Vodka is a neutral alcoholic beverage, normally unaged, that can be made from the fermentation of cereals, potatoes, sugars and fruits. Throughout the distillation process, it is very important that amateur drink makers take great care not to forget to discard methanol, which can be fatal if ingested. In some countries, such as Australia and the United States, it is illegal to distil alcoholic beverages at home. In others, the government requires you to obtain a license or register your still before starting production. This is the case, for example, in New Zealand and the Czech Republic. In Brazil, it is not necessary to obtain any type of license unless you intend to market your production. However, always remember to find out about the laws of where you live before starting to make your own vodka.
Part 1 of 6: Choosing the ingredients
Step 1. Choose the ingredients you want to ferment
Typically, vodka is made from wheat, rye, barley, corn or potatoes. You can also add sugar and molasses to the recipe or make a drink with just these ingredients. One distiller even invented a Pinot Noir red wine vodka. Regardless of your choice, the drink needs sugar or starch to produce alcohol. Yeast will break down sugars or starch, generating alcohol and carbon dioxide.
- To make a vodka from grains and potatoes, make a wort that contains active enzymes capable of breaking down starch to create fermentable sugars.
- Fruit juices already contain sugars. Therefore, it is not necessary to use enzymes to digest starch. Likewise, vodka made with market sugar only needs to be fermented. It is not necessary to prepare the wort.
- If you choose to use an ingredient that has already been fermented, such as wine, skip fermentation and go straight to distillation.
Step 2. See if you need to add extra enzymes
Depending on which ingredient you choose, you may need to add enzymes to your drink to turn the starch into sugar. This is the case for grains and potatoes. Both are sources of starch, so you'll need digestive enzymes to ferment the drink.
- If you are using a malted whole grain cereal, no enzymes need to be added. Wholegrain malted cereals, such as malted barley or malted wheat, are naturally rich in enzymes that turn starch into fermentable sugars.
- The presence of sugar in refined sugar and molasses makes it unnecessary to use additional enzymes.
Step 3. Add extra enzymes
The edible enzyme amylase powder can be found in stores dedicated to the preparation of homemade beverages and added to the wort to transform the starch into fermentable sugars. Use it if you've chosen to make potato vodka, for example. Follow recommended amount for starch level. It is not necessary to use enzyme-rich, malted cereals such as wheat or malted barley if you are using enzyme powder.
- For the enzyme to be able to break down the starch, it needs to be gelatinized. Flaked cereals usually come already gelatinized, which is not the case with potatoes and grain or malted cereals. Heat the non-gelatinized ingredients in water to the gelatinization temperature of the starch in question.
- Potatoes usually gelatinize at 65 °C, as do barley and wheat. It is recommended that you only heat the potatoes to 65 °C. If you prefer to use a lower temperature, grate the potatoes well before putting them in water.
- Starch-digesting enzymes only act at very specific temperatures and are destroyed in extreme heat. It's okay to heat them to 65 °C, but any temperature above 70 °C can end up denaturing the enzymes. Leave the fire at a maximum of 75 °C.
Part 2 of 6: Preparing the musts
Step 1. Try making a wheat wort
In a 40 l metal pot with a lid, heat 20 l to 25 l of water to 75 °C. Then add 7.5 l dry flaked wheat and stir. Always keep the temperature between 65 °C and 70 °C. Add 4 l of mashed wheat malt to the mixture. The temperature should be around 65 °C. Cover the pan and let the mixture sit for 90 minutes to two hours, stirring occasionally.
- In the meantime, the starches will turn into fermented sugars and the mixture will lose viscosity.
- After 90 minutes to two hours, allow the mixture to cool to between 25 °C and 30 °C. Stick an immersion cooler in the pan to cool the mixture more quickly or let it sit overnight. However, do not allow it to go below 25 °C.
Step 2. Opt for a potato mash
Wash 9 kg of potatoes. Still unpeeled, boil them in a large pot for an hour until they are gelatinized. Discard the water and mash the potatoes by hand or with a food processor. Return the puree to the pot and fill it with 20 to 25 L of tap water. Mix well and heat to just over 65°C.
- Add 1 kg of mashed malted wheat or barley to the mixture and mix well. Cover the wort for two hours, stirring it occasionally. Then let it cool overnight until it is between 25 °C and 30 °C.
- Allowing the mixture to cool for a long period of time will facilitate the breakdown of starch by the barley enzymes.
