GRAYBEARD brings the BEDLAM W
hen Scott Russ set out to craft a new American vodka, he had no interest in using wheat, potatoes, or any other commonly used bases. It was rice or bust for the head distiller of Durham, North Carolina’s Graybeard Distillery, mainly because he was intent on replicating an old nineteenth-century family recipe from Ireland. When Russ’s grandfather described the fabled hooch to his grandson, he likened it to vodka. So it would be a rice vodka, not an unaged rice whiskey, that Graybeard would create. In theory, it seemed pretty simple and straightforward, but in practice it was a whole other story. The distillery tinkered quite a bit with the recipe in 10-gallon batches before Graybeard was ready to produce it on a commercial scale. Eventually the team achieved the flavor profile for what would become Bedlam vodka: a bit of sweetness, with hints of vanilla, citrus, and an herbaceous, peppery earthiness. “We probably did about 25 to 30 different runs when we hit on the flavor profile early on,” recalls Russ. “From a smallbatch perspective, it was just a matter of how much stress we could put on the process without losing that flavor profile.” But the biggest challenges emerged when it came time to scale up production. “It was not a linear move from five to 500 gallons,” Russ reveals. That’s where production and facilities operations director Shane McCurdy came in. McCurdy was tasked with managing the scale-up to distribution-ready batches—a complicated matter when you’re dealing with a grain that doesn’t always want to cooperate. And the particular breed of rice Graybeard uses for the vodka—a Louisiana-grown long-grain style—is especially stubborn. “Long-grain white rice, unlike fluffy white rice, is very tightly wrapped,” McCurdy explains. “Just to get through the protein and get the starch to break out is extremely challenging. Most use one or two enzymes to do that, but we have to use several rounds of enzymes at multiple temperatures.” Temperature control is another key challenge with rice, as the distillers must maintain a temperature that’s higher than that for most other mash types. The fermentation process itself takes about twice as long WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
Durham, North Carolina distillery shakes up the vodka category with a rice-based spirit that’s not short on personality. WRITTEN BY JEFF CIOLETTI PHOTOGRAPHS PROVIDED BY G R AY B E A R D D I S T I L L E R Y
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