Residual Alkalinity and Distillate Flavor

Finally….I get the water thing figured out thanks to my German brewing books I am using in my M.Sc. studies. Gotta love that German know-how….Here is what you do……. from your water report, take the Alkalinity value, the Calcium value and the Magnesium value. Start by calculating your Effective Hardness which is Calcium (ppm) / 1.4. Next, take Mg / 1.7. Add these 2 figures to get Effective Hardness. Subtract the Effective Hardness from Alkalinity to get Residual Alkalinity (RA). A nicely balanced water will have RA of about 40-50. If your RA is above that, you run the risk of making a distilled spirit where the taste is blaaaah and un-balanced. Let’s take some actual values from a real situation at a craft distillery in the south part of the Okanagan in BC (name withheld for privacy). The local water has Ca of 18 ppm, Mg 34 and Alkalinity 238 ppm. So, 238 minus [(18/1.4) + (34/1.7)] = 205. This water is not exactly the most balanced and could very easily interfere with flavor balance on a distilled product. Plus, the Calcium to way to low for making sure the yeast can function. This distillery (last time I checked) was adding Gypsum to up their Calcium to 100 ppm. At 100 ppm, the new RA becomes 238 – [(100/1.4) + (34/1.7)] = 146. Better, but still not balanced. What this distillery can do (could do?…should do ??) is a novel approach that involves adding a 25 kg bag of Chocolate Malt to every mash. The acidity of the Chocolate Malt grains will be offset by the RA (residual alkalinity) and their distiller will likely notice a significant improvement in distillate flavor and an improvement in taste complexity. And, of course, their distiller will be adding acid to reduce the high pH of his water. There are 2 approaches for this – (1) add actual acid or (2) add a couple pails of the leftover liquid from a distillation run to his next mash. This leftover stillage is highly acidic. This method is what the Kentucky Bourbon makers call the Sour Mash method.

Yeast – How Much to Add ???

Up until recently, I was offering a standard formula for yeast pitching rate in my Workshops and writings. Amazing how some deeper schooling can raise one’s level of understanding of yeast. During my recent trip to Scotland, I went to 3 distilleries and in all cases noted that they were adding more yeast than I normally would.

Recall there are 4 stages to the fermentation cycle. Lag Phase, Exponential, Stationary and Decline. The Stationary Phase is where the pyruvic acid is metabolized to ethanol. During this phase, the yeast soon realizes that the ethanol is actually toxic and stands to harm the cell walls. So, the yeast reaches out into the grain mash and imports amino acids (FAN=free amino nitrogen). The yeast carves the NH3 molecule off the amino acid and then proceeds to excrete the remaining structural shell (now called an alpha keto acid). These alpha keto acids form the basic structure for the development of higher alcohols and esters. The longer the Stationary Phase drags on for, the more higher alcohols and esters the yeast generates as it shores up its cell walls against the surrounding toxic ethanol. Hence, the longer the Stationary Phase – the more unique the flavor profile of your distillate will be. as I noted earlier, in Scotland, the distillers are adding a considerable amount of yeast (double what I have been suggesting in my teachings and writings). This is because they are aiming for a certain flavor profile and have been aspiring to that same profile for 100+ years in many cases. They know how much higher alcohol they want in their final spirit. So, as a craft distiller, consider ramping up the amount of yeast you add to a ferment. See how the flavor profile of your distillate changes. See how much you shorten up on your fermentation time. You might be surprised…..

Seaweed and Distilled Spirits ??

I am learning the most fascinating stuff as I get further immersed in my M.Sc. studies. For example, seaweed is comprised largely of plant proteinaceous material. But, seaweed also has a sugar component to it where the sugar is of a di-saccharide made of 2 galactose molecules joined together. There are actually 3 structural variants of this disaccharide present in seaweed and we call them iota-carrageenan, kappa carrageenan and lambda carrageenan. The iota and kappa forms carry a positive ionic charge and are attracted to proteins. Hence, brewers will add seaweed to their brews to assist protein material to settle out in the boil kettle or whirlpool vessel. If you have ever home-brewed beer, you know all this already for you were using Irish Moss from your local brew store to clarify your wort during the post-boil. Lambda carrageenan does little to assist the brewer, but it has been recognized for its foam stabilizing properties. You know this already and have eaten it. Look at a typical ice cream container and the ingredients might include carrageenan. During chilling in the ice cream factory, it helps the ice cream remain as a single phase and not a separated mess. And the connection to distilling you ask? Again, you have had it before. Bailey’s Irish Cream. Note that it does not separate into alcohol and cream phases. It stays as one nicely mixed liquid in the bottle on your shelf. Thanks lambda carrageenan! I just got a pack of this stuff from the good folks at Monashee Distilling in Revelstoke, BC. Thanks Josh!! I am going to play around making some Holiday Cream Liquor from some nice 18% cream and using the copious amounts of Bourbon that I (allegedly!!) might have in my possession from some potential research I reportedly did recently. I will let you all know how it turns out. The maker of this carrageenan is And fyi, if you are ordering some Cream Liquor from Josh at Monashee Distilling, he does not use the lambda carrageenan (that’s why I ended up getting it…). Instead, he mixes his cream and alcohol at extremely high rates of speed and shear using a special mixer. This causes the cream fatty molecules to separate. It takes about 6-7 weeks for the busted up fat molecules to get re-acquainted. Hence, Josh’s Mountain Creamer product will carry a shelf life of 5-6 weeks before the alcohol and cream separate into 2 phases. But, no worries. If it takes you 5 weeks to consume a bottle of Josh’s product, then there is something seriously wrong with you…You will be lucky if a bottle lasts 5 days…By using this hi-shear mixing method, Josh is able to call his product a true organic creation without any added powders or stabilizers.

