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Case Study

The Bourbon Trail's Secret to Superior Grain Handling: The Vortex Seal Tite Diverter

Seal Tite diverter handling corn, rye, and other grains that are used in the production of Bourbon.

Bourbon, a distinctive American whiskey, has a rich and storied history dating back to the 18th century.

Named after Bourbon County in Kentucky, this iconic spirit was originally crafted by early settlers who brought their whiskey-making skills from Europe. As they experimented with the abundant local corn crop, they developed the signature mash bill for Bourbon, which requires at least 51% corn. Further refining the process, these pioneers introduced the use of charred oak barrels for aging, imparting a unique color and flavor profile that sets Bourbon apart from other whiskeys. Over time, Bourbon gained popularity and became an integral part of American culture. Despite setbacks such as the Prohibition era and various economic challenges, Bourbon has persevered and experienced a resurgence in recent years, with aficionados worldwide celebrating its distinctive taste and storied heritage.

The production of Bourbon begins with the careful selection and blending of grains, which form the foundation of its distinct flavor profile.

By law, Bourbon must be made from a mash bill containing at least 51% corn; however, the remaining composition can vary, incorporating other grains such as rye, wheat, and malted barley to create unique taste characteristics.

Corn is the primary grain used in Bourbon production, contributing to its signature sweetness and robust body. In addition to corn, rye is often included in the mash bill to provide a spicy, fruity complexity that balances the sweetness of the corn. Alternatively, some distillers may opt for wheat as a secondary grain, creating a softer, smoother, and more delicate flavor profile. Malted barley is also commonly used in smaller proportions, primarily for its enzymatic properties that aid in breaking down starches into fermentable sugars during the mashing process.

To begin the Bourbon-making process, the selected grains are milled into a fine consistency, ensuring maximum extraction of flavors and sugars. The milled grains are then combined with water and heated, creating a mixture known as the mash. This process, called mashing, allows the enzymes in the malted barley to convert the starches present in the grains into fermentable sugars. Once the mashing is complete, the mixture is cooled, and yeast is added to initiate fermentation. During fermentation, the yeast consumes the sugars, producing alcohol and various flavor compounds.

After fermentation, the resulting liquid, known as the wash, is distilled to separate the alcohol from the remaining solids and water. Bourbon must be distilled at no higher than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume) to retain its characteristic flavors. Following distillation, the spirit is aged in new, charred oak barrels, which impart color, depth, and complexity to the final product. The aging process varies in duration, with some Bourbons being matured for several years to achieve the desired flavor profile.

Once the Bourbon has reached its optimal maturity, it is carefully blended, diluted with water to the desired proof, and bottled. The final product is a harmonious balance of grain-derived flavors, enhanced by the transformative effects of distillation and barrel aging, resulting in a truly unique American spirit.

Vortex assisting with Bourbon production:

If you happen to be touring the Bourbon trail and have a keen eye you may find Vortex equipment at some of the distilleries assisting with the handling of the grains used in the production of the bourbon.

In the image below we see a Vortex Seal Tite Diverter (Straight Leg) being used to divert grains between different parts of the bourbon making process.

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