How Whiskey, Aquavit Are Made (Slideshow)

We toured House Spirits Distillery to show you how exactly whiskeys, vodka, and aquavit come about

Half of the House Spirits Production Facility

Jessica Chou

Whiskey barrels, your three tanks of malt beer, and tanks to distill whiskey, gin, and aquavit.

Distilled Whiskey

Jessica Chou

After being distilled in these tanks (whiskey gets two runs to purify), the final spirit comes out clear. "This is the pure stuff of whiskey right here, before it’s put in the barrel [where it gets its color]," distiller Miles Munroe said. "So many people are just so perplexed that it’s clear."

The Whiskey Process

Jessica Chou

"Basically, one of these giant tanks of beer wash, 600 or 700 gallons of beer [on the back wall], after running through the still twice, will get about 53 gallons of spirits," he said.

Pure Ethanol

Jessica Chou

While House Spirits’ whiskey is made from a very basic malt beer, the rest of their spirits begin as a neutral grain spirits (basically ethanol). "The reason we get the ethanoln is because we’re not equipped to turn out a high volume of this," Munroe said. 

Aviation American Gin

Jessica Chou

The two largest tanks, 1,600 gallons each, are both dedicated to gin. The ethanol steeps in the first one, is distilled in the second one, and then is blended before being moved to another tank to get it down to bottling proof. 

Gin After Steeping

Jessica Chou

The two largest tanks, 1,600 gallons each, are both dedicated to gin. The ethanol steeps in the first one, is distilled in the second one, and then is blended before being moved to another tank to get it down to bottling proof. 

Gin After Distilling

Jessica Chou

"So once we distill it out, we leave behind the colors and the solids," Munroe said. "With gin, people generally expect their gin to be clear, unless it’s an Old Tom gin."

Vodka

Jessica Chou

The vodka, which is bottling here, also begins as pure ethanol, but after filtration through charred coconut husk charcoal, it takes on a creamy mouthfeel.

Filtering

Jessica Chou

To smooth out the alcohol, distillers pack these tubes with charcoal made from charred coconut husks, and run the alcohol through the charcoal for 96 hours. "It takes about five days all together," Munroe said. "Activated charcoal has an ionic charge to it, and a lot of these congeners have an opposite charge so they will attach themselves to the charcoal." 

Aquavit

Jessica Chou

House Spirits is one of the few producers of Scandinavian favorite aquavit in the States. The main spices are caraway and star anise, which they’ll steep for a week to capture all the flavors and oils.

Aquavit Bins

Jessica Chou

Following steeping, the aquavit is then aged for nine to 10 months in used pinot noir barrels.