anglais

The quality of a fruit alcohol is mainly due to quality of the fruit tree. Even the best distiller cannot create a high quality alcohol using poor quality fruits and therefore a poor quality mash. Because only a good enough base product can turn into a fruity alcohol. Unlike consumption fruits, the appearance  of the fruits used to make the alcohol isn’t very important as long as the maturity and flavour of the fruit is not affected.

For fruits, we separate the time of harvest from the moment of consumption. For stone fruits, these two periods coincide pretty much. For pip fruits, especially the winter varieties, they can separated by several months. Some winter varieties of apple and pear reach maturity only after a long storage. Once the fruit has reached maturity, it is time to start the fermentation.

  • Optimal maturity to obtain the characteristic and pronounced aroma of the variety.
  • If possible, a high percentage of sugar for a good yield of alcohol.
  • A healthy fruit, rotten fruit have no flavour.
  • A cleaned fruit, dirty fruits produce a poor quality schnaps

Mouldy, rotten or green fruits are and will remain unusable.


 

Meticulously cleaned and chosen fruits 

Fallen fruits (or fruits which has been made to fall) must be carefully collected and everything that is stuck to them removed (such as earth, stones, grass or leaves). The fruits should be washed thoroughly with water before maceration, especially fruits picked up from the ground, which are naturally very affected from a microbiological point of view, to eliminate any microorganisms or pesticides which may be present on them. Indeed, a dirty fruit can be bad for the fermentation. Fruits grown for the manufacture of Schnaps mainly come from plantations or well maintained fruit crops, and mostly only picked fruits are used, thereby limiting the risks.

For quinces, before maceration, the fine duvet is removed, because it contains an oil that becomes rancid, making the mash unfit for distillation. This cleaning is often done manually using a brush.

Before maceration, the fruits must be sorted. The not yet ripe, moldy ore rotten fruits need to be discarded because they would cause significant aromatic losses, or even undesirable aromatic defects (such as a mouldy brick flavour).

 


 

For the sugar, which is the substrate for the fermentation, to be released more easily, some cells must be broken. That is why it is sometimes useful to cut or crush the fruit before the fermentation.

This step is not complusery. Indeed, some distillers have no recourse to this preparation because it can take a long time depending on the quantity of fruit. Fermentation will be longer because the cells will have to be broken. Most fruits can be placed such as in the barrels to be fermented. So this step is optional, except for certain fruits.

Climacteric fruits are fruits that are characterized by their self-maturation. Indeed, a climacteric fruit continues to ripen even after they are picked. It is therefore compulsory to cut them into small pieces to stop their ripening and thus avoid having an overripe fruit : this can make a bad quality spirit. The William pear is an example climacteric fruit.  

For this preparation, we take into account the special requirements of pip and stone fruits:

- For pip fruits, crushed puree is highly conducive to a good fermentation, because the cells are more divided, making the puree more liquid. For this we use fruit mills. For dry purees (quince for example), it is often necessary to add water to avoid the mash bubbling up, which would result in hollow cavities in which mould could develop.

- Stone fruits simply need to be crushed or pounded, to avoid as much as possible to break the stones, because they contain aromatic substances related to sugar (hydrocyanic acid and benzaldehyde), which are extracted more slowly from an intact stone than from a broken stone. These are at the source of a bitter almond flavour.

According with the aromas that are wanted, it is, or isn’t necessary keep the stone.

If the final distillate must:

  • have no almond flavour, the stones will be removed before the preparation.
  • have  a delicate almond flavour, the stones are removed after fermentation
  • have a pronounced almond taste, the stones remain in the puree.

 

 

Maceration of fruit

 Raspberry


Depending on the fruit which needs to be distilled, distillers use either fermentation, or maceration.

Maceration is a technique that involves soaking a substance in a liquid. There are two types of maceration, the alcoholic maceration which consists in dipping the substance in a strong alcohol, and hydrolic maceration which involves soaking a substance in cold water or oil. Maceration can last several hours, days or weeks. Maceration is used to extract flavours, conserve food or disintegrate it, like for the fabrication of liquid manure in organic farming.

