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How to make vodka at home

Making vodka at home involves fermenting any foodstuff that contains sugar or starch, and then distilling the product to increase its alcohol content. Today, the majority of vodka is made from fermented grains such as sorghum, corn, rice, rye, or wheat. But you can also use potatoes, fruits, or even just sugar.

Making vodka: Step-by-step process

Making vodka: Step-by-step process

For this guide, we will be using potatoes to create the mash for the vodka.

1. Preparing the mash

  • Scrub the potatoes to remove residual dirt. Try using a fruit brush.
  • Cut the potatoes up into cubes to maximize the surface area.
  • Boil the potatoes in 7 gallons of water for 20 minutes.
  • Mash potatoes by hand. You can also use an immersion blender.
  • Pour the mash into your stock pot and add 7 gallons of water.
  • Raise the heat to 140°F and stir continuously until the temperature is reached.
  • While mixing, add 5 pounds of crushed malted barley.
  • Stir for 30 seconds every 4 minutes while holding the temperature at 140°F.
  • After 20 minutes, raise it to 152°F and hold for 1 hour. Stir for 30 seconds every 10 minutes.
  • Take a gravity reading. If below 1.065, add sugar to reach 1.065.
  • Cool it down to 75°F. If possible, cool it overnight to give the barley enzymes more time to break down potato starches.

2. Fermenting the mash

2. Fermenting the mash

  • First, create a yeast starter. Pour 4 oz. of 110 °F water into a sanitized jar and add 2 teaspoons of sugar. Stir thoroughly. Then, mix in the yeast and stir again. Let the starter sit for 20 minutes and see the mixture’s volume double over time.
  • Pour the mash through a strainer and transfer the liquid to the fermentation bucket. Try to create as much splash as you can to properly aerate the mixture, but be careful enough not to lose any liquid.
  • Mix the yeast starter into the fermentation bucket.
  • Airlock the bucket and ferment the mixture for 2 weeks at room temperature.
  • Optional: You can use iodine to quickly check if fermentation has finished. Take a liquid-only sample off the top of your wash. Put the sample onto a white plate and drip in a few drops of iodine. If it turns blue, it has reacted to starches present which means the fermentation is not complete. Check back after a few days.
  • You can also check the ABV level by using a hydrometer.
  • Once fermentation is done, you’ll need to completely remove any solid material using a cheesecloth.

3. Distillation

  • Clean your still. Even if you’ve already cleaned it after your last run, you’ll want to clean it again.
  • Add clean copper packing to your column. Vodka is a high-proof spirit, so you’ll need to maximize reflux during the run.
  • Add your wash to the still. Use the auto-siphon. As much as possible, reduce the amount of sediment in your wash.
  • Make sure your column is packed, and that any domes, columns, or condensers are properly attached, as well as any hoses.  Now, fire up that still. Turn on the heat source and start raising the temperature of your wash.
  • At about 170°F, the still will start producing. You’ll want to make adjustments to your heat source setting to achieve a consistent rate of 1-3 drips per second.

4. Collecting the vodka distillate

4. Collecting the vodka distillate

  • The first 5% of your run are the foreshots. Foreshots contain methanol which is extremely volatile and toxic. Obviously, this part is not for consumption. Carefully isolate your foreshots and throw them out.
  • The next 30% of your vodka run is known as the heads. Just like the foreshots, the heads of your run are saturated with vaporous alcohols. Drinking heads will leave you with the worst hangover of your life. Isolate and throw them out.
  • The next 30% is the main attraction of your vodka run, the hearts. You’ll notice the sweet-smelling ethanol pronouncing itself.
  • This is the tricky part. Maximizing high-quality hearts heightens the senses. You need to accurately identify where the acetone stops and the sweet ethanol begins.
  • The final 35% of your vodka run is the tails. The tails contain protein and carbohydrates from the wash that you don’t want in your product. Most distillers set the tails aside for future re-runs.

Is it hard to make vodka at home?

Vodka is both the easiest and the hardest alcohol to make. It’s easy considering that you can make vodka out of anything that has fermentable sugar. It’s also difficult because you would need a still (a licensed one, at that) capable of distilling the fermented mash to a high alcohol level. Assuming you have access to all the equipment, then the hard part is over.

Can homemade vodka get you drunk?

