“Whiskey is beer grown up”

Best part of my job: Sneak previews to coming Seattle attractions. Copperworks Distilling Company is opening across the street from my office, and one of the distillers gave me a private tour. Of course I was there on business, but I couldn’t resist sharing the fascinating place with you.

Copperworks will be distilling whiskey, vodka, and gin, opening for business sometime early this summer. The masterminds behind the project, Jason (quoted in the title of this post) and Micah, bring two lifetimes of professional brewing experience to the table, so this next step in their brewing careers should steam and drip out a very enjoyable beverage.

Here’s some highlights gleaned from a recent trek across the street.

All of their liquors will begin with malted barley, happily fermenting away in tanks to become beer, the first stop in a distilling process.

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Then the beer goes into the wash still, on one end of the copper still line up. This is where the alcohol condenses from a beer-like 7.5% to around 22%.

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The alcohol then moves to the Spirit Still, which on the outside looks much like the wash still, only with a more bulbous neck. This still refines and condenses the liquid even farther.

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First let’s talk about the whiskey.  Whiskey has three parts, the head, heart, and tail.  The heart is the part you drink. But each successive batch of whiskey is run with a previous batch’s head and tail, and over time, the whiskey will take on a distinctive ‘Copperworks’ flavor.

But on to Vodka, the clear, odorless alcohol we so often turn to for our basic to elaborate mixed drinks. After it’s turn in the Spirit Still, vodka is distilled and clarified through a Column Still. It’s journey steams up one column, trickling down and then up the even taller column. The vodka-to-be will travel through 25 perforated steel plates, either going through as steam, or dripping down to be caught in the bottom and start the process over again.

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This hatch window reminiscent of a 1950’s submarine movie is where the brewer can monitor how much liquid needs to be pumped back to begin the 25 plate journey through the column still again.

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Once they have vodka, they will make gin with some of it. (Gin is flavored vodka.) Gin is steamed with the chosen botanical flavors (juniper, etc) in a gin still. (The gin still at Copperworks is affectionately nicknamed Nancy.) It has the tallest neck, but the smallest body of all the stills.DSC_0806

This strange looking brass box is a Spirit Safe.  Once upon a time, only an Exciseman could unlock the box, accessing the spirits. This was to be able to properly tax the distillery. This has not been the case for several decades, but the spirit box is still a integral part of the stills. The Spirit Safe is where the distiller himself can taste and test the alcohol, and redirect the liquid as desired. (for instance the heart of the whiskey would be directed down a different pipe than the head and tail) Copperworks has an antique excise lock gifted to them by a previous Scottish Exciseman that will complete the decor of their spirit safe.DSC_0809

The stills themselves were handbuilt in Scotland by the Forsyths.  The stills are copper because the bad tasting sulfur in the alcohol binds to the copper as copper sulfate. This keeps the bad sulfur smell in the still to be scrubbed clean, rather than staying in the whiskey or vodka.

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Seriously…best day of work ever.

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