In 1993, Georg Hiebl took over the distillery that had been part of the family’s agricultural business and, together with his brother Robert, gave it a new direction – producing quality distillates. In 1997, the company purchased a 150 L fractionating column and built a new mashing room. At the time, the brothers entered four product samples at the ‘Destillata’ fine-spirit awards to ascertain the quality of their products. Winning one silver and two bronze medals on their first try was evidence that the company was already well on its way. And more success soon followed. As early as 1999, they won their first gold medal and since then, they have regularly featured among the winners, taking home the overall prize on several occasions. In 2013, they entered 52 samples and received 51 medals, 19 of them gold, winning such awards as “Distillates of the Year” and even earning record-breaking maximum points in some categories. After their unprecedented success in German-speaking countries, the Hiebls also started to excel at international events, such as the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) in London, where they were named “Boutique Distiller of the Year 2014”. The secret to their success lies in choosing the best raw ingredients, thorough fermentation and distillation methods and a special combination of Eaton filtration systems.
In terms of the raw ingredients, which come primarily from the surrounding region, the ripeness of the fruit is a decisive quality criterion for producing fine spirits. The best distillates can only be produced from a high-quality base product, namely fruit that is fully ripe, healthy and clean. After sorting, crushing and mashing, enzymes are added and the fruits are acidified and then fermented with yeast. Once the alcoholic fermentation process is complete, the actual distillation begins, during which the alcohol is removed from the mash before being concentrated. Each distillation run is divided into three phases, the “heads”, the “hearts” and the “tails”; the hearts constitute the actual distillate. Time is an important factor during distillation. Only with patience and experience is it possible to achieve the best results. To ensure that only highly volatile and unwanted substances such as acetic acid esters and acetaldehyde are separated with the heads, the heating process needs to be especially slow. If the master distiller applies too much heat during this process step, the distillate will lose valuable flavours that absolutely must be preserved in the hearts. It is therefore important to apply heat at a constant rate. It is this stage of the process that contains all the desired and value-adding elements, including aromatic compounds and potable alcohol. As the tails contain higher-boiling elements that are undesirable in a high-quality end product they are separated during distillation. During the filtration process that follows the storage of the distillate and its adjustment to drinking strength, the Hiebl distillery relies on Eaton filtration systems. “For this process, it is crucial to have filter sheets with different retention rates that we can select and combine as required,” explains Georg Hiebl. “We rely on Eaton’s extensive range of filtration systems and also receive detailed advice and information about the latest developments, an added value that helps us maintain our high standards.”
Apart from a few exceptions when almost no filtration takes place, the majority of products are filtered. The BECO SELECT A depth filter sheets and filters from the BECO standard range are used to remove unwanted substances from the distillate. They enable the targeted filtration of high-quality spirits and offer distillers consistency in colour, flavour and aroma.
The BECO SELECT A depth filter sheets, with a nominal separation rate of 0.8 microns or 2.5 microns, are ideal for aroma-preserving filtration. The sheets combine a high adsorption capacity for long- and medium-chain fatty acid esters (which cause turbidity) at higher filtration temperatures with a low adsorption rate of value-adding, short-chain fatty acid esters and a high absorption capacity for fusel oils and essential oils. They also safely separate fine colloidal and coarsely-dispersed materials and minimise crystalline precipitates, including calcium and magnesium impurities, metallic impurities and carbon particles. This is made possible by the pore structure of the depth filter sheets and the use of high-quality raw materials. The sheets are made from pure, natural materials that carry cationic charges, including finely fibrillated cellulose fibres from deciduous and coniferous woods, as well as diatomaceous earth and perlite. In addition, the depth filter sheets have a low content of calcium, magnesium and iron ions to prevent clouding and also preserve the distillate colour by reducing colour adsorption to a minimum. This is an important aspect, since preserving the natural colour of cask-aged distillates, liqueurs and other coloured spirits enhances their optical quality.
The BECO standard depth filters are available with retention rates of 0.1 to 4.0 microns. As a result, they can be precisely adapted to the requirements of the application at hand. The depth filter sheets can filter both coarse and fine particles, and thanks to their large-volume cavity structure, they also have a high absorption capacity for impurities.
At the Georg Hiebl distillery, filtration is carried out in aroma-preserving temperatures of between 4 °C and 8 °C, sometimes with very coarse filters. In each distillation run, two to five different filter strengths are used and the filtrate is then tested by means of blind tasting. Through this process, it quickly becomes clear which filters and filter combinations are best suited to each type of distillate. The ideal filter strength depends on many individual factors, such as the type and variety of fruit, the method of mechanical processing, the enzymatic digestion mechanism, the amount and duration of mixing, as well as the distillation rate and method. To keep the distillate stable when using coarser sheets that filter very slowly, an especially gentle pump is used to ensure low-pressure filtration.
The ultimate goal of the Hiebl brothers is to further improve the scent and flavour of the distillate, and to achieve excellent results by means of a finely tuned filtration process. Aroma-concealing secondary notes, known as “veils”, and any bitter sensations that overwhelm the palate need to be reduced, whilst preserving the desired odour as well as the mild to moderate bitter notes that enhance the richness of the flavour. It is also important to retain the pronounced, fruity pressure on the palate that is characteristic of a pear brandy, for instance. “With the BECO SELECT A depth filter sheets and the BECO standard range from Eaton, we have achieved exactly what we wanted to in terms of filtration: getting the best results from fine distillates,” adds Georg Hiebl.
The Hiebls have achieved their ambition by combining filtration systems from Eaton with their extensive knowledge of the distillation process. This successful combination has been recognised and honoured by awards a hundred times over. Rather than resting on their laurels, however, the brothers continue to pursue their goal of producing only the finest spirits. The Hiebls’ process shows that in addition to the time factor – which is also reflected in the slow rate of filtration – the right temperature and the selection and combination of filter sheets are equally important. Thanks to their ability to finely calibrate these parameters, the Hiebl brothers are able to offer a special sensory experience, by creating award-winning distillates that are marked by purity, clarity and unfailingly high spirits.