Beer Fact Friday: Beer and Whiskey
Believe it or not, the process of brewing beer is almost identical to the process for creating whiskey—at least in the early stages. Brewers and distillers both make their beverages with malted grain, for instance: barley, corn, rye, wheat, or a combination of all of them, depending on what they’re making. Both of them extract sugars from that grain by combining it with hot water inside a large tank, a process both call “mashing.” And while distillers usually skip the next step of the brewing process—boiling with hops—they still ferment the sugary liquid they’ve created with yeast in order to create alcohol, just as brewers do. Most distillers even ferment their liquid with Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, the same species of yeast used by brewers.
It’s only after the fermentation stage that these two alcoholic beverages diverge. While the beer is basically ready to enjoy when the yeast finish their work, the liquid that will become whiskey (called “wash” by distillers) is just beginning its journey.
The wash goes into a device called a still, where it’s heated. Because alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, alcohol vapors rise from the liquid and are condensed in another part of the still, increasing its alcohol content. (The distillation process doesn’t just increase the wash’s ABV, by the way; it intensifies any flavors that may have existed within it. More on that in a sec.) The process continues until the distilled liquid reaches the desired alcohol content—usually somewhere around 60-70% ABV. This liquid is usually then laid to rest inside wooden barrels, where it absorbs flavors and color from the wood. After a few months to a few years, voila: Whiskey, the water of life.
That’s usually how it’s done, anyway. But there’s no rule that says a distiller has to make his own wash—or that he can’t just distill a finished beer. Enter Humphrey’s, a whiskey made through the distillation not of wash, but of Kilt Lifter, our beloved Scottish-style ale. A creation brought to life by Arizona Distilling Co., Humphrey’s is a 100-proof “Arizona Whiskey” that takes Kilt Lifter’s caramelly, toffeelike, and roasty flavors and intensifies them to levels that have to be tasted to be believed.
Swing by the 8th Street pub March 8-11 for food and drink specials featuring this unique spirit, and make sure to stop in from 4-6 p.m. on Thursday, March 11 for a free tasting hosted by Arizona Distilling. If you have more burning questions about the whiskey-making process, we’re sure they’ll have the answers. More info here.