In the case of schnaps, alcoholic maceration is used with fruits with a too low sugar concentration to produce a sufficient quantity of alcohol by fermentation. These fruits are raspberries, blueberries and wild berries. We do a cold maceration to extract the aromatic substances of the fruit. 

In order to perform maceration we will need 40 litres of spirits for 100 kilograms of fruit. The natural flavours of the fruit will slowly mix with the spirits before being removed by distillation. 

If the soaking is too short, the flavours pass in to little quantity or incompletely to distinguish the flavour of the fruit. On the other hand if the soaking is too long, the fruit can start decomposing itself and bring unwanted tastes.

The list of fruits authorised for maceration is limited by reglementations.

 

Finishing the brandy

The finish is an essential step, as the freshly distilled brandy not yet sufficiently smooth. It has a very high rate of alcohol and occasionally some visual defects. 

The finish involves several steps:


- Ageing

- Dilution

- Filtration


Ageing:

 

Freshly distilled brandy is not yet sufficiently smooth. That is why it is stored before we proceed with the reduction of alcohol and bottling. Best finish requires some heat, but also a good oxygenation. For water spirits high alcohol content, storage time is usually between 2 to 4 months (6 to 12 being least preferred) in a dark and well tempered. But the duration of the aging and storage techniques are left to the discretion of the manufacturer and remain a closely guarded secret. Depending on the distiller, the containers will also change. Nevertheless, the special metal containers and glass ones are currently the most used. The spirits are usually stored in tanks, in barrels or in bonbonnes.

Here are three different kinds of storage containers among many others:

Cylinders (: These are the recipent of glass surrounded by willow.

 

 

 

The stainless steel tanks

 

 

 

 

 

The oak

 

 

 

To store the schnapps, it is best to place it in an attic or outside, away from light. The temperature differences are beneficial for the schnaps, they improve the concentration of their flavours. The summer heat does indeed increases the volume of the schnaps and allows the evaporation of the most aggressive and strong alcohol, and the cold of winter acts as a natural filter. The impurities settle to the bottom of the barrels.

After a sufficient period of storage, the schnaps will contain new flavours and loose its bitter taste. It will become softer, smoother and will have a much better taste.

Dilution:

  The spirit contains a very strong amount of alcohol after the distillation, the heart of the distillation, for example, contains between 60 and 70 vol%, which makes it undrinkable for both health reasons and for reasons of taste and aroma. If the alcohol level is too high, the precious fruit aromas are to concontrated, making the water of life too strong and too spicy. If the alcohol level is too low, the spirits taste flat. To make it edible, the alcohol concentration must be lowered by diluting it with "pure and neutral” water. For fruit alcohol, the alcohol degree is most often between 38 and 42% vol. This also sometimes depends on regulation texts (eg. For “Appellations d’ Origine Contrôlées, AOC).

We will explain further on exactly how the alcohol degree is measured, in the

  Filtration:


This step is not always necessary, but occasionally, some visual defects occur during the dilution of the schnaps to make it edible. These defects are strongly due to certain substances present in the schnaps : congeners. These are secondary produces of the fermentation, acids, esters, aldehydes, fusel oils, mineral extracts and other solutes traces (see fermentation chapter). These components are part of the alcohol which is produced and some have a negative effect on it. That is why the schnaps is filtered.

The best filtering is obtained by cooling the schnaps to -6 degrees Celsius before making it pass through a micro filter. This gives a clear schnaps, even when it is chilled. The dirt settles to the bottom of the container because of the cold, so easyer to retrieve it using a micro-filter. The alcohol is also purified with actif carbon to remove fusel oils which have a bad odor. 
But for an amateur distiller it is difficult to use the same techniques as in a large distillery, so a coffee filter could do the trick.

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