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What is Craft & Distillation?

CRAFT SPIRITS EXCHANGE is the world’s first online community and marketplace that showcases craft, artisanal and other high-quality spirits. Our mission is to connect enthusiasts and novices alike with a broad selection of amazing spirits, and provide exclusive access to rare and limited release products from around the world.

So what is a “craft spirit”? While there is no legal definition for the term, enthusiasts often associate it with batch size, type of still or yearly production. However, we at CSX take a broader approach, and believe a spirit can be considered craft if it showcases quality, attention to detail, the producer’s passion and perhaps tradition or history—no matter how much or how little of it is made each year. With this definition, small batch Bourbon from a global producer is just as much craft as aged rum from a family-run distillery that owns only one pot still. Keep in mind that small batch does not automatically translate to top quality; on the flip side, excluding small distilleries that have flourished and expanded to larger scale production means you’re missing out on some great products.

Our online community is eager to share its thoughts on the aromas, flavors, finish and mix-ability of our entire ever-expanding catalog of spirits. Through member reviews and tasting notes, fans can glean suggestions and opinions and decide for themselves what constitutes “craft.”  Above all, CRAFT SPIRITS EXCHANGE is a platform of discovery for spirits, cocktails, trends, events and more. We invite you to grab a glass and join us.

What is Distillation?

Distillation is the process of creating a spirit by boiling a fermented liquid to separate the alcohol (ethanol) from the water. Distillation makes use of the fact that ethanol boils at a lower temperature (173o F) than water (2120 F). During distillation, which depending on the spirit may occur once or several times, alcohol vapor is collected in a condenser, cooled so it returns to its liquid state, and then either matured or bottled.

  • Any ingredient that can be fermented can be distilled into a spirit, including grapes, pears, plums, sugar cane and cherries, all of which have fermentable sugars. Some ingredients, including agave, potatoes and grains, have starch that needs to be converted to sugar before they can be fermented and distilled.

    The first step in making a spirit is to make a fermented beverage from the base ingredient, which may or may not be drinkable. If the base is a fruit or vegetable, it is typically crushed and added along with yeast to a fermenting tank. In the case of grain-based spirits, most often whiskey, the mixture of grains is called a mash bill, and when its starch is converted to sugar and it’s ready for fermentation it’s called a wort. Yeast feed on the sugars, and produce two by-products: carbon dioxide and alcohol.

    After fermentation, which results in a low-alcohol product with an ABV similar to that of beer or wine, the beverage is ready to be distilled into a spirit by heating the liquid to the boiling point. It’s important to keep in mind that distillation does note technically create alcohol. Rather, it concentrates the alcohol that is already present in the fermented beverage by removing the water, therefore creating a much higher proof spirit.

  • There are two basic kinds of stills that can be used in distillation:

    Pot stills create spirits one batch at a time, and usually result in lower-proof spirits that are full of character (including whiskey and some rums.) Pot stills typically require several pot distillations to produce a spirit with enough strength.

    Continuous or column stills can continually produce a large quantity of spirits. They can be used for high-proof spirits and neutral spirits like vodka, as well as lower-strength spirits.

    Distillation (especially in a pot still), produces different kinds of alcohol. First to come off the still are the foreshots, which contains poisonous and bad tasting components and are discarded. The heads come off next, which can add character in smaller doses, so they can be kept, discarded or used in the next batch. The hearts, also called the middle run, contain the alcohol that’s desired and is kept and collected. Finally, the tales are the last to be distilled, which are low in alcohol but do not have a desired flavor, so they are either discarded or added to the next batch.

    All distillates come off the still crystal clear and dry.  Afterwards, they may or may not be matured in oak barrels. Whether or not it’s aged, a spirit may be blended with others spirits to assure a consistent style, as well as be flavored, colored or reduced with water before bottling.

Any ingredient that can be fermented can be distilled into a spirit, including grapes, pears, plums, sugar cane and cherries, all of which have fermentable sugars. Some ingredients, including agave, potatoes and grains, have starch that needs to be converted to sugar before they can be fermented and distilled.

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