Jumpin on the Brooklyn Band Wagon

I am attempting to resume posting at much more regular intervals.  So in the spirit of getting back into a routine here is a quick blurb about spending more time in Brooklyn.

I have been riding the L train to and from the city quite often lately.  Back and forth under the river in between Manhattan and Brooklyn, a quick transition from the East Village to Williamsburg.  Fortunately it is only 1 stop and 3 minutes away, and more to the point only 0.5 miles as the bird flies.  The more time that I spend in the yonder borough, the more time I am convinced I want to head permanently out that direction.  The cool, calm, and quiet atmosphere seems like such an escape from the bustle of Avenue A.  Lately we have been drawn out there for any number of reasons from birthdays to batching bourbon, and the more time we spend out there the more we want to be there!

Our most recent adventures include a night out for Tanner’s birthday which revolved around a cool bar called Full Circle Bar.  Based around the classic and never tiring Skee Ball, this bar offers beer and ball rolling.  Epic duels ensued:

Shannon, Addie, and Tanner going for glory.

This morning Addie and I cruised out to Brooklyn to meet up with Tanner and Jackie for brunch before she had to ship back to Florida.  After finishing up brunch we exited and began to wander to our favorite coffee spot when we realized we had been marooned on an island of concrete surrounded by marathon runners.  In order to get to our coffee we had to cross the river of charged up marathoner… 50,000 of them.  Actually it was great to see the marathon going through Williamsburg in route to touching all five boroughs.  It definitely brought up the urge in me to start training to race.  Here is a view taken from my phone of the almost impassible train of runners.

This week is going to be absolute chaos out here, but there should be plenty to write about at the end of it all.  Until then I am going to be cranking out booze, and learning how to whip up premium cocktails.  Hope all is well in your world.

Heads, Heart, and Tails: Crafting Spirits

When I talk to people about working in a distillery they all seem to have the same response, “I have always wanted to know how it works.”  After spending some quality time crafting bourbon batches, I can now confidently give you a run down on what it takes to make a batch of booze.  So here is some insight into the not overly complex process which I have been spending day and night working on.

I first learned the process physically, simply recreating what my co-worker showed me, but as I ran through the process over and over again I was also diving into a couple of books about the what was happening on a molecular level.  From fermentation to distillation there is a lot of science involved, and yet since I am at the helm you know this process must be pretty forgiving.  Fostering the ideal conditions for small molecular changes is obviously a challenge, but the more I deal with our large scale lab experiments the more I realize it is an art.  There happens to be room for a lot of artistic interpretation, and most of these seemingly precise reaction are actually extremely forgiving.  That being said, don’t try this at home.

To sum everything up: we are making porridge, fermenting it with yeast, and then boiling it over and over to capture the steam, which we bottle and sell.

In a few more words: We use organic corn which has been flaked, and we cook it into a porridge.  When it thickens and cools to the right temperature we then unravel all of the starches from the corn by adding barley (shipped over from Scotland) which contains an enzyme that turns starch into sugar.  After it cools a little more we dump in some yeast and let it go to town doing what yeast does best: eating and being gassy.  As the yeast uses the sugars as fuel it produces waste of alcohol and CO2.  So we let the yeast sit there and create a fermented mash of corn and barley for 6-7 days.  After that we strain out all of the solids, take the liquids, and boil them in our stills.  Since alcohol boils at a lower temperature then water we can remove it from the liquid before anything else and condense in jugs.  We repeat the boiling process again with the already removed alcohol for better purity and higher alcoholic content.  This comes out at 80% alcohol, which we dilute and put into casks to be brought out down the road.

What this means for me: a lot of lifting!  Carrying around jugs of fermented corn and barley.  Stirring very large vats of boiling and sticky porridge.  Carting around large wooden barrels filled with water.  It is all very glamorous.

The interesting part for me so far has been three fold: first, the process is fascinating.  You can actually see each chemical reaction and change happen in front of your eyes.  I take 15 gallons of corn mash (porridge) when it is thick and oatmealy and dump in 1/2 gallon of barley and within 1 minutes the enzymes from the barley have completely liquefied the entire mess, it transforms in front of your eyes from oatmeal to water.  Second, the physical labor and crafting something tangible is extremely satisfying.  There is something about working hard for 8 hours, being exhausted, but holding in your hand the fruit of your labors.  There are few things more satisfying then creating from scratch.  Third, I am alone at the warehouse in the deeps of Brooklyn by myself through the entire process.  It has been interesting spending time on my own just working away, playing music and hauling around buckets.  If you think I make a lot of noise when I am wandering around the house while everyone is home, try sticking me in a warehouse by myself for 8 hours.

So that is it for now!  I will continue this process day and night for quite some time.  Soon enough the first round of bourbon and whiskey will be done aging in their casks and we will begin to fine tune their flavors, which is something I am very much looking forward to.

Here a few limited pictures from the distillery: