Since grain sugars are stored very efficiently in long starch molecules, getting access to them requires mashing. Mashing is the process where, via the addition of warm water and enzymes, the starches break down into fermentable sugars. The process of creating alcoholic spirits from grains is labour intensive and consists of the following steps:
Water is heated up, grains are added, enzymes are added. Both water temperature and enzyme activity are carefully monitored. And when all starches are converted to fermentable sugars, the mash needs to be cooled to fermenting temperatures. Now, yeast can be added and the fermentation takes off. Temperature and pH management help create the right flavor profile consistently. When fermentation is done, start your iStill and make a whiskey or vodka.
Compare the above extensive procedure to how rum is made. Rum has readily fermentable sugars. No need to mash. This is how the process of creating alcoholic spirits from molasses takes place:
Yeast is added and the fermentation takes off. Temperature and pH management help create the right flavor profile consistently. When fermentation is done, start your iStill and make a rum.
What a difference, right? And what if we could skip mashing in grain-based spirits as well? What if we could simultaneously mash and ferment? If only such a thing would exist: a world where we do not have to perform that most arduous step of mashing, wouldn't that be a great world for the craft distiller to live in? No more clumping, no more potential scorching, no more additional grain, water, and enzyme handling or cleaning.
The best process is no process. The best part is no part. The best solution to any problem is to deal with the problem in such a way that no solution is needed. Here's the good news: we might have found a way to actually achieve this!
Follow us on our journey to investigate how whiskey or vodka can be made from grains without the need of a separate mashing step. This will be a thread of multiple posts and you'll have to stick with us, since we have many, many projects going on right now, and this one isn't our top priority, but we'll get there, even when it takes a bit longer. Where we'll get and how we'll get there? Let's dive in deeper!
The ultimate goal I want to achieve is to design procedures that help craft distillers in making grain-based spirits without a separate mashing step. How we'll get there (and I am pretty sure we can) is via testing, and with some trial and error probably.
The road ahead begins with an amazing starting point and an assumption that needs further research. The starting point is that in traditional Japanese sake making as well as in traditional Chinese baijiu production, strands of yeasts and fungi are used that can simultaneously convert starches to fermentable sugars and ferment those sugars into alcohol. In sake and baijiu production no separate mashing step is needed.
My assumption is that, since rice is a grain, the sake and baiju yeasts and fungi should be able to perform this amazing double trick on other non-malted grains as well.
How to investigate? We'll take it one step at a time. First, I want to acquire more experience with sake and baiju protocols, then we'll migrate and apply what we have learned to other grain bills, that are more suitable to whiskey and vodka making.
For the first step we'll do the following:
We'll go for a 1:4 ratio of grain (rice) to water, aiming for a 7 to 8% rice wine. Fermentation temperature will be around 30c, while maintaining pH of around pH 3.5 to pH 4.0. I expect the fermentation to take a week or less. After that, we'll use an iStill 500 Plated to make us some tasty rice likker. When the rice spirit is mastered, the next step will be a grain mash made from more traditional grains, used in the whiskey or vodka industry.. We'll keep you posted on this very exciting and potentially industry changing project!
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