I’ve been writing a lot about whiskey on the blog so far, and I wanted to take a pause and send some love to two other special spirits in my life: our vodka(s) and the Memphis Toddy.
The Toddy and I have a love-hate relationship: I absolutely love to drink it, but it’s a very involved spirit to make. We use a high-rye bourbon that’s about four years old, and we combine it with hot water and add what are, essentially, giant tea bags! They’re mesh bags that we put all of the dried botanicals in – then they’re tied up so nothing can get out. The reasoning behind putting them in these bags, as opposed to just dropping everything directly into the bourbon and water mix, is that it allows it to steep without us having to filter out all those botanicals and huge chunks of orange peel.
We keep the bags in the bourbon mixture for about 18 hours – so, overnight, of course – and then we come in the next morning, remove all the bags and get all the dry ingredients out. By that point, each bag is pushing like 70 pounds because it’s absorbed so much liquid in that time! Dried citrus peels like to absorb a lot of water. Then, we add natural grapefruit extract and natural orange extract, because those provide a much brighter flavor than a dry peel does. The really bright notes that you first get when you taste the Toddy are from those extracts. So we add those, and we also add a fair amount of sugar. I won’t admit to how many pounds, but there is a fair amount of liquid sucrose that goes in! After that, filtering usually takes two days because cinnamon is such a fine dust, and you’ve got the citrus peels as well, and that’s why it’s so tedious. You have a blending process that’s already two days long and then another two days for filtering on top of it. But then, it’s ready to bottle!
For our vodkas, the process is very different. What I think most people don’t realize about making a spirit like a vodka is just the time that actually goes into it. It’s not a faucet that you turn on and vodka just magically comes out. For us, the process actually takes about a week or a week and a half from start to finish.
We mill the grain, then cook it, then let it ferment for three to five days. And then that fermenter, that distiller’s beer, has to go through what we call our whiskey system. It’s our little 70-gallon doubler. That process gets us to 130 proof, and we have to get up to 190 at least. So the next day you take that and spend another nine to twelve hours distilling it from 130 to 190-194 proof.
If you want to get an even deeper understanding of how these spirits are made, you should come see us for a Distillery tour. And the Toddy has a story that’s pretty special – you can read more about it here.