The Various Types of Beverages from Distilling Wine

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Pisco PeruDistillation, the ancient method used to separate alcohol (ethanol) from other elements in a fermented solution (aka mash). Heat separates the components of the mash. The more volatile components, such as ethanol, become gas, rises up into a cooling column where it is cooled and able to return to a fluid state where it is then collected. This is known as the distillate.

The distiller later blends the distillate along with other alcohol or flavorings. In most all cases it is aged in oak barrels until the desirable flavors and aromas are produced. Brandy and clear, colorless grappa are two examples of spirits distilled from wine. Almost any liquor store will stock these items. You will even find Brandy and Grappa in almost any bar. Listed below are popular distillations from wine.

Armagnac (ärmn-yk)
Armagnac is a light golden, dry-tasting French brandy. French law dictates that only white grapes belonging to the Haut-Armagnac, Tenareze, and Bas-Armagnac parts of Gascony, in southwest France, may be used in the production of Armagnac. Immediately after the grape harvest the white grape juice is fermented and distilled. This normally occurs between October and April. In contrast to cognac, its younger cousin, Armagnac has traditionally been made by distilling the fermented juice only once. Then again, change in French legislation has allowed double distillations. Armagnac is aged in oak barrels to perfect the flavour of the finished product.

To ascertain the number of years the Armagnac has been matured in oak you can look at the label. Three stars mean it’s been aged a minimum of two years. V.S.O.R on the label indicates it has been aged a minimum of five years. Napoleon and X.O. have been aged no less than six years and Hors d’Age a minimum of 10 years. A vintage year on the label denotes the year of the harvest. A vintage Armagnac is never blended.

First discovered in the middle of the thirteenth century in France as an attempt to develop a medicinal drink, brandy is now made worldwide wherever grapes are cultivated. Brandy is generally distilled twice. The clear, colorless liquid is given its distinctive nutty brownish color and flavor by aging in wood, often oak, barrels. The longer a brandy ages, the more refined its flavor.

Probably the best-known brandy across the world, cognac, originates from an area in Western France known as Charente and Charente-Maritime. To get labeled as “cognac,” French legislation specifies that the brandy can only be created from specific white grapes that are grown and distilled inside a strictly defined geographical region.

Cognac production is dictated by both tradition and law. To illustrate, all brandy is distilled at least two times. It must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two years. During this time the Cognac develops a rich, brownish color. The end result is bottled at Eighty proof. The label, also governed by law, lets one ascertain the maturity of cognac much like we saw for Armagnac.

Three stars or VS. signifies the cognac has been matured in the barrel for a minimum of two years. V.S.O.R., Vieux, V.O. and Reserve indicate it has matured for a minimum of four years. V.V.S.O.P and Grande Reserve, a minimum of five years and Extra, Napoleon, X.O., Tres eux and Vieille Reserve are matured for six to ten years.

This is an Italian spirit distilled from the grape stems, skins, and seeds (pomace) after fermenting and pressing the grapes. The end product is a fragrant pomace brandy anywhere from 70-120 proof. In Italy Grappa is served as an after-dinner drink much like ports in France. For this beverage to be called “Grappa” it must be produced in Italy, Southern Switzerland (Italian portion of Switzerland) or in San Marino.

OOPA! This popular Greek spirit, metaxa is a blend of brandy and wine made out of sun-dried Savatiano, Black Corinth grape varieties (think currents) and Sultana ( Thompson Seedless grapes). It is then blended with aged Muscat wine from the Greek islands of Samos and Lemnos. Metaxa is aged in French oak barrels. The amount of time aging in barrel can be determined by the number of stars on the label. For instance, three stars would mean three years; five stars, five years; and so on. Grand Reserve signifies it has been aged for 30 years.

This very tangy, slightly yellowish brandy is the national drink of Chile. Pisco is the main ingredient in the refreshing drink Pisco Sour. Pisco is made out of black grapes with a high proportion of muscat grapes. Pisco is twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged in oak casks, glass or stainless steel containers.

To discover more about the how to make whiskey, mash recipes, etc. head on over to How To Make Whiskey HQ. Step-by-step instructions are available to develop your own mash recipe and distill into whiskey. Making whiskey is fascinating on many levels. It has a abundant history, uses everything from low tech to high tech equipment and can be as easy or complex as you like.


Irish Whiskey, What Makes it Different?

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Cooley's Copper Pot Stills

Cooley's Copper Pot Stills

Queen Elizabeth 1st appreciated Irish whiskey. It’s said that she had casks of Irish whiskey brought to London and kept in the palace. By the 18 century Ireland had roughly 2000 stills in operation producing Irish whiskey. Currently there are actually only 4 distilleries in operations: Cooley, Kilbeggan, New Midleton and Old Bushmills. January 2012 Beam Inc., creators of Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, bought Cooley Distillery, the last independently Irish owned distillery.

Regulations for creating Irish whiskey are determined by the “Irish Whiskey Act, 1980.” This replaced the previous act of 1950. When compared to the requirements to produce Bourbon and Scotch, Irish whiskey is quite a bit less complicated. The Irish Whiskey Act of 1980 states that to be labeled Irish whiskey it has to be produced according to the following requirements:

1) spirits shall have been distilled in the State (Republic of Ireland) or in Northern Ireland from a mash of cereals which has been saccharified by the diastase of malt contained therein, fermented by the action of yeast and distilled at an alcoholic strength of less than 94.8% by volume giving the distillate an aroma and flavour derived from the materials used.
2) spirits shall have been matured in wooden casks in warehouse in the State or Northern Ireland for a period of not less than three years.
3) spirits comprising a blend of two or more distillates are referred to as a “blended” Irish whiskey and must meet requirements 1 and 2.

Types of Irish Whiskey include blended, single grain and single malt. Blended whiskey makes up a big part of Irish whiskey being made today. Blended Irish whiskey can be composed of whiskey from multiple distillate as well as more than one distillery as long as it adheres to the regulations defined in the Irish Whiskey Act of 1980. Some examples of Blended whiskies include: Bushmills Original, Jameson, Kilbeggan, Clontarf, Inishowen and Paddy to name a few. To dive a little further into the process, Jameson is created from a mash of malted and un-malted barley. It is then triple distilled in pot stills and aged in oak casks. To make the final product a mix of triple distilled whiskey and neutral spirits are paired in just the right amounts to make Jameson what it has always been and will continue to be.

Single Malt whiskies can also be found but they are not as common as blended whiskey. Single malts are produced from a mixture of or 100% malted barley, distilled with a pot still and created by a single distillery. Some example of single malt Irish whiskies are: Tyrconnell, Bushmills 10, 16, 21 year old and Locke’s Single Malt 8 year old. Tyrconnell uses 100% malted barley, yeast and water. Small batches are then triple distilled in copper pot stills.

While Irish whiskey generally doesn’t contain grains malted with peat you will find a few that do contain this unique flavor. Cooley distillery makes an Irish whiskey called Connemara. The malted barley is dried in peat fired kilns giving it the unique smokey flavor typically associated with Scotch whisky. Connemara is twice distilled in copper pot stills and then aged in American Oak for years. Connemara is considered to be a peated single malt.

To read more about the different types of whiskey, mash recipes and how to make whiskey at home have a look at the many resources avaiable on the web. A good place to start lerning more about this unique hobby head over to How To Make Whisky HQ.

The Incredible Story Of Jack Daniels Whiskey

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Jack Daniels First USA Whiskey Shipment

Jack Daniels, First Shipment to America

Jasper “Jack” Newton Daniel was one among 13 kids. Nobody knows exactly when Mr. Daniel was born, resulting from his birth certificate being destroyed in a house fire, nevertheless during the year 1875, the Jack Daniels Whiskey distillery was launched. There are claims that Jasper was just 20 years old when he became an authorized distiller. However, even today, nobody knows for sure if this is true.

