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Curtis

On Grain or Off Grain

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I have had several conversations with craft whiskey distillers, sifted through many forums, and have researched till no end....if producing Bourbon using the batch method how vital/important is it to distill on grain? I have been given polar opposite opinions from distillers, the research I have done in manuals is often ambiguous, and my level of frustration is growing to no end. Any help from would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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To make a proper tasting bourbon, on a pot or a continuous setup you need to distill on the grain. Plus, you never would be able to get it to lauter if you tried. And if you say skimmed the grain off before distilling, you would throw a lot of booze away. There are oils in those grains you want for flavor too.

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i agree . to get all the sugars out of corn u must turn it into a powder with a hammer mill. than bring to a boil to break the starch balls. rolling grain and excuse my spelling but loatering grain is for single malt whiskys. hope this helps

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The work required to separate grain from mash, loss of flavors (and more importantly, yield), weighed against the upside? I cannot see a reason to do anything except grain-in. That's my perspective based on my setup, process and equipment. I am sure you'll get lots of other opinions here, all valuable.

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Seems like most folks will recommend whatever practices they stick to. I lauter my malt, wheat and rye mashes (and one test bourbon mash with 55% pre-gelatinized corn) with good success. I haven't done a side by side comparison with the only difference being lautering vs. grain in so I can't tell you that one method offers a decisively better result. Has *anyone* who feels that fermenting on the grain for bourbon is most appropriate/efficient also tried lautering?

I don't have the most solid grasp on historic bourbon production methods, but I gotta wonder if modern methods were always the norm?

Curtis, are you after a "proper tasting bourbon" in the traditional sense?

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I lauter... 55% pre-gelatinized corn) with good success.

I would think that lautering a mash of 55% corn would be difficult as hell, but apparantly it's possible! I would also be interested to hear if anyone out there is acutally producing bourbon using a lauter tun (or mash filter, I suppose).

Without having actually looked into the numbers, my guess would be that the on-grain method is much more cost effective. if so, I'm sure that would have a lot to do with its popularity.

Nick

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We are using electric elements so distilling on the grain is not practical for me. We will in the next distillery I'm building. We are developing methods to seperate the grains from the wash. Our conversion has improved so much that what would be 20 to 15 gallons of grains is now like five, all based on a 55 gallon drum batch.

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Distilling on the grain is the traditional way bourbon has always been produced and all of the major distilleries, without exception, do it. Beyond that, and now with the opinions of craft distillers based on their experiences, there is no definitive answer in a book or anything.

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Thank you very much for the feedback. I am looking for a traditional bourbon flavor profile.

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I have never done grain in, but some comments I have heard elsewhere are-- you need a bigger fermenter and bigger still and you need an agitator on the still.

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We don't have an agitator, and we don't have any problems. If we had one would we get better results? We're grain in start to finish.

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I vote for agitation. Ours is barely adequate, so when we get a new stripping still (not too long, I hope), that is definitely one of the things we would invest in. What we have now is fine for the spirit runs.

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We have a grain-in system, with agitators in the fermenters as well as the still. Its my understanding that agitation helps prevent off flavors the yeast tend to lend to distillate when they get hot, as well as prevent scorching. Our tanks are 12 hectoliters and our still is 300 liters, so we have to do small stripping runs.

IMHO, if you want to create a product, do as the Romans do. Old school bourbon was distilled on the grain. I think it would be hard to prove a definitive difference taste wise.

Good luck!

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I for one would like to see some small guys do some side-by side releases of on-grain vs. off-grain.... It could be a specially dedicated series, or just two brands under the same house that the 'in-crowd' knows are the comparison... obviously, the best guys to do this have the right capability to do both well...

Curious, how did old folks with fire keep the corn from scorching, low fire and thick copper? I can't see them having a false bottom..... did the rise of steam power change things?

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...............

Curious, how did old folks with fire keep the corn from scorching, low fire and thick copper? I can't see them having a false bottom..... did the rise of steam power change things?

The following is from an article written about my distillery, and mentioning Scotish distilleries.

As Cowdery suggested, thin mash helps, roughly lautered in my case.

"...double distilled via a direct fired method - no steam coils or water jackets, just flame on copper. It takes attention and skill to manage charges like this. Mess it up and you get undesirable burnt flavours. Get it right and you can introduce some interesting toasty grain characteristics to the whisky as parts of the mash fall on 'hot spots' and are gently ‘roasted’ on the base of the still. This artisanal technique has been, and still is, much admired by the Scots, yet sadly, it's now rarely applied mainly for reasons of efficiency. The Springbank distillery at Campbeltown is one exception. Here “...the wash still is fired from the bottom by live flame and the spirit stills are heated by steam coils from inside. It is thought Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland to do this. Most distilleries these days use only the coils… [Yet] When other distilleries switched from direct flame heating to solely steam coil heating in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s many managers reported a change in the character of their spirit, and rarely for the better.”"

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if you did your job mahing and keep it stiired till it is almost ready to boil, you are fine. the old timers did exactly that.

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I recommend The Practical Distiller by Samuel McHarry, 1809. He describes his effort to find best practices and what he came up with. He has a couple techniques to deal with scorching on his direct fired still. First he greases the pot before filling it. Next he heats it before putting the column on so he can stir while its heating. Once it is boiling he doesn't need to stir and the head is put on.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/21252

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Do people tend to seperate grain from wash post-ferment or distill on the grain? From my experience, it's much easier to filter grain out after ferment, but I'm not sure whether one method produces undesirable flavours vs the other.

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On 1/11/2013 at 9:22 PM, Mash said:

We are using electric elements so distilling on the grain is not practical for me. We will in the next distillery I'm building. We are developing methods to seperate the grains from the wash. Our conversion has improved so much that what would be 20 to 15 gallons of grains is now like five, all based on a 55 gallon drum batch.

I did a couple of on grain bourbon runs a little while ago with electric elements and they worked fine with no scorching. I just had the heating elements  dialed down to about 60%. The moonshine that came out was really nice.  OK I didnt have a full charge of grain in with the wash, only about 20% but enough to cover the elements.  It took a little longer but it worked.    

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We've actually done both on and off the grain for bourbon and rye whiskey. Yield and unaged profile were indistinguishable as far as I could tell, haven't yet pulled samples to see if they age different. We have a Meura bladder filter, which lets us press pretty much any mash bill dry. There are advantages to being attached to a brewery.

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We made all our spirits (40% corn whiskey, bourbon, corn/wheat vodka, and even a rye) for over a year using the off-grain process.  We did about 50 batches of 220 gallons - mostly successfully.  It IS possible, but you have to really want to do it.  We had the common limitation of direct-fire heat elements as our rationale, but still burned the occasional batch. (and Rye almost every batch, at some point in the stripping run).  

We finally concluded that we had to go on-grain, and made an indirect heat system for our stripping still.  We are happy we did - we can do bigger batches, and we save about 8 hours per mash run by not lautering.  Time will tell how the change will affect the flavor of our spirits, but we have silver-medal winning (SFO) bourbon on the off-grain process - so I think that you can make plenty good spirit either way.

That said, if you're designing your distillery, do it the easy way - on-grain.

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