Thursday, August 1, 2013

History of the column still

Coffey still
Whisky can be distilled in column or pot stills. Grain whiskies are usually distilled in the faster and more economical column stills, which produce light or almost neutral spirit opposed to the heavier malt whiskies produced usually in pot stills. 

Distilling wine was invented in northern Italy during the 11th century, although the Arabs and the Alexandrians had probably used distillation before that to produce infusions and concotions, perhaps even as early as in the 1st century AD. The early stills were simple pot stills with a collection pot. The apparatus was often made of clay and/or copper, sometimes partly of wood, even of leather. The shape of still was usually onion-like; wide bottom to enable efficient and fast heating and narrower head to enable condensation and collection. Some kind of worm was used from the beginning, but efficient water cooling was probably invented as late as in the 18th century. The knowledge of distillation spread through Europe and Russia during the 14th and 15th centuries and malt spirits were probably distilled in Britain and Ireland at least from the late 15th century. The design of the stills remained quite constant from the 11th to the 19th century, although there were numerous experiments with different shapes. The onion pot still however remained the still of choice until the early 19th century. Heating was provided by a naked flame, often by wood fire in southern Europe, but more often by peat in the north and after the 17th century by coal.

Water-jacketed still was invented in 1526 by Paracelsus (alias Theophrastus Philippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim the Swiss) and it became known as the Baine Marie or balneum Mariae among the alchemists. The water bath allowed the still to be indirectly heated, thus preventing the wash from burning on the bottom of the still and allowing the distillation of pomace and other thicker washes. The risk of cracking stills, especially made of clay, was also diminished by indirect heating. The fractionating system was invented as early as 1553 by German chemist Philip Ulstadius, but it did not possess any significant advantages for spirit distillers and was used primarily by (al)chemists.

The condenser was improved by a German chemist Christian Ehrenfried Weigel in 1771. He placed the worm into a tube, which was cooled by circulating cold water. The invention was named Liebig condenser. Later an englishman William Grimble invented the tube condenser 1825 and it was later improved and distirbuted widely by the Dutch still-manufacturer Armand Savalle.

The Woulfe bottle
The evolution of the still gained pace during the early years of 19th century, especially in France. An illiterate French workman Edouard Adam from Rouen attended chemistry lectures given by professor Laurent Solimani. Adam understood that the principles of the Woulfe bottle, invented by Angelo Saluzzo and used in chemistry, might also work for alcohol distilling and in 1801 invented and patented the first still to produce alcohol in one operation. In principle, that was the first working column still, although the "column" was placed horizontally and consisted of several chambers or pots. It allowed single distillation for high alcohol spirit, more effective heat exchange and relatively simple fractioning of the spirit. Mr Adam was however not successful in commercializing his invention and several distillers, including Solimani, Bérard, Barré, Brugniére, Pistorius and Carbonel, built either direct copies or similar stills with just minor modifications. The three distilleries built by Adam were not successful and he died poor in 1807.

Nääsi distillery, late 19th century Finland.
Pistorius still on the right, Savalle still at the back
Pistorius improved the Woulfe bottle principle and patented his still in 1817. It had many properties of a modern column still; the wort was fed into the rectifying part of the system and divided by the steam rising from the lower pots into alcohols, feints and the rest was piped to be redistilled in the lower pots. The rectifying plates are unique, but quite efficient allowing good reflux but also thick worts. The Pistorius still was used in central Europe and Scandinavia throughout the 19th century.

Armagnac still
The first truly continuous still was made by Fournier, who used two columns, which were heated alternately and fitted with valves for removing the residues. Professor Solimani introduced indirect steam heating for an modified Adam still in 1814 in his own distillery. French Jean Baptiste Cellier Blumenthal invented the first practical continuous still in 1808 and patented it in 1813. Basically he combined Adam's principle of multiple distilling/rectifying chambers, the early ideas of fractionation by Ulstadius, preheating and the vertical columns and the residue removal of Fournier. The apparatus still had a pot still, but the wine was feeded straight from the top of the column while vapours rose from the pot to the vertical distilling column, which had 9 perforated rectifying plates. Thus the distilling column was cooled with wine, which was simultaneously preheated for the distillation. The first stills were built by Cellier and a Dutch sugar-trader Armand Savalle, later to become a global still-manufacturer. The patent was improved with fractionating plates and draff/residue outlets and sold to Parisian apothecary Louis-Charles Derosne in 1818, who succeeded in commercializing the product. Savalle and his family continued with the original apparatus and sold them to various distilleries around the world. Some of their stills are still in use at rum, brandy and neutral spirit distilleries. Many eau-de-vie, armagnac and bourbon distillers adopted a cross-over between column and pot stills. The wort is boiled in the pot and rectified in single column with a lot of reflux.

