Shouldn’t you always strain your mash before distilling it? What is “on the grain” distilling? Meredith breaks down answers to listener questions in this quick minicast.
Our last episode (Ep 48: Whiskey, Women, and Walgreens) sparked messages from listeners telling us we’d made a mistake when we talked about putting mash into a still to make whiskey. Mash, they insisted, should always be strained so you only put liquid — also called “the wash” — into a still and never the solids.
And they’re partially right. To makes *some* kinds of whiskey and whisky, you absolutely SHOULD distill only the wash after lautering (separating) it from the mash solids.
But that’s not true for all. Putting the mash liquids AND solids in the still is a method called “distilling on the grain,” and — when done properly — it produces richer flavored, higher proof bourbon and rye whiskeys. This method has been used all of the world for millennia, and Americans have been perfecting it for the last 300 years.
Distilling on the grain requires more skill and is certainly more risky than distilling the wash. If you don’t have a still that lets you carefully control the heat, the solids will burn quickly — and that will render the whiskey bitter, charred, and undrinkable. That’s why on the grain distillers use special, steam-based stills called column, continuous, or chamber stills.
What’s more, many non-grain based spirits depend on distilling solids. Examples include mezcal, tequila’s cousin made by distilling chunks of the agave plant, and many kinds of rum.
Use the links below to learn more about on the grain distilling and the stills used to do it.