All Grain Bourbon

all about mashing and fermenting grains

All Grain Bourbon

Postby Brendan » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:09 pm

So I’ve put together this thread on how I do my all grain bourbon. I’m not an expert by any means, but it is just a collaboration of some of my research and experience, and a bit of a guide for the novice really wanting to have a go. I have thrown in pics of one of my mashes, and some videos as a guide for some to get an idea of the mash consistency at different stages.

Now the first thing to start with is, all grain bourbon takes a lot of work to get to the product stage, it is not simple by any means and takes a lot of hours agitating mash, watching temperatures, waiting for conversion, and straining solids out of the wash. But for those that really want to do it, the product is definitely worth the trouble.
If you do further reading and research you will find that there are many ways to do this such as various mashing methods, and many ways to cook your corn, but you can make it work for you depending on the equipment you have available.

There are several laws relating to the production and marketing of Bourbon:
1. Distilled from a mash that at least 51% corn.
2. Distilled to no more than 80%ABV
3. Aged in brand new charred oak barrels.
4. Put into the barrel for ageing at no more than 62.5%ABV
5. Bottled at or above 40%ABV.
6. Produced in the United States.
7. Bourbon has no ageing requirements, but there is a classification called ‘Straight Bourbon” which requires at least 2 years ageing. If straight bourbon is aged less than 4 years, it must also be clearly labelled.
8. There is also the label of ‘Kentucky Straight Bourbon’ if all of the above criteria are met, and it is produced in the state of Kentucky.

Now as far as I see it, laws 6, 7, and 8 are political factors which they would have enforced to keep their traditions safe. I think at a hobby level you can follow pretty much the rest of this. The other variation may be with the use of a single pass distillation in a bubbler. I would say the distillation values above relate to a double pot still run, whereas when using a bubbler you are not going to distill below 80%ABV, but I think we can overlook this from a hobby level as it still produces a product with the right flavours, and usually requires less ageing. I think providing we follow the 51% corn minimum, distill it with plenty of flavour carry over, and age it at the right ABV on new charred oak, then you can call it bourbon.

BACKGROUND

Starting at the basics, we know that sugars are consumed by yeast to create alcohol. When the sugars are provided from an all grain mash, there are a few steps to obtaining the sugars, as opposed to just using raw sugar in a wash.
The first step is to break down the starches from the grain, which is achieved by subjecting the grain to heat and water. The starch molecules are broken down in this process, which allows them to absorb more water and therefore swell up. This process is known as gelatinisation.

Different grains have different temperature ranges they are required to be subjected to heat and water in order for those starches to break down. Corn unfortunately, being one of the most difficult. The chart below shows the general gelatinisation temperature range for various grains.

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Once the starches have been broken down, absorbed water and gelatinised, enzymes are required to convert the starches into sugars. I won’t go into details about the specifics of the enzymes, as I’d only be quoting other sources, and you can go and research yourself if you’re interested enough.

The two enzymes that we are concerned with are Alpha amylase and Beta amylase. To put simply, Beta amylase can only work on the ends of the starch chains, where Alpha amylase can break the long chains into smaller ones, providing more ends for Beta amylase to work on.

Alpha is most active in the temperature range of 68-73 deg C, and Beta most active between 54-65 deg C. These two enzymes work best in combination, which puts our area of interest as distillers somewhere between 64-70 deg C for a simple single step mash.

There are a few different methods to use when mashing. You will hear some people refer to a step mash, which is more beneficial when using malts which are under modified. This involves raising the temperature of the mash and resting at particular temperatures. These steps include a protein rest at 50 deg C, a saccharification rest at 63-65 deg C for beta amylase to work, a conversion rest at 71-72 deg C for alpha amylase to work, and a ‘mash out’ at 76 deg C. I have not used a step mash myself so cannot comment where the benefits lie for a bourbon mash, but I have not had any issues with my single step method.

