The Yeast We Could Do: Fermentation Made Simple (Guest Post by Thomas E. Harkins)

An old sea shanty asks, “What would you do with a drunken sailor?” and offers a variety of solutions. But what if you were faced with a drunken moose, a massive, 1,200 lb. mega-deer, juiced up and sloppy? This isn’t really a problem in Brooklyn, where moose (if not drunks) are scarce, but it has become a cultural phenomenon in Sweden, where moose abound.

How, precisely, does a moose become drunken? In a word: fermentation. Moose have an enormous appetite for fallen apples, which, left on the ground, begin to decompose and produce alcohol. Though some scientists question the logistics of moose intoxication (a half-ton animal would need to consume a LOT of fermented apples to catch a buzz) there is ample evidence that the animals do behave erratically, even dangerously, after consuming the apples: falling into swimming pools, ramming cars, getting stuck in trees, terrorizing people in their homes (a fairly typical weekend for me during my teen years, actually).

According to Merriam-Webster Online, Fermentation (from the Latin, fermentare, meaning “to leaven”) is:

industry cityAn enzymatically controlled anaerobic breakdown of an energy-rich compound (as a carbohydrate to carbon dioxide and alcohol or to an organic acid).

Everyone got that? No? Well, don’t feel bad; we never paid much attention during Chemistry class either.

But many of Brooklyn Spirits’ featured distillers discussed fermentation during their interviews. The key thing to remember is that while fermentation does occur in nature, distillers (and brewers) over the millennia have learned how to harness this natural process, in the interest of shaping their finished products. Dave and Zac from Industry City Distilling have it—quite literally—down to a science. Dave told us:

“I pretty much shut myself away in the lab, and worked on a new piece of technology, that’s based on biotech, called a mobilized cell bioreactor. And what that does is it lets you take all the power of those giant fermentation vessels, and put it into a very small container. And what you get is, in some ways, flash fermentation.”

Thanks to their ingenious bioreactor, Dave and Zac are able to elliptically edit the process of fermenting 14% alcohol from two weeks down to a daily occurrence, saving time, space and money as a result. Their equipment is a phenomenal sight to behold, which is why we encourage everyone to take one of their Saturday tours.

Bridget Firtle of The Noble Experiment, NYC is another compelling tour guide who has mastered the art of explaining fermentation in simple terms. During her interview she waxed eloquently about fermentation, and what makes her Owney’s Original NYC Rum so unique:

“Sugar is imperative to making alcohol, because during fermentation the yeast eat up the sugars in the liquid and they make carbon dioxide, ethanol and heat; carbon dioxide being the purest form of alcohol you can get, also the most palatable… I’m using a molasses that’s got about 80 percent sugar, because I wanted to make, basically a hybrid, a combo between what I love about agricole rums and what I like about traditional, blackstrap rums, and meet in the middle.”

But if you really want to get down to brass tacks, just talk to Brad Estabrooke of Breuckelen Distilling about whiskey. He told us:

“There’s a million ways to make a whiskey. All it is is fermented grain, distilled from grain, and aged in oak … super simple definition, right?”

Right you are, Brad. It’s a wonder more people aren’t making their own booze. But with craftsmen like Dave, Zac, Brad and Bridget around, we’d just as soon drink theirs!