How to Pick the Right Enzymes for Craft Distilling

Proof 33

wheat-grains-for-spirit-craft-distilling

Why Use Enzymes Instead of Malt?

For alcoholic beverages based on the fermentation of starchy raw grain like barley, maize (corn), rye, or wheat, enzymes are commonly added to speed up the fermentation process and maximize yield.

The thing is, starchy grains are made up of strong glucose bonds that yeast can’t convert into alcohol on its own. Breaking up those bonds was previously achieved by turning the grains into malt through a lengthy process of drying and germination.

Today, it’s fairly common for commercial productions, micro-distilleries, and craft operations alike to add enzymes instead of, or in addition to, malt grains.

Using enzymes in the distillation process saves on water and energy costs, helps you avoid using chemicals in your processes, and allows you to take full advantage of valuable back stillage that can be used to create whiskey from the sour mash.

Enzyme products store for longer periods of time in bulk than malt grains. Enzymes also help distillers achieve those sought-after, high gravity fermentations while preserving nutrients, and produce a consistent product down to a science.

When compared to the benefits of only using malt, you can barely tell the difference.

The science of distilling is certainly an art that is unique to each product and distillery, but the essential stages of converting a grain to a delicious drink can often easily be aided by the enzyme.

Enzyme the Enabler: How Enzymes Conquer the Distillation Process

Essentially, enzymes help yeast produce alcohol.

But for yeast to convert sugar into alcohol, enzymes must first destroy – like the Viking warriors of the distillation process, if you will.

Yeast needs bite-sized pieces of glucose molecules to change them into alcohol. In the old days, adding malt alone was the main method in naturally obtaining alcohol from a starchy base. Today, malt is often replaced or supplemented with enzymes, which are much more efficient than the malting process in getting the sugar-chomping job done.

In this analogy, yeast is the clean-up crew that takes advantage of the extra glucose molecules (sugar wreckage) that enzymes have helped create. The result is the reduction of viscosity and starchiness and increased alcohol content in the yield.

Enzymes work in two stages.

  1. The first is liquefaction. The starchy grain product is broken down into a gelatinized product by the front-line enzymes, instead of using the traditional pressure-cooking method. Optimize liquefaction by using alpha amylases to break down the gelatinized starch to shorter molecules (dextrins). 
  2. The second stage is saccharificationGlucoamylase enzymes further break down starch molecules and dextrins. These enzyme results in sugars that can be changed to alcohol by the yeast fermentation process.

To improve the results of fermentation, it's important to use a quality enzyme product that is specially developed for craft productions.

Enzyme Envy: How to Pick the Perfect Enzyme for Your Process

Not all enzymes are created equal. There’s a wide variety of enzymes available for the distilling process, each custom-made to fit the process of a particular production.

The right enzyme will optimize your mash for wheat, barley, and rye. Pick carefully to avoid an overly starchy or viscose mash.

ALPHA AMYLASE - beat the heat!

For the starch liquefaction stage, you'll need a heat-stable alpha amylase to withstand a hot cook. Try Alphazyme SK5.

GLUCOAMYLASE - guarantee saccharification!

For the starch saccharification stage, you'll need glucoamylase like Glucomyl Ultra. This enzyme breaks down both the a(1,4) and a (1,6) glycosidic bonds from dextrins to form glucose.

CELLULASE - lower viscosity!

Lower the viscosity of rye, barley, or wheat mash with cellulase like Celluferm Pro 1X.

BETA-GLUCANASE - save on water!

To save water on a sour mash, a product like Betaxyl 2X beta-glucanase combines cellulose and xylanase for a guaranteed full conversion.


It’s only a matter of enzyme before you're ready to optimize your spirit process with the help of this hard-working ingredient.

Proof33 has carefully selected enzymes that will make your processes smoother and less like a clock-watching marathon. Get in touch to test our products or small batches, or explore the enzymes we have available below.

Explore Our Selection of Premium Enzymes