Savalle still in Demerara Distillery, Guyana
In England a version of the Cellier Blumenthal still was patented in 1815 by relatively unknown Mr. Dihl, but it did not gain commercial success at the time. In the same year James Miller patented a system for preheating the wash in the worm cooler and in 1818 Joseph Corty described a still with double pots and a Pistorius-like condesenser-reflux-system. So basically all the pieces for working continuous still were available in Britain in the late 1810s. In Ireland the big pot stills ruled, although there were some experiments made with continuous distilling. John Stein at Clonmel distillery developed a triple still, basically just three stills attached to each other and Joseph Shee of Cork had a quadruple pot still, in which the first pot acted as a steam source. In 1822 Irish Andrew Perrier patented his vertical continuous still, which strongly resembled the Fournier and Cellier Blumenthal stills and by 1823 a French immigrant, a veterinary surgeon Jean-Jacques Saintmarc build a variation of the Adam still. The Saintmarc's potato spirit was not a success in England and he advanced into Ireland in 1825 and marketed grain whisky distilled with a continuous column still, but that was considered "too pure". It was until 1828 that the first commercially successful column still was built on the British Isles as Robert Stein, a member of the Stein-Haig distilling family, patented his column still. It had three preheaters and steam boiled in a separate vessel was used to heat the wash, which was intermittently sprayed by pistons into a series of chambers. The chambers were divided by crude cloths (probably haircloths). The cloth permeated ethanol well, but less so water and solubles, therefore acting both as a rectifier and a filter. It enabled large amounts of distillate to be produced in a single run and improved the heat economy compared to the pot stills. The process had to be stopped for discarding the excess oily residue, so it was not exactly continuous operation. Surprisingly the Steins used only malted barley in their Kirkliston distillery for several decades, despite the fact that most of the output was sold for gin manufacturers.

Aeneas Coffey (1780-1852)
The French-born Irishman Aeneas Coffey had retired from excise officers duty in 1824 and bought into Dodder Bank distillery in Dublin. He also managed the South King Street distillery (1828) and the Dock distillery (1834) in Dublin. The first Coffey stills were made of wood and iron and consisted of a single column, but copper plates and metallic columns quickly became the norm, most likely because of the better malleability and spirit quality. By the time Coffey patented his still design in 1830, he had introduced perforated copper plates for rectifying and pipes to remove the residual oils during distillation. During the 1830s the system was divided into two columns as it was easier to manufacture, it had better rectifying qualities as well as better heat economy. Numerous designs for rectifying plates were later introduced, although the most common was the bubble cap design. The Irish distillers trusted their big pot stills and only some Northern Irish distillers experimented with the Coffey stills, first in Derry by Andrew Alexander Watt's Abbey Street Distillery in 1833 and later in Belfast at Avoniel distillery (1882) , The Irish distillery, The Royal Irish distillery (the 1890s) and and at Dundalk (the 1880s?) distillery just south of the present border. As his stills were not selling in Ireland, Coffey moved his business to London. The first Scottish whisky distillery to install Coffey still was Grange in 1834 and during the next few years Inverkeithing, Bonnington and Cambus followed. Aeneas Coffey Jr tried his hand at Lewisham distillery, London in 1840, but was not successful and the Coffeys established themselves as still makers. At first the columns stills were used by rectifiers and gin distillers, but during the mid-1840s the Scottish distillers really started building Coffey stills.

Cameron BridgeStein1830
Port DundasCoffey1845
North BritishCoffey1885
The Scottish patent still whisky distilleries founded in 19th century

The column still was much more efficient compared to the traditional pot still, producing higher proof (usually 86-95% ABV) spirit about ten times more in volume compared to medium sized pot still distillery. Since the malting, heating and maintenance costs were a fraction of those of a malt distillery, the column still grain spirit cost about 50-70% less compared to pot still malt whisky, even if the set-up costs were included. The northern Britons were not used to the light column still whisky and at the beginning large quantities were sold to rectifiers and gin distillers, who spiced the spirit and sold it as gin or imitation brandy or cognac. As shown in the figure below, the English rectifiers and distillers quickly adopted the Coffey still, but the more traditionalist Irish and Scots remained loyal to the pot still at least to some extent.
(Weir 1995)
During the latter part of the 19th century several factors caused the rise of the column still whisky. Branding and advertising became important at about the middle of the 19th century Britain. Several traders begun blending the products of different distilleries and sold them under their own labels. Blending enabled the inclusion of raw grain column still spirits into the mix and on the other hand blended whisky was easier to sell in the big English markets used to lighter non-smoky spirits. The column distillers began to control their pricing, the first price cartel was formed in 1856 and by the 1890's the century the DCL controlled all but most column distilleries and had a virtual monopoly during the 20th century. The tax reform in 1860 raised the taxation of foreign spirits and fortified wines and allowed commercial yeast manufacturing in the distilleries, which became a substantial source of revenue for the grain distillers towards the turn of the century.

Barnard A. The whisky distilleries of the United Kingdom. Birlin ltd 1887
Forbes, RJ. Short history of the art of distillation. Brill 1948
House, J. Pride of Perth, Bell's 1976
Kaukoranta, A. Sulfiittispriiteollisuus Suomessa. Polar 1981
Kauppila, O. Rajamäen tehtaat. Painokaari 1988
Laver, J. The house of Haig, Haig 1958
Morewood S. A philosophical and statistical history of the inventions and customs of ancient and modern nations in the manufacture and use of inebriating liquors. Longman 1838.
Nettleton, W. The manufacture of spirits. London 1893
Townsend B. Scotch missed. Angel's share 2000.
Townsend B. The lost distilleries of Ireland, Neil Wilson 1997
Udo M. The Scottish whisky distilleries. Black&White Publishing 2006.
Weir, RB. The history of the Distillers Company 1877-1939, Oxford Univ Press 1995
A modern Coffey still in North British distillery

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Finnish whisky

Early 20th century wine and spirit store in Turku (Marli)
Finland was occupied by Russia in 1808-1809 and the imports of all neutral spirits (paloviina) were prohibited by the Finnish senate under the new Russian order in 1809 (revised in 1859 and 1889). The imports of whisky were prohibited too, as most of the Finnish customs officers classified whisky as neutral spirit. Cognac was
One of the first Finnish whisky ads 29.5.1904
allowed and marketed at least from the 1820s, although much of it was probably coloured and/or spiced neutral spirits imported from Estonia, Germany and Sweden.

