Sunday, May 03, 2009

Distilling Workshop - Day Two

The distilling workshop continued today with an intensive seminar on distribution and the legal and contractual issues faced with the three-tier distribution system. This topic took well over two hours of our time, but is so full of hazards for the small distillery owner, the time spent is well worth it.

After this, Dr. Hagmann described for us the fine arts of fruit spirit production, maceration, infusion and making extracts. While describing the process, he pressed a kilo or so of previously frozen strawberries, added an enzyme to break down the pectin, and hand squeezed a delightfully aromatic juice from the fruit. After this, he added invert-sugar (made from sucrose, but boiled with citric acid to break it into its glucose and fructose components, which are more soluble in alcohol), and some neutralized grain spirit to about 15% alcohol. The result was a delightful strawberry liqueur that was swimming with fresh strawberry color and a bright rosy color.

After this, he led us through various tastings of other liqueurs for comparison. We sampled a buckthorn berry liqueur, which was very similar to a blackberry or currant liqueur--very dark and syrupy, almost like blood in color and body. The next was a plum liqueur, which was clean and crisp. Finally, we had a traditional herb liqueur--something like you only find in Germany. It was made with the tails of an apple or pear distillate, and high quality anise and caraway were added. This was distilled, and then dried peppermint, hyssop, and other herbs were allowed to steep for an hour in the spirit. Then a bit of sugar was added, and the result was a very nice herby liqueur.

After this, we tried various distillates, both good and bad, to try to identify the characteristic flavor and aroma elements--almond from the pits of the stone fruit (cherries, plums, etc.), vanillins, cinnamon, fresh fruit, etc.

All the while, we took breaks to help Robert create a new oatmeal mash for his next spirit run. The process of mashing was rather like making a cake batter or bread dough, except for the addition of enzymes that break down the starches, leaving an end mash that was quite sweet. To this, yeast is added and the whole thing ferments for 3-4 days before it is placed into the still.

We also got a brief introduction to bottling, which I've done before when I worked in the winery, so this was not as interesting to me personally. (Not much has changed in the art of bottling.)

All in all, it was an excellent course. I really enjoyed myself. The fine folks at Koval and Kothe were very hospitable during our visit, and I really enjoyed getting to know them.

This was a very fun way to spend a weekend!

This is the buckthorn liqueur. Very sweet, with consistency like blood.

Herr Hagmann presses the strawberries.

...and then he removes the juice through a cloth bag.

The collected strawberry juice with enzyme.

The finished strawberry liqueur. Very delicious!

Pouring in one of the four 50 lb. bags of oat flour.

Stirring in the mash.

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