Developing a Flavor Profile

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When contemplating your flavor profile it is important understand how each part of the process can affect the flavor.

Table of Processes

This is not a complete list of all process at each point, but does cover the major ideas. Each item listed can have an effect the flavor of your spirit, some more than others. For beginners it is important to understand all these pieces exist. For more advanced distillers you can deep dive into each one to create the flavor profile you want.

Process Whiskey Rum Vodka/neutral spirit Brandy/Eau de vie Gin/Genever/Absinthe
Raw Material Selection Grains, Phenols of grains, Malting Sugars, Molasses Grains, Sugar, potatoes Fruit, Grape Grains, Sugar, Maceration
Mashing Mashing, Saccharification, Enzyme, pH, Specific Gravity Wash, pH, Specific Gravity Wash, pH, Specific Gravity Wash, pH, Specific Gravity Mashing, Saccharification, Enzyme, pH, Specific Gravity
Fermenting Yeast, Esters, Open/Closed fermenting, Sour Mashing, Muck pit, pH, Specific Gravity Yeast, Esters, Open/Closed fermenting, Muck pit, pH, Specific Gravity Yeast, pH, Specific Gravity Yeast, pH, Specific Gravity Yeast, pH, Specific Gravity
1st Distillation aka Stripping or Wash Run Still, Cuts, Esters, ABV, Thumper Still, Cuts, Esters, ABV, Thumper Still, Cuts, Esters, ABV, Still, Cuts, Esters, ABV, Still, Cuts, Esters, ABV, Vapor Infusion
Low wines Phase Separation, Sour Mashing, Muck Pit Phase Separation, Muck Pit Phase Separation Maceration Maceration
2nd Distillation aka Spirit Run Still, Cuts, Esters, ABV, Thumper Still, Cuts, Esters, ABV, Thumper Still, Cuts, Esters, ABV, Still, Cuts, Esters, ABV, Still, Cuts, Esters, ABV, Vapor Infusion
Aging, Maturation, Flavoring Barrel (Woods for aging, Toasting, Charring, Phenols, Tannins, Lactones, Aldehyde), Esters Barrel (Woods for aging, Toasting, Charring, Phenols, Tannins, Lactones, Aldehyde), Esters Maceration, Flavoring, Cordials and Liqueurs Barrel (Woods for aging, Toasting, Charring, Phenols, Tannins, Lactones, Aldehyde), Esters Maceration, Flavoring

Naming Standards

Spirits are named for the base materials or the process used to create them. Spirits named for the the raw materials used to create fermentable wort: Grains make Whiskey, Molasses and Molasses derived sugars make Rum, Grapes make Brandy or Cognac, Other fruits make Eau de vie. Vodka and neutral spirits don't have a traditional material used to create it, but anything that is distilled to over 90% ABV can be considered as such. Hybrids do exist in the home distilling world. Hybrids - sugar based washes with flavorings added, are referred to as Sugarheads. Sugarheads should be processed as either Whiskey/Rums or Eau de vie, depending on their flavorings. They are not dealt with separately in this article.

Newmake or White Dog Spirit flavor

Ethanol alcohol is naturally sweet tasting. When distilling the hearts should taste sweet with a noticeable flavor of the raw material. Gin, Genever and Absinthe will likely not taste as sweet due to bittering ingredients. Some darker grains will make whiskeys taste slightly less sweet. For Fruit based distillates any bitter fruit will reduce the sweetness. Vodka and other neutrals should have little flavor of the base material but will still taste sweet.

ABV of distillation

Pot Stills

For simple pot stills the initial run will be ~60% ABV. The second and third runs can reach 80% or higher. It is difficult to achieve higher than 80% for very long on a pot still. More distillations reduce the flavor. Pot stills are for flavor rich spirits like whiskey, rums and Eau de vie.

Plated Reflux Stills

Plated Reflux stills can be dialed in to achieve a specific ABV on any given run. For plated stills the more plates used the lower the flavor and higher the ABV will be. Heavier flavored spirits, like Whiskey, Rum and Eau de vie, will use 1-4 plates. More neutral spirits like vodka will use a larger number of plates to remove flavor and increase ABV. Commercial Vokda stills will have ~20 plates.

Packed Column Reflux Stills

Like Plated Columns, Packed Columns can be dialed in to achieve a specific ABV on any given run. Packed Columns use HETP to calculate purity and ABV. These types of still are more commonly use for neutrals but can still produce great whiskeys and rums.

Basic Flavor Profile: Whiskey

Newmake spirit will taste lightly sweet to sweet with a grainy flavor. Whiskeys will be distilled 1-3 times, with two being the most common. The more the whiskey is distilled the lighter and cleaner the flavor.

ABV newmake: typically 60-80% ABV (120-160 proof)
Bottling ABV: 40-60% ABV (60-120 proof), above 55% ABV can be considered Cask Strength.

Basic Flavor Profile: Rum

Newmake spirit will taste sweet with a light to heavy molasses flavor. There are two major categories to Rum, light rum that has light flavor (Cuban Style Rum), and heavier rums (Jamaican Rum) that are heavy with esters. Lighter rums will be run on a reflux still or distilled 2-3 times on a pot still. Heavier Rums will be run on a pot still twice. Rums can also be made on a retort still with 1-3 retorts. If so only one run through a retort still is normal.

Newmake ABV: typically 60-80% ABV (120-160 proof)
Bottling ABV: 40-60% ABV (60-120 proof), above 55% ABV can be considered Cask Strength.

Basic Flavor Profile: Vodka/Neutral spirit

Newmake spirit will taste sweet with little flavor from the raw materials used to create it. Vodka and other neutrals are run on a reflux still to obtain very high alcohol levels and to minimize flavor. While a vodka can be run on a pot still it is difficult to obtain the high alcohol content and cleanliness of flavor.

ABV newmake: typically 90-95% ABV (180-190 proof), most producers seek to hit the azeotropic limit.
Bottling ABV: 40-80% ABV (80-160 proof)

Basic Flavor Profile: Brandy/Eau de vie

Newmake spirit will taste sweet with a medium to light flavor of the fruit used to make it. As with rum, lighter brandies will be run on a reflux still or distilled 2-3 times on a pot still.

Newmake ABV: typically 60-80% ABV (120-160 proof)
Bottling ABV: 20-40% ABV (40-80 proof)

Basic Flavor Profile: Gin/Genever/Absinthe

Newmake spirit will taste lightly sweet to sweet with a light to strong flavor of the constituent materials used to create it. Gin and Absinthe normally starts as a neutral spirit that is macerated and then redistilled or vapor infused with flavor. Genever (aka Whiskey style) is a maceration with a source material (grain, sugar) and fermented. It generally yields a heavier flavor. It will be distilled in a reflux still or twice in a pot still.

Newmake ABV: typically 60-80% ABV (120-160 proof) for maceration.
Bottling ABV: Gin is 40% ABV (80 proof), Absinthe can be 40% ABV (80 proof) or higher.

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