Step 3. Prepare a corn wort
Follow the wheat wort recipe, but replace the flaked wheat with gelatinized corn flakes (maizean). Another option is to germinate a corn for three days and make a mash without malted cereals. A root of about 5 cm in length should generate one sprout per grain.
The germinated corn will contain enzymes resulting from the germination process
Part 3 of 6: Fermenting the drink
Step 1. Clean the necessary utensils and prepare your workplace
Fermentation must be carried out in clean and sanitized bottles, normally closed to avoid liquid contamination. The process usually takes between three and five days.
- You can also brew in slightly soiled bottles. The final product will continue to be suitable for consumption, but the drink may end up with a strange taste or with a higher alcohol content than desired due to the action of bacteria and fungi.
- You can buy oxidizing cleaners and sanitizers like iodophor at any home-based beverage store.
Step 2. Choose and assemble the shutoff valve
The shut-off valve is a mechanism that allows the outflow of CO2 while preventing the entry of O2. Ferment a 20 L portion of sieved wort in a 30 L food bucket or a 25 L carboy. Attach a lid to the pail or a perforated rubber stopper to the carboy. However, be careful not to completely seal the container so that carbon dioxide does not generate an explosive reaction.
- Attach a sealing valve to the cap or stopper to prevent the formation of an explosive pressure.
- To carry out the fermentation in an open container, cover it with a cheesecloth to keep insects and other unwanted elements out of the drink.
Step 3. Sift the wort or liquid into the container
If you have prepared a wort, sift it through a fine sieve, letting the liquid fall into the clean, sanitized container. Try letting the liquid fall into the carboy at a distance to aerate it.
- In the beginning, the yeast needs oxygen to develop and start fermentation. This is because yeast produces lipid cell material from the air. However, after this initial stage, keep the drink protected from oxygen so that the yeast produces alcohol.
- Add a sugar solution to the mixture. Throw it into the container a little farther to aerate it.
- If you are fermenting a juice, aerate the liquid by throwing it far into the container, through a sieve or a colander.
Step 4. Add yeast
Hydrate the required amount of dried distillery beans or any other yeast you desire and add them to the liquid. With a clean, sanitized spoon, stir the mixture to incorporate the yeast well. If you are using a shut-off valve, it will likely form bubbles during the active phase of fermentation. As the liquid finishes fermenting, the bubbles will diminish or disappear completely.
- Keep the fermenting liquid in a room between 25 °C and 30 °C so that the process runs as efficiently as possible. Use a heater if you live in a very cold region.
- Distillery yeast will ferment simply and quickly, producing a large amount of alcohol (ethanol) and a relatively small amount of unwanted compounds such as alcohols other than ethanol. The dosage of yeast will depend on the type and brand of product.
- It may be that the yeast comes with the addition of some nutrients. These additives serve nutrient-poor musts, such as sugar solutions, but they can also contribute to the fermentation of nutrient-rich liquids, such as those made from cereals.
Step 5. Collect the fermented wort
Siphone the fermented liquid into a clean, sanitized container or directly into the still. Leave the yeast residues in the fermentation vessel as they can burn during the distillation. You can also filter or clear the fermented liquid in another way before distilling it.
Part 4 of 6: Choosing a still
Step 1. Give preference to a column still
Column stills are far more complex and sophisticated than regular home stills, although the two work more or less the same way.
- The cold water circulates through a closed compartment in the distillation column, causing the vaporized alcohol and other substances to condense. This means that you must connect the still directly to a faucet or a mechanical pump to pass water into the column.
- If you don't recirculate water from a single container, you could end up wasting thousands of liters to make just a little bit of vodka. With the help of a pump and a central reservoir, you will only use around 190 L. However, remember that the water will lose its effectiveness as it heats up.
Step 2. Use an ordinary still if you can't find a column still
Ordinary stills are like pressure cookers attached to pipes or tubes. They can be assembled simply and inexpensively. Unlike column stills, which are essentially vertical columns, common ones use twisted tubes that are dipped into a container of cold water. You don't need a pump or a lot of water, but you can use them if you prefer.
Step 3. Use a reflux distiller if necessary
Devices of this type can do several distillations at once. The container between the condenser and the still accumulates the vapor and causes it to drip back into the liquid. This “reflux” clears the rising steam, increasing the purity of the vodka.
