DISTILLERIES 101: WHAT IS WHISKEY DISTILLING – AND WHAT MAKES STILL AUSTIN SPECIAL?

October 30, 2023

DISTILLERIES 101: WHAT IS WHISKEY DISTILLING – AND WHAT MAKES STILL AUSTIN SPECIAL?

WHAT EXACTLY IS A DISTILLERY?

A distillery, put simply, is where alcoholic spirits are made. But you probably knew that. What you may not know (most people don’t!) is what distilling means. To “distill” means to purify a liquid by vaporizing it—then, afterward, to cool that vapor to collect the resulting liquid. In more simple terms, to distill means to convert a liquid into vapor, and then to turn that vapor back into a liquid. Not so complicated, right?

The liquid that results from this process is called “distillate,” or more commonly “spirit” or “liquor”—all terms for the rectified liquid after it has been distilled. (To “rectify,” by the way, means to purify a substance by repeated or continuous distillation. Some spirits are distilled far more than others. Whiskey is generally distilled between one and three times, whereas vodka may be distilled innumerable times until the flavor and characteristics of the original grain.

HOW ARE GRAINS LIQUIFIED AND DISTILLED?

So now you may be wondering, if distilling means to turn liquids into vapors and back again, where do the solid elements (such as corn or wheat) come in? At a distillery like Still Austin, we work with both solids and liquids to produce distilled spirits. Here’s how that process works:

  • First, a distillery must obtain fresh grain, fruit, vegetables, or grapes.
  • These materials must be fermented to create alcohol. Fermentation is the process by which yeast will transform simple sugars in these materials into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Sometimes, especially in the case of grain, water must be added to facilitate this process. You might know examples of this process better by the terms “beer” and “wine,” cider, etc. Beer is the result of fermenting grains, wine is the result of fermenting grapes, and cider is what happens when you ferment apples or pears.
  • Once the distillery has this fermented liquid (which distillers call a “mash”), they can begin to distill it. That’s where the “still” apparatus comes in.
  • To distill the mash, the liquid is heated in a still to cause any alcohol to evaporate. This alcohol vapor must then be cooled to return it liquid form, where it will be collected.
  • This newly collected “spirit” typically then has water added to it, to reduce the amount of alcohol by volume, in a practice known as “proofing.” It may also, as in the case of whiskey, be stored in a barrel to age and gain color and character.

WHAT DO DISTILLERIES MAKE?

As discuss previously, a distillery makes distilled spirits. There’s an almost endless list of examples, but here are just a few you’re probable familiar with:

  • Whiskey (including bourbon, scotch, rye, etc.)
  • Gin
  • Brandy (Cognac)
  • Rum
  • Tequila
  • Mezcal
  • Aperitif
  • Liqueur (an alcoholic spirit combined with sugar, syrups, or other flavorings)

To help you understand better, think of it this way: Wine has been fermented, but it hasn’t been distilled. When wine is distilled, it’s called “brandy.” Likewise, when cider is distilled it’s called “applejack” or “calvados.” And when beer is distilled and the result is aged in barrels, it’s called . . . whiskey!

WHERE DO DISTILLERIES COME FROM?

Distilleries have been around for thousands of years. The earliest distilleries made perfume, medicine, and distilled water. Likewise, as you may know, beer and wine have been around for millennia. Many of the very earliest distillers were farmers, using distillation as a way to preserve their harvests through the winter.

But it was only through alchemy that the distilling of spirits as we know it came to be. You may know alchemists as the people in pointy hats trying to turn lead into gold. But alchemists were actually much more than that—they were the precursors to what we call scientists, but they were also philosophers, healers, oracles, magicians, and much more—all rolled into one. The whole “lead into gold” thing was actually a metaphor for alchemists’ grand attempts to transform the elements of mundane life—including the human soul—into higher forms.

In the eighth century AD, the Arabic alchemist Abu Musa Jabir ibn Hayyan designed the first “alembic” pot still, a contraption that caused alcohol to be distilled. With his newfangled contraption, Jabir (who is sometimes known as “Geber”) managed to distill wine into brandy. Funny thing is, Jabir and many of the other early alchemists weren’t setting out to create booze; they were driven by what we might call scientific aims. They instead used these early distillates as medicine. But you won’t be surprised to learn that it didn’t take long for people to realize how much fun it was to drink these spirits.

FROM GRAIN TO GLASS: WHAT MAKES STILL AUSTIN SPECIAL?

“Of all the whiskey distilleries near me, Still Austin truly captures the essence of Austin’s charm!” – Jack T., Whiskey Connoisseur.

Still Austin is one of the many whiskey distilleries Texas offers—but we like to think that we’re special. From the beginning, we’ve been dedicated to the “Art of Texas Whiskey,” in addition to the craft. For this reason, we didn’t want any old still. Instead, when we built our South Austin Distillery, we had our 42-foot column still hand-built in Scotland—the land where whiskey was  invented—by legendary Scottish still-makers Forsyths. This magnificent apparatus, affectionately dubbed “Nancy,” is able to produce spirits of breathtaking complexity and subtlety. Once we age these spirits in our Hill Country rickhouses, where the wood interacts with the unpredictable moods swings of Texas weather, the result speaks for itself. But we also like to let our repeated awards and accolades speak for us, too—including repeated Double Gold Awards at the San Francisco Spirits Competition, the world’s most prestigious booze competition.

Curated Tours: A Deep Dive into Still Austin’s Whiskey Art and Craftsmanship

Every sip of Still Austin whiskey reflects our years of dedication and passion—and a tour of our facility shows why. Our whiskey distillery tours provide an insider’s look into the art of whiskey-making, showcasing why we’re the top whiskey distillery in Central Texas. On a distillery tour, you’ll get an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at a truly grain-to-glass distillery, where we do it all in-house: milling, mashing, fermenting, distilling, barreling and bottling.

You’ll also learn a little about the history—and a lot about the craft—of whiskey made by hand from local Texas farmers’ grains. And our distillery tours are limited in size to ensure a fun experience for everyone.

SAVOR THE FLAVORS: DISTINCTIVE DRINKS & DELECTABLE BITES AT STILL AUSTIN

We don’t just offer distillery tours, though! At our South Austin “Whiskey Wonderland,” you can bask in the aura of Still Austin’s iconic patio, a symbol of relaxation and of Austin’s vibrant musical and performance culture. And what’s a premium Austin whiskey without complementary bites? Huckleberry, our resident food truck, offers culinary options that pair beautifully with our whiskeys.

Rhythm & Bourbon: A Match Made in the “Live Music Capital of the World”

Still Austin is more than just a whiskey distillery; it’s where the soul of the Live Music Capital flows through every drink and live show. And we believe that every note of our flagship Straight Bourbon, “The Musician” echoes our hometown’s rich musical heritage.

Ready for Austin’s premier whiskey distillery experience? Book your tour with Still Austin now, and discover why we sit at the top of the list of the Lone Star State’s favorite whiskey destinations.

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