Another simple method is the iso-thermal infusion, or commonly known as the single step mash. This is the method which I use, and have had no conversion or yield issues, so have not seen the need to look into further methods. This method utilises the temperature ranges of Alpha and Beta amylase, and holds the mash at a middle ground temperature to obtain the best of both enzymes at one temperature rest. The enzymes will still convert slightly outside of their optimum ranges, however they will take longer. In beer brewing, it is usually quoted for a single step infusion between 66-70 deg C, where a colder rest temperature yields more fermentable sugars, and a hotter rest temperature retains a greater mouth feel and body, with slightly less fermentable sugars. Seeing as we are distilling, I usually aim a little lower in the 63-65 deg C range to reach for those fermentable sugars to yield a higher strength wash.
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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Brendan » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:11 pm

RECIPE/GRAIN BILL

The first point to cover which is a common misconception when determining your grain bill...people often think that a grain bill of say 70% corn means 70% of the grains by weight should be corn. For example, 10kg of grain with a 70% corn bill should be 7kg of corn...this is incorrect.

Different grains supply varying amounts of fermentable sugars to the mash, and these need to be calculated to accurately determine your grain bill. I have also seen varying values for percentage yield of various grains and it obviously depends on the quality of the grain itself, but some common figures are 70% for corn, and 50% for malted barley and wheat.

This is how I come to a grain bill...there’s only 2 guides i’ve ever been able to base off for amount of sugars in a wash. One is to use 5kg of sugar to a 30L wash for any sugar recipe, the other is to use about 8kg of grain for a 30L wash in an all grain recipe. The second rule however comes from Scotch Whisky recipes, and seeing as barley gives less sugars than corn, I figured that would be inaccurate for a bourbon wash. So I’m taking the 5kg of sugar to a 30L wash rule to determine the grain bill.

5kg sugar --> 30L...with my 50L mash tun, i’ll start with a 40L wash as a trial...
6.67kg sugar --> 40L

So I want 6.67kg of sugars out of my grain...Now you can use your grain bill percentages....

70% (from) Corn = 4.67kg sugars
16% (from) Barley = 1.067kg sugars
14% (from) Wheat = 0.934kg sugars

Now we need to figure out how much of each of those grains to get that much sugar out of it...remembering that for this example, corn yields 70% sugars by weight, and barley and wheat yield 50%.

Corn: 4.67kg sugars @ 70% sugar by weight = 6.67kg of corn
Barley: 1.067kg sugars @ 50% sugar by weight = 2.134kg of barley
Wheat: 0.934kg sugars @ 50% sugar by weight = 1.87kg of wheat

Funnily enough, these grains add to 10.67kg total for the 40L, which equates to 8kg for a 30L wash, so the other rule ended up working for this grain bill...it’s a good check to see if you’re in the ball park of enough grain/sugars anyway to keep those two rules in mind...obviously the grain amount can differ depending on the type of grain.
If you were to calculate the grain bill percentages by weight, of 10.67kg total, you would actually get corn @ 62.5%, barley @ 20%, and wheat @ 17.5%, which we now know are incorrect :handgestures-thumbupleft: This may not seem to be a big difference, but if someone worked out incorrectly by weight for 16% barley and 14% wheat, they would have far less malt in the grain bill with more corn and a high possibility of not having enough diastatic power (enzymes) for conversion of the corn.

Now that we’ve covered that mathematical example, quite often it’s hard to know the sugar content of your particular grain. Each type of fermentable has a maximum yield as such, which means under lab conditions, how much sugar could be extracted...and then we as hobby distillers would be able to achieve a percentage of that. Corn is quite often listed as having a maximum yield of about 85% sugars, but lets say our efficiency of extracting those sugars using the equipment we mash with at home gives us 80% of that, well then we’ll get 80% of the 75% sugars...meaning by weight in corn, we’d get 68% of that in sugars...

Barley malt has a varying range of available sugars which can vary from 60-80% for a maximum yield, and taking into account your efficiency of extraction, may yield from 50-70% sugar by weight. Distilling malts on the other hand are usually higher and easier to extract, with much higher diastatic powers (ie. 300 as opposed to 70-120 in standard pale/pilsner malt). Wheat malts usually yield slightly less than barley malts.

