The whisky industry knows a lot of distillation technology but today (30th of Juli 2016) I got introduced to a distillation technology that could change the distillation landscape forever. The distillation technically is based on realtime identification of individual congeners during distillation and allowing them to the final product or not.
The technology behind this has been developed by Thieu Smakman, Head Distiller of the Turv Exloo distillery in the Netherlands. He got his idea for his distillation technique from the molecular cooking technology used by El Bulli. Identifying each flavour component and recombining them in new ways to produce a new tasting experience.
Smakman explained how he selected congeners from a distillation run. First a short recap for how spirits can be distilled using “Cuts”.
Uncut (no pun intended)
The total Distillation is used in the final spirit. This is not normally done by whisky makers that have some understanding of production.
The foreshot, middle cut and feints are generally identified as being three time stages in a Distillation process. When the foreshot is seperated, only one cut is made.
This is the “normal” way in which I know a distillery works. Separating the foreshot and the feints. Only the middle cut is used in the final spirit. This is an oversimplification because most distillation feeds some of the feints and foreshot back in the pot still.
Other distillers also identify three separate sections in the middle cut, called heads, hearts and tails.
Selecting between the cuts is made in a classic spirit save. At “the right time” the spout is swivelled, thereby altering the flow of the spirit to another receiver. At the “end” of the run the spout is moved away again.
N + 1 cuts
So in “Normal” distillation the most flavours are selected from the “middle cut” or “hearts”. The other cuts are normally rejected but even these have congeners in them that are favourable for having in a final dram. These are not available for other distilleries because that would mean the distiller would need to swivel the spout multiple times during a run. This is not done, but with “Selective Congener Distillation” this is done and the favours become available.
How? In layman’s terms Smakman can identify the Congener he wants, allow it to his final product or redirect it if he doesn’t want it. All real time throughout the entire distillation run. In this way he both optimises the flavours but also the efficiency of the use of each mash. How many cuts can he make? As many as he wants. 2, 6, 125? (N +1). All possible.
How does he identify the Congeners? You will need to find that out for yourself by visiting his distillery because that part Smakman did not explain! (he sorta did to me but not in detail, but I think I understand how.)
What “Selective Congener Distillation” also allows is making multiple spirits from the same mash. With one mash and different cutting points the outcome of the dram can be manipulated.
All these options, combined with the pot still, followed by two column stills and a condenser allow Smakman a flexibility that the Scottish distillers can only dream of! He can choose to distill his spirit for at least ones, but then up-to 101 times in one run if he wants to. (column still have multiple plates in them. At each plate the spirit condensates and evaporates) You will figure out how when you visit his distillery but if you look at the photos you can get an idea too!
I was given the option to taste from this still the flow of spirit at multiple times in the 2,5 hours of distillation. The result of the run changed each minute and even the fore shot tasted amazing. Even the 93% ABV (no error in typing) spirit that flowed from the still to my finger to my mouth was incredibly smooth, fruity and not at all fiery or bitter.
Is “Selective Congener Distillation” an official term? Nope, I thought it up! I just like the sound of it.