Friday, March 30, 2012
The next offering of unaged rye whiskey will take place on April 14, 2012, beginning at 10:00AM. The 600 bottles (375ml at $95 each) will be available for sale only at the Shops at the Mount Vernon Inn Complex and at the Gristmill Shop. As in the past, the bottles are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and we cannot ship.
Andy Cant, master distiller for Cardhu Distillery, pounds in the bung, while GWD's master distiller, Dave Pickerell, and George Washington's plantation manager, "James Anderson," look on. In the background are Gavin Hewitt and John Campbell.
After three years in wood (the first two in reused bourbon barrels, and the third in a recycled Madeira container) the whisky should be ready to bottle. Current plans call for auctioning off the whisky to support a range of chariable organizations.
These three fine looking Scots -- decked out in their finest national regalia -- posed with Lisa Hawkins of the Distilled Spirits Council of the US after the barrel filling ceremony held at the George Washington Distillery on Wednesday. John Cambell, Andy Cant, and Bill Lumsden (pictured here, left to right) were joined by Robin Naysmith, Scottish Government Counsellor for North America, Gavin Hewitt, Chief Executive of the Scotch Whisky Association, and Mount Vernon and DISCUS staff and others, to top off the second barrel of malt whiskey that had been distilled over the previous two days.
Two @10-gallon barrels of the spirit were produced. One of the barrels was filled with the "director's cut" whisky, with a proof of 102, that was judged to be so good after the first round of distillation that a second run through the stills was not necessary. The spirit in the second barrel is the product of two distillations and is at 125 proof, the level at which Scotch distillers generally hope to barrel. A portion of the spirit in the second barrel set a new record for the GWD, reaching 165 proof! We wound up with only 20 gallons of spirit even though the yield from the first distallation was sufficent to provide more, because the Scottish distillers wanted to ensure that the finished product would be of the highest quality possible, and thus they elected not to redistill the lesser quality spirit.
Monday, March 26, 2012
At left, distillers, journalists and hangers-on mill around the stills at the end of the first day's run. Roughly 80 gallons of distillate were produced, with about five gallons considered to be such good product (110 proof and clean as a whistle!) that it is being barreled as a separate "director's cut" and will not need to be distilled a second time. At right, Dave Pickerell and Bill Lumsden confer over the proofing results. Tomorrow we continue the second run on the remainder of the batch.
Comments from the Scots:
Bill Lumsden, "It's quite a thrill to be doing everything by hand."
John Campbell, "It's almost like stepping back in time to produce whisky the way it was done 300 years ago."
Andy Cant, "It's like you've got to unlearn everything you've learned; it's a complete unknown, but I think that's half the fun of it."
Our Scottish colleagues arrived on American shores Sunday afternoon, and bright and early this morning they began distilling the barley mash that Dave Pickerell and the Mount Vernon team had prepared in advance. The dapper gentlemen dressed in black (a Scottish tradition, or just a slimming color?) are, from left, Bill Lumsden, global brands ambassador and master distiller, Glenmorangie Distillery; Andy Cant, master distiller, Cardhu Distillery; and John Campbell, distillery manager, Laphroaig Distillery. Our fourth musketeer is Nick Morgan (a wayward Brit), Scotch knowledge and heritage director, DIAGEO.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Mount Vernon's master distiller, and whiskey consultant extraordinaire, Dave Pickerell, is overseeing the mashing process and coordinating the overall single malt distilling effort. Members of the Mount Vernon team assisting Dave are: Steve Bashore, Pete Curtis (above), Joel Nichols, Daniel Purkey, Tim Larner, Randolph Bragg, Eric Barton, Justin Filipowski, Amanda Allard (above), Jordan Smith, and Tom Plott (above, aka James Anderson).
In addition to the special grain, the mashing process for Scotch-style whisky entails some unusual extra procedures. Unlike our normal practice for mashing rye whiskey, the Scots don't like to keep the liquid and the solids (the spent meal that ultimately settles to the bottom of the mash tubs) together. They have found that separating the two well before distilling has another significant effect on the finished product. For us, this meant going through an additional series of extremely labor intensive steps.
The process begins by combining 80 gallons of water heated to a temperature of 168 degrees with 280 pounds of barley meal in a 120-gallon hogshead, "rowing in" the meal as the water is added. After this concoction is allowed to site for about 45 minutes, the temperature drops about 20 degrees, and the liquid is bucketed out of the hogshead by hand and strained though metal mesh into a second hogshead, with the solids deposited into a third barrel. More hot water (about 32 gallons at 195 degrees) is added to the hogshead containing the strained solids, which produces additional sugar. The liquid in that barrel then is strained as before, with the solids discarded. The liquid is combined with the liquid from the first straining episode, and when the mixture drops to about 90 degrees in temperature, yeast is added to begin the fermentation. As with all whiskey, fermentation -- when the sugars are converted into alcohol -- should take three or more days to complete.
As all you Scottish-types know full well, Scotch Whisky (note the lack of an "e" -- they spell funny across the pond) is made from 100% malted barley. The type of grain is one of the main determinants of the final flavor of the spirit -- along with the method and duration of aging and the character of the barrels used to store the product -- but in the case of Scotch an important additional factor in the flavor is a result of the malting process. "Malting" means that the grain has been allowed to sprout, which produces a chemical transformation that helps to release the natural sugars in the grain. Before the grain can be ground the germination must be stopped by applying heat, however, which is where the additional flavoring comes in. Peat is a traditional Scottish fuel, which when burned gives off a strong, pungent aroma; when the fire used to halt the barley gemination is fueled by peat, the flavor of the smoke pervades the grain and thus the finsihed spirit. For our project, we wanted to use malted barley from Scotland, and we also wanted to ensure that the peat flavor was present in our whisky.
Our Scottish partners came through by shipping over a couple of tons of malt barley, along with a couple of hundred pounds of specially peated malt to mix into the mash bill. The next step in the process was for our team of millers to grind the barley at our water powered gristmill. We were aiming for a fairly coarse level of "grind" in this instance, as it is optimal for releasing the sugar during mashing. We aimed at mashing four 120-gallon tubs, which at roughly 280 pounds per barrel totalled about 1120 pounds of meal.
To celebrate the Scottish connection with Washington's distillery -- his manager, James Anderson, was a Scot -- we are partnering with the Distilled Spirits Council of the US and the Scotch Whisky Association (marking its 100th anniversary this year) to produce the first-ever Scottish-style malt whisky at the George Washington Distillery. Several well known master distillers representing some of the foremost Scotch Whisky brands (including Glenmorangie, Laphroaig, and Cardhu) will be traveling to Mount Vernon to mash and distill specially imported Scottish malted barley. Our plan is to produce up to 20 gallons of whisky, which then will be stored at Mount Vernon to age in recycled American oak barrels (two years) and then finish in barrels that previously held Madeira wine (one year). After aging, the whisky will be bottled and auctioned to benefit various charitable organizations. Mashing began on March 20th, and distilling will occur from March 26th-28th. The event is not open to the general public, but any followers of this blog who are interested are invited to drop by the site to observe and meet the distillers. Watch this space for more details over the course of the project.