Distillation Procedures for Taste Rich Products

So we spoke about fermenting in such a way that you get the most taste rich wash possible. Esterification, pH, procedures … we covered it all in the previous blog post. Let’s take it one step further. Let’s dive into the distillation procedures that help you “harvest” the taste rich distillation beer you made.

Ferments that are full of taste is one thing, distilling it into a non plus ultra taste rich final product in something else all together. This blog post will cover that. Or at least much of it! And we will translate the “lessons learned” and apply them to how you can put your iStill to work and use it optimally. Optimally for creating super taste rich products, that is.

The key to creating taste rich ferments is, as we saw in the previous post, esterification. Well, that’s also the key to achieving maximum taste transfer during distillation. At least it is a big part of it. The other part? Cuts, or better put: compaction of Heads and Tails factions. So distilling with maximum taste transfer is about esterification and compaction? Allmost. There’s a third part that can contribute: Maillardization. That’s a chemical process where sugar undergoes a browning reaction, that triggers a, what’s called, “taste cascade”. Maillardization is similar to caramelization in a way. More on that later.

To summarize, if you want taste, these are the goals you are after on a chemical level:

  • Esterification;
  • Compaction;
  • Maillardization.

Esterification

Let’s start with esterification. Esterification is the chemical process where taste molecules are formed. And they are formed when alcohols and organic, carbon based molecules meet and bind. They bind better in sour and hot environments …

So if we want to take that very taste rich finished fermentation and distill it, what do we do? We put a sour liquid, with quite some organic compounds (if we don’t clear the wash too much), and quite some alcohol, put it in the boiler of the iStill and start heating it up.

The warmer the wash gets, the faster the rate of esterification and taste formation becomes. So, bringing a wash to a boil actually creates taste. And if you heat-up a bit slower, take more time for your stripping run, you will get more esterification and so a more taste rich product. Another thing that helps esterification is to augment the amount of organic compounds present in the boiler. Right, by distilling on the grain!

iStill and Esterification

How does iStill distillation equipment help you out, if you want to maximize esterification? In a few ways. First, we added power management. This enables you to either strip very fast. Or, if you want to, you can slow your strip run down, because you want more time for some additional esterification.

The iStill One we designed to be world class in taste transfer. Heat-up takes two hours. And if you put the cleaning sections in place, column & packing heat-up gives you an additional hour. Column stabilization allows for extra esterification. Also, the iStill One has the bottom dweller stirrer design, so it can distill on the grain for even more esterification to take place. More grains present … means more organic compounds are available to the process of ester formation.

And how about the iStill 250? Well, you can slow the heat-up down by adjusting the power input. But there’s another great thing you can do. You can stabilize the column. That has a few benefits. Stacking of the Heads faction is one, but more on that later …

If you stabilize for 15 or 30 minutes (or longer if you want to) … you give the mash, sitting in the boiler, more time before product is taken. More time at higher temperatures in a sour environment means … more esterification. In short? The longer you stabilize, the more taste will develop.

“Odin,” you might ask, “but how about legal regulations? Whiskey (let’s take that as the example here) needs to be distilled below 160 proof!”

No problem. Yes, the stabilization will take the proof of the first part that comes over up to 190 proof, but that’s the Heads faction, right? And, since you use the potstill program to make taste rich product, the Hearts you use for whiskey will come out at below 160 proof.

Compaction

If we look at taste rich distilling as it used to be, cuts where essential. Tastes related to Heads give fruitiness to the final product. And tastes associated with Tails give a rooty, earthy character to your whiskey or rum. Of old, this meant that the Master Distiller had to take a wide Hearts cut. If he allowed Heads and Tails to blend into Hearts, he would get over more taste. More fruitiness, more rootiness. And he would get over more bad alcohols as well. Taste came (and for most distilling equipment still comes) at a price. The drink needs excessive time to age. And even after ageing it might give you a head ache or stomach problems. If you drink more than a few glasses, that is.

The reason this chapter is called “Compaction” and not “Cuts” is because of something astonishing Ian Smiley discovered. He found out that if you use a packed column for distilling taste rich product, and if you stabilize the column, the Heads compact better than ever, yet (and here it comes) the fruity tastes associated with Heads will migrate from the Heads faction into the Hearts faction! The tastes associated with Heads and Tails, essential to super taste rich distillation, come over into Hearts more and more, if you can compact these Heads and Tails more and more. It generates a taste rich drop that needs only a short time to age and that won’t give you a head ache.

iStill and Compaction

How we help you distill in such a way that you can achieve maximum taste transfer? The iStill 250’s increadibly efficient packing, matched with stabilization times, gives you the smallest Heads cut imaginable (well, until you tried the iStill One). Small Heads cut means a minimum of product loss … and a maximum of taste transfer from Heads to Hearts. And the extra re-distillation the packing gives you, means that Tails control is also very good. Not to say that the thermometer probes give you the accuracy you need. The packing helps compact Tails. You can collect product longer. And that product will be richer in taste and deeper in character.

The iStill One? Remember that column heat-up takes an additional hour? That extra hour gives you more than just additional esterification. It also makes the Heads facton compact and stack amazingly well. With the iStill One, you get every compound over at its own unique boiling point. And that’s a unique experience in itself. Perfect stacking means perfect taste transfer.

But there’s more. The iStill One has another design trick up its sleeve. The cleaning sections create over pressure in the column. The pressure pushes boiling points up and – here’s the crux: by augmenting boiling points, the individual boiling points of the various components of the Heads and Tails factions move away from each other. Thus enabling for even better compaction, beter separation, and still more taste transfer. Power and Pressure Induced Compaction leads to a bigger quantity of higher quality product. It is the reason (apart from Roger Morenc’s skills as a Master Distller) why we could drink the Marlin & Barrel Rum fresh of the iStill One … and that it was the best tasting rum we ever tried. Amen!

Maillardization

Maillardization is the process where sugars are chemically triggered to develop a taste cascade. It does so in sub-boiling temperatures (90 to 95 degrees C is perfect) and in slightly alcalyne environments. The temperature in a boiler is perfect, but since the content is sour rather than sweet, the Maillard Reaction that takes place in a boiler is only partial. But still … half a taste cascade is better than no taste cascade, right?

More info to share on this Maillard Reaction? For sure! Research shows that this chemical reaction especially takes place when stills are directly fired. The heating energy’s direct contact to the (unfermentable) sugars more than doubles Maillardization.

Maillardization in the boiler is off course limited by the amount of (unfermented or unfermentable) sugars in that boiler. Grain mashes will have some, but rum mashes will benefit most, since they are full of unfermentable sugars.

iStill and Maillardization

How does iStill help you out? All of our stills are direcly fired. The direct fire approach helps intensify the Maillardization process.

The iStill One has gas burners that directly fire the boiler. More efficient, because there’s no double boiler that needs to be heated up. But also better for taste, because direct heating triggers a much bigger Maillard Reaction. Especially with the iStill One’s capability to distill on the grain …

The iStill 250 is also directly fired. It has heating elements that sit in the wash. Another example where our direct heating approach helps you achieve your goals, if taste rich is your thing.

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