The English traders complained in 1901 that customs of Finland were not fair as imports of cognac were allowed, but not of whisky. It was until 27.5.1904 the senate declared that whisky was not a neutral spirit and the imports should be allowed. Just in the next couple of days there were over a dozen of traders advertising their whiskies in the Finnish newpapers. The first companies with big advertising budgets were Buchanan's, Dewar's and The Distillers Company Ltd (DCL) with different brands, such as King George IV, White Label, Highland Club, House of Lords and Perfection. Several Finnish wine traders advertised their own whiskies, often unbranded at the beginning of the century. Kinahan's Irish "L.L." Lord-Lieutenant Blended Whisky (without the 'e') was imported from Dublin (before its liquididation in 1910) and some unbranded American ryes and bourbons were available. 
"The biggest whisky company in Scotland, DCL, importer for the courts and all countries. Owns the biggest export warehouses of only the old clarified absolutely pure and noble. Highest and the most original brand: "King George IV" gold label, next "Distillers", "King George IV" white label, "D.C.L." (pronounced Di, Si, Ell.) and "Highland Club". British favourite drink: "King George IV" gold label for courts, clubs and first class hotels."

Below is is quite an impressive piece of early Finnish whisky journalism, published in the newspaper Otava 2.6.1904, just a week after the legalization of whisky, written by "Kimmo".

(Very) Roughly translated to English (sorry, Kimmo): "... Despite these original forms of civilizations [referring to the distilling of paloviina] we have been flooded with western European civilization in the form of cognacs, wines and liqueurs. Mostly this European civilization has been French, German and partly Hungarian. Therefore no-one can claim that Finland would not be European enough. Only English civilization has been an unfamiliar and a forbidden fruit for us. We have imported machinery, cloth, many useful tools, even noble ideas and exported butter, timber and reels, but civilization in the form understandable to Ananias Piirakainen, we have not received. The English do not have
anything else than the whisky-civilization, but the Finnish government have until now counted whisky as a neutral spirit and therefore have prohibited the import, as we do have enough of our own domestic civilization of illicit distilling. But now has the change come, now have the doors of whisky-civilization been opened for us, too! According to the senate it is now allowed to import whisky and it will be handled equal to cognac in the customs. Hardly was the decision signed when the Helsinki papers were filled with big whisky adverts. In this era of electricity, whisky was probably flowing through the cables as soon as it was allowed to enter the country. But let us see now what the former forbidden fruit is! The word whisky (pronounced uiski) is derived from the gaelic words "uisge beatha", which mean the water of life. It is a spirit burnt from malted barley. It was first distilled and drunk in Ireland and Scottish Highlands only, but later it spread to England and the world. As early as in the 14th century the Irish have been said to be able to distill whisky. Just as we have many sorts of spirits, so does the whisky come in differnt sorts. The most famous are the "L.L." (Lord Liutenant) made in Dublin and "Scotch Whisky", which tastes peculiary smoky. In the Northern America whisky is mainly made of rye and corn. "Rye whisky" is made mainly of rye, "malt whisky" of bare malts and "bourbon" of corn and malted rye. In addition there is "whisky cordial", which is a liqueur made of whisky. Well, that's enough for the time." 
Advert 1904

Uusi Suometar (29.5.1904) magazine knew that whisky was made with malted barley, with sometimes oats added, and that it was more expensive than cognac because of the longer maturation time and that the average proof was 53% abv.

The sales of whisky in Finland did not increase as expected. In 1904 there were only some 6000 litres of whisky imported and the next year it fell below 5000 litres. It was a tiny amount compared to the sales of other legal spirits of over 400 000 litres per year; paloviina sales were just below 200 000 litres and cognac over 100 000 litres per annum. The whisky sales increased slightly from 1908 to 1911; 6367 litres,  8568 litres, 11083 litres, 12959 litres, respectively. During the First World War 1914-1917 alcohol sales were allowed only in first class hotels and pharmacies, and as a result the Finnish consumption of alcohol per capita was the lowest in Europe. The Finnish senate passed the alcohol prohibition law in 1907 and again in 1909 and 1911. However it was not confirmed by the Russian goverment until 1917 after the Russian revolution and just before the Finnish independence in 6.12.1917 and it was until 1.6.1919 that the Finnish prohibition law took effect.