The fermentation process creates a vodka with only about 16% ABV, which is way too low for spirits. But you’re going DIY, so that means you can make the extract stronger by putting it back in the distillation setup to minimize alcohol loss. You can perform tweaks and make it on par with commercial vodkas at 40% ABV or stronger.

Are there any dangers of drinking homemade vodka?

There’s a reason why distilling at home without a license is illegal. You can seriously harm yourself and others even without getting to the drinking part. The distilling process alone involves dangers (highly flammable alcohol vapors and heat do not go together), and even when you’re able to survive the delicate process, you can still end up consuming a poorly-made and potentially unsafe drink.

Others

There are a couple of other types of alcohol that you’ll commonly find behind the bar that doesn’t fit well into the above categories. That’s why I’ve kept them separate here. 

Fortified wine could have made the “others” list, but I chose to include it in the wine section. 

The ‘others‘ are Cocktail Bitters and Alcopops, also known as ‘Ready to Drink‘ or RTDs.

Cocktail Bitters

Yes, believe it or not, that little bottle of cock

Yes, believe it or not, that little bottle of cocktail bitters we bartenders use to flavor cocktails contains alcohol. Cocktail bitters are made from spirits and various herbs, spices, and botanicals. 

Cocktail bitters are only used to flavor a drink, not as the types of drinks themselves, which is why I haven’t included them in the liquor category.

The two most popular brands of bitters are Angostura and Peychaud’s. You’ll find the former in almost every bar, even ones that don’t make cocktails.

Alcopops (RTDs – Ready to Drink)

Alcopops are spirits and mixers in a can or bottle. They’re a combination of a distilled spirit and some type of soft drink (soda, fruit juice, milk, etc.) to dilute their strength. Sometimes, they’re bottled cocktails. They’re made ‘ready to drink,’ hence also known as ‘RTDs,’ and they usually sit between the 4-7% ABV mark.

Some popular brands are Breezers, UDL’s, Whisk(e)y & Cokes from various brands, etc. 

Video

Step 1: Boil Sugarcane Juice

Soft boil the sugarcane juice for some minutes. I boil it for 3-4 mins for pasteurization. Then let the juice cool down.

Wine Recipes

To help you get started, here are a couple recipes to get a good idea of the various approaches available:

Can You Make Beer Out Of Sugarcane?

Beer can be made from sugarcane. While fermenting the sugarcane juice, instead of letting the air (CO2) out you can retain it in the container. In 1-2 days depending on local weather, the sugarcane will be carbonated and become beer.

If you’d like to make sugarcane beer, let’s see some steps below:

Warnings

  • Drink responsibly and don’t drive or operate machinery while drunk.

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  • When distilling spirits, always use appropriate materials that are designed for the job. Work with an experienced distiller who can help you recognize which portions of the still are safe to drink. Drinking alcoholic beverages made with improperly prepared spirits can sometimes cause fatal poisoning.[7]

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Homemade Liqueur

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Homemade liqueurs are easy to make. They’re terrific gifts and can be used to replace many store-bought liqueurs for your favorite cocktails. The basic premise is that you’ll combine a base liquor (e.g., brandy, rum, or vodka), sugar, and the flavoring ingredients. Let the combination steep for a specific amount of time, strain out the solids, and bottle your creation.

The alcohol content is usually about 20 percent to 30 percent (40 to 60 proof) for fruit and berry liqueurs. In general, liqueurs should contain about 1 cup of sugar per 3 cups of finished liqueur. Since sugar doesn’t dissolve well in cold liquid, many recipes use a simple syrup as the sweetener, and that’s very easy to make as well.

All you need for supplies are washed and sterilized bottles or jars, and some cheesecloth for straining. You’ll also want to designate a cool, dark place for the liqueur to rest during the infusion. This can take anywhere from a week to a few months or more, depending on the ingredients and how intense you want the flavor.

The flavor possibilities with homemade liqueur are as vast as the cordials you’ll find in any liquor store. You can make a coffee liqueur that rivals Kahlúa, a homemade amaretto that’s ready the same day, or a traditional Italian walnut liqueur that’s utterly delicious. Fruit liqueurs can range from berries to peaches. You can substitute any fruit you like into those recipes, though you will have to make a few adjustments to the infusion time.

Tips For Brewing Your Beer

Let’s say mead isn’t your thing. Why not brew up some beer? The process is relatively the same: prepare your mix, blend it, ferment, and bottle. There are ways to personalize your batch of beer by either adapting the steps to your preferences and changing up some of the ingredients.