Sadly, after stubbing his toe and developing an infection during 1911, Mr. Daniel passed away. He never got married or had any a child, so he entrusted the distillery to his nephew, Lem Motlow. After Motlow’s passing in 1947, the distillery was presented to his children.

There may have been laws opposing the production of alcohol during the early 1900’s, but this did not stop some people from continuing to produce alcohol. Jack Daniels Whiskey saw difficult times at the time of prohibition. However, because Motlow was a state senator in Tn, he had influence in assisting to repeal this law. This authorized production to begin again in 1938.

Daniel’s whiskey is renowned for being filtered in vats crafted from wood before being left to age. It is not something that is typically done when making most Bourbon whiskeys. Although technically “Straight Bourbon,” no one seems to mind it being referred to as Tennessee Whiskey. The Daniel’s brand also filters distillate with sugar maple charcoal. Many people claim this is one of the reasons Jack Daniel’s is amongst the finest of all whiskeys.

Traditionally, the Daniel’s company made the drink 90 proof (forty five percent alcohol by volume). The black label was, at one time, widely known as a higher grade than the green. Although, today most bottles of both labels are 80 proof. In 2011 the company developed Holiday Select. Bottles with this label are 100 proof. Currently the highest proof Jack Daniels has ever made.

To find out more about how to make whiskey, how to distill and the tools and techniques used, visit “How To Make Whiskey HQ“. There you will find whiskey mash recipes, a step-by-step process for making whiskey at home and much more.

How Pot Stills Work – The Whiskey Still

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alembic still

Alembic Still

Pot stills are the current descendant of the alembic still. They were one of the earliest still types employed to create spirits. Pot still are in some ways inefficient which can be a good thing when making whiskey. For example, when making neutral spirit with no flavor and high alcohol yield you would use a reflux or column still. For whiskey you will need to create a product that preserves the flavors of mash. In this case the pot still is best suited.

A pot still has 4 main parts: We will look at each one in more detail.

Pot: The shape of the pot is typically a cylinder that is wider on top than the base. The pot is loaded with the fermented mash and heated with fire or perhaps an inner heating mechanism. Generally commercial distilleries heat up the wort (aka wash) with four hundred degree steam pumped via tubing that is coiled in the pot.


Swan Neck: The neck permits the vaporized alcohol and some water\flavor to rise up and enter into the lyne arm. The neck is often smaller at the topcompared to the bottom allowing for non-ethanol components to condense around the walls and fall back down into the wash.

Lyne Arm: The lyne arm will impact the amount of non-ethanol compounds that make it into the distillate. For instance, as the vapors rise up the neck and into the lyne arm the temperature becomes cooler and the less volatile compounds (h2o, flavour, etc.) change from a gas into a liquid. If the lyne arm is ascending at a forty-five degree angle those compounds will run back into the wash. This gives you a ‘lighter’ flavor and higher alcohol content in the finished product. On the other hand if the lyne neck was angled down at a forty-five degree angle the less volatile substances will condense and drip down into the condenser combined with the ethanol vapors thus supplying the distillate a far more flavorful, ‘fuller’, taste.

Condenser: The condenser cools the ethanol vapors to a temperature that is less than the boiling point of the ethanol. Therefore, it condenses the vapors back to liquid. Condensers can be cooled by the ambient air temperature, moving air (a fan) or water. With a water cooled condenser the cool water is pumped through a coil or around the outside of the tube that contains the ethanol vapors. Different styles will utilize different methods. The key is to cool the vapors so they drip into a collection jar versus escaping into the air.




Ultimately, the distiller must experiment with different mash recipes, still shapes and designs to develop the end product that the distiller set out to produce. Bottom line, take notes, don’t rush, enjoy yourself and try new things out.

More info on making whiskey, mash recipes and details on how to distill at home can be found online.

What Is Scotch Whisky?

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Scotch is a unique type of whisky that’s only created in Scotland and features a distinctive flavor. In my personal opinion it is an acquired taste. It has a unique smoky, earthy flavor that comes from the malt being dried in kilns heated with peat.

What’s Scotch Whisky?

