and distillation process boil at different temperatures.  In craft distilling, products are made in small batches.  The batches have a beginning, middle and end – commonly called the Heads, Hearts & Tails. 

Ø      Heads have the lowest boiling point and contain solvent like chemicals and noxious aromatic elements that are strong to the nose.  Heads contain harsh chemicals that can make your stomach hurt and can give you a headache. 

Ø      Hearts are the best cut of the distillation process containing the perfect balance of Heads and Tails – providing flavor and smoothness.  Hearts boil at a higher boiling point than Heads, but lower than Tails. 

 Ø      While Heads are aromatic, Tails are bitter and strong to the mouth in flavor.    Tails are cloudy and smell horrible.  Tails boil at a higher boiling point than Heads and Hearts.

Back to the question – why is a small batch “craft” production different?  With craft distilling we are able to take “cuts” of the whiskey; with our pot still we are able to separate the Heads, Hearts & Tails as the temperature increases in the still.  By comparison, it is nearly impossible to separate the Heads, Hearts & Tails with a continuous still.  Products made with a continuous still can give you a headache, a hangover and a stomach-ache.

The bottom line - in separating the different chemicals, craft whiskey tastes better, doesn’t give you a hangover (unless you consume an insane amount!), doesn’t make your stomach hurt, and did we mention it tastes better!  So yes, craft whiskey is better and is made in a fundamentally different way.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Distillery's Licensing Process

The process of starting a distillery is rightfully intense – the average start-up craft distillery takes 1½ to 2 years of business planning followed by 12 to 18 months of licensing.  Beware - the process is painstaking and detail oriented. 

After a year or two of developing a business plan to outline production, products, marketing plans, financial projections, capital, location and equipment, you can then start the organizational and permitting process.  Make note that when selecting a location, zoning is critical – thankfully our municipal leaders have been excellent to work with! 

The first step in the permitting process is obtaining a Federal TTB Permit.  All distilleries, breweries and wineries must be federally approved to exist.  The TTB is part of the Department of Treasury, and their formal name is the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.  After a detailed inspection of your organizational documents, background checks on shareholders, an understanding of your equipment, security, insurance/bonding, etc., etc., the TTB will issue a Distilled Spirits Plant number, or DSP.  Once a DSP number is issued, you legally (under Federal law) can produce spirits; although you cannot yet sell them.  The process of obtaining a DSP can take 6 to 8 months.

 With a DSP number in hand, you can submit a formula to the TTB’s Advertising, Labeling & Formulation Division.  In this process you must outline your formula, in detail, with all ingredients and any additives used in the process as well as specific production and aging methods.  This process typically takes 3 months to receive approval, and it must be completed for each and every product.

Once a formula is approved, you must submit your label to the TTB’s COLA Division (Certificate of Label Approval) for approval as well.  In this process the TTB verifies that the product being produced matches the label being used and that the correct disclaimers are used.  The process of label approval usually takes 3 months, and it also must be completed for each and every product.

Now that all 3 federal approvals are secured, you must obtain a municipal liquor license.  This license will authorize you to sell spirits, provide tasting and operate within your facility (depending on municipal laws).  While accomplishing this task, you must also obtain approval from the Environmental Protection Agency for the disposal method of spent mash.  From our experience, the EPA approval was the most complicated.

In the last licensing step, you must submit all of your previous approval documents to the State of Illinois - Liquor Control Commission.  The Commission grants the final approval for all DSP’s in the State of Illinois.  This final step (while a marathon to get to) can take 1 to 2 months to receive approval.  Once this approval is granted you have been authorized by all authorities to produce and sell spirits!

Please note - this is purely an overview of the licensing process, not all steps have been included.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dear Diary...

The idea of starting and maintaining a blog for our business was not necessarily received with great pleasure!   First we asked ourselves, who is going to write it?   Then more importantly, who is going to read it?  Do our consumers really want to hear our Dear Diary stories?  Well, we decided our “story” really is worth telling, so along the way we hope to both entertain and educate you!  If at any time you have feedback or suggestions, we are all ears!  How else do you think 4 siblings/in-laws have been able to work together?