I often get asked about our flagship spirits, specifically the fact that they’re grape-based. “Isn’t that technically Grappa, then?” Nope. While I’d highly suggest stopping in for a full distillery tour, the information below is a somewhat abridged version of what I call “Act Three,” of our typical tour program.
To make our flagship Y&Y Vodka and Sunday Gin, we start with a 172 proof 100% grape-based neutral spirit, i.e. fermented grape “wine” that has been distilled to 190 proof. Side note: Grappa is typically going to be distilled to a lower proof, therefore maintaining more grape flavor and heat, and proofed down very little, if at all. The grape-based neutral spirit makes it’s way to us in 500 gallon totes from a production facility in in Central California, purchased and shipped via a third party wholesaler, UltraPure.
There are a handful reasons we start with grape neutral spirit (more easily referred to as GNS) for these two core spirits…
- Vodka and Gin must both be distilled from neutral spirits… Vodka is typically – err, should be – a simple mixture of high proof distillate (another name for GNS) and enough water to achieve the desired alcohol content for bottling. Gin is simply high proof distillate that’s undergone a flavoring process (most commonly a gin basket distillation) and enough water to achieve the desired alcohol content, essentially making Gin a – wait for it! – juniper-flavored vodka. Yep, Gin is really just the OG flavored vodka! Although, if we’re getting picky here, Gin pre-dates Vodka in the history of spirit-making but I digress…
- The large production facility where the GNS is made is far more efficient at making GNS than we at You & Yours ever will be. And that’s just a fact. We don’t want to be a factory distillery, which means we’ll never want or need to invest in the type of high volume, continuous distilling equipment or large scale production warehouses that they have. Because of this, they have far larger economies of scale and therefore, increased efficiency when it comes to yield and production than we ever hope to boast. These facts allow them to produce GNS cheaper more efficiently and cheaper than we ever will. Which leads me to #3…
- It’s soooooooooo much cheaper than trying to make it ourselves. In effort to extend a reasonable price tag to the consumer, purchasing ready-made GNS is a huge help. The time (labor costs) and resources (raw material costs) it would take me to make the same volume of GNS in house would cost me minimum 2-3 weeks in my production schedule more than TEN times what I pay for it.
- These two products are un-aged, meaning they do not spend any time in oak or other barrels before bottling. Therefore, I’m not particularly interested in putting any type of proprietary spin or character mark on the GNS itself. When it comes to vodka, I put my mark on the spirit in a couple of other ways, which we’ll talk about later, and for Gin, the personal touches I’m concerned with come with the gin basket distillation and botanical recipe.
- I’m not trying to make headlines for how good I am at making GNS. I want to be known for our gins, specifically, my ability to create flavor profiles and complexity within a spirit using ingredients and various distillation methods. I’m not trying to win any awards for the GNS itself. Not to mention, when 99% of the gin distillers I love and respect are using purchased GNS for their base, I don’t really feel a need to reinvent the wheel.
THIS IS ALL TO SAY, if I do decide in the future to produce a premium or higher-end vodka, a vodka that aims to showcase terroir or a vodka that aims to showcase a single varietal grape distillate, I would then absolutely invest in distilling my own GNS. The same goes for our Old Tom Gin. We recently milled and mashed two batches of 100% two-row malted barley, open-top fermented in house to encourage proprietary yeast, bacteria and funk, then stripped, distilled and now have them snoozing in two used red wine barrels. When it came to our Old Tom, which gets a little hibernation period in oak and relies on the delicious, malty character of it’s base, it was super important for me to start from grain.
Wheeew. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to the distillation process shall we!?
VODKA… pretty simple. We take our 172% Grape GNS, put it in our still and run it through our ten-inch, eight-plate column at a happy medium rate. Not too slow, not too fast. We get rid of the little bit of heads that remain (alcohols or congeners that come off before ethanol), collect the hearts and then – here’s where I start to make some proprietary decisions as distiller – make a pretty late tails cut. This means I wait until we collect roughly 5 – 10 % of the tails (alcohols or congeners that come off after ethanol) before I finish collecting what I’m going to eventually bottle.
The reason I keep a bit of the tails in the allotment for bottling, is that the early tails on this grape GNS have a lovely, creamy vanilla note that has become the hallmark of our Y&Y vodka. This creaminess and luxurious texture add to the spirit’s overall drinkability and perceived quality.
We then run the tails off until they get to about ~40 % and store them separately for a few reasons…
- Just incase the batch ends up needing a bit more tails after proofing/sitting, before bottling, to maintain consistency with previous batches.
- To add to the next vodka run for consistency in flavor.
- To save money! Tails still contain a fair amount of alcohol and ABV = $$.
GIN… same. exact. process. EXCEPT for two differences:
- I make an early tails cut so I have a base of straight neutral hearts (I don’t want those creamy, heavier vanilla flavors competing with the botanicals).
- The hearts make their way through a gin basket packed with botanicals before re-condensing and being collected. When we’re making gin, we layer our gin basket (a cylindrical perforated-metal tea bag of sorts) first with a thin later cheese cloth, then with our dry botanicals (for Sunday, that’s gently cracked juniper, ground coriander seed and dried rose hips), then fresh botanicals (grapefruit peel, orange peel and mint) then more of the dry (as we want to protect the fresh ingredients as much as possible so they don’t “cook” too quickly). We run the GNS very slowly so as to maximize the flavor extraction from every single little bit of botanicals! Gotta get your money’s worth when working expensive ingredients, but we also want to maximize flavor so we get the very best out of every run.
After that, both spirits will sit in their stainless steel collection tanks, un-proofed, for at least a day or two to settle and off-gas (release any ill-tasting gasses they may be holding on to), before being proofed (reverse osmosis water is added to bring the high proof spirit down the the desired alcohol content for bottling and sale, both of which are a standard 40% or 80 proof). Once a batch is proofed, we’ll let that sit for another day or so to marry and settle again. After that it’s into the bottle! We don’t filter any of our spirits beyond a simple coffee filter-like mesh strainer situation just to make sure no solids, dust or distillery dog hair make it into the final product.
After getting their respective labels and neck tags, they get a quick visual check to make sure everything’s gone on correctly, packed up in cases and either head to the bar for front of house bottle sales or off to our distributor for account delivery!