Booze-Infused Ice Cream – update

Just a quick update to advise that I am now several iterations into this grand experiment. What I can now tell you is that there is a major textural difference once you start to ease away from coconut milk and move towards Coffee Creamer (18% milk fat) and Whipping Cream (35% milk fat). I am now using higher milk fat product in my ice creams (and no more coconut milk) and am quite enjoying the texture and flavor. You will never get the texture as good as a store bought ice-cream because…remember…you are adding booze which contains water. All too often we forget that a bottle of spirits is 40% alcohol and 60% water. The water content does make for some ice crystals in the ice cream.

Gluten Free Spirits – Are They Really Gluten Free?

The stuff that we call Gluten is actually 2 proteins – gliadin and glutelin. Gluten is the stuff that gives fresh baked bread its wonderful elasticity. But, Gluten can also attack the lining of the small intestine causing nausea-like symptoms in some people.

In theory, any distillate coming off a still should be gluten free because the gliadin and glutelin molecules are of such a size and of such a low vapor pressure that they should not be able to travel through the distillation columns in a distillery operation.

So why then do some gluten-sensitive people claim that certain Vodkas cause them to feel ill? This is a question that the scientific community is grappling with. In our 5-Day Distilling Workshops we have had a number of Celliac sufferers who have made themselves ill by sampling Vodkas – so I have seen this phenomenon in real time. Evidently, some small bits of gliadin or glutelin are managing to get through the distillation process by hitching a ride on the back of an ethanol molecule. But how? And why do only some Vodkas present a problem to Celliac sufferers?

Gluten content in distilled alcohol is measured by the ELISA Test ( Enzyme-Linked Immuno-Sorbent Assay). In this test, a sample of the solution (ie Vodka) to be tested is exposed to an enzyme which causes a color change in the solution being tested. The extent of the color change is proportional to the amount if gluten present. The problem is, this test is generally regarded by authorities ( ie Canada Food Inspection Agency) to be inaccurate. Hence, in Canada it is the duty of the alcohol maker to ensure his product does not pose a health risk to people. In other words, label your Vodka gluten free, but be sure to tell each and every purchaser that there still is a chance for them to have an adverse reaction if they are a Celliac sufferer. Apparently about 10% of Celliac sufferers will experience a reaction if they consume even tiny amounts of gluten. In the USA, the TTB states that in order to be gluten free, a spirit must have less than 20 ppm gluten. But, with the ELISA test being subject to inaccuracy, it is not possible for a distiller to know with certainty what his gluten levels are.

To this end, there is now something called the R5 competitive ELISA test being advanced as a more accurate way of determining gluten. Apparently the R5 test can detect down to 3 ppm gluten.

So, if you are a Celliac sufferer, and you are shopping around for craft distilled products and find some that are labelled gluten free, just remember, that claim of gluten free has not been ELISA test verified. You may experience an adverse reaction. Sample the spirit in small quantity. If you do not encounter symptoms, then that spirit is one for you. If you do feel poorly, then that spirit is not the one for you.

Craft Distilling on the Big Island – the research continues…

Today I made the trip over to Hilo. The entire Big Island is one County and Hilo is the seat of Government for what is called Hawaii County. I took a new way across to Hilo – the Saddleback they call it. Instead of the scenic route around through Waimea, the Saddleback cuts 52 miles across the island. And for the record – I thought it was pretty scenic. I could see way off in the distance the observatory buildings way up on Mauna Kea. Once in Hilo I met with the Liquor Commission folks who were very friendly. I explained my idea of bringing in bulk grain alcohol from the mainland and re-distilling it with a “secret” recipe of botanicals (including some that grow on the Big Island) to make a craft Gin that it uniquely Hawaiian. They were grateful to learn how Gin is distilled and I was happy to explain it to them. Next, I stopped in at the Liquor Distributor in Hilo, but the people I needed to see were out. No worries – I will get in touch with them later. Next I found my way to Mehaha (Hawaii N’ui) Brewing. Loved the Double Red Belgian Style Ale. And as someone who is always on the hunt for unique growlers, I just had to have a stainless steel 64 ounce unit to take home to Canada.