If you can’t find the specifics of your ingredients it can be a guessing game, and I’m only covering this for accuracy...most hobby distillers aren’t going to care, and it probably won’t make much difference, but helps to know how much malt to non-malt you are actually using to make your conversion work. Even if it doesn’t factor into your mash and grain bill, at least you are aware of the concepts.

Hope we didn’t lose anyone there with the maths :-B

Let’s start the mash!
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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Brendan » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:16 pm

MASHING

One of the biggest issues is getting the corn to properly gelatinise. This is the process where the starches are released from the corn, and it’s these starches which will later be converted to sugars to be consumed by the yeast. If proper gelatinisation does not occur, there will not be sufficient starches to convert to sugar, and therefore a lower yield due to less available sugars for the yeast.

Although the chart displayed further above shows a wide range for the gelatinisation for corn, the truth of the matter is that it requires 90+ deg C cooking for a good 90 mins or so with periodic agitation. From what I have been told, there is possibility that the corn will gelatinise at lower temperatures but the sacrifice is the time it takes. I have tried in the 80 deg C range, and it took 6 hours before I got even close to the consistency I was looking for. The hard part for the hobby distiller is being able to hold corn at a temperature above 90 deg C for an extended period...obviously this can be done on a stovetop, but the yield for any pot that fits on a stove will be insignificant for the amount of time you have to put in.

I have found a good method by using my immersion chiller as a heating coil, and recirculating boiling water through it. By using my boiler as a recirculating tank, I can boil water in it to pump through the coil in the mashing vessel. I essentially turn the elements on to the boiler when I want to increase the temperature and off when I want to maintain it where it’s at. Sounds primitive, but it’s worked for me so far...guys that are way more into it have built steam injection equipment and the like too.

This is one of two issues that I find with an all grain bourbon...if you find a way with your equipment to be able to hold this temperature, then you’re half way there. The problem for home brewers is that this mash becomes quite thick and gloopy on gelatinsation, and not overly viable for the actual mash to be recirculated in a HERMS or similar system (obviously less starches may allow this, but then you are sacrificing efficiency.

GRINDING/MILLING: You will find that all commercial bourbon distillers mill their corn to a flour, and a lot of hobby distiller will just use cracked corn. I have had trouble with cracked corn, and find it takes a really long time to get a small amount of starch out it. There are a few methods out there for pre soaking your corn if you’re going to use the cracked corn as is, so feel free to look into them. I mill the corn as much as I can into a flour using a Corona mill...I still get a lot of solids too, but find that I get more than enough flour out of the grind.

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The barley malt and wheat malt I get cracked fine to 1mm, which is enough to extract what I need easily and be able to filter out the husks after fermentation.

I start by filling my boiler with purified water, with an adjusted pH to 6.0. You can achieve this simply by adding a pinch of citric acid and stirring, taking readings as you go. This is the mashing water and I bring this to a boil. I then dump a good amount into my mash tun; probably about 30L as I’m allowing room for the grain. I will push my equipment a bit further now that I know the limits and how much it holds, but this is how I started doing it...so although you’ve calculated for a 40L mash, I would usually only end up with 30L of wash on initial runs.

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This is the point in the process where you would add your setback/backset for the sour mashing. The amount of setback addition is up to you, but a pH meter can be a valuable instrument in this part of the process. Some distilleries add as little as 5%, some up to 33%...at a guess I would say the norm would be between 25%-33% of the mash water volume should be setback. Ideally, you are aiming of a mash around the pH 5.5 mark, which is optimum range for the yeast in an all grain mash.

The corn is immediately added to the hot water in the mashing vessel, and agitation begins. To assist the corn in gelatinising, a fair amount of agitation is needed. I use this paint mixer as shown, on a 240V drill which is perfect for the application. I just can’t see anyone being able to achieve similar results with a mash paddle?