Under UK law, Scotch is defined by “The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009”. The rules define the way it must be made and labeled. If you are drinking Scotch you can be certain that the following conditions were met:

  1. Produced within a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (which only whole grains of other cereals may be added)
  2.  Has been distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8% so that the distillate possesses an aroma and taste derived from the raw materials
  3. Wholly matured in an excise warehouse in Scotland in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 liters for minimum of 3 years
  4. Retains the color, aroma, taste of the raw materials
  5. Is without added substances, other than water and plain caramel coloring
  6. Has a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40% at bottling

Why is Scotch so unique?

Pile Of Peat ScotlandMost Scotch is known for a smoky flavor often referred to as peatiness. This flavor is formed when the malted barley is dried in kilns which are being heated with peat. Peat, aka turf, is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation including grasses, fungi, trees, insects and the occasional animal. The layers of material are not able to decompose fully because of the lack of oxygen and high pH. Peat is also flammable when it is wet or dry. Because of the large quantity of peat in Scotland this material was used to heat, cook and also power the kilns to dry the malted barley.

Types of Scotch Whisky

There are two types of Scotch whisky that can be bottled as is or blended. The 2 variations are:
Single malt Scotch: Single malt Scotch whisky is made of water and malted barley at a single distillery. Single grain Scotch whisky: Single grain Scotch whisky is produced from water and malted barley but can also include grains of other malted or unmalted cereals. It also needs to be distilled at a single distillery. It is necessary to note that the word ‘Single’ doesn’t refer to what goes into the Scotch but instead that it must be produced at a ‘Single’ distillery.


Scotch Whisky Blends

Using single malt or single grain whisky, producers can create a variety of blends. There are 3 types of blends which were defined in “The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009.”

  1. Blended malt Scotch whisky: Blend of more than one single malt Scotch whiskies from different distilleries.
  2. Blended grain Scotch whisky: Blend of more than one single grain Scotch whiskies from different distilleries.
  3. Blended Scotch whisky: means a blend of one or more single malt Scotch whiskies with one or more single grain Scotch whiskies.

To learn a lot more about Scotch Whisky, download the regulations or explore the different brands of Scotch head over to How To Make Whiskey HQ. There you’ll find more information on the whiskey making process, whisky recipes and resources.

Marvin Sutton – The Last Real Moonshiner

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You don’t hear much relating to this sort of person any longer. He was distilling corn into whiskey as a youngster with his dad back when NASCAR superstar Junior Johnson was running his very own white lightning across the hills of western North Carolina. He kept everything in the operation the way it always was: from the outdoor, copper-tubed still tucked away in the woods to storage in old cars and barns.

Born in 1946, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton lived in one of the few but self-proclaimed “moonshine capitals of the world,” Cocke County, Tennessee. He grew up around stills set up near the woods where he cut a large stock of hardwood used to heat the boiler, mostly at night so they weren’t as readily seen, working by moonlight and the glow of the fire.

Paying a supplementary tax on what they thought to be a “farm product” was unconscionable to the Scots-Irish descendants of the settlers of this region. These folks would be described as libertarian rather than conservative today, since they are extremely guarded about rights and would like to see as little of government as possible. They despised law breaking intensely, and moonshining is against the law, but they had to provide for families in a rural agricultural area were jobs are hard to come by at best and nonexistent at worst. In the Great Depression a great many survived by illegal whiskey production; during Prohibition they truly flourished and grew businesses, acquiring automobiles and building better barns and stills.

So, the era in which Sutton found himself in the last two decades was a period when some other drugs made their way into manufacture, bringing progressively more law enforcement with worsening tempers (the state is 4th in crystal meth production in the country). Still, he never modified his methods of distilling the corn. Marvin kept the copper-tubed still heated with hardwood and drove his old Ford Fairlane known as “the three-jug” because he paid three jugs of booze for it.

He became quite a superstar as the supposed “last moonshiner” and had written a book about his exploits. He visited restaurants and bars around Cocke County and western North Carolina. He starred in documentaries regarding the intriguing business he was immersed in.