Grab up a home-brewing kit. It should contain basic supplies like a bottling bucket, spigot, fermenter, hydrometer, and so on.

Here are three things to keep in mind when brewing your beer:

1. Find a Balance Between Special and Basic

As you already know, beer is a mixture of special grains and malts. Adding various grains and malts will change the flavor of your beer.

Malt is also a grain, and it is the sugar source for your beer. Base malts include barley malt (Pilsner, mild ale, Munich, etc.), non-barley (wheat, rye), and so on. There are also kilned and toasted malts, like biscuit malt. Then, you can add some unmalted adjuncts, including flaked oats, maize, pumpkin, rice, and potatoes that are mashed to extract the sugars.

Play around with the ingredients to see which blend is best for you.

2. Adding Nuts, Berries, and Fruits to Your Beer

While this will add a step to the fermentation process—the second round of fermentation—you can play around with a mixture of fruits, berries, and nuts to change the flavor of your beer. Keep in mind that, if you add additional ingredients, the alcohol percentage will be higher.

3. Herbs and Spices

Another popular method of flavoring homemade beer includes herbs and spices. This can be anything ranging from cinnamon, pumpkin spice, peppermint, mint, peppers, chili, or even basil and thyme. A lot of seasonal brews use spices. For example, wintry blends often include minty notes, while autumnal beers often incorporate vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

Fermented Beverages

Fermented beverages only go through the fermentation process. As such, they are lower in alcohol content than their distilled counterparts, and because of that, they’re much more approachable.

As mentioned above, fermented beverages won’t exceed 15% in alcohol without being modified somehow.

The two main categories of fermented beverages are beer and wine. Of course, some people will argue that cider falls into the wine category, but it doesn’t really matter.

In my opinion, categorizing cider as a type of wine is confusing; therefore, I will be adding it under its own category.

Beer

Of all the alcohols, beer is probably the easiest

Of all the alcohols, beer is probably the easiest to grasp, as we all see it every day. 

In its simplest sense, beer is a fermented grain juice that sits around 3-8% in ABV. Any fermented cereal grain is considered a type of beer, but wheat or barley is used in most cases. 

On top of that, beer is usually flavored with additional spices (usually hops) to impart specific characteristics.

There are two main categories of beer: Ales & Lagers. The difference between the two categories depends on how the beer is made and the yeast used during the fermentation process. 

Generally, ales are fuller in color and flavor, whereas lagers are lighter, crisper, and cleaner. 

If you want to learn more about the different types of beer, you can check out this detailed article here.

Types of Ales

  • Pale Ale: The most commonly consumed pale ale. Lighter than the rest, but fuller in flavor and color than lagers and very approachable for a lager drinker.
  • India Pale Ale: A heavily hopped and high in alcohol ABV% style of the pale ale. General ABV ranges from 6-8%.
  • Stouts & Porters: Dark colored ales (almost black). Guinness is a type of stout.
  • English Bitter Ale: Not as bitter as the name suggests but called bitter ale nonetheless. English bitter ales are usually served warm in cozy English pubs.
  • Amber Ales: Amber colored ales. Flavors of toffee and caramel are commonly associated with amber ales.
  • Wheat Beers: Although wheat beers can be technically made as lagers, they’re almost always made as ales. Germany & Belgium make fantastic wheat beers.

Types of Lagers

  • Pale Lager: The most commonly consumed beer in the world. They’re light, clean, and crisp beers. Heineken, Stellar, Budweiser and Peroni are all pale lagers.
  • Pilsner: A style of pale lager that has been flavored with the Saaz Hop giving it more flavor and bitterness.
  • Dark Lager: Nowhere near as common as pale lagers, but they’re a dark-colored lager, as the name suggests.

Wine

The world of wine is complex and fascinating, and

The world of wine is complex and fascinating, and I highly recommend exploring it. But the more time and effort you spend trying to understand wine, the more you will realize how little you know.

So for the sake of this article, we’re going to keep things simple. 

If you’re new to wine, this article series was made specifically for bartenders to help them explore the subject deeper.

Wine is fermented grape juice that usually ranges between 12-15% ABV. Fortified wines are stronger at 20-30% ABV. 

Many factors influence a wine’s flavor profile, like the weather that year, ‘le terroir,’ how skilled the winemaker is, the aging process, the type of barrels used for storage, etc. 

