Wausau Pilot & Review

Spirits 101 is a weekly feature from Wausau Pilot & Review and Timekeeper Distillery. Each Friday afternoon, Dan Weber joins us for a journey through spirits and cocktails, and a deeper dive into the craft industry as a whole. If you have questions or ideas for future topics, be sure to leave them in the comments below the YouTube video. Watch the video and read Dan’s explanation for a better understanding of the craft spirits you enjoy. Cheers!

From grain to glass: Where does it start?

By Dan Weber for Wausau Pilot & Review

Greetings fellow Wausonians! Dan Weber here, continuing our journey into the world of craft spirits and how they are made. Obviously, it’s all made with LOVE, but as you might imagine there is a little more to it than that. Last month we looked at a broad view of the mashing and fermentation process of grains, fruits, and sugars. Now, we will take a quick look at the different styles of stills, and those you’ll find are most common in your local distilleries. 

There are two different traditional types of stills. The first invented was the “Pot Still,” and its about as simple as the name is. Typically pot stills are large, round pots with a funnel-like top to concentrate the vapors from the wash you are separating from the alcohol. These traditionally will allow more compounds and oils to make it through the distillation process as it’s basically a free-for-all of factors like what makes it out first, how hot the still is, and more. These will usually require a few distillations to refine into a quaffable spirit. Pot stills are traditionally used in Whiskey, Brandy, Rum, and Tequila production. 

The second type is called a “Column Still.” These were designed later, after pot stills, with the intention of being able to more efficiently extract alcohol, and cut down on multiple distillations. These are traditionally tall columns, often 20 feet or more, with “plates” that have small holes separating the chambers inside. Column stills are especially good for making Neutral Grain Spirits, as each of those plates or chambers purifies the spirit – stripping out more and more until you are left with a product that is 196 proof, or 98% alcohol. This is the product that is a precursor to vodka and gin. The benefit: being able to strip out flavor and have high efficacy in one distillation is a big time saver. A column still can also be turned into a continuous still, where you can continually pump mash through instead of the pot still, were you can only do limited batches one at a time. 

These have served as great inventions for the distilling world, but like all industries there is evolution. Many distilleries, including Timekeeper here in town, use what is known as a Hybrid Still. We have a 1,000-liter pot still with a four-plate reflux column. So basically, this is a pot still that has the ability to go through a short column and reduce the needs for multiple distillations to make our artisan whiskeys, brandies, and rums. This still style is very good for being able to make a variety of products in the traditional style. That means I can bypass the column to make a traditional pot still, or I can utilize my column with plates. That takes six separate distillations, but using this process we can make neutral grain spirits. 

Hopefully, readers will now have a little better understanding of how distillation works and the equipment we use. This will be useful information as we take a deep dive into different origins, processes, and flavor profiles of the craft spirits you enjoy. I hope to layer in information about different spirits, cocktails, ingredients, pairings and anything you might have questions about.

Feel free to email me at Dan@timekeeperdistillery.com with topics you might like covered in the future. 


Daniel J Weber