A Day Spent at the Distilled Spirits Epicenter Bourbon Making Workshop
After talking to the brothers behind Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville about their award-winning Belle Meade Bourbon (see The Local Palate’s Interview in our September issue—on stands now), whiskey enthusiast Chris Chamberlain was inspired to try his hand at bourbon making.
Brewing your own beer at home is a pretty easy pursuit and a very popular hobby. Anybody with access to the internet can locate good homebrew supplies and a step-by-step guide which should produce palatable beer within a few attempts. But what about distilling your own spirits? That’s a whole different kettle of fish, mainly because distilling without a federal permit is expressly prohibited by law! And not just “a slap on the wrist” illegal; we’re talking major time in the pokey. Moonshiners and revenuers have been fighting this battle for generations, and you don’t want to get caught in the middle of it.
Worry not: the Bourbon Making Workshops as a part of the Moonshine University program at the Distilled Spirits Epicenter in Louisville, Kentucky offers you a chance to learn how to distill without risking a stint in the pen. Moonshine University offers different classes and workshops which teach just about everything enthusiasts need to plan, build, market, and run a distillery. If you are simply a spirits fan, you can attend just to discover the inside story of the whiskey biz.
One of their offerings, The Bourbon Making Workshop, is a one-day class taught by two distilling professionals who lead the class through the world of brown liquor. Classroom instruction covers the science behind fermentation and distilling, technical terms ranging from the definition of “proof” to various impurities like fusel oils that must be removed through distillation when separating the heads and tails from the heart of the production run. Class time is also spent tasting pure distillates of corn, wheat, and rye whiskeys to demonstrate nuances each particular grain adds to a final product.
Note: If drinking straight whiskey before lunch sounds like a chore instead of a treat, this isn’t the class for you. The final portion of the classroom part of the day covers a sensory analysis of the effects of barrel maturation and proof on bourbon.
The best part of the workshop is definitely the hands-on portion, where students actually participate in the production of a run of whiskey. (It can’t officially be called “bourbon” until it is aged in new charred oak barrels.) From grinding the grain to mashing in for a full brew of mash, the first part of the production is very similar to brewing beer. Through a partnership with local coppermith and still manufacturer Vendome, the Distilled Spirits Epicenter is stocked with beautiful distilling equipment including a gleaming 250-gallon pot still and a 20-tray column still made for vodka production.
Students assist in pumping an already fermented batch of mash into the still and have the opportunity to taste the whiskey at any point during the distilling process. Only a small percentage of whiskey lovers have ever experienced the transition of “white dog” as the still removes the unpalatable acetone and methanol molecules through distillation, leaving the “heart” of the run which is dominated by ethanol. Delicious, delicious ethanol.
Unfortunately, the Distilled Spirits Epicenter does not have a license allowing for their products to leave the premises, so the results of the class’s efforts must eventually be washed down the drain. But in the name of education, the chance to actually be a part of an actual distilling run numbs the pain just a little bit.
The Bourbon Making Workshop at the Distilled Spirits Epicenter costs $395 for a full day of instruction, breakfast, and lunch. The next classes will be held in Louisville on December 4.