Generally, there are five broad categories of wine: red wine, white wine, rose wine, sparkling wine, and fortified wines

The differences between them generally come down to the type of grape used and the process of making the wine.

Red Wines

You guessed it; red wine is red!

It’s the skins on the grape that determines the color of the wine. Therefore, the skins of the red wine grapes are left on during the fermentation process.

Some of the most common red grape varieties are:

  • Pinot Noir: A light-bodied red wine grape. It’s also used to make Sparkling wine and Rosé.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: A full-bodied red wine grape. Goes great with rich meals and red meat.
  • Merlot: A Medium-bodied red wine grape. Combine this with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape and you get the infamous Bordeaux blend.
  • Syrah/Shiraz: A full-bodied red wine grape. The Shiraz from Australia is incredible.
  • Grenache: A medium-bodied red wine grape. One of the most underrated red wines grapes.

White Wines

Unlike red wines, white wines are white (or yellow) and their skins are removed before they go through the fermentation process.

Some of the most common white wine grapes are:

  • Sauvignon Blanc: A light-bodied white wine grape. Almost always made dry and highly acidic. 
  • Pinot Gris/Grigio: A light-bodied white wine grape. Gris is the French style. Grigio is the Italian style.
  • Chardonnay: A full-bodied white wine grape. Majestic and commonly aged in barrels to impart certain flavors.
  • Moscato: An aromatic white wine grape. Commonly made into a sweet white or Rosé.
  • Riesling: An aromatic white wine grape. Very delicious and can be made sweet or dry.

Rosé Wine

Rosé wine is rose/pink in color and unlike red and white wines, they don’t have any specific grape varieties of their own. The reason they’re rose in color is because the winemakers starts by making the wine with the skins of red wine grapes but removes them during the fermentation process when they are happy with the color. 

Both Grenache and Pinot Noir grapes are commonly used to make rosé wines.

Sparkling Wine

Like rosé wine, sparkling wines don’t necessarily have their own unique grape varieties. The style of sparkling wine is determined by the winemaking process. Sparkling wine is always carbonated and mostly made to be light in color.

There are two main styles of Sparkling Wine:

  • Champagne: The most well-known style of sparkling wine made by the French in the region of Champagne, hence the name.
  • Prosecco: An Italian style sparkling wine. I personally prefer Prosecco over Champagne.

Fortified Wines

Among all the types of alcohol on this list, fortified wines are the oddity. That’s because they’re a combination of both fermented and distilled beverages.

Fortified wines have had a distilled spirit added to them to increase the ABV. Spices and herbs are also commonly added to give them certain flavors.

Types of fortified wines:

  • Vermouth: A fortified, aromatized (aromatic herbs and spices are added) wine made in two styles (red/sweet, white/dry) that is commonly used in the making of cocktails. Think the Martini, Negroni, and Manhattan.
  • Port: A dry or sweet (usually sweet) fortified wine, dark in color and made in Portugal.
  • Sherry: A dry or sweet (usually sweet) fortified wine that’s red in color and made in Spain.
  • Muscat: A sweet fortified wine made from the Moscato grape.

Cider

As I mentioned earlier, cider is sometimes classified in the wine category, but in my opinion, it deserves its own unique category.

Cider is fermented fruit juice. Apple and pear ciders are the most common ciders on the market, but you’ll also see blood orange, strawberry, and different fruit ciders.

Ciders are refreshing and a great alternative to beer if you’re not a beer drinker or have a gluten allergy (always confirm). They can be made both dry or sweet, and they usually sit around the 4-6% ABV mark.

Fruit Moonshine Mash Recipe

Moonshine has a rich history in the world of alcohol since it has been one of the most popular illegal drinks to make at home. There’s been a lot of trial and error to get it right, but before you make any kind of moonshine, you have to prepare the moonshine mash, which is what gets fermented.

A gallon of mash will yield you around 3 to 6 cups of alcohol. The basic ingredients that go into making mash are cornmeal, sugar, water, yeast and malt. If you wanted, you could even look into making your own peach moonshine mash recipe.

  1. Start by mixing all the ingredients into a large container. 
  2. Leave this in a still, which is an apparatus that is used to distill liquid mixtures, and then leave it to ferment for a day or two.
  3. From there, you can use this mash to complete the process of making moonshine by distillation.

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