Sour Mash Process with Beam and Stoll
The distillery was finally put together and ready to go! When the stills were originally commissioned, the plan was to make a traditional Sour Mash Bourbon double distilled on the pot stills. This would be taking the distillation of Bourbon back to its roots as most Bourbon is made on column stills these days.
Well, owning an historic piece of equipment, and wanting to remain an artisan craft distillery, we decided to tackle the task at hand and make traditional Sour Mash Bourbon double distilled on the pot stills. We felt we were in good hands, though, as we had been in contact with Dick Stoll, the one man who used to run these stills every day when they were in production at the distillery in Schaferstown. We also had the interest and experience from David Beam. Who wouldn’t go for it?
So, over the course of two weekends, we had them all out for a weekend to learn from them and run the equipment. When David came, his sons Bill and Troy joined him, along with his Grandson, Ben. All the equipment hadn’t been fully piped in to the boiler when they were here, so we were unable to distill. We did, however, mill grain and put the finishing touches on pipes and pumps. David was right at home, noting that the sounds of the pump were familiar to a distiller’s ear. Practical knowledge and tips straight from the man…it was educational and fun.
We got a mash bill from Baker Beam and decided that we would get our stuff together enough to run a mash with Dick as well as a distillation. While Dick was here, David’s third son, John Ed, came up to help out, too. It was like Dick never left his old job! Even with the equipment in a different layout, he didn’t miss a beat. It was fun to watch him work and see the joy in his eyes. Tom took in everything he could.
We are using the traditional, and uniquely American, Sour Mash process to make our Bourbon. All Bourbon is Whiskey, but not all Whiskey is Bourbon. Bourbon must have a mash bill of at least 51% corn. With the Sour Mash technique, we use a traditional Bourbon Mash Bill but we use the left-over, alcohol-free liquid stillage (setback) from a prior distillation to make the Bourbon mash, as well as to set the fermenters. You can think of it as like a Sourdough Bread Starter. Using this technique can enhance and deepen the flavors of the mash and, ultimately, the end product and it can also promote continuity between batches. This technique is also an interesting way to maintain the pH levels in your mash and provide a good environment for the yeast and it also helps to keep nasty bacteria from contaminating your mash. The actual grain that is left over from the distillation (Distiller’s grain) is collected and taken to dairy cows at a local farm. That is pretty cool!
So, a time-tested recipe, historic equipment and unbelievable access to two experienced distiller’s brains and even getting to train with them….hmmmm…..Sounds like a recipe for total Bourbon Yumminess……