Glen Grant ad from 1932
As the alcohol prohibition was imposed, the Finnish state founded Valtion Alkoholiyhtiö Oy (State Alcohol corporation) to provide the nation with the alcohol for medical, technical and scientific purposes. Neutral grain and potato spirit was imported from Sweden and the UK. The corporation acquired the Kronan distillery in august 1919 for own production of spirit and yeast. The next year the distilleries of Tornator (Tainionkoski) and Hyvinkään Tehtaat (renamed as Rajamäki in 1923) were acquired. New distilleries were built in Enso in 1936 (lost in the WW II to USSR) and Koskenkorva in 1941. Distilleries produced both grain and potato spirits and additionally rectified sulphite spirits, which were cheap sideproducts from paper plants. The most commonly available alcohol during the prohibition was smuggled Estonian or German neutral spirit. Valtion Alkoholiliike was lead by a apothecarist I.R.Lindqvist, who apparently did not wholly support the prohibition and kept a broad selection of imported beverages available for medicinal purposes. The legal sales of strong spirits varied from 13 989 litres (1919) to 70 704 litres (1927) per annum during the prohibition 1919-1932. Most of it was probably neutral spirit and cognac (23 varieties), but at least seven different Scotch whiskies were imported. The selection included 5 malagas, 8 ports, 15 madeiras, 6 sherries, 1 marsala, 5 tokays, 6 sauternes, 8 other sweet wines, 28 reds, 21 whites and 5 champagnes, arguably sufficient selection for purely medicinal purposes.
Whiskies available for medicinal purposes in Finland 1926-1927
After the repeal of the prohibition, the state monopoly Oy Alkoholiliike Ab for alcohol production and sales was founded in 11.2.1932 (renamed as Alko in 1969 and Altia in 1999). The first shops opened 5th April 1932 at 10:00 am (5-4-3-2-1-0) . The sortiment was rather good with 156 items, including 16 blended whiskies.
Whiskies available in the Finnish Alko 5.4.1932, prices in FIM
The first whisky trade was made in a hurry during the spring of 1932. The newly founded company was not very organized and the first consignment with DCL for 5 600 cases (67 200 bottles) of whisky was signed on a small sheet of notebook in 5.3.1932. As the DCL wanted to confirm the transportation by sending a telegraph "Where is the ship?", the Finnish side responded: "Comes tomorrow - to the port of Scotland". Somehow the trade was pulled through in less than a month and the first shipment arrived just on time before the opening of the first shops in 5.4.1932. The whisky trade even got a head start as some shipments were caught up by pack ice in the Baltic sea and for example the deliveries of cognac were delayed.

Viski-Viina, product n:o 2
Later in that year one Irish (Paddy), one Canadian (Canadian Club) and one pure malt (Glen Grant) whisky were added to the selection. Viski-Viina, a matured Scotch grain whisky blended with two thirds of Finnish neutral grain spirit, was also introduced in 1932. The Finnish taste preferred the "cut" cognac Jaloviina, and so Viski-Viina was discontinued in 1941. In 1933 the Leijona Whiskies were introduced. They were Scottish (most likely DCL) whiskies bottled in Finland, aged 3, 5, 7 or 8 years and branded with one, two, three or four lions respectively. One and two lions were not popular and were discontinued in 1941, four lions was available until 1997. Kolmen Leijonan Whisky (three lions) is still for sale as a blended whisky and it was also available as a vatted malt until 2010.

Vatting tanks in Salmisaari
Alko investigated the possibility of own whisky production in 1930s and Bengt Thorbjörnson of Vin & Spritcentralen of Sweden was consulted on the subject. He advised against own whisky production and in fact against own maturation. Despite of that Alko kept importing considerable amounts of whisky in casks. A barrel of Finnish pure grain spirits was laid down in oak cask before the WW II, but it was used as a blending material for the popular Rajamäki Akvavit after the war, rather than marketed as whisky.

First real attempts to produce Finnish whisky in Alko started in the 1950s. The experiments were made in the Rajamäki distillery, which at the time had four different stills in use: two versions of the French double column Barbét still, a ten fold Savalle still and a Guillaume rectifier. Most likely the old Barbét still was used. Pyynikki brewery provided the peated barley malts and the distilling expertise of Sami Suominen, who had been studying brewing and distilling in the USA. Production was 60-70 000 litres per annum and after nine months of maturation in Alko's own imported sherry casks the whisky was considered "as good as an excellent American whiskey". For some reason the whisky did not get into market, but was rather used as a flavour component in Tähkäviina, a spiced spirit manufactured by Alko in 1960-1999. Another "own" whisky production by Alko was the Lion Blend, a retake on the unsuccessful Viski-Viina, a blend of Scottish whiskies and unmatured Finnish grain spirit, blended and bottled in Finland (1969-1990).

Whiskies for sale in Alko, 1972
Cooper in Salmisaari, 1950s
In 1973 Alko experimented with maturation of new make Scotch whisky in the Rajamäki warehouses using Alko's own oak casks. A similar sample was matured in a Scottish warehouse for comparison. After few years the Rajamäki warehouse was considered too warm and the stocks were moved to the bigger, colder and damper Salmisaari cellars. Most of this spirit (46 350 litres) was later used for the Lion Blend.

Alko's own whisky distillation started in 1975 in Rajamäki with an old spice still. The peated malts came from Lahden Polttimo maltings. Later quite substantial amounts of these peated whisky malts were exported to both Scottish and Japanese whisky distillers in the 1970s and the 1980s. Today Lahden polttimo produces malts for Teerenpeli and Macmyra under the name of Viking malt.

Malt exports from Lahden Polttimo (tons of barley)

Old spice still in Salmisaari
After some test runs the whisky production was transferred to Koskenkorva in late 1976, where the old Barbét column still was used. The trays of the column still could be set to seven different settings, all producing different spirits, much in the style of the lomond still. The barrels were acquired from Swedish Vin & Spiritcentralen at the beginning, but it is likely that Alko's own sherry casks and even oak chips were later used, too. The whisky production increased to million litres per annum in 1980 and the first commercial bottling
A diagram of a Barbét double column still
of Alko Whisky was released in 1.10.1981. The column distillation probably dimished the smokiness and the resulting spirit was quite light and woody, resembling more brandy than traditional Scottish malt whisky. The Alko Whisky was not a success among the Scotch whisky drinkers and the sales soon fell to a couple of hundred thousand bottles per annum and it was discontinued in 1994. The whisky matured for over ten years was released as Kypsytetty 10-vuotias Viski (marketed 1994-2000) and the younger surplus whisky was used in blended cocktails such as Prince Edward, Finn Cream and Vilakka. There was also a whisky bottling of Alko's fifty years anniversary presented for the employees of Alko in 5.4.1982.

