How It's Made - Corn Whiskey

More than three centuries ago, American bootleggers made corn whiskey by moonlight To avoid being detected  by the tax authorities, And so this whiskey became known as moonshine. Today, that whiskey has  emerged from the shadows of history And is produced legally, but people still call it moonshine. It was the nectar of outlaws -- Clear, fresh corn whiskey that's 50% alcohol, And centuries later, it still has a potent appeal. In Virginia, They still make this whiskey the traditional way, Allowing corn to germinate in a process called malting.
They mix a small amount of the malted kernels With regular corn in a big tank, Then funnel the mix into a mill. Inside this mill, automated hammers grind the mix To a cornmeal consistency. This frees some of the starch And exposes it to enzymes from the malted kernels. Those enzymes convert the starch to sugar. They'll use some of this ground corn To make a big batch of yeast. They add it to water in a tank And boil it until it becomes a thick soup. Once it reaches the desired consistency, They allow it to cool to room temperature. They add yeast and blow air into the mix to help the yeast grow, Making this one big batch of liquid yeast.

In another tank, a ton of corn Is being blended with water and boiled. This breaks down more of the starch, converting it to sugar. Once cooled, they pump the mix and the liquefied yeast Into the fermentation tank. Over a period of four days, The yeast turns the sugar to alcohol. The process also generates carbon dioxide, Which is vented into the atmosphere. Every so often, the brewmaster scoops up some liquid And scrutinizes it. If it looks too thick,
The conversion of sugar to alcohol is not yet complete. But when the viscosity is just right, They pump the batch into a big copper still. It's just like the type used To make moonshine in the backwoods centuries ago.

They heat it to 82 degrees celsius. At that temperature, alcohol will boil, but water will not. As the alcohol boils off the mix, It's recovered through a condenser. The recovered liquid is 80% alcohol. Talk about a stiff drink. So they add water to cut it down to about 50%, And then it's ready to bottle. To make a darker whiskey, they steep it With what looks like a big tea bag. It's actually wood chips wrapped in cheesecloth. The whiskey absorbs flavor and color from the wood Over a period of about two months. When the whiskey takes on a golden hue, They transfer it into oak barrels. They allow the whiskey to age for two years in a hot room.

The heat causes the whiskey to expand, Causing it to absorb the flavor of the wood, But the pressure can also cause cracks in the barrels, So the brewmaster routinely checks for leaks. After the whiskey has aged, They adjust the alcohol content by adding a little water. The water is always softened and filtered to remove minerals That could affect the whiskey's taste. At the bottling station, Machinery pumps the whiskey into the containers. There's no spillage, and not a drop goes to waste. Machinery then twists on the caps For an airtight seal that preserves the aroma and flavor Of this old-fashioned corn whiskey.

At the next station, robotic arms grab labels, Apply glue to them, then press them onto the bottles. It has taken a combination Of down-home methodology and modern technology To prepare this old-fashioned American whiskey for market. And whether it's aged or fresh, This historic whiskey is sure to set the taste buds ablaze.

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