Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Giving Away Secrets- How Michter's Distilled Whiskey on a "Large" Scale.

While taking a tour of Michter's the tour guide would be sure to take you into the Bomberger's Warehouse, which was the oldest standing building on the site during the Michter's era. In it were several things- an old barrel weight scale, some aging barrels of whiskey, occasionally barrels of purchased Scotch may have even been stored there before bottling. But the centerpiece was a large diagram showing in simplified view the entire distilling process at Michter's from grain to barrel.

Much has been written and said about the small still arrangement that once sat in the Still House and produced about a barrel a day of whiskey. Those stills exist today and were most recently restored and used by Tom's Foolery Distillery in Ohio. They are now in the possession of the modern day Michter's and the plan is to use them in their downtown Louisville, KY location once it is renovated. Little has been said or seen of the large scale- and I use that term loosely as they still only produced maybe 50 barrels a day- distillation process that produced the vast majority of Michter's and Pennco's whiskies and other spirits (Yes, they made more than whiskey, just not very often!). All the grain was stored and milled in the same location, but the grains destined for the pot stills in the Still House were then bagged and carried over to the Still House. Mashing and fermentation took place in the Fermentation building in large steel vats. After fermentation was complete, the distiller's beer was pumped under the creek in a pipe into a concrete vat under the Still House. From there it was run through a column still (Woah! Woah! Whoa! Yea, your "pot still whiskey" took a trip through a *gasp* column still!). Here's where it get controversial. After running through the column still, it took a trip into what Michter's called a "pot still." Some may call it a "doubler", others a "thumper". But it was run in batch form and not continuous form like the column still, so Michter's felt it appropriate to call it a pot still- thus maintaining the "Pot Still Whiskey" name. I believe it was Sam Komlenic that called it "One of the most controversial pieces of distilling equipment..." during a walk through of the distillery about 7 years ago. But that's neither here nor there anymore. The main distilling equipment is all gone, falling victim to the scrappers torch during demolition of the Still Tower and Fermentation Building. Michter's also had a large spent mash drying and processing facility. Used fermented mash was pumped over to the Grain Drying Building where it was dried out in a process that included evaporators, dryers, and the addition of sweet syrup. The end result was excellent cattle feed that was happily gobbled up by local steers and cows.

So about that diagram. In order to convey to the tour taker the uniqueness of the Michter's distillation process, the entire process was explained in good detail using a large, easy to understand diagram. It had not only the process from grain to barrel, but even included how the spent mash was dried and prepared as cattle feed. Pipes connected stills and tanks to show flow and each component was clearly labeled. Here's a great old scan of a slide showing the chart:

Here's another during a tour:

Lastly, here's a photo of the column still (Behind the Still Operator) and the controversial pot still: