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Distillery Journey

Making Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

The Mash/Fermentation

Mash is a fermentable starchy mixture from which alcohol can be distilled. Fermentation takes place in large tubs (usually cypress or stainless steel tubs), some hold up to 50,000 gallons.

Yeast is then added to the mash; yeast changes sugar to alcohol such as ethyl alcohol and corbon dioxide. Most distillers develop their own yeast and protect it from contanimation. Yeast is believed to affect the body, aroma and taste of the Bourbon. Fermentation usually takes from 3 - 4 days, but this can be extended depending on the types of mash.

For sweet mash, the yeast is processed quickly over a few days while sour mash takes more time. Buffalo Trace Distillery is using sweet mash. Water is heated in a steam powered pressure cooker. Once the water reaches the proper temprature, the corn is added and cooked under pressue until it is ready for the rye. After the addition of the rye, a malted barley is added to the mixture, which allows its activated anzymes to turn the starch from the cooked grains into a soluble sugar. The new mixture is, at this point, a sweet mash.

At Wild Turkey Distillery, sour mash from a previous fermentation is added with fresh yeast to induce a continous fermantation and to guard against the activity old yeast. Jimmy Russell, the master distiller of the Wild Turkey views fermentation process as the most fascinating step of the Bourbon making process. "Kept under refrigeration in our laboratory, yeast cells from a pure culture are added to a portion of corn, rye and malt to form a yeast mash. The yeast, which changes sugar to alcohol, also produces Wild Turkey's characteristic aroma, body and taste. The yeast mash is then added to the mash in the cypress fermenter, says Russell.

Next mash is pumped to the fermenter where distillers introduce the strain of yeast that converts the fermentable sugar into alcohol called "distiller's beer", which is about 18 proof or 9% alcohol. Then the distiller's beer is pumped to the still for the next distillation step.

Next: Distillation

Making Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

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