Alko Whisky (1981-1994)

Viski 88 (1983-1994)

In 1982 Alko started to develop a stronger and more "Scottish" whisky, based on the success of Kolmen Leijonan Whisky (three lions), which was a Scottish blend bottled and partly matured in Finland since 1932. Viski 88 was released in 1.11.1983 and it became quite popular, being the most sold whisky in Finland during the 1980s and the the early 1990s. It was a blend of Scottish and Finnish whiskies with a total malt whisky proportion of 40-50% and matured in Finland. The name was chosen in the celebration of the founding year 1888 of the Rajamäki distillery. The label presents Väinämöinen (the leading character from Kalevala, the national epic poetry of Finland) as pictured on the wall of Vanha Ylioppilastalo (Old Student House) in Helsinki. Coincidentally, that is where the recent Uisge festival has been organised in 2012 and 2013. After the accession to the European Union in 1995 the name of Viski 88 was changed to Double Eight 88 and the production was discontinued in 2000 as the Finnish whisky ran out.
Alko 50-years anniversary bottling

Several independent Finnish whisky distillers have been starting production in the new millenium. Brewery restaurant Beer Hunter's in Pori was founded in 1998 and small batch whisky production started 8.11.2001. Holstein stills and mixture of Spanish sherry casks and new Portuguese casks are used for the Old Buck whisky. Teerenpeli beer restaurant was founded in 1995 in Tampere. Whisky production started in 2002 in pot stills and the first batch of 3yo whisky was released in 2005 and now an 8yo is available. Brewery restaurant Koulu (School) in Turku began their distilling in 2009 in Tuorla and their first ex-bourbon oak matured whisky named Sgoil has just been released as a 3yo. Hermannin Viinitila has recently distilled whisky in co-operation with the monastery of Valamo.
Alko Whisky 10yo 1994-2000

Hahle, P. Apteekit alkoholinjakelukeskuksina kieltolain aikana. 1988
Häikiö, M. Alkon historia. Otava 2007
Kallenautio, J. Kieltolaki ja sen kumoaminen puoluepoliittisena ongelmana. Gummerus 1979
Kaukoranta, A. Sulfiittispriiteollisuus Suomessa. Polar 1981
Kauppila, O. Rajamäen tehtaat. Painokaari 1988
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Kula, K. 25-vuotias Alko tänään. Alko 1957
Morewood, S. A philosophical and statistical history of the inventions and customs of ancient and modern nations in the manufacture and use of inebriating liquors. 1838. 
Mäntylä, I. Viinissä totuus. Otava 1998
Mäntylä, I. Suomalaisen juoppouden juuret. SKS 1985
Mäntylä, I. Suomalaisen juoppouden kasvu. SHS 1995
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Peltonen, M. Remua ja ryhtiä. Gaudeamus 2002
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Pullat R&R. Viinameri. Tammi 2012
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Simpura, J. Vapaan viinan aika. Kirjayhtymä 1982
Tuominen, U. Suomen alkoholipolitiikka 1866-1886. SHS 1979
Vehviläinen, O. Lahden Polttimo 1883-1983. Lahden Polttimo 1983

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pajarete and the wine treatment

Foto de  Subida al cerro Pajarete para visitar las ruinas del castillo de Matrera.
The ruins of Torre Pajarete
Castillo de Matrera, Villamartin, Andalucia, Spain
Originally pajarete (paxarete, paxaret, paxarette, pacharetti) meant the Paxarete vineyards of Cartusian Convent of San Hieronomo near Jerez de la Frontera, probably east towards Villamartin and Prado del Rey. The vineyards were planted with sweet grape varieties Millar and Pedro Ximénez grapes along with some Moscatel and Palomino. After phylloxera there is no evidence of the dark and sweet Millar variety. Sherry wines called abocado, vino seco and paxarete were made in the monastery. The first grapes to ripen were picked first and set on esparto grass mats to dry. Palomino (Listán) was picked last and pressed usually on the same or the following day. The harvest lasted for 1-3 weeks allowing the Millar, PX and Moscatel grapes to dry longer, usually about 10 days. As a result the early ripening grapes became raisined and produced natural sweet wine of 8-15% abv and about 300-400 g/l of residual sugar, which was often fortified with brandy de Jerez. Abocado was a dry oloroso style oxidized sherry (sometimes sweetened with Palomino Dulce) and Vino Seco (or Fino Seco) a dry fino/amontillado wine, both of which could be still referred as (dry) Paxarete wines in the 19th century. Similar sweet wines were made in Rota from dried Tinta grapes producing bitter-sweet dark Tintilla de Rota. Color de Macetilla or Mistela was an oloroso, which had been fortified before it fermented completely, leaving it sweet, in the style of port wines. Another similar product was mosto apagado, which was done by adding sweet mosto into the wine producing partially fermented sweet wine and usually used only in blending of sweeter sherry styles. Dulce was made by fermenting must from (mostly palomino) grapes in a cask that contained brandy; the higher alcohol stopped the fermentation before all the sugar was used, producing sweet high-alcohol white wine.
Pedro Ximénez grapes dried on grass mats

The sweet paxarete was valued highly in Spain, but in the early 19th century Britain sweet sherries were considered more of a ladies drink, men preferring drier fortified wines, beer and spirits. During the 1830s the sherry trade boomed the first time and in 1838 there were 43 registered shippers of sherry. Paxarete was one of the most expensive types, costing up to 7 times more than the cheapest real Jerez sherry (probably raya) and usually a bit more than a good aged amontillado or fino. Sherry trade reached its peak of the 19th century in the 1870s as the French strugled with vine diseases. At the same time the branding and marketing of wines by the shippers really began, which made it easier to blend different wines to be sold as sherry, including those from different regions. Blending wines with mosto (grape juice), brandy, sugar and colourings was very common and not just in the sherry business. As dried grapes were easier to transport, some paxarete was often made from grapes imported from other areas. Málaga and Montilla became major producers of pajarete sherry in the late 19th century.