Part 5 of 6: Distilling Alcohol
Step 1. Prepare for distillation
The still heats the fermented, low-alcohol liquid to a temperature higher than the boiling point of alcohol but lower than the boiling point of water. So the alcohol evaporates, leaving most of the water behind. Along with part of the water, the alcohol is condensed through the column, pipe or tube of the still.
Cold water comes into contact with the column, pipe or tube, causing the alcohol to cool and return to a liquid form. It is this liquid that is collected by the still to make the vodka
Step 2. Heat the wort to start the distillation
Depending on the type of still you choose, you can heat the wort with a gas burner, a wood fire or an electric hob. At sea level, use a temperature around 80 °C. Remember that it cannot exceed the boiling point of water (100 °C, sea level).
As the wort heats up, the alcohol and other substances will evaporate, becoming condensed in the coldest part of the still
Step 3. Throw your head away
Known as the head, the liquid that sits on top of the still is filled with methanol and other volatile substances. toxic and potentially fatal. For every 20 L of must, discard the first 60 ml of distilled liquid.
Never drink vodka in your head
Step 4. Collect the heart
Once the head is discarded, the liquid that remains in the still will contain the desired type of alcohol (ethanol), as well as water and other elements. This part of vodka is known as the heart. If using a column still with cold running water, adjust the flow to control the output and purity of the beverage.
Take between two and three teaspoons (10 ml to 15 ml) of vodka per minute. Faster output will affect the purity of the beverage
Step 5. Throw away the tail
At the end of the distillation, when the temperature reaches 100 °C or more, the process ends up producing other harmful chemicals. This part of the drink is known as the tail and is rich in fusel oils such as propanol and butanol. Discard it as well as the head.
Always remember to discard the tail. Do not ingest it under any circumstances
Step 6. Test the alcohol content and purity of the drink
Allow a sample of the distillate to cool down to 20 °C and, with an alcoholometer, measure the alcohol content. A more dilute, weaker vodka should have less than 40% alcohol content, while a concentrated vodka should be around 50%, or even stronger.
Vodka is usually diluted before being bottled. Therefore, the distillate that comes out of the still usually has a higher alcohol content. It is also possible that the drink will come out with a very strong taste or aroma and will need to be redistilled or carbon filtered
Step 7. Distill the liquid again, if you want or need it
This will increase the alcohol content and purity of the vodka. To make a very pure vodka, the makers usually distill it up to three times or more.
- Remember to discard your head and tail whenever you distil the drink.
- The most prestigious brands of vodka usually distil the drink four or five times. The most popular ones distill the vodka three times before diluting it and bottling it.
Part 6 of 6: Putting the Finishing Touches
Step 1. Filter the vodka with carbon
Place the vodka in an activated carbon filter, available for sale at stores specializing in homemade beverage production. This will remove all unwanted volatile aromas and flavors from the beverage. You can also modify the filter to make the drink purer.
Step 2. Dilute the vodka until it has the desired concentration
Add plain water to the drink to reach the ideal alcohol content. With an alcoholometer, measure the alcohol percentage several times throughout the process to see how potent the drink is.
Step 3. Bottle the vodka
Fill the bottles with a gravity filler and close them with a lid or stopper. If you want, put a custom label on your vodka. Some simpler gravity fillers have a 30 l bucket (with tap), a vinyl tubing, and a simple spring-loaded plastic bottle filler. You can also use a more complex filler for multiple bottles.
- You can taste the vodka through an infusion.
- New Zealand is renowned for its production of small stills.
- The pH of the wort must be adjusted with gypsum or some other compound so that the starch-digesting enzymes can act.
- The homemade production of vodka and other distilled beverages for personal consumption is perfectly legal in Brazil.
- Fermentation equipment can build up pressure and explode, unlike distillation equipment, which are usually open and not pressurized.
- Alcohol is a flammable and potentially toxic substance.
Always remember to discard the first 5% or so of the spirit. Vodka head contains ethanol, a substance that, once ingested, can affect the optic nerve and even be fatal.
- The production and consumption of alcohol is illegal for children under 18 years of age.
- For safety reasons, it is best not to distill vodka at home.
- Leaks and other accidents that can expose liquid or condensed alcohol to fire can cause explosions and fires.
- Stills are heated with fire and other materials that can cause injury and explosions, mainly due to the flammable nature of alcohol.
- In several countries, such as Australia and the United States, it is illegal to produce alcoholic beverages at home.
- If you choose to make your own still, remember that the chemicals in plastic and rubber, as well as lead from the welder and other metallic elements, can contaminate the drink during distillation.