What Does It Take To Make A New Spirit?

At our distillery, we make it a priority to come up with our own spirits. This doesn’t just mean that we make all of our spirits from scratch - it also means that we make unique products, things that no one else is making. This includes a line of spirits made with malt barley, as well as a line of spirits that are 100 percent vegetable based. So whether you’re talking about vodka, whisky, or our coolers, our products are designed from the start to be one of a kind.

So what do I mean when I say “designed from the start”? 

It all starts with a grain bill. First, we need to identify what characteristics we want in the final spirit and what grain it’s going to take to reach those goals. The next thing is to make sure that the grain bill is something that’s grown in Saskatchewan and is readily available. There is no point in building a spirit out of something that is impossible to get. Spirits are usually made from whatever starch source is readily available. To some places, that means grain; to others, it means potatoes; to still others, it means cane sugar. So for example, it would make no sense for us to create a spirit from figs when we are swimming in high-quality cereal grains and legumes, which is what we use for our grain bill. 

So once you have your spirit profile and the grain bill that will deliver that profile, the next step is to choose a yeast that will work with that grain bill to produce the desired outcome. Some yeast is designed to ferment mashed grain, some are for fruit, and some are for sugar cane, etcetera. A few years back we started with a stain of yeast that was compatible with mashed grain. Then we altered that yeast through yeast propagation (a topic that we will get into another day). 

It’s important to note that yeast is a living organism, and every different strain has secret things that it’s good at. Look at it this way: dogs are dogs, but there are many different breeds, each one bred to fulfill specific purposes. The breed that was altered through selective breeding to achieve a certain purpose will excel in that specific task. Similarly, yeast can be selectively bred for specific tasks. It also thrives at a specific temperature, and at a specific ph. There is a lot of trial and error (using food-grade citric acid and/or food-grade calcium) that goes into figuring out what pH level the yeast prefers.

Once the test batch has been successful, it can be replicated and allowed to ferment. Once fermentation is complete, it is distilled to see whether or not the final product is what we were shooting for. More often than not, the test gets scrapped and it’s back to the drawing board to see where we went wrong, or to identify areas that could be improved. There are so many variables that go into creating a spirit from scratch, and changing just one variable affects the other components. 

In addition to the variables I mentioned, the distiller also needs to choose whether or not the mash should be separated before fermentation or not, and decide their “cut points”, which have a huge influence on the final product profile. When a distiller determines cut points, they are basically deciding what they are going to leave in their final spirit and what they will separate out and discard. These cut points depend on what type of spirit is being created, and the decision is made by the distiller based on taste, feel, and smell. As far as I know, there is no magic instrument that can replace the judgement of a skilled distiller - and if there is, we certainly don’t own one.

The next step is the final filtration using either charcoal or carbon filtering, which polishes up the spirit. Charcoal filtering adds flavours, and carbon filtering extracts them. Along with the influence of the oak barrel, the influence of final filtration has to be fully understood by the distiller when the cut points are determined, along with the congeners that the distiller has left in the spirit when he distilled it. Congeners, by the way, is a common term used to describe flavour molecules. They are produced from the type of oak that the barrel is made of, the grain bill, yeast strain, fermentation temperature, and maturation time. Along with the cut points, all of these different things are just a few of the variables that influence the final product. 

So now you have a brief overview of what goes into creating a new spirit. The level of attention and care that needs to be put into every product that we manufacture is part of the reason why we go the extra mile to create something truly unique instead of just copying the latest trends or following generic recipes off of the internet. These countless hours of hard work pay off when we finally get to that end result, a final product that is unique and handmade that we can take pride in and truly call our own.

-Tim Karchut

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