Malaga Pajarete-malagaviinietikettejä; Turun Kivipaino
Malaga Pajarete from 1968,
Imported by the Finnish church
for sacramental wine
During the latter part of 19th century the English taste shifted towards lighter drier wines, partly because of the taxation and the flood of French wine into the market after 1860 as the customs embargo was dropped. Paxarete was still imported regularly and it was one of the most esteemed "malmsey" wines in Victorian Britain. Sherry barrels were used for whisky maturation probably from the early 19th century and as the blending and branding became common towards the end of the century. Sherry casks, and most likely also sherry as an additive, were used to give body to especially the lighter and younger grain spirits. Oxidized and sweet sherries such as pajaretes, olorosos, rayas and cream sherries were preferred because they gave the darkest colour and an agreeable flavour.

Pajarete was not a legally defined until 1999, so some producers from for example Málaga and California were selling pajarete/paxarete wines of their own, sometimes consisting of Pedro Ximénez wine, but quite commonly of caramel coloured, sweetened, oxidized and fortified wines. A notable imitation sherry was the very affordable Hamburg sherry, which consisted of potato spirit, caramel and spices. It was was banned in 1870 due to "health reasons". Most big sherry shippers had their own paxarete, PX or dulce brands; The Brown Bang Sherry (Sandeman), Gran Orden PX (Garvey's), Pio IX (Pedro Domecq), Delage Dulce, Osborne Paxarete and MacKenzie's Pajarete Solera. Some producers turned their raya wines (lower quality olorosos) into paxarete by maturing them outside in the sunshine, producing more cooked and concentrated wine. Vino de color, arrope or sanchoco were commonly used in blending of paxarete and cream sherries. Vino de color is any wine cooked and sometimes additionally sweetened with mosto. Sancocho is very sweet and concentrated wine boiled to one third of the original volume and arrope is thick syrup boiled to one fifth of the original volume. The tradition of boiling wines into syrups probably comes from the Moors, as they did not drink wine for religious reasons.
Arrope syrup
In the USA the boiled sweet fortified wine was classified as "Spanish-type blending sherry" by law in 1949 and manufactured mostly in California spesifically and exclusively for the whisky industry. The blending sherry was often sweetened with sugar or caramel, cooked to a reduction and infused with oak chips. It was not taxed nor was it possible to sell it as wine for consumers. Málaga and Montilla became the biggest producers of PX Pajarete wines in the 20th century Europe and Chile has its own DO Valle de Huasco producing pajarete wine. Cyprus made numerous bulk imitation sherries; the popular Cyprus Cream sherry was even sweeter than the natural paxaretes, probably due to added sugar. Imitation sherries were often colored with vino de color or caramel and fortified with industrial alcohol. The imitation sherries really stormed into the British market in the 1950s mainly in the lower price segment by agressive pricing.

Pajarete from Tarragona,
made of Moscatel and Garnacha
In 1999 Pajarete became a protected wine variety of DO Málaga and defined as "wine liquor, or natural sweet wine with a total sugar content of 45-140g/l produced without the addition of syrup [arrope], being aged and amber to dark amber in colour.". The Málaga pajarete is usually be made of Moscatel, but some Pedro Ximénez is also used. The pajarete style wines from Jerez are nowadays called PX, Pedro Ximénez, Moscatel or Dulce sherries and most of them are made according to the original soleo method.

Pajarete probably evolved from high quality sweet natural dessert wine to the blended, sweet(ened) and fortified bulk wine in the early 20th century. An affordable sweet brown sherry wine was just what the Scotch distillers were looking for, as it made possible the fast rejuvenation of whisky casks and enabled faster maturation.

WP Lowrie?
William Phaup Lowrie (1831-1916) pioneered the whisky cask management in the late 19h century. Lowrie was a merchant for both Port Ellen whiskies and González Gordon sherries, a cooper and later a co-founder of Glentauchers distillery. He was supposedly the first blender to use (sherry) wine finishes for whisky and the first cooper to import American pre-cut staves for UK cooperages. The brewers had used steam washers for new casks for decades. The process was automated already in the 1870s and it was common to use salt, hydrochloride acid, bisulphate or bicarbonate soda as additives when rinsing beer casks prior to refills. WP Lowrie introduced the steam pressure treatment to whisky industry primarily to test the integrity of casks in 1888, but soon after the steam was used also to remove harsh tannins from the fresh wood and to impregnate the wood with wine.

The wine-treatment of new casks became common in early 20th century and in 1929 it was reported that all of the new casks to be used for Johnnie Walker whiskies were seasoned with approximately 35 litres of sweet dark sherry per hogshead for 6 weeks. The casks were stored in an individual warehouse and turned regularly for even distribution of sherry into the wood. After the seasoning the casks were lightly pressurised ("with 0,2kg pressure", probably per one square inch?) and after that the remaining sherry was poured out. About 20% of the casks were said to be new, all of which apparently were UK-coopered wine-treated hogsheads made from import oak staves from the US or the Baltic. Older UK-coopered puncheons and Spanish-coopered butts were still being used as refill casks at the time.