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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Brendan » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:19 pm

At this point, I am refilling the boiler with tap water now getting ready to boil it to use for recirculation. Once the corn is thoroughly mixed in, I seal up the mash tun and leave it to sit while waiting for the water in the boiler to come to a boil. Once it does, I start it recirculating through the heating coil and seal up the mash tun again waiting for the temp to rise. Every 10 mins or so throughout this process, I am giving it a good mix up with the paint stirrer. Once the temp of the mash gets back into the 90+ deg C range, I give it a good mix up and seal up the insulation again...repeating every 10 mins or so. This is the part that takes a good 90 mins, but you are looking for a very thick porridge like gloopy consistency. The more you can agitate at these high temperatures; I find really helps along the gelatinisation process.

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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Brendan » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:22 pm

My Immersion Chiller/Heating Coil

When I’m fairly happy with the consistency achieved, I spend a bit of time on it, agitating it with the mixer and bringing it down in temp. I could use the coil to bring it down a bit quicker to around the mid 70 deg C area, but I find with the insulation off and standing there for 15 minutes mixing it up, that it helps further gelatinise the corn. I’m now aiming for a temp in the upper end of the Alpha amylase range (about 73 deg C), where I add a portion of my wheat malt (maybe a quarter or so). The addition of the wheat will instantly drop the temperature by a degree or two, and although we’re looking at a single step mash, I tend to slowly add the malt at portions as the temp drops from 73 deg C down to 66 deg C. Without any theoretical backing, I guess I was hoping that I would get the best of both amylase enzymes for conversion.

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Now the thing you will notice with the addition of a malted grain, is that the consistency of the mash will change almost immediately. The thick gloopy mash starts to thin out within a 30 second timeframe and become much closer to water like consistency...this will get thinner as we add all of the malt. This is the beginning of the enzyme conversion, and you should also notice the colour of the mash becomes a lot darker and takes on a brown tone to it. You will also smell the malt, which will be almost immediately noticeable...it’s sweet malty goodness. Without any reason why, I add the rest of the wheat malt around the middle of the Alpha amylase range (69-70 deg C), which will again drop the temperature a bit, and mix it in well. Once the temp hits about 67 deg C, i’ll look to add the malted barley and give it a really good mix in as well.

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Last edited by Brendan on Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Brendan » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:26 pm

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Here I also add a packet of dried enzymes from the brew store. I’m not sure if it’s needed, as the guy at the HBS seems to underrate the diastatic power (power of the malts to convert starches) of his grains, where I have higher hopes and think they are far more capable. Generally a diastatic power (DP) of 35 means that the grain can convert it’s own weight in starches. Thereofore a DP of 70 would mean that the grain can convert itself and it’s own weight again. The HBS guy say the malts are around DP 70, when i’ve found their spec sheets are more like DP 120-140. The dried enzymes are only a couple of dollars a packet, so I haven’t bothered to risk trying without them yet...

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Now we want to keep the mash in the current area of about 63-65 deg C, so after thorough agitation of the final malt addition, I seal up the mash tun and leave it sit for a few hours. This is where you really need your mash tun (insulated keg/cooler) to be able to hold these temperatures for a good few hours for the enzymes to convert all the available starches into fermentable sugars. Dropping a degree or two won’t be an issue, and is fairly normal. There may be a better way to achieve this process, but I have found that after a few hours I tend to have full conversion.
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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Brendan » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:31 pm

For those of you that are aware of the beer brewing process, an iodine test is used to check for starch conversion, and we try and hold the mash tun at that temperature until we are satisfied that all of the available starches in the mash have been converted.

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Once starch conversion is complete, we have done all that we can do in terms of the mashing. We freed up as many starches as we could, and converted them to fermentable sugars. Now the only thing to do is to get the temperature down to pitching temperature as quickly as possible and pitch the yeast. This is far more crucial in all-grain than it is in sugar washes, as beer brewers can attest to. I put my immersion chiller back in and hook up the garden hose to it. I also remove the insulation and try and stir it up a bit to assist in removing the heat. The colder the water supply temp, the faster this process...I have had trouble in summer with 30 deg C water from the tap resulting in a fairly slow process to get the mash to 30 deg C.