So, the research continues. I am still a wee bit worried when I see grocery stores reducing the shelf space for distilled spirits – but I still think a uniquely Hawaiian Gin will be accepted by the marketplace.

I will give another update in my next blog….In the meanwhile, if this idea of a craft distillery on the Big Island intrigues you – we need to talk….

And also on the Queen Mary 2 – Sipsmith Gin

Yes! finally at last I found some Sipsmith Gin. I have been hearing about this Gin for years now and living in Canada I have not been able to get it.

I think I had a Sipsmith martini (very dry, of course) in my hand before the Queen Mary 2 had cleared the Verazzano Narrows bridge coming out of New York.

According to Dave Broom’s book, “Gin-The Manual”, the goods in Sipsmith are: Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Liquorice Root, Orris, Almond, Cassia, Cinnamon, Seville orange peel, Lemon Peel. Definitely the makings of a traditional London Dry Gin, but Sipsmith quickly grabs your taste buds and you soon start to wonder if you will ever again be able to drink the traditional London Dry Gins like Tanqueray and Bombay Gins. There was just something about the mouth feel and the taste of Sipsmith that captivated my palate. I am now a solid fan of Sipsmith. Get some if you can find it.

Dead Yeast – That’s a First !

Wow! Dead Yeast…..This has got to be a first….

I have been busy these past 4 days making ferments for what will be my annual supply of Rum. Last year, as many of you in the 5-day Workshops have now tasted, I used a mix of Horse-Feed molasses and cane sugar with the Horse Feed molasses coming from the sugar plant in Taber, Alberta. 10 months in oak made a wonderful sipping Rum at 43% (86 proof). This year I decided to change it up a bit and I used a mix of Fancy Molasses and Cane Sugar. I pitched my White Labs Rum yeast into my first 2 batches last Friday. After several hours, I could see no discernable signs of activity. I added more Nutrient and stirred the fermenter pails vigorously. Still nothing…. In a moment of panic, I rummaged through my fridge and found a package of Lallemand SR yeast that I had picked up a year ago at a conference in London. I added 15 grams to the fermenters and vavoom !! – within 2 hours a faint hissing sound could be detected. The sweet sound of fermentation! The next day, I measured out some brown sugar and water in a small cup and added some White Labs Rum Yeast. 9 hours later – nothing. Absolutely dead. In 30 years of brewing, I have never seen a package of yeast that was dead. Not sure what happened to this yeast, but I intend to have a discussion with White Labs to learn more. I will be sure to share the information I learn in a future Post on this site.

Taking Afternoon Tea to a New Level…

At the recent Distilled Spirits expo in London, we learned that at one time in Europe ( early 1900s ???), tea infused Gin was all the rage.

Are the big commercial distillers going to make a tea infused Gin? I say not likely.

Therein lies an opportunity for the innovative craft distiller. I have been requested by someone near and dear to me who likes my homemade Gin to start making her lots of this tea Gin. And I can see why – it is a truly unique product.

You can use Earl Grey tea, Lapsang Suchong or for that matter any tea you wish.Infuse the Gin with loose leaf tea, add a bit of simple syrup to slightly sweeten it and voila – teatime will never be the same again.

Tea Gin

Lemoncello – Think Outside the Box

In a recent post to the Linked In Group (Urban Distilleries Workshop Participant Discussion Group), I outlined my experiences making liquor from my crab-apple wine using my Hillbilly Still. Instead of just drinking this apple liquor, I decided to use it for something interesting. I was lucky to get my hands on an old family Lemoncello recipe from some friends who live on the Mediterranean island of Malta. What you see in this image are some of the bottles that I filled this morning ( 35% alc/vol). It tastes sooooooo good! I am sure that with a bit of dark chocolate, it will be simply divine.

I would like to hammer home the point that craft distillers need to stop behaving like lemmings falling off a cliff. Just because someone makes white, unaged spirit does not mean that everyone needs to rush out with their white dog, white bear, white “animal” version. Think outside the box…..Hit the consumer with some naturally flavored liquor/liqueur made using your white spirits as a base alcohol. Seven days of maceration was all it took to make this lemon spirit. LemoncelloIf you are worried the consumer will not know what Lemoncello is, then don’t call it Lemoncello. Call it Lemon Drop Liquor, Lemon Squeezin’s, etc… Make it interesting, wrap it in a story, engage the consumer…… dare to be different.