The use of wine-treatment was introduced to save coopering costs and to ensure the availability of fresh casks as the sherry shippers had already started their own bottling plants in Spain in the early 20th century and the availability of home-emptied sherry casks was insufficient for whisky industry. Pedro Domecq started their bottling operations in Jerez in 1920 and González Byass were to follow gradually during the interwar period. Despite that, only 20 percent of sherry imports were in bottles during 1926-1940. Sandeman bottled some of their sherries and ports in location as early as 1880, but the bottling of sherry in UK by Sandeman ceased in 1969. Harvey's were the last big shipper to bottle all their sherries in England, as they bought a winery in Jerez from MacKenzie in 1970 and since then have been bottling all their sherries in Spain. In 1983 most (54.4%) of the sherries exported were bottled in Spain. The markets of EEC were easier to reach from Spain than from UK, especially after the preferential trade agreement with Spain and the EEC in 1970 and Spain's accession into EEC in 1986. Bottling of sherry is nowadays done almost exclusively (96.5% in 2000) in Spain and full sherry casks are no longer imported.

Harvey's bottling hall in the 1960s
As imported sherry casks became scarce due to the second World War in the 1940s and especially due to the increased bottling of sherry in Spain during the 1960s and early 1970s, the distillers rejuvenated the exhausted casks with pajarete. According to Philp in 1989 "a typical cooperage procedure was to add 500ml Paxarete per hogshead or 1 litre per butt, pressurise at 48 kPa / 7 psig for 10 minutes and then disgorge any absorbed paxarete.". Until 1972 the DCL also coopered their own sherry casks, which were made of American oak to a size of a puncheon (~558 l), wine-treated with paxarete and then used primarily for grain whiskies before used for malt whiskies. The American ex-bourbon barrels often received the same treatment; first fill with grain whisky, then after wine-treatment refilled with malt whisky.

Whether the Scotch distillers used real natural pajarete wine or sweetened imitations or even arrope or sancocho for seasoning is not clear, most likely they were not too fussy about the right provenance or traditional production methods concerning their "blending sherry". The typical seasoning paxarete of the 1980s was rich in tannins, esters and especially acids. A chemical analysis of different sherries by Philp in 1989 indicates that paxarette used at that point was very likely boiled and/or sweetened with arrope or sancocho as it contained 3,2 times more sugars (375 g/l), 5,7 times more tannins (4,7 g/l), 3,6 times more esters (278 g/l) and 6,9 times more acids (22 g/l) than an ordinary sweetened oloroso. In comparison the current version of Harvey's Bristol Cream has only 3,1 g/l acids and 130 g/l sugars and the naturally very sweet Don Guido 20yo PX sherry from Williams & Humbert has only 4,5 g/l acids despite of whopping 400 g/l sugars.

Photo: Albert Watson
As the Spanish sherry producers shifted from the traditional cask fermentations to use of modern steel tanks, the properties of casks changed. Fermentation was thought to remove many unwanted flavours from the fresh wood, especially bitter and sulphury off-notes. A special Gomez treatment was invented in the 1960s to simulate the effects of fermentation in the cask. It consisted of steaming the cask with ammonium hydroxide steam at 55 kPa (8 psig) for 60 minutes, which stripped much of the tannins and colour from the inner surface of the cask. This produced very neutral casks suitable for especially fino sherry maturation, but when subsequently used in Scotland they tended to produce light-coloured and slow maturing whiskies. The Gomez treatment was used from about 1965, but during the 1970s most of the Scotch distillers stopped buying these casks and began ordering their own spesified casks for whisky maturation. The casks were used for fermentations and maturation of sherries in Spain before they were shipped usually as empty standing casks to Scotland. According to the distiller's order, both American (Quercus alba) and Spanish (Q.robur) oak were used, as well as fino and oloroso sherries.

According to a rumour the Scotch Whisky Association banned the use of paxarete in the late 1980s or early 1990s, but there is no official evidence of that. The Scotch Whisky Order from 1990 bans the use of additives other than water and caramel E150a, so the blending of whisky with sherry wine including pajarete was indeed banned at that point. PX sherry casks are still quite often used especially for single malt production, but the use of sherry concentrates and high pressures in rejuvenation and seasoning has apparently ceased or at least diminished greatly. Philip Hills wrote in 2000: "wine-treatment of worn-out casks has been widely used to simulate the effects of new sherry wood... a sweet dark sherry such as pedro ximenes [sic] is introduced and the cask is pressurised in order to force the potion into the wood. For many years, a potion called paxarette was used, which combined sweet dark sherry with other flavourings and colourants... the results are not impressive: whisky from a treated cask of this sort smells slightly sulphurous and sweet, but that is all. Of the lovely aromatic flavours of a true sherry-cask maturation, there is no trace.". It is likely that the wine-treatment was dropped because of the poor results rather than an SWA order. Below is a comparison of different cask types and maturation temperatures.

Philp 1989
Oloroso and raya sherries are probably the most common seasoning sherries used nowadays, seasoning times varying from months to couple of years. Cask fermentations are rarely done in the Scotch-bound casks. The sherry bodega casks used for maturation of commercial sherries in solera systems are discarded usually after 80-100 years and sometimes  used for Scotch maturation after recoopering.

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Bottle maturation (OBE)

Laphroaig 1887
Scotch whisky ages in oak wood casks for a minimum of three years, usually longer. After wood maturation it is usually diluted and colored with caramel E150a prior to bottling. After that the changes of whisky in a closed bottle are not fast or drastic, at least compared to for example the bottle maturation of wines. Some bottle maturation changes or "old bottle effects" are nevertheless possible.

