Wednesday, August 31, 2011

From the Ground, Up: Bourbon Production Part II

[the previous installment discussed the grains, the preparation of the mash, and the fermentation process used in the making of McKenzie Bourbon]

The fermentation process for our bourbon takes about three days— that's when the yeast converts the sugar produced from the mashing process into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and heat. During this time, the creation of carbon dioxide causes the mash to bubble and froth. When the yeast has fully metabolized the sugar, the mash, which is now termed a distillers beer, is pumped through a hose into the pot still.

Our beautiful still is a pot and a column still and was designed by our Master Distiller and made by Holstein in Markdorf, Germany. It can hold 300 gallons of bourbon mash, which translates into roughly 30 gallons of bourbon per run. To distill bourbon mash, we use only the pot still; the column is used for some of our other spirits like vodka and gin.

The science behind distillation is simple: the boiling point of alcohol is lower than that of water. So when the pot is surrounded by a hot jacket of steam, the alcohol evaporates while the mash liquids and solids are left behind. When the vapors are then chilled, the alcohol re-condenses into a very concentrated, clear whiskey (also called white dog) of 120 proof, or 60% alcohol. The whole process of double-pot distillation takes about 7 hours.

After the mash is distilled twice it is ready to be transferred to barrels for aging. Left behind in the still is the spent corn/rye/barley and water mixture, which is no longer alcoholic. We give some of this to a cattle farmer up the road to feed to his livestock, while we save some to use as backset to use in the sour mash process (see the Bourbon Production Part I for an explanation of this process).

So, the barrels. In bourbon production, the specifics of the barrels used for aging are extremely important. In order for a whiskey to be legally classified as bourbon, it needs to be aged in new, charred, American oak barrels. What that means is that once we've used our barrels once for bourbon, we cannot re-use them for whiskey and still call it bourbon. Many large-scale American distilleries will sell their once-used bourbon barrels to Scotland, where distilleries can use them to age Scotch. We use ours a second time to age our Maplejack, as well as for other products that are in the works. Our barrels are hand-crafted by coopers in Missouri and Minnesota.

The newly distilled whiskey is mixed with some water to lower the proof, and is then transferred into barrels. Right now we are using mostly 10-gallon barrels to age our Bourbon, so that the aging process is expedited and we can produce a nicely aged whiskey in less than 2 years. After about 12-18 months in the barrels, we transfer the now caramel-colored whiskey into Chardonnay casks from local wineries, which gives the bourbon a chance to breathe. We are also putting up several standard 53 gallon barrels for extended aging. Some of this whiskey is now going on 3 years old and is showing lots of promise (yes, we check in on it routinely!)

After a month in Chardonnay, we smell and taste the nearly-complete McKenzie Bourbon to make sure it is ready to be bottled, labeled, and put on the shelves. At this point it will have the tasting components that you're already familiar with, our signature buttery, smooth bourbon. And voila, there you have it- McKenzie Bourbon, from the ground up!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer in the Finger Lakes

There are lots of ways to enjoy the summer months- but in the Finger Lakes region in particular, it seems like a crime not to take in the beauty of the season with some outdoor adventures. As you plan your summer visit to our tasting room (of course!), check out some of these other wonderful Finger Lakes attractions right outside our doors—

On your way to the Windmill Farm and Craft Market in Penn Yan, just 30 minutes from FLD, you are more likely to see horse and buggy traffic than hear the impatient honking of car horns. The market is open every Saturday from April through December, and is frequented by Amish and Mennonite vendors from around the state.The maze of tented shops feature everything from fresh food and produce to handmade crafts. And if you really want to get into the spirit of the market, you can even take a ride on a horse-pulled buggy! (Check 'em out online:

There's nothing quite as refreshing as cooling down from the summer heat with some fun on Seneca Lake. There are numerous agencies offering kayaks, jet skis, and boats for rent, in addition to various cruises around the lake. The True Love Schooner, which has been sailing the Caribbean since 1950 and was featured in the 1956 film "Love Boat" with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, has hung up its pioneering jib and is now available for daytime, sunset, and private sails around the Lake. (

As you may have heard, the Finger Lakes are gorges. Bad puns aside, the entire area is covered with deep and winding gorges, complete with walking and biking trails, waterfalls, and swimming holes. In Watkins Glen State Park, just a few miles away from FLD, you'll find the tremendous Glen gorge and all the walking trails and camp grounds that go with it- perfect for a break from the wine trail, for a day hike or picnic.

Similarly, Taughannock Falls sits 25 miles from FLD and boasts one of the highest falls east of the Rockies. There you can hike and swim, as well as bring in some food to grill and picnic. And Saturday nights during the summer, a $5 parking pass gets you into the park for weekly concerts! (see the schedule:

And speaking of live music, Wagner Vineyards, a winery and brewery just up the road from FLD, has a great Friday night concert series, called Friday Nights on the Brewdeck. From 8-11pm you can dance the night away to the fun bands that play on the brew deck overlooking the lake, and you can buy some Wagner wine or beer to sip while you sway. A fun Friday night for the whole family. (

The bottom line: there is tons to do in the Finger Lakes right outside the Distillery's doors, aside from the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. If you're headed this way, check out some of these awesome outdoor activities, and find more suggestion online at

And of course, between outings and wine tastings, stop by our tasting room to 'un-wine'!