Vodka is a neutral spirit that tends not to have a distinctive flavour or taste in its untampered form. Vodka is generally not aged and can be made using a range of accessible materials and ingredients such as potatoes, grains, sugars, fruit and most things that are capable of being fermented. This makes it a spirit that is easy to produce in a relatively short space of time.
The first thing to determine is what ingredients you will use. The choice is wide. Vodka is commonly made using grains such as wheat, corn, rye or barley or sometimes potatoes. Less commonly fruits and sugar are used or combined with other ingredients. Basically, you can make vodka with anything that contains sugars or starches as this is what is required to produce alcohol. This is because when yeast is added it consumes the sugars or starches and the resultant components of this process are carbon dioxide and alcohol.
If using starchy ingredients such as potatoes or grains you need to make a mash that also contains active enzymes that will break down the starches and turn them into fermentable sugars.
Fruits and sugars do not required enzymes and so do not need to be made into a mash. You can go straight to the fermenting stage.
If you opt to use materials that have already been fermented such as wine then you can go immediately to the distilling stage.
If you have chosen to use a combination of grains/potatoes and sugar/fruit you will still be required to make the mash with the enzymes to break down the starches in the grains or potatoes.
What enzymes to use?
The enzymes you use will depend on your mash ingredients. Amylase enzyme powder is suitable for use in your mash. This can be purchased online or from a brewing shop. Follow the guidelines on the packet to determine how much is needed. Using enzyme powder to break down the starches means you are not restricted to using enzyme-rich grains like malted barley.
Stage Two: The Mash
You will need a very large pan for this step such as a 10 gallon or37 litre pot.
Ingredients: 20 ibs of potatoes
Fermenting the Mash
Ensure that all equipment and surface areas are clean and sanitised to avoid cross-contamination as this can cause flavour defects. You can buy oxidative cleaners and sanitisers online or at a brewers shop.
The fermentation process takes about 3-5 days.
You can either buy a purpose built airlock or put together a make-shift one yourself. The aim of the airlock is to let CO2 out without allowing O2 in. Whether you are using a lid or a rubber stopper to seal your container make sure that you have an airlock attached to avoid an explosive situation as the pressure builds and cannot escape!
As a guide 20 litres (or 5 gallons) or strained mash can be fermented in a 28 litre (7.5 gallon) food-grade bucket
Once you have selected your container and cleaned it thoroughly you can add the mash or liquid to be fermented. Strain the mix with a fine mesh strainer into the bucket or other vessel. While you do this try to aerate the liquid as much as possible by doing it from a height and splashing it over the inside of the container. Aerating it adds oxygen which aids yeast growth and so fermentation. Note that oxygen is only useful as this stage and then needs to be kept out when the fermentation process begins.
For sugar based fermentation prepare your sugar solution and aerate in a similar why by pouring in from a good height, splashing the sides whilst trying to avoid getting it over the edge!
For a juice or fruit solution similarly aerate by pouring from a height through a sieve into the container.
Now it is time to add the yeast to the pot. Hydrate the required amount of either dried distillers or other yeast and add it to the awaiting mixture. To determine the precise amount of yeast you will need to refer to the packet instructions as it varies by brand and type.
Stir it in with a sanitised utensil. Make sure the temperature is between 27-29°C (80-85°F) for optimum fermentation.
The airlock will bubble busily during the active period of fermentation and then ease off as the process begins to tail off.
If you are using a sugar solution that is lacking in fermentation aiding nutrients it may be a good idea to opt for a brand of yeast that contains yeast nutrients as this will help the process. You can use nutrient boosted yeast for other base ingredients too if you want.
Siphon off the Wash.
The wash is the fermented, alcoholic liquid. This needs to be siphoned off and separated from the yeast sediment. Use another sanitised container or siphon directly into the apparatus you plan to use for distilling.
Choose either a column still or a pot still or fashion your own version.
How Stills Work
How Pot Steels Work http://learntomoonshine.com/pot-stills
How Column Steels Work http://learntomoonshine.com/columnreflux-still
Now it’s time to distil the wash! Stills work by heating the fermented wash (which is already mildly alcoholic) to a temperature that is higher than the boiling point of alcohol but not quite as high as the boiling point of water. By doing this the alcohol vaporises while most of the water remains in its liquid form. The vapour travels up the column or tube of the still and then gets cooled to condense back to its liquid state. And thus you have created vodka!
The desired temperature to heat the still to is about 78.3°C (173°F). It is essential that the temperature does not reach 100°C (212°F) as water will end up travelling through the still and will dilute the strength of the end product.
Important: Make sure you throw away the initial part of the distillation process! This product is called the ‘heads’ and contains harmful chemicals such as methanol and other nasty chemicals that are dangerous to drink. As a guide, for every 19 litres (5 gallons) of wash discard the first 30 ml (2 ounces) of distillate.
Collect and store the ‘body’ of the distillate or ethanol plus some water and other by-products. You want to aim for a rate of about 2 or 3 teaspoons of distillate per minute. If the processes it outputting at a faster rate the purity will be lessened. A column still allows you to adjust the output by adjusting the water flow.
Once you have collected the body you now need to discard the ‘tails’. As you approach the end of the distilling process the overall temperature increases and this produces more unpleasant chemicals (such as fusel alcohols) that need to be disposed of. The temperature at this stage will be at 100°C (212°F) or higher.
Check the alcohol content and purity level.
Take a sample of your distillate, cool it to 20°C (68°F) and test its alcohol content using a hyrometer. You may need or want to repeat the distilling process to either increase the alcohol content or purity of the vodka.
Note that it is standard practice to distil at least three times to produce a purer vodka.
To remove unwanted flavours and aromas treat the vodka with a carbon filter.
Purified water can be added to dilute the strength of the vodka.
Bottle the finished product.
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London cocktail week was a great opportunity to try out bars and cocktails that you hadn’t yet got around to checking out or test driving and it also provided a perfect excuse (if you needed one) to get out and about a few nights in a row to squeeze in as many £4 discounted drinks as you could in one week!