The bottle maturation of wines depends mainly on the closure of the bottle. If there is enough oxygen present, for example through a porous or leaky closure, the wine becomes oxidized. If the closure tight, restricting the oxygen permeation, the wine becomes reduced. Screw caps and cork stoppers are usually the most tightest, synthetic corks are very permeable to oxygen and the permeability of natural corks is somewhere in between, although there are variations, especially among natural corks. The fastest oxidation happens in the beginning of bottle maturation as there is bound to be some residual oxygen in the wine (or spirit), the headspace between the closure and liquid and additionally the porous closures release some air into the bottle. Oxygen ingress in a screw cap sealed bottle is below 1 µL/day, a natural cork sealed bottle gets 2-6 µL/day for the first year and then 0,1-2,0 µL/day depending on the cork quality and a synthetic cork sealed bottle about 6-13 µL/d depending on the material. The main route for the air into the bottle is from between the glass and the cork. Practically all modern commercial wines are protected from excess oxidation by adding sulphur dioxide and sometimes ascorbic acid.
Oxidation affects wines

The oxidation usually decreases the amount of esters and several thiols, resulting in less citrus, grapefruit, boxtree and fruity notes. The amount of H2S (rotten eggs, bad sulphur) increases slightly during bottle maturation, but less so in an oxidative environment. If there are sugars available in the liquid, the amount of furfural (nutty, rancio) usually increases, but furanone (strawberry, fresh pineapple) usually decreases. Unknown reactions produce notes of wet wool, toasted bread and caramel. Most phenols oxidize slowly, usually forming polyphenols, resulting in diminished astringency and probably less peaty whisky over years of bottle storage. An exeption in the phenol group is vanillin, which increases slowly independently of the oxidation/reduction state. Serious over-oxidation in wines creates vinegar and in considerable evaporation of alcohol out of spirit proof liquids.

In the absence of oxygen, the wine is reduced, forming significantly more esters (fruits), higher alcohols (floral, aetheral), abhexon (peach) and sulphur volatiles (struct flint, rubber), especially H2S (rotten eggs), but also thiols and polythiols (petrol, kerosine), apparently from sulphates, sulphites and phenols.

Independently of the oxidation, tannins and antocyanins form bigger molecules, which stabilize the colour and usually turn reddish colours into orange, bricklike hues. Oaklactones tend to partially transform from trans- (spicy, incence) to cis-isomers (coconut, vanillin) in the bottle.
The cork stoppers act as a sorbtive material, especially if they are coated with polyethene and allowed to soak with the liquid. As a result the sulphur odors, especially H2S and small thiols are reduced. On the other hand uncoated corkstoppers are more likely to leak H2S and other volatiles out of the bottle. Screw caps do not have a significant effect on the H2S. A faulty bottle closure or prolonged storage of  opened bottle with a low amount of spirit left leads to evaporation of alcohol and oxidation of the spirit. In that case the filling level is likely to drop and the amount of esters, small thiols and other volatiles to diminish. Bottle breathing, ie leaving the bottle open overnight or half-empty with the cork for months, might therefore cure some sulphur taints, at the cost of reduced fruit and body. 

The glass bottle itself is not completely inert. Especially alkaline high-alcohol solutions (vodka for example) increase the leaching of glass. This happens especially if the bottles are stored for a long time (months) in a humid environment before bottling, allowing water to attach to the inside of the bottle. Bottle glass is composed mainly of silica (SiO2, 75%), sodium oxide (Na2O, 15%), calcium oxide (CaO, 12%) and aluminum salts (2%). First, the water condensed from the humid air causes mainly sodium to leach out of the glass (a damp bottle storage before bottling increases the corrosion) and the increased alkalinity increases the leaching of silica, forming salts of silicic acids. Then ethanol in turn increases the solubility of  inorganic acids. As a result a deposit is created in the bottle, it consists first of sodiumhydroxide (NaOH) and sodiumhydrosilicate (Na2O x SiO2), but it polymerizes into an amorphic gel-like structure (for example H2SiO3 + CaO SiO3 + H2O) consisting in average of CaO (43%), SiO2 (43%) and Na2O (14%). At the process also some metals from the glass structure are leached out. The glass leaching increases the pH of the spirit, for example in one study with vodka the pH increased from 8,85 upto 9,50, which is probably significant for flavour release, too. In the same study the weight of dried crystals was 0,5-2,1 mg per 0,7 litre bottle. As the surface/spirit ratio increases as the bottle size dimishes, the miniature bottles are certainly more prone to impart sediments. As whisky is more acidic than vodka, this is most likely a very slow reaction, happening in older lowgrade and/or miniature bottles during decades rather than months and especially if they have been stored for a while before bottling.

Lagavulin 1875
In a bottle of whisky, the same reactions are likely to happen, although the higher ethanol strength diminishes the oxidation, as ethanol is an oxygen scavanger itself. The oak extracts and the ethanol micelles diminish the extraction of volatiles from the spirit by increasing the surface tension. Most likely the bottle maturation of whisky is more reductive than oxidative, producing more fruity, aetheral, peachy, vanilla, petrol, rubbery and metallic notes and less phenolic, bitter spicy and citrus notes. Rancio flavours might arise from pentose sugars derived from caramel colouring and/or a very extractive charred cask. Some oxidation reactions are bound to happen between the spirit and the air of the bottle headspace, but they are hardly significant. Long chain fatty esters and glass silica can both flocculate in the bottle, especially if the whisky is not filtered and it is diluted and/or colored with caramel before bottling. Light usually increases the speed of reactions, whether reductive or oxidative. In any case, organoleptically significant changes in bottled whisky are likely to occur during decades, if at all.

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