While we are passionate about all of our spirits at Finger Lakes Distilling, we get very excited when it comes to making whiskey. Whiskey makes up about 80% of our total production. As with everything we produce, it all starts with great, local ingredients. We work with local farmers to identify the types of grains we need grown exclusively for our whiskeys.
Once the raw material arrives at the distillery, we move it to our grain bins via our transport auger. The grain is then moved to a giant hopper, as needed, before we grind it to a course flour with our hammer mill. Crushed grain is sent through a flexible auger to our cooker where hot water and backset await its arrival. Backset is the liquid from the previous distillation and by using it, we are considered a sour mash distillery. The backset acidifies the mash, making an ideal environment for fermentation. The grain is cooked in the kettle and malt is added to convert the complex starches in the grains into simple sugars. The mash is cooled and then pumped to one of our fermenters. Yeast is added which kicks off fermentation. Over the next 2-3 days, the yeast will convert the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Once fully fermented, we will have a solution that is 6-8% alcohol which is then pumped to our still. Most of our whiskeys are distilled in our 25 foot continuous still. The mash, or beer as we call it, is pumped to the top of the still where it is pre-heated. It then enters the still and makes its way down a series of perforated trays. As it descends the column, steam enters the bottom of the still and rises through the trays, extracting alcohol and flavor from the beer. The vapors are then sent through a copper thumper for a subsequent distillation, before going through a condenser that turns them back into liquid. Our whiskeys are distilled to a lower proof than most on the market, preserving more flavor from the grain.
The spirit collected through distillation is called white dog at this stage of the process. The white dog may be cut to desired strength and bottled, like with our corn whiskey. Most of our whiskey is sent to charred, oak barrels, however. The spirit picks up color and flavor from resting in the oak casks. We age our whiskeys at 100 proof, again getting some different flavors than most commercial whiskeys that age from 110-125 proof.
Our aging programs vary from product-to-product, but most of our whiskey is aged in standard 53 gallon barrels, specially made with 36 month, air-dried staves from Missouri. A portion of the product is lost to evaporation, or the angel’s share, over time. Barrels are tested for maturity, married together, and then the whiskey is cut to bottle strength and then packaged by hand at our distillery.