Whiskey comes from grain, and typically include corn, wheat, barley & rye. In America, the dominant grain typically dictates what kind of whiskey it is like rye, wheat, or malted barley. Bourbon is dominantly made from corn, with as little as 51% corn along with other grains. But Corn Whiskey is the next step up and must be at least 80% corn. Before you move on to the next step you will need to know what grain, or grains, you will be using in your whiskey.
Grains need to be broken apart to be able to get to their starches in the next step. It’s important to get the right size consistently, to extract a consistent amount of starch and also not clogging up the rest of the system with grains that are too fine to separate out and cause potential problems in future steps.
This is where you combine the grains with water in the masher where it can be cooked to make the starches accessible, and later be converted to sugars. This process is made up of many individual steps that mainly involve heating at cooling at specific intervals to create a fermentable sugar solution from the grains.
Fermentation is an extremely important step to do correctly. It is important because after this you will be concentrating flavors, along with alcohol, and any off flavors will be amplified and unable to be removed. Going into this step you have created a sugar solution from grain is on the path to becoming a wonderful whiskey. To this you will add specifically selected yeast that can produce high alcohol and clean flavors in a relatively short period of time at around room temperature in a fermentation vessel. You will be creating a product that is essentially a "grain beer” without the addition of other ingredients like hops.
After several days your newly fermented "grain beer” is ready to be distilled. This is the part you can’t actually do at home, or really anywhere, without a Distilled Spirits Plant permit from the Federal government and a Liquor Manufacturer’s License from the State of Connecticut. Here we are using heating and cooling to separate alcohol from water, which is possible because they have two different boiling point. A still is designed to have several points where slight cooling can occur, allowing the water vapors to condense while the alcohol remains a vapor and is able to be separately condensed and collected as a final and higher proof spirit. For whisky, it must be distilled below 160 proof (80% ABV) to retain the defining characteristics of a whiskey. There are a lot more nuanced details to the entirety of the distillation process, but there is ultimately a select portion, from the middle of the run, which is called the “hearts” and will be brought through to the next step.
This step, like any of the others, can get complicated very quickly. Or it’s as simple as putting the newly distilled spirits into a charred or toasted oak barrel for a period of time that could be month, years, or decades. A couple of types of whiskey, including Corn Whiskey, can be left unaged. The end product depends on a fairly wide range of variable: time, temperature, humidity, size of the barrel, previous use of barrel and the char or toast of the barrel. There are other variables at play as well that likely have no control over. Regardless, aging is important to giving most whiskies their color and a large portion of their flavor profiles.
Your whiskey must be bottled at or above 40% ABV (80 Proof) and some get close to 125 proof if they are bottled at “cask strength”. There are standard sizes that bottles typically come in, 375mL: 750mL, 1L, 1.75L, or 50mL. This is important in determining the type size on your label, and the amount of extra work you will have when it comes to filling bottles and getting labels on them.
Now that you know how to make your own whiskey, what would you make?