Sutton had a number of run-ins with the law, and in the 1970’s was charged for white whiskey production for the first time. He had a few more incidents with the law (not all of them about booze) but in 2007, he sold fifty gallons to an undercover officer and was found guilty the next year. The agents found three 1,000 gallon stills on his premises, along with guns and ammo, and 800 gallons of white lightning.

His demeanor sank. During the trial, his conversations with friends about whiskey, rare in the first place, turned nonexistent. One of the last pictures taken by a close friend outside of the courthouse at the time shows him sitting sad-eyed, holding up a middle finger. Even worse, a plea deal included forfeiting the stills, whiskey and guns, and the majority of his other property to decrease the sentence from fifteen years to 1.5 years.

Sutton received that eighteen month sentence in January, 2009, but those who knew him said he was devastated. After many years of telling them that his last run of whiskey would without a doubt be his last, people believed it this time. His wife of just a couple years found him in late January, dead by his very own hand, in the old Ford. The Wall Street Journal posted an article regarding Marvin’s arrest and can be seen online: Popcorn Sutton, Legenday Moonshiner, Headed to the Pokey

Whiskey possesses a fascinating history. For more information on the process of making whiskey visit How To Make Whiskey Headquarters for excellent recipes and whiskey making techniques. Also, to educate yourself a little about the current laws concerning making moonshine take a look at Is Making Whiskey Legal.

Making The First Whiskey

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In the Scottish highlands, a few men get together wood and brush, return to their home and stoke the huge fire blazing beneath caldrons of barley mash. It’s about 1150 A.D. and the men, monks protected by giant monastery walls, are creating a high-alcohol drink called “uisge beatha,” the breath of life (aqua vitae in Latin). Around Europe, the truly amazing cathedrals are just being started using the new technique: the flying buttress. A Remarkable Crusade is underway inside the Holy Land.

The monks, when not distilling the earliest known liquor that’ll be commonly known as Scotch whiskey, were growing food including the ingredients for the mash: barley and the fungi called yeast. The barley is soaked for several days, or “malted,” and then ground (mashed) and fermentation begins. Distilling occurs in copper vats, and the monks pour the distillate into oak casks that would have taken months to build and seal. The casks then sit for half a year to several years. The security and affluence of the monastery, and the fearful reverence the populace would’ve had for monks, guaranteed this to be one of the few reliable places for producing whiskey in the High Middle Ages.

Take a look at how Scotch is produced today.

The original commercial distilleries appear at the conclusion of the 15th century, with written receipts for Scotch documented in 1495. As Europe urbanized and supplies became more available, folks could design and make more useful stills, those not open to the air and losing most of the product to steam. Coils and other reduction equipment for barley distilling came into use, as well as other cereals became popular.

Meanwhile, on which would become the American continent, Indians were producing spirits from many native plants, including corn. Europeans arrived to see many foods and grains, and experienced corn whiskey for the first time. In Massachusetts, the Scots-Irish inhabitants settling in and sawing down vast hardwood forests knew how to proceed. They used whatever materials were available to make corn liquor, and as early as 1633 the Massachusetts Colony started requiring a license to distribute it. The fight between governments in search of revenue and the people who sought to make their own rules about distilleries had commenced.

Certainly, people had made wine and ale for much longer than this. Many beverages with alcohol were available, nevertheless the private enterprise issues that continue today had began. Before the revolution, still owners were left almost entirely alone. Washington and Jefferson operated their own stills. After the revolution, taxes were put on all alcohol to help pay war debt and farmers would not approve. Their stills had in large part become their livelihoods.

The Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania was the most significant and best known of the battles moonshiners had with government agents, but the battles continued, large and small, throughout rural areas in the east. The Appalachian Mountains through Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee subsequently became recognized for moonshine whiskey and the many stories of backwoods distilling.

Now that your interests are peeked possibly it is time to investigate the entire process of making whiskey. You ask “how to make whiskey?” The web is a great place to discover and educate yourself on the art. For more information check out How To Make Whiskey Headquarters. There you will find mash recipes, techniques and discussions on still types.