Hints on the distillation of alcohol

In response to many requests here are some hints on the Distillation of alcohol.

Compliance with the law in your own Country is the obligation of the reader and we can accept no liability in the event of anyone using these instructions if the law in their own Country does not permit the distillation of alcohol.

Many of the enquires I have had are concerning the distillation of washes which have been made from fruit, grain or vegetable based wines. This is quite different to the approach we take, which is to make a wash from sugar and water which when distilled out has as little impurities, taste, or smell as possible. This neutral spirit is then flavoured with an essence to produce Whiskey, Gin, Brandy etc. etc. We have several high performance yeast/nutrients available, our most popular are Turbo-Classic Yeast and Alcotec Turbo 8. Turbo-Classic Yeast is an excellent yeast/nutrient mix which when mixed with sugar and water will ferment out into wash of 15 to 18% alcohol by volume in as little as 5 days.

The problem with distilling fruit, vegetable or grain based mashes is cleaning them up to a level that allows you to drink the spirit.

The process of distilling is as follows:

A neutral wash is made by mixing 6 kg of Sugar with 21 lt of water. Once the sugar is dissolved the Yeast is added.

(If a Molasses based mash is used the Molasses/nutrient mix is dissolved in warm water along with 4.5 Kg of sugar and then topped up with cold water to 20 litres just before the yeast is  added.)

Once the wash has achieved a specific gravity of 1000 or less it is ready to distill (a really good ferment will get the wash down to 980)

Now the wash is ready to go into the still, & as all stills have different characteristics these instructions will be very general. There are two basic types of stills, the original still is a pot still which is simply a pot, collector and condenser. The second is a reflux still which is similar to a pot still except that it has a reflux tower in the top of the collector which sends most of the water and the impurities back into the wash.

It is important that if you are building your own still that a thermometer is incorporated into the design, this thermometer should be just through the