We recently took a trip over to Wild Buck Distillery, where we learned a few things about making some good, down home whiskey. But, at every distillery we’ve visited, there seems to be one thing that always nagged at me. That is, that many places like to give their mash some level of exposure to the air around it (in a sanitary way, of course). But, I finally had the courage (or enough samples of whiskey) to ask why. I’d done some homebrewing of beer, and, if you’ve made any, you know the absolute meticulous chore it is to maintain nearly perfect sanitization during the entire process. This includes containing it in something as absolutely air-tight as possible during primary and secondary fermentation.
The answer is quite simple, if not completely obvious.
The difference is that you actually drink the entire product when you make beer. With whiskey, you drink the distilled alcohol from the entire product. Where the beer needs to remain sterile from wort to consumption, the alcohol distilled from the mash is not affected nearly as much as beer. Not just that, but any bacteria that would otherwise ruin a beer can’t survive in the high proof of distilled liquid and the process of distillation. This means that the exposure itself doesn’t negatively impact the whiskey.
Many distillers actually swear by the fact that the early exposure, along with the barrel aging, give their whiskey a unique and unduplicatable taste that makes their product one-of-a-kind.