Spirits from scratch
Making spirits from first principles is what we do. Grain to bottle or "from scratch"!
Put simply, that means we buy malted grain and then using mashing, fermenting and distilling processes we convert that into a pure alcohol. This neutral grain spirit or vodka is not only unique to us, but we are the only distillery doing this in Greater London.
There is nothing fancy about it. Its just cold hard grit with a hint of poetry! It actually costs us more to make it from scratch than to buy a mass produced equivalent. But where is the fun in that? And besides, we make it better and have total control over quality!
We produce an English wheat vodka which is the only vodka made from scratch in London. We do this through our bespoke 21m copper vodka column, the only one of its kind in London. We are one of fewer than 20 vodka producers in the whole of the UK.
Reason being is that it is very expensive to make vodka on small scale like we do.
Milling and mashing
Milling is simply grinding the malted grain we use to a consistent grind each time. That means having a similar level of husk (big bits), grits (mid size bits) and flour. The level grind is very important as it hits a fine balance between ultimate sugar extract yield and liquification which allows us to remove it successfully.
As our vodka is made from 100% wheat it is very difficult to brew. Wheat is inherently a hard grain to brew using standard brewing equipment. But cause we are crazy (haha) and because wheat makes the smoothest, silkiest vodka around, we chose to use this grain over others. It took us a while to learn the art of mashing 100% wheat but we are experts these days!
The mash or brew is where we combine the milled malt with hot water and mix. A bit like the process for making bread. It is a slow process particularly when we mash in about 500kg of malt per brew.
Basically what happens when we mash is that we convert the starch in the wheat, barley, rye, corn or other grain into sugar using a combination of water, heat and pH.
Eventually we end up with about 1500L of sugary water which we call "wort".
Fermentation is an ancient tradition. It dates back to Neolithic China in 7000-6600 BC. Fast forward to 1608 when Bushmills in Ireland was granted a distilling licence and is now known as the world's oldest licensed whiskey distillery.
Fermentation involves us taking the wort and pitching yeast into it at a desired temperature between 25-35 degrees. We use state of the
art cooling control to hold the fermentation temperature where we need to for a consistent fermentation. This involves circulating chilled water around the fermentating wort or beer, and removing the heat created naturally during fermentation. We do this using a closed circuit system whereby we undertake 100% water recycling.
After 3-4 days we have a fully fermented liquor ready for distillation which we call “wash”.
We use different yeasts depending on which spirit category we are making and we also adapt the temp to suit the yeast and spirit.
Distillers' yeasts are specific for purpose and utilise high temperatures for fermenting (up to 38 degrees) compared to beer where they typically ferment using a range 8-18 degrees.
At the end of fermentation the yeast and other malt particles have settled out in the bottom of the fermenter and we pull off the wash from slightly above the bottom so we have a pristine and clear wash going into our still.
Copper pot distilling
Copper pot distilling is a simple science. We heat an alcoholic liquor or wash up to less than 100 degrees celsius and consequently the alcohol (ie the more volatile compounds with lower boiling points than 100 degrees) vapourise into the column. We then use chilled water to recondense these alcohol vapours resulting in a concentrated alcoholic liquor or “low wine”. The first pass converting a wash into a low wine is called the "stripping run".
As we have a combination pot with an overhead column, one pass through our pot still generates a significant level of purity compared to other traditional pot stills. For example we can take a 10% abv wash up to about 75% abv in one pass. To put that into perspective most Scottish whisky pots convert what is an 8.5% abv wash into about a 24% abv low wine in one pass. That means we get considerably better energy efficiencies than many other distilleries.
During the beer stripping run we are just looking for yield and we take all alcohols including poisonous ones like methanol over into the low wine. Removal of methanol and other less enjoyable alcohols is done at the next step in the process.
When we are making vodka we then take this low wine and do one further distillation in our vodka column, called a "spirit run".
Alternatively, if we are making whisky we would do another pot still run to create the end new make spirit. We call this second pot distillation the "spirit run".
Once we have created a low wine and we are making vodka, we then need to use our vodka fractionating column instead of a second pot distillation. This is where our uniqueness lies in that we are the only distillery in London at this time using a fractionating column which gives us the unique ability of making our own base spirit, or 96% abv vodka.
When we fractionate vodka it's all about separating the good alcohols from the bad alcohols and increasing purity. You may have heard the saying "heads, hearts and tails" where the "hearts" refer to the best spirit from a distillation. This is common in whisky making but not so much in vodka manufacturing. However, we treat vodka as seriously as we do any spirit we make and therefore only select the heart of our vodka distillation. This means it is able to be drunk at room temperature and appreciated.
During distillation you also find some of the esters and phenols (or "congeners") are distilled over which were created in fermentation. Another thing that makes our vodka special is that we leave some of these subtle flavours in the spirits end profile offering a hint of residual character.
Our column allows us to achieve up to 96.5% abv on average. As the spirit is already a high purity and super premium we do not see the need for carbon filtering. This also aids the structure and mouthfeel keeping the end liquid silky smooth with a hint of residual character.
It is at this point that in traditional vodka making the vodka would be filtered through carbon or some other method of extracting all flavour taking it back to neutral. By not carbon filtering our vodka it provides it the opportunity to have its own expression (which is unique to us) but also makes it subtly different from most mainstream brands which are typically neutral or flavourless and with minimal structure or viscosity.
Once the end spirit has rested for a short time to settle out, we dilute it back to 40% using reverse osmosis water. This is pure water whereby most salts and minerals have been extracted making it akin to rain water and therefore not imparting any other flavour into the spirit.