As soon as the mash passes conversion test, I extract a bit of the wort, filter out any solids and water it down to use as a yeast stater to hydrate the yeast and get it ready for action. Although the wort may have an SG of something like 1.060, a much lower wort is usually used for yeast starters at more like 1.020, so I water this down significantly, check the temp, add the yeast, and get it on the stir plate while I focus on getting the mash down to pitching temp. In case you are unfamiliar with beer brewing techniques, everything involved with the yeast needs to be extremely sanitary...from sanitising the flask to the alfoil that covers it.

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My Stir Plate


I have been using Safspirit American Whiskey yeast for my bourbon, and would highly recommend it. The white dog fresh off the still just seems to have the right flavours from the corn mash.
Once the mash is down at 30 deg C or below, it’s time to pitch the yeast...I usually pitch at about 28 deg C. The fermentation is a vigorous one and will usually rise to around 30-32 deg C. I have been fermenting in the same open top keg that I mash in and have found no problems with it. Commercial bourbon distillers ferment in open top containers, so I figured I’d try to emulate their process. I just put a loose fitting cover over the top to essentially keep dust and insects out. There is no way you would seal this wash up air tight and put an airlock; it would shoot the airlock water to the ceiling.

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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Brendan » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:37 pm

Usually at around the 72 hour mark, the wash will be just about finished fermentation. In Ian Smiley’s book ‘Making Pure Corn Whiskey’, he states that the fermentation should take between 72-80 hours, and that the wash should be run no later than 96 hours (4 days) due to the possibility of developing certain bad flavours. I don’t know about this and have never pushed it. I usually have my wash in the still for stripping at about the 84 hour mark.

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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Brendan » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:42 pm

Once fermentation is finished, now comes time to filter out the solids and get the wash ready to run. This step is crucial, and can really make or break your efficiency or yield, affecting how much wash you end up with. So far I have been separating fairly slowly with a colander and potato masher. I pour 500ml – 1 litre into the colander, stir it around with a spoon and allow a lot of the liquid to fall through, then use a potato masher to press the rest of the wash out of it and I’m left with just about dry grain remnants. This has been a slow process, and I know that people manage to do it with a nylon mesh bag and squeeze it...the more in there, I think the lower efficiency you’ll get, leaving some wash in the grain, but I guess it really comes down to a time vs. yield balance. So far it’s been my baby, and I’ve been happy to nurse it along and squeeze every last drop out, but it can take a few hours and it’s definitely getting old quick :s I will be trying the BIAB nylon bag next to strain the mash and hopefully do it a little quicker. Using the slower method, I have ended up with almost as much wort as the amount of mash water I added, so we’ll have to see what the efficiency is like with the strainer bag.

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Comparing the wort before and after fermentation...

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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Brendan » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:47 pm

For this mash, I ended up with 29L or wort @ 1.060, so pretty happy with that, which is an approximate expected alcohol content of 7.5% after fermentation. Will push the mash amounts a bit higher next time to almost fill the mash tun, to get a bit more volume out. Hopefully you can notice from the video, that the end result is not gelatinous in any way...it is a thin watery wash ready for the boiler. I have heard people mention that their wash was still thick and gloopy, and this most probably means they didn’t get very good conversion, or possibly their water to grain ratio was too low and they added finely milled corn which absorbed all the water available. Either way, once conversion takes place, you should get that thin viscosity before fermentation even begins. But after fermentation and straining of the solids, it should be thin as water.

Straining wash:

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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby not alan jones » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:51 pm

Gobsmacked... Thankyou for sharing your time, effort and knowledge :clap: :clap: :clap:
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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Brendan » Mon Jan 27, 2014 12:56 pm

After the fermented wash is strained, it’s time to get it into the boiler and distill it as soon as possible. Being all-grain, it seems to be open to mould/bacteria infection a lot quicker than sugar washes, so you want to get it in the still and fired up for a strip run, or single pass through a bubbler, as opposed to leaving it sit for a few days. I have generally just stuck to Ian Smiley’s rule of distilling it prior to the 96 hour mark after pitching yeast, and it hasn’t failed me so far.

