The BOOZE Episode – this week, we talk to David McPherson, author of the upcoming book, The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History.
The G&B Booze Episode is sponsored by Beattie’s Distillers, an artisanal, small-batch vodka distiller based out of Alliston, Ontario.
Introducing our Sponsor: Beattie’s Distillers
The Beatties family has been proudly producing potatoes for the Alliston area for FIVE generations. Now that’s some dedication! Just over four years ago, Beatties decided to use their potatoes to create vodka, and we’re so glad they did. The vodka has now been in production and in the LCBO for just over a year.
We had the chance to speak to their distiller, Harrison Torr about the process.
From Innisfil, ON, Harrison attended university in PEI. He got into distilling in his first year at school! Greg worked as a tour guide and became the apprentice distiller a year later in Hermanville, PEI.
“I found the history and culture of moonshining in the east coast fascinating,” he said, “when I learned about the art of distillation, the culture and chemistry sucked me right in and I knew I wanted to carry on that tradition.”
Harrison learned the art of craft distillation and how to make potato vodka, whiskey, rum, and gin while in PEI under mentorship of a Master Distiller
Consequently, Ken and Liz Beattie traveled to PEI in 2013 to research how to make potato vodka, and this is where the story began!
At Beatties, they use a mixture of Dakota Pearls with a hint of Russet potatoes. They start with 8000 lbs (yes, EIGHT THOUSAND POUNDS) of peeled potatoes, and mix them with water in their mash tun.
If you’re like me, you may need some definitions along the way. Here’s the first – a mash tun is a vessel used in the mashing process to convert the starches in crushed grains into sugars for fermentation. Most mash tuns are insulated to maintain a constant temperature and most have a false bottom and spigot so that the sparging process can be done in the same vessel.
Beatties has a 5000 litre mash tun. “This is where our potato and water mixture is cooked to convert all of our starch into usable sugars for the fermentation process. This process takes anywhere from 4-6 hours to complete. The mash tun is heated by steam,” he explained.
Then, everything is moved over their 5800 litre fermentation tanks. “This is where our ‘mash’ is taken after it has been cooked. Once the mash has cooled enough, yeast is pitched and the sugar will be converted into alcohol by the yeast, also releasing carbon dioxide in the process. Fermentation will be complete between 4-6 days.”
It’s all then moved on to their 5000-litre Kothe Pot-column still. A Kothe Pot-column still is a water bath or steam bath that heats mashes and fluids in a specially-constructed copper still. The still has a covering made of stainless steel which is insulated to help maintain heat and conserve energy throughout the life of the still.
“There are two vertical columns to our still with a combined total of 42 plates between the two, which then connects to our condenser. Mash is poured in to the pot and heated by steam. Alcohol evaporates around 78 degrees Celsius, separating itself from the organic materials and the water due to its different evaporation temperature range. Alcohol vapour will work its way out the pot and into the first column. As it climbs up the column, it passes through trays laid horizontally inside. These trays are similar to a fine strainer and they help strip the water molecules from the alcohol vapour that has attempted to ‘hitch a ride’. The vapour will pass through both columns and 42 plates combined, after which it will enter the condenser. The condenser has a copper tubing surrounded by a cold water jacket which forces the vapour to condense back into our liquid alcohol,” he explains.
“Voila! But wait, vodka is a neutral spirit, meaning it is very light on character and distinct flavour. In order to properly make vodka, we need to distill it until it can be stripped of it character, around 93%-95% alcohol. We will distill the same batch anywhere from 3-5 times.” Betchya didn’t think distilling vodka was THIS complicated, huh?
Then, it’s moved over to a 5000-litre blending tank. “This is where our blending of our now neutral potato spirit is brought from 94%/95% down to 40% with reverse-osmosis filtered water, ready for packaging.”
And there we have it… Beatties Vodka!
Then we have bottles!
In their facility, they have a 4-spout bottler. The bottler is capable of filling 600 bottles an hour, and all bottles need to be switched out by a physical operator! All of Beatties’ bottling, labelling, and packaging at this time is done by hand. That’s how much love goes into a single bottle of Beatties Vodka!
One full batch will make about around 1000 bottles of vodka. On average, there’s between 11-16 lbs of potatoes per bottle depending on the harvest and the potatoes.