Ah, the early days… Looking back, we were so over confident, so sure that a few decades of homebrewing experience would be all we’d need to make a great bourbon mash. Not knowing any better – nor being wise enough to ask around – we made our Mash Tun with a lauter screen, just like you’d use to make beer. Turns out that corn doesn’t lauter very well, and rye is even worse. Both grains are sticky enough to completely clog up the lauter screen. ‘Stuck Mash’ became our devil. A mash run that should take 7 or 8 hours could stretch ‘til midnight – once we went home to sleep a bit & started again in the morning. We spent hours scraping the lauter screen, ‘invented’ what turned out to be called a “Grant”, and spent hours mopping. You know it’s a bad day when you’re tempted to check the brix level of the mop bucket!
Fortunately we enjoy solving problems, and didn’t let a couple dozen mash-from-hell experiences discourage us. We made a few versions of mash rakes and screen-scrapers that helped a little, but didn’t solve the problem. We eventually saw the light and stopped trying to use a Beer Process – we removed the lauter screen altogether & went to what we now know is the conventional On-Grain process. This means the milled grains are still in the sweet wort during the fermentation & stripping distillation steps.
Of course, it wasn’t quite as simple as just deleting the lauter screen. On-Grain process means you have to pump a grainy slurry from the Mash Tun to the Still – requiring an expensive pump & hose set up that we couldn’t figure out how to build ourselves. And having grain in the Still meant designing & fabricating a complex indirect heating system to avoid scorching. But that gave us an opportunity to make a much bigger (630 gallon) stripping still, which significantly increased our batch size.
Along the way, we made a few different versions of copper condensers, experimented with perforated copper bubble plates, significantly adjusted our hearts cut ratio, and built what we believe to be the tallest vodka column in the state (13’ tall with 26 re-distillation stages). That’s our equipment set for now - until we have another better idea…