Distilling pomace brandy can make for some long days (and nights) of steamy shoveling, but it can also be a joyful celebration of harvest and the start of Fall. and may be necessary if the pomace is very dry. Winery supply stores stock a variety of food-grade shovels, scoops, and rakes, which can be a serious back-saver compared to the ubiquitous 5-gallon bucket. Slurrying the pomace with water can make it easier to transfer if you really hate shoveling, but the pomace will need to be dewatered after distillation for disposal which is challenging. Adding excessive water reduces the yield, increases the distillation time and dilutes the flavor so there is not much to recommend about it. How the still is heated is another important thing to consider. A bain-marie, or double boiler, is ideal for providing gentle, lowtemperature heat that will not bake the skins onto the still wall. Steam jackets also work but likely need more liquid added to prevent scorching, and heat should be ramped up slowly. Stills with electrical heating elements inside the pot likely will not work unless equipped with a false bottom to keep the pomace from touching the elements. Direct-fire stills are traditional in many places for distilling pomace, but again, care is needed to prevent scorching. The direct-fire stills at Essential Spirits and Mastrogiannis both have a perforated screen false bottom to keep the grapes off the still bottom. Both make sure the dead space is filled with water, wine, or lees. After distillation the skins need to be removed. Cracking open the drain valve can let some of the extra liquid drain out, but the grapes will absorb a surprising amount during distillation. On some German stills the entire drain assembly can be removed which leaves a perfect opening for pushing the pomace out. Classick at Essential Spirits uses a perforated screen basket which a forklift can lift out to speed up cleaning. While it might be tempting to let things cool overnight, that is a good way to bake a 500-pound grape cake that needs to be laboriously chipped out (ask me how I know…). Once the skins are out, hopefully you have a disposal plan. Wineries are usually set up for pomace disposal or composting, but make sure to arrange ahead of time with the winery as it can be expensive to dispose of the pomace yourself depending on scale. Distilling pomace brandy can make for some long days (and nights) of steamy shoveling, but it can also be a joyful celebration of harvest and the start of Fall. Hopefully this will inspire a few hardy souls to start their own harvest traditions!
Andy Garrison is Head Distiller at Stone Barn Brandyworks, where he’s worked since 2012, and has distilled at a few other Portlandarea distilleries including New Deal Distillery and House Spirits Distillery. He really likes Riesling. For more information, email Andy.firstname.lastname@example.org. WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
WHY MAKE POMACE BRANDY? Everyone I spoke to stressed that making pomace brandy is a labor of love, with many logistical challenges and plenty of shoveling. So why do it? CLEAR CREEK DISTILLERY, founded in 1985 in Portland, Oregon, and recently relocated to Hood River, Oregon, has been distilling pomace brandy for most of their company history. Clear Creek had been working with several local Oregon wineries to distill brandy for the wineries to use in fortified or dessert wines, and these relationships led to discussions about pomace and distilling pomace brandy. As a traditionallyminded distillery with a focus on seasonal produce, it was a natural fit and their ties to the wine industry gave them a reliable source for pomace. Clear Creek continues to work with the same wineries each year, producing three red varietals and one white on their 60-gallon Holstein hybrid stills. Dave Classick, Jr. Head Distiller at ESSENTIAL SPIRITS ALAMBIC DISTILLERIES in Mountain View, California, is the second generation to distill pomace brandy after taking over from his father, who founded the distillery in 1998. They produce a wide range of pomace brandy and brandies for local wineries, using a direct-fired copper still from Bordeaux, France. For Classick, distilling pomace brandy “gives a sense of satisfaction from utilizing the whole grape, I imagine the same sort of feeling a butcher gets from using the whole hog.” Classick also loves grappa’s role at mealtime, and cherishes the way a glass gives family a reason to linger at the table and keep the conversation going. For Ilias Mastrogiannis, founder and distiller at MASTROGIANNIS DISTILLERY in Lakewood, Washington, making pomace brandy was a connection to his past and homeland. Growing up in Greece, Mastrogiannis’s father made wine and distilled the byproduct pomace as a way to supplement their income. When he was thinking about starting a distillery, he realized the beautiful wines and vineyards of Washington state would be a perfect fit for the production of brandy and pomace brandy. Mastrogiannis sourced pomace from several wineries initially, and has now begun to produce his own wine for distillation to have better control over the process and pomace. His pomace brandy are double distilled on a small direct-fired copper alembic. Jake Soule, distiller at ADMIRALTY DISTILLERS in Port Townsend, Washington, has been distilling pomace brandy for several years on a steam-jacketed 150-gallon Adrian hybrid still. When asked why pomace brandy, Soule said, “It’s a lot of work, but after working my ass off as a carpenter for 30 years I don’t mind. It gives me the opportunity to play with varietals and educate my palate without having to invest in a ton of grapes of this or that. There’s that, but mostly I just like the stuff!”
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