Understanding the fermentation process of alcohol
If like most people, you enjoy an occasional sip of small batch quality whiskey, or enjoy a glass of after-dinner bourbon, then you may have pondered on the question of what makes the alcohol that we drink into a tasty and enjoyable beverage.
Most alcohol fermentation involves sugar from fruit or other sources and a chemical chain reaction occurs. But the actual chemistry of making alcohol is a bit more technical. The process itself can be traced far back through history with cultures and civilizations like the Greeks, Romans, and ancient Mesopotamians all using fermentation to create alcoholic drinks.
Over the centuries different techniques like distilling were introduced to create stronger and more potent beverages. These early roots gave rise to spirits that we enjoy today like rum, brandy, and whiskey.
Depending on the product, the fermentation and distillation process and ingredients used can differ. Some products can use sugar cane or yeast as part of the fermentation while others use combinations of ingredients and enzymes to achieve the desired taste.
For example, in our moonshine mash, we use a high proportion of natural sugar cane making the substance very sweet to taste during the fermenting process, and for our corn-based whiskey and bourbon, the process is 100% corn fermented using enzymes.
What is fermentation?
In simple terms, fermentation is the breakdown of sugars into enzymes that produce bubbles or heat that turn the sugars into alcohol. The break down process that occurs creates the alcoholic properties and flavors associated with drinks like bourbon and moonshine.
Fermentation is a two-part process. In the first part, the sugars or glucose are broken down into and converted into carbon dioxide and ethanol. In the second part, the yeast used in the fermentation process dies off and the alcohol levels rise. If stronger drinks or ‘hard liquor’ is required, distillation is added to further increase the liquid’s alcohol content.
Distillation is the process of heating to evaporation and cooling. Water contained in the liquid will heat and evaporate faster than alcohol, leaving a more concentrated substance of alcohol.
Fermentation can be used to create alcoholic drinks but is also used to add flavor or preserve certain foods like cheese. In some cases, it is used to improve the nutritional properties of food or remove harmful elements.
Risks of fermentation
For fermentation to be done properly and produce a top-quality product there are some things that will need to be closely managed.
Any equipment used during the fermentation and distillation process needs to be scrupulously clean and sterilized to prevent contamination from bacteria.
Some alcohol will ferment better at specific or peak temperatures. Controlling the temperature of the liquid can affect the quality of the product, therefore the environment will need to be managed to maintain optimal conditions. If conditions are too cold the liquor can take longer to ferment. Too hot and the fermentation process will happen faster, but the quality and integrity of the product may be compromised.
Depending on the product the fermentation process can be different. Moonshine, bourbon, and whiskey fermentation will all require varied times, temperatures, and processes owing to the different ingredients and mash mix. Expert alcohol producers will understand the ideal conditions for each type of alcohol being fermented and monitor accordingly.