By Natalie Dale, Distiller
The Birth of a Spirit
As with winemaking and beer brewing, the process of making spirits begins with fermentation, the process by which yeast creates alcohol as it digests sugar. With whiskey, for example, yeast feeds on sugars from grain. After fermentation is complete, the new alcohol is transferred to a still. During distillation, the liquid is heated to the boiling point of alcohol and the vapor is captured and condensed. This happens several times, depending on what, exactly, we are making. Our vodka, for example, goes through several distillations. Think of it as a process of purification.
The product of distillation is a high-alcohol spirit that then undergoes further transformation.
It's All About the Water
Water makes up the majority of a spirit after distillation is complete. Because it plays such a key role, making up more than 60 percent of a spirit, the water itself, its source and its purity, is essential in crafting a delicate spirit. Water has its own character, which is why it is impossible to replicate a spirit in a location other than where it was first made. Water carries within it that elusive quality known as taste of place, or terroir.
Water is added to achieve a desired percentage of alcohol, which is expressed as "proof" on a label. When a label says 60 proof, for example, the spirit contains 40 percent alcohol.
When a label indicates a spirit includes botanicals, it means plants or fruit with aromatic properties have been used to create the spirit's flavor profile. This is done by extracting the essential oils from seeds, flowers, fruit and leaves and may involve two different processes. One is similar to distillation, as botanicals are macerated/ steeped (much as tea is steeped in water) in alcohol and then distilled. In the other process, the botanicals are extracted when alcohol vapor is passed through a basket (the tea bag) that contains the botanicals.
The process of extracting essential oils is an exact science, as each botanical reacts in its own unique way. It is more akin to alchemy, with a bit of mystery to it. It is the true art of the distiller and the aspect of producing spirits that I find most compelling.
A Classic Style
At Great Women Spirits, we highlight women of history, with each spirit telling the story of a specific woman. Because of this approach, it makes sense to focus on classic styles and not attempt to invent new spirits. Our spirits are traditional and have stood the test of time; some of our recipes have their roots in the 1700s.
The women we feature were trailblazers of their time, talented and authentic pioneers. We have created our classic spirits in tribute to them.