Sunday, May 03, 2009

Distilling Workshop - Day One

This weekend, I find myself in Chicago. I am attending a Kothe distilling workshop at Koval Distillery. Koval is a brand new distillery; they've only been in business two years, and just released their second shipment of products. Right now, they make certified organic and kosher wheat and rye spirits (un-aged) and ginger and rose-hip liqueurs.

Koval is run by Sonat Birnecker Hart and Robert Birnecker--truly a small family operation. Sonat is the owner, Robert is the distiller, and their one-year-old son is carried with them everywhere they go. The distillery sits in an awesome spot in downtown Chicago, off Ravenswood and Winona streets. The space is 2500 square feet light industrial and perfect for a small distillery.

The workshop, sponsored by Kothe, is a fun little course in distilling and the art of artisan craft liqueurs. The first day had courses in TTB regulations, licensing, insurance, etc., but more fun for me was learning about the microbiology of distilling and fermentation from Dr. Klaus Hagmann, a representative from Kothe in Germany.

During the day, we ran through a complete cycle of distilling. Robert had a wheat mash on hand, and we ran this through their 300 liter Kothe K1000 still in about three hours. We learned how to make the heads, hearts and tail cuts, and tasted the liquor through all these three phases. The finished liquor, put out at about 90% alcohol by volume, was incredible! Watered back to 40-45%, it was sweet and clear, with wonderful elements of wheat and honey. From this stage, Koval will put it straight into the bottle to sell as a clear "grain spirit".

The 200 liters of mash produced about 20 liters of finished usable product, run once through the beautiful Kothe still, which has a three plate column and a doppledephlegmator to rectify the spirit to a high alcohol content in a single run. This is as opposed to the traditional method which usually uses two distillation runs--a quick stripping run and a finer spirit rectifying run. The traditionalists will swear by their methods, but my palate told me that this Kothe still produced some very fine liquor.

Today we will learn about bottling and labeling, and more about the technicals of the business. It's been a fun weekend trip. Honestly, I wish Jim or Becky were here, because it would be more fun with a partner.

But it's been a fun little weekend diversion, even if I have to endure it alone.

The nondescript entrance to Koval distillery.

Bags of organic rye flour for their mash.

The beautiful Kothe K1000 300 liter copper still.

Notice the simple HPDE fermentation vessles, 1000 liters each.

The bottling line is pretty simple too.

And a very simple and inexpensive reverse osmosis system.

Robert drives the forklift with the 200 liters of wheat mash to the still. They use gravity from the forklift to feed the mash into the still, needing no pump.

The fermented mash. Looks like gravy, smells like beer.

Checking the flow of the distillate over the plates in the column.

The spirit bouncing over the plates.

And we receive our first drops of distillate.

Now we're into the hearts of the distillation.

The mash bubbles away madly inside the boiling still.

Kothe makes these stills in Germany, and they are simply beautiful and all handmade.

Cleaning is also a manual effort.

The finished spirit is a wheat spirit, like this.

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