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Bakery87

American single malt production

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With the potential rise of an American single malt whiskey category, I was wondering what everyone's plan is for fermentation with grain? I.e. grain-off or grain-on fermentation/distilling? Stranahan's does grain-on ferments with grain-off distillation, FYI.

How much of a flavor change would I reasonably expect from lautering versus keeping my traditional bourbon method (grain-on ferment and distillation)? I would like to follow my same path to avoid changes in equipment or process, but I'd much rather have a great product that may take the time and money to produce.  Is the going idea to keep the Scotch method for making these in the US, or is there a particular reason not to introduce grains?  I was thinking it might be an astringent flavor you'd get, similar to over rinsing grains for beer production.

I also should ask about new versus used barrels for this whiskey as well. I know Scotch is a grain-off ferment into used barrels, but where do we think the American single malt is going to go?

Thanks guys!

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We do 100% malted barley whiskey. We do grain-off since we source wort from a local brewery. I can't tell you difference in flavor of grain on vs off since we've never done it and I think there are too many factors in comparing different distilleries products. Our wort goes through a typical brew process. Only thing I would recommend is trying it on a small scale and see if you can tell the difference between on and off grain. You could always do grain-on with your system and ask a brewery to do a grain-off for you and compare if you don't have a way to lauter.

Regarding barrels, if you want to call it a malt whiskey is has to go into a new, charred oak barrel just like your bourbon. 

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Thanks for the reply glisade. 

I've been leaning to a removable false bottom, much like a brewery mashtun.  This way I can sparge and produce in a similar way to a brewery for my wort.  I figured a lot of people would be doing a grain-off ferment based on how scotch is produced.  I've been trying to find information everywhere but it seems it all follows the same pattern.  This industry, like many others, will continue down paths because "that's how it's always been done", and I'm still hoping for a difference based on science or some anecdotes.

As for the barrels, I'm with you on the naming.  I heard a rumor on the new/used debate for this category may also end up trying to mimic scotch in that regard.  I'm not sure how that will happen, but the topic of this category becoming an official one has started and was actively talked about at the ADI conference in Denver this year.

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I've tried some malt whiskeys that were produced 'on-grain' from hammer-milled barley malt and I thought the flavor was not good, very harsh, bitter, and funky. But it's hard to say if that was because they were made ongrain or if they were just badly made whiskeys. 

RE the new or used barrels, the american single malt commission is pushing for the definition to allow used barrels http://www.americansinglemaltwhiskey.org/ and several notable producers including Westland already incorporate used barrels into their releases, you just have to have the language right on your label. 

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17 hours ago, Bakery87 said:

With the potential rise of an American single malt whiskey category, I was wondering what everyone's plan is for fermentation with grain? I.e. grain-off or grain-on fermentation/distilling? Stranahan's does grain-on ferments with grain-off distillation, FYI.

How much of a flavor change would I reasonably expect from lautering versus keeping my traditional bourbon method (grain-on ferment and distillation)? I would like to follow my same path to avoid changes in equipment or process, but I'd much rather have a great product that may take the time and money to produce.  Is the going idea to keep the Scotch method for making these in the US, or is there a particular reason not to introduce grains?  I was thinking it might be an astringent flavor you'd get, similar to over rinsing grains for beer production.

I also should ask about new versus used barrels for this whiskey as well. I know Scotch is a grain-off ferment into used barrels, but where do we think the American single malt is going to go?

Thanks guys!

I'm not at all a fan of on grain distillation for single malt.   To my subjective perception, there's quite a lot more tanin extracted via that process.    When distilling a recipe that will likely be placed onto used oak, those flavor components have the opportunity to come even more to the fore of the palate.  

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I think most scotches up until the 70s were produced "on grain", though from what I can figure, there are less than a handful of distilleries that haven't switched over to lautering. If lautering is an option, it seems clear that that is the way to go. I've always lautered, but with this new distillery, lautering is not an option, so will be laying down a handful of barrels using the on grain approach. I want to talk to breweries in the area to see if they could pump out some wash for us, but that may not be in the cards.

I love the fact that the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission is pushing for producers to determine whether they want to use new and/or used barrels. I wish it was that way with other whiskeys. I hope they also push to ban additives of any kind. 

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20 minutes ago, kleclerc77 said:

Most scotches up until the 70s were produced "on grain", though from what I can figure, there are less than a handful of distilleries that haven't switched over to lautering.

I think you might be misunderstanding something; malt whiskey in Scotland is (and has been for a couple hundred years) produced from a lautered wort. The grain whisky component of blended scotch is produced from an 'on-grain' mash which is distilled in a continuous column, but it's principally either wheat or corn with malted barley in a small proportion to provide enzymes. There are a couple of distilleries doing something aberrant to that like Loch Lomond, but I don't believe distilling malt whisky 'on-grain' has ever been remotely common in the commercial scotch whisky industry. If you have evidence to the contrary I'd love to see it, as I'm proof reading someone's manuscript on Scotch whisky right now :)  

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@JustAndy 

Definitely a shallow source here, I was just browsing around to try and understand the benefits (which apparently there aren't any) of on grain single malt production. Says in this article the first modern lauter tun in Scotland was in 1974. They could be talking about the modernization of the rake technology though. It isn't worded extremely well if that's the case. I was also unaware that blended scotches used distillate other than 100% malted barley. Shows what I know.

https://www.diffordsguide.com/encyclopedia/1122/bws/single-malt-scotch-whisky-production-4-mashing

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Yes, whether it was occurring in a traditional mash tun or a modern lauter tun for scotch malt whisky the sugary liquid is being separated from the grain residue. Some are even using mash filters now (a press) but with the same objective. If you go waaaaay back there was likely whisky distilled in Scotland which was distilled on grain and included grains like oats and rye, but that's not really relevant to what's called scotch today. 

Blended scotch contains some amount of column distilled grain whisky, which is made similar to bourbon (unmalted grains cooked and then cooled and converted with malted barley) albeit distilled to a typically much higher strength. 

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Gotcha. When I hear/read "mash tun" with no mention of lautering I automatically figure it is a grain in situation. Thanks for the info 🤙

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I have a middling palate and I'd probably go 6-7/10 picking out straight malt whiskeys fermented and distilled on grain. To me, it imparts a grain-flour like flavor and bitterness that caries over into the distillate. I don't like it. Some people don't seem to mind.

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