Giant bags of wheat (and corn and barley) cluster in one corner of the large warehouse room that serves as a distillery. All of 2Bar's wheat comes from the town of Wilbur, Washington, making it an entirely local operation, from grain to spirit.
Mills like this, Nathan Kaiser tells me, rip off arms at the shoulder if you’re not careful—a prosthetics guy once told him he sees 2 or 3 cases of it a year. But the job here is to mill 200 pounds of grain at a time to a grist, allowing access to the starch (and a tiny bit of needed sugar). When the milling's done, the grist is augured right into the mash tun.
What happens when you mix 200 gallons of steaming hot water with hundreds of pounds of milled grain? Well, basically you get something that tastes like unsweetened oatmeal. At this point, all the starch is released from the grains, so the malted barley is added, and the enzymes in it begin to convert the starch to sugar.
Business End of Mash Tun
The mash gets sweeter by the minute as the enzymes go to work, before it’s time to open this faucet. The grist (roughly milled grain) acts then as a filter, so what actually flows from the mash tun is a dark, but clarified liquid. 2Bar then uses an unusual water and energy recycling process, running purified city water through the wort chiller. Hot wort goes in one end, the cold water in the other, and the heat exchange cools the wort down, while the wort heats the water up—which is used as the hot water for the next day’s mash.
Lovely Ladies (Fermenting Tubs)
June Carter Cash, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, and Connie Smith smile out from 2Bar’s fermenting tubs. “Why label with numbers, when you can pay homage to a little two-step, honky-tonk history? It’s more fun!” Kaiser asks. When the wort is done fermenting, it’s basically an uncarbonated, unhopped beer called a wash. From there, it goes into the wash still.
Collecting just the good parts (or hearts) from 200 gallons of wash would be very difficult or take a very long time without the help of the wash still, which concentrates the alcohol, and makes only 40 gallons of low wines. Then, in the spirit still, those low wines are distilled, the heads and tails are cut, and the final spirit is dialed in.
Heads and tails, pulled from before and after the distilling of the “hearts” are set aside and kept in small containers. Pulling the lid off, I was hit hard with the smell of burnt toast. Kaiser explains that while you don’t want these in moonshine or vodka, a little bit in your white dog will interact with the barrel, adding butterscotch flavors to your bourbon.
Maturing and Proofing
These tanks hold the vodka and moonshine as it proofs and matures. Blue tape keeps track of what exactly is in each mixture.
2Bar is a small operation, and this bottling machine shares a table with a little bit of paperwork and the office pet, a tarantula. On a shelf below is the labeling machine.
You won’t find these 2Bar products on store shelves yet, but as Kaiser constantly reminded me “I own a distillery, I’m going to have fun with it.” Shown here are an experimental gin, brandy, and the not-yet-released bourbon.
Down the street from 2Bar Ranch in Texas is the Spoetzl Brewery, where Shiner Bock beer is brewed, and whose tasting room inspired Kaiser in building his own. “It was like a community center, cattle farmers and oil workers, side by side with housewives and teachers.”