The process starts when I sow ryecorn in the Autumn on my farm, Belgrove.
During the harsh winter the green crop is firstly used to fatten prime lambs.
When Spring arrives there is usually an abundance of feed on the rest of the farm for my livestock, so the animals are excluded to allow the rye to run up to head.
In February when the plump rye grains have dried out I harvest the crop and store it in a silo.
To produce alcohol we need water, yeast and sugar, but grains contain starch, not sugar.
The next part of the process is to “malt” the grain. The grain is “steeped” (soaked) in water for about one and a half days and then spread on a floor to allow it to sprout. The grain is turned and moistned regularly to control heat and moisture. The sprouting biochemistry produces enzymes that convert starch into sugars.
Once the optimum amount of enzymes have been produced, malts are traditionaly kiln dried. (energy intensive) There are a very few distilleries including mine, that don’t dry the malt.
As soon as it is ready I grind it up in an industrial meat mincer, and add it to hot water in the “mash tun”, along with some unmalted crushed rye grain (grist). The enzymes from the malted grain act on the starch in the unmalted grain producing sugars that leach into the water making a sweet “wort”.
The wort drains down through the “mash” which acts as a filter, and pumped into a “fermenter” where yeast is added.
Over the next 5-7 days the fermenter bubbles away producing alcohol. The process to this stage is very similar to beer production except that I don’t add hops.
This rye “beer” (sometimes called “wash”) now contains about 7% alcohol. It is pumped into my pot still which is heated with “biodiesel” that I make from waste cooking oil. When the liquid boils the steam contains more alcohol than the liquid. The steam is turned back to liquid in a cold water jacket, the “condenser”.
This “condensate” is now up to about 25% alcohol. At present I have only one still so I need to run 3 batches before I have enough “low wines” to return to the still and do the second distillation, the “spirit run”.
The spirit run is divider into 3 sections, “Foreshots” then “Heart” then “Feints” The Foreshots and Feints contain undesirable volatiles are later re-distilled or used as fuel or thrown out. The Heart portion of the spirit is the best part of the distillate, and is saved and put into barrels to mature, or bottled as “New Make”.