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And remember to keep a portion of your setback, and get it into the fridge as soon as you can (maybe let it cool a bit so you don’t crack your glass). Here I have my setback in a 12L glass container in the yeast fridge.

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edit: I forgot to add this little bit in further up...but if you are running your first batch, you obviously wont have any setback to acidify the mash. Here's a link to creating a Sour Corn Starter to replicate the benefits of the sour mash set back addition ;-)

I have been ageing my initial runs in 4L glass containers, with 2x toasted & charred dominoes, and leaving for minimum 6 months. I’m currently saving up a few strip runs for a final spirit run so that I can compare the double pot stilled product with the single pass bubbler product after ageing. Early results are very promising for the double pot still product so far!

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Hope you've enjoyed the write up on how I do it. Obviously there would be many ways to achieve the same result, as some of the all-grain gurus on the forum will know. It is a lot of work, but I get a lot of enjoyment out of using the traditional ingredients and methods and being able to compare the quality of a superior product to a sugar head and know that you created it. Hopefully this might help encourage a few more to have a crack at it. Enjoy making your Bourbon :handgestures-thumbupleft:
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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby bac206 » Mon Jan 27, 2014 1:44 pm

That is one truly awesome right up Brendan. Thanks for sharing so much of your research. Won't be long and I wanna give AG a go.
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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Sam. » Mon Jan 27, 2014 1:46 pm

Excellent write up there mate, thank you very much :clap: ^:)^
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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Kimbo » Mon Jan 27, 2014 2:24 pm

Bloody Brilliant Brendan :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:
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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Zak Griffin » Mon Jan 27, 2014 2:27 pm

Awesome write up... If I ever get keen enough to go AG, this will be where I start!
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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Brendan » Mon Jan 27, 2014 6:57 pm

Thanks for the kind words guys :D

Hope you find some use from it, and helps some to jump in and give it a go.

Next up, I'm going onto a fruity sweet and very low peat Scotch Whisky to age in my 25L French oak barrel soaked in Olorosso Sherry :handgestures-thumbupleft:
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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby Bushy » Mon Jan 27, 2014 8:44 pm

Excellent post Brendan. Many thanks.
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Re: All Grain Bourbon

Postby booma » Mon Jan 27, 2014 9:05 pm

Great write up of your process Brendan and cheers for sharing it with us. Your attention to detail is a credit to yourself. It gives you the ability to repeat the process and expect similar results and flavours. I have learnt more about making bourbon from your write up and for that, thanks.

It's amazing how much equipment it ends up taking. It just keeps on growing. I'm still missing the goal of all ag, I only get to about 1.03 and add a sugar head to make the runs worthwhile. I'm believe I'm failing at the gelatinous stage and a steam injection process is being built. I have a roller mill and it struggles with corn but great with other grains, so another mill is on my shopping list.

Extracting the wash off the grain for distilling is hard work. You can see the liquid but the fine grain clogs everything up. I also use rye which I believe even makes it worse. I have tried a few methods and currently use bigger washes, 200l, that give plenty above the grain bed. Traditionally I believe they distill on the grain. I don't do this as I use a mate's still and I like to leave it perfectly clean.

I did lots of reading today and for my next mash I will try using my powder amylase up in the 90c range. They talk lots about liquidification and the powder seems to be designed to handle higher temps. Who knows, I scratch my head all the time chasing the dream of a true bourbon. Steam injection will hopefully change the game for me.

Thanks again for the write up, you are not alone in the chase for a great bourbon. I'm off to the cooperage tomorrow to get my 14L barrel ready for use but will be looking at what else I can afford to invest in.

cheers.
booma
 
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Joined: Sun Sep 01, 2013 7:10 pm
Location: Brissie southside
equipment: I use a friend's 4 plate bubbler on a 50l electric boiler.

All Grain Bourbon

Postby wedwards » Mon Jan 27, 2014 10:47 pm

That was freakin awesome - thanks for the detail and the science stuff
wedwards
 
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Joined: Tue Jul 24, 2012 7:43 pm
equipment: Reflux still

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