There is a lot that goes into the efforts resulting in the honey-colored glass of whisky that swirls like liquid sunshine in your hand. What many of us don’t see is that there’s a lot that comes out of the efforts as well. Some of those results are happily snapped up by folks who see the benefit of a symbiotic relationship with the distillery. Others are a headache for the distillery, and their disposal must be dealt with in a manner that will please helpful government officials, caring and concerned environmental agencies and any chef serving fish that understands customers will likely not order Fresh, local salmon infused with a lively hint of toxins.
These extras that appear alongside the whisky making process are what the industry refers to as co-products. I’ll walk you through the most notable, attempt to explain them in rough laymen terms and give you an idea as to what distilleries do with all this additional … output.
First of all, let’s give a nod to our malt distiller as he makes up a batch of grist, adds hot water to dissolve the soluble sugars and starch, and after draining off all that marvelous sweet liquid (wort), he’s left with a mash tun full of protein-rich food that farm animals are more than happy to take off his hands. They sort of lick the bowl clean from the proverbial cookie making.
This good-for-you-gruel is called draff and is carted away to grain plants and sold on to farmers as livestock food. Although a well-run industry, in some places, farmers still have personal relationships with distilleries, and set up their own daily pickups to collect the feed. Such a hit with the cattle crowd, sometimes I swear I actually see a heifer behind the wheel in the cab of a truck hauling their score home themselves.
Ultimately, the distillery benefits a bit more from this working relationship in that not only are they getting rid of by-product—and at a profit—but that product is then consumed, returned to the land in the form of farmyard manure and finally added to the fields to grow the next shipment of grain. Buy grain, use grain, eat grain, poop grain, grow grain. Okay, so it may never be used as a t-shirt slogan, but I think I made my point. It’s a good cycle.
Distilleries need farmers. In fact, if I owned a distillery, I’d probably paste a few stickers on my bottle that announced my true admiration for the farming industry at large, like: My other vehicle is a tractor or I dig pigs or I’d draw a big heart with two cow’s feet in the middle and use the slogan Hoof hearted (go ahead and say that last one out loud a couple times just for fun).
Of course, farmers need distilleries as well—well, maybe need isn’t the right word … maybe worship. Again, perhaps that’s stretching it a bit far, but anyone who gets head-butted countless times a day by ornery farm animals understands exactly what it takes to ease aching muscles and top off a day of back-breaking work: a small glass of liquid gold.
Feeding draff to livestock goes well back to the days when distilleries were farm based. It was logical and profitable to make the most of all you had. Waste not, want not, right?
Eventually, production levels of spirit increased, as did the draff quantity. Manufacturing plants, designed to dry the draff and process it into pellet form, sprung up around distilleries to service the industry, creating yet another mutually beneficial working relationship. It’s nice to see so many backs free from itch.
Okay, so we dipped a toe into this territory and I think I’ll save the next chunk for next week. Time to sit back, take a sip and think about your draff … I mean dram.