Kansas City's Yelp! (headed by the awesome Matt E.) has been hosting Booze School this year. Each class is dedicated to one type of booze (i.e. whiskey, rum, hops, champagne) with the host location changing to a location befit the education. This was the sixth booze school event, and the first distillery tour.
July's Booze School, D is for Distilling, was hosted by the family-run Dark Horse Distillery in Lenexa.
The first impression of this distillery is just how gorgeous the space is. The group was greeted with high ceilings and lush furniture, a well-stocked bar, and floor to ceiling windows looking in on the distilling process. The bar was tended by friendly staff whipping up their signature Barn Sour, a white whiskey based cocktail*, refreshing and frothy.
Dark Horse moved into the space in 2010, got their first bourbon and ryes into barrels in 2011 and then started on their vodka recipes. Rider Vodka and the Long Shot White Whiskey came out in 2012, and the Reserve Bourbon Whiskey and Reunion Rye Whiskey began selling in 2013.
The guys at Dark Horse are adamant about being a small craft distillery. The idea is to be different and memorable. They intend on staying small batch and are not interested in competing with the big brand names.
"Craft" is about transparency and openness.
DHD brings in as much local grains as possible (i.e. wheat, rye, corn) and do all their own milling. They only use yellow corn number one, which is cleaned and sorted and high quality, and their rye is 100% rye with no secondary ingredient.
Rider Vodka: super light, 100% wheat, smooth, designed to drink neat.
Mash: Heat the grain and cook it in water to change the starch to sugar. Each grain is different; the corn has to be boiled, but the rye cannot be boiled or it will be ruined. The last step of mashing is adding the yeast to the mash cooker before transporting it to the fermentation tanks.
Fermentation: All the grain and liquid gets added to ferment together. There are three byproducts of fermentation: heat, carbon dioxide, and alcohol. The heat is kept under control by a custom water-cooling system, the carbon dioxide is taken out through vents, and the alcohol is kept in the tanks for 6-7 days.
The alcohol gets distilled in their copper distiller and taken out of the mash stuff by steam and vapor.
Dark Horse's 500 gallon copper still is their work horse. It was commissioned out of Louisville, Kentucky and was the first piece of equipment ordered. The number on the still is what is provided in order to get a liquor license. Chester Copperpot (as they call him) is a hybrid that took 7-8 months to build before trucked to Lenexa and put together over a week.
The alcohol receiver (seen above) transports all kinds of alcohol and allows the staff to test and taste to find the best parts. Out first comes the heads, which contain all types of bad alcohols. The alcohol receiver that has chambers to filter out the heads and tails. The system is sensory and done by hand, nothing is automated for cutting the chambers. They wait until completely clear hearts come through the receiver before cutting on the chamber.
Refining: 1000 lbs. of grain, 500 gal water yields about 50 gal of hearts, which is a very small batch (unfortunately a relative term - there are no guidelines in terms of what that means). The entire process has been based on learning, research, and refining the process for what works best for Dark Horse.
Long Shot White Whiskey: Clear, warming, and the closest thing to the hearts you can taste. 51% wheat. The white whiskey doesn't sit in the barrel; it's dumped in a big barrel that they made and it runs out the bottom so that it "touches the barrel" as per the law. Has a similar feel to agave, but a completely unique and full taste.
The byproduct that is left is called stillage. It's hooked up to hoses and pumps in order to remove it from the copper still. Some backseed is saved to help with the next batch (for consistency, and in order to make it a sour mash recipe). The liquid is strained and the rest goes to stillage containers and used as feed for a local dairy farmer and an angus beef farmer. The feed is donated three times a week and has lots of grain and protein for the cows. It's often called cattle crack. Occasionally the mash is used for making bread.
Dark Horse typically does 7-8 distillations per week, and can do up to 10.
Barrel Aging: Aspects that affect barrel aging:
- Honeycomb and groove charcoal (#3 char), which is the char on the inside of the 30 gallon barrles.
- The warehouse is not climate controlled. The more expanding and contracting (from climate changes), the more flavors that are imparted into the spirit.
- Four sizes of barrels.
- All the wood is aged outside for two years before being made into a barrel.
- Angels Share (spirits that evaporate during barreling) and Devil's Cut (spirit that spills out of the barrels) leads to a caramelization on the barrels that act as a scratch-n-sniff.
The guys explained that it is a myth that to be considered a bourbon, the spirit has to be made in Kentucky. The requirement is that to be considered bourbon, the spirit has to be barrel aged in a New American Barrel, and none of the barrels can be reused. Dark Horse sells their barrels to all sorts of other uses.
Reserve Bourbon: 80% corn and 20% rye, aged two years. Sweet, mapley, smokey and sweet. Smooth because of the use of only the hearts.
Reunion Rye Whiskey: 100% rye mash. Harkens back to prohibition rye and was the first to be put into barrels. My personal favorite from the tastings. Patrick (the distiller) sits and hand writes and signs all of the bottles to verify.
At the end of the tour, the bartenders crafted Elder Fashions*, a take on Old Fashioneds made with the reserve bourbon and Elderflower liqueur.
The tour was informative, fun, and eye-opening. All the staff were friendly and knowledgable, and clearly excited about the products they are crafting. The passion and interest that goes into this distillery has lead to some very impressive spirits, all of which are certainly memorable.
1 1/2 oz Long Shot White Whiskey
3/4 oz simple syrup
3/4 oz lemon juice
1 dash Angostura Aromatic Bitters
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass and shaker tin. Dry shake for at least 5 seconds then add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with drops of bitters, swirling into the meringue.
1 3/4 oz Dark Horse Distillery Reserve Bourbon
3/4 oz St Germain Elderflower Liqueur
2 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters
1 tsp. club soda
Combine all ingredients into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass and stir slightly until cold. Garnish with an orange peel and serve.