By Clare Goggin Sivits On January 4, 2024

How & Why Do Distilleries Source Grain Neutral Spirits

ClearSource produces grain neutral spirits, seen here in a glass.

Craft distilleries often save time, money and resources by sourcing goods and services through vendors. One such good: grain neutral spirits (also known as GNS), a mass-produced distillate that can be used as the versatile base for a variety of liquors. Sometimes called neutral grain spirit (NGS), it allows distillers the freedom to focus on crafting innovative beverages.

Many newly launched spirits brands find value in this strategy. As they’re starting out, many of these burgeoning companies don’t have the bandwidth to distill spirits consistently or at high enough volumes to fine-tune a product.

During our experience as a liquor marketing company, we’ve seen a number of clients benefit from GNS. A vendor dedicated to creating the distillate has the capability and the time to deliver a pure and high-quality alcohol. A smaller producer may not have the luxury of spending lots of time on that task when they have other business and operational responsibilities to consider.

To get a better understanding of how the GNS process works, we spoke to Mallory Giambra of ClearSource. She shared her insights about GNS and how distilleries can succeed in using this product.

Read on for a bit more information about building a stronger alcohol brand through GNS.

What is a grain-neutral spirit or GNS?

GNS is a high-proof, neutral-flavored, distilled spirit produced from grain.

Grain neutral spirits can be produced from various grains, including corn, wheat, rye, rice, whey, or other materials such as apples or grapes. The term neutral refers to the fact that this rectified spirit should be tasteless and odorless, lacking a distinct flavor, aroma, or color.

Grain neutral spirits are distilled to an extremely high purity level, often distilled multiple times, up to 95 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), or 190 proof.

How are grain-neutral spirits made?

ClearSource packages grain neutral spirits in large drums.

A natural fermentation process is used to produce GNS. First, grain is selected; in our case, this is corn. Then, the corn is milled into a coarse powder, increasing surface area and making it easier for enzymes to convert starches into fermentable sugars.

Milled grain is then mashed, converting starches into fermentable sugars. This mash is fermented, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. Finally, the mash is distilled, in our case, seven times through nearly 600 feet of distillation, which results in an extremely high-proof, neutral alcohol.

Our process can take this one step further through an optional carbon filtration system, enhancing smoothness and providing an excellent base for vodka.

Why do distilleries source grain-neutral spirits?

There are multiple reasons distilleries source grain neutral spirits. The scale, cost, and quality to which a large manufacturer can produce grain neutral spirits are much more efficient than a distillery’s ability.

Grain neutral spirits are an excellent place for a distillery to start. The neutrality and purity of grain neutral spirits are like a blank canvas for a distiller. As a completely neutral base, distillers have the ability to create a wide range of spirits and truly craft a spirit that is unique to their brand.

What benefits come with sourcing grain-neutral spirits?

There are several benefits to sourcing GNS.

  • Efficiency: We can produce over 15 million gallons of high-purity alcohol annually and can fill a tote of GNS in just over 3 minutes.
  • Consistency: Producing spirits on a large scale means a consistent base. We ensure that each batch maintains the highest quality and neutrality, reducing the need for extensive blending and adjustments saving time and resources.
  • Reduced ingredient costs: Using a base spirit can significantly reduce the costs associated with processing small batches of raw materials. This enables distillers to leverage our economies of scale to their advantage.
  • Quality assurance: Distillers can achieve a consistently high-quality product using grain-neutral spirits. At ClearSource, our GNS goes through rigorous quality control testing and sensory panels to detect nuances that may not appear in lab testing, saving time in quality control and helping maintain the brand’s integrity.
  • Scaling production: Grain neutral spirits are a practical solution for scaling up production. Distillers can use the base to increase output without expanding the capacity of their existing distillation equipment. Sourcing GNS is also a great way to test recipes before scaling up production.
  • Flexibility: The versatility of using GNS streamlines the production process and reduces the need for specialized equipment.
  • Cost savings: GNS can often be a more cost-effective ingredient compared to other types of spirits with more ingredients, such as brown spirits. This is also the case when comparing using a large-scale producer to leverage economies of scale compared to producing in-house, which reduces production costs, thus allowing distillers to allocate resources to other aspects of the distilling process.
  • Time savings: Unlike a large-scale manufacturer, most distilleries will run their GNS through their system in multiple passes to achieve higher purity and remove the heads and tails. By sourcing GNS from a vendor like ClearSource, they can trust that additional distillation won’t be needed.

What makes grain-neutral spirits a superior base for crafting spirits?

Grain neutral spirits are very versatile. Using GNS as a base saves distillers time and money to focus on what they do best – crafting spirits unique to their brand.

Many distilleries specialize in brown spirits, which can take years to age. Producing a “clear spirit” such as vodka or gin is a great way to churn out products and generate capital while waiting for their whiskeys or bourbons to age.

What can a distillery make from grain-neutral spirits?

A very adaptable spirit, GNS is a blank canvas for distilleries. The most common and widely known uses include vodka, gin and flavored liquors. But the uses extend beyond these spirits.

Distilleries also produce bitters, RTDs, liquors, Limoncello, Amaro, white whiskeys, Crème de cassis, aquavit, mead and much more with GNS as a base. It can also be used in several other applications, such as fortifying wine or cannabis tinctures.

Because of the high-proof GNS we sell at 190 proof, distillers can get creative and produce spirits at whatever proof they desire.

How will a distillery’s spirits stand out when they’re made with grain-neutral spirits?

The high purity and neutrality of a high-quality GNS will let a distiller’s creation shine through, as it is an entirely neutral spirit that will not impede flavor or aroma.

Once a distillery sources grain-neutral spirits, what do they do next?

A distillery that has sourced GNS can immediately start using it in production. Distillers can let their creativity run, customizing blending, deproofing and adding ingredients. The sky’s the limit!

When a distillery is starting out, what amount of grain-neutral spirits would they need to produce a lineup of spirits?

At ClearSource, we sell our 190 proof GNS by drum, tote, tanker, or rail. For most, totes are a great start. One tote of 190 proof GNS will yield over 3,200 750 ml bottles at 80 proof!

Clare Goggin Sivits

As a marketer with a strong writing background, Clare Goggin Sivits has worked in the beer, spirits, and wine industries for nearly a decade. She oversaw digital marketing for a small wine startup as well as a craft brewery and distillery with a nationwide footprint. A Florida ex-pat, Clare now lives in Portland, Oregon, and continues to write about craft beverage marketing and the industry as a whole.

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