JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There is no questioning the receptiveness the craft beer industry has found in the Northeast Florida region. With pending legislation that could greatly benefit profit margin, craft spirit producers are hoping to find their own niche in the Bold City.
One of these local craft spirit producers is taking things to the next level by putting a unique twist on a classic product. Just around the corner from Intuition Brewery in Downtown Jacksonville, you’ll find Manifest Distilling cooking, fermenting, distilling and barreling a fully organic rye whiskey.
Manifest’s finished product, which would typically be used in cocktails such as an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan, begins with the most essential ingredient, the organic grain.
“It’s not as fine as a baking flour, it’s considered a course flour, but we want it to be fine enough so that starch is more readily available for yeast consumption,” said Owner of Manifest Distilling David Cohen.
One-by-one, the bags of organic wheat and rye grain are added to the water inside the giant metal cooker. The grain and water are mixed together with a large agitator blade and heated by low-pressure steam coils that wrap around the inside of the tank.
“I think what makes our rye whiskey unique is the mash bill, meaning the ingredients that come together to make it, the type of grains we are using,” Cohen said. “We are using a rye grain, obviously, and then wheat makes up the balance, which is a pretty unique mash bill for a rye whiskey.”
The final additions to the mash are enzyme solutions, which are poured in at intervals during the cooking process. The three different solutions are specifically designed to help the grain open up, prevent it from sticking together, and reduce foaming.
“What we are trying to do at this point is saccharify the grain,” Cohen said. “So, we are trying to get all the sugar that is available in this grain to open up.”
The organic rye mash is cooked down for several hours before being transferred to a 500-gallon open-air drum for fermentation.
“The yeast’s primary job is to consume a sugar and create an alcohol,” Cohen said. “Their byproduct, their excrement almost, is creating the alcohol that we will then distill."
Cohen's philosophy on the use of organic materials to make the rye whiskey is simple. The end product will reflect what you used to make it.
"If you are feeding it garbage, it's going to create a garbage product. Same thing with the actual type of yeast itself. If you are using a high quality yeast, you're feeding it a high quality product, your end result is going to be high quality."
After three days, all of the sugar from the organic grain has been consumed, according to Cohen. The remaining product, referred to as the “distiller’s beer,” is roughly 6 percent alcohol. At this point, it is now ready to be reheated and distilled into high concentrations before finally being barreled.
The still is where the organic “distiller’s beer” will be heated up and then stripped of alcohol vapors. The clear vapors are collected, concentrated, cooled and then separated into three different fractions. This process, known as rectification, is the final step before the organic product is poured into barrels and aged. The familiar brown color of rye whiskey comes from the charred oak barrels the product is aged in for an extended amount of time.
“Organic is one way to know that you are supporting agriculture that is practicing sustainable farming, and that is something that I, personally, believe in,” Cohen said. “It’s something that we have to focus on, as a consumer, where you put your dollars. Putting those into a place that is going to perpetuate sustainable practices.”
And for the whiskey snobs and aficionados out there, who might be hesitant to fork out a few extra dollars for Manifest’s organic product, you can rest assured. The rye whiskey is still going to taste like rye whiskey, according to Cohen.
“I don’t know if it translates the same way,” Cohen said. “If you offered me an organic tomato and a conventional tomato, or a carrot, there is a better chance that I’m going to tell the difference between those two products.”
It'll be some time before Cohen is ready to start bottling and selling the whiskey, although. In the meantime, you can find some of Manifest's other organic products already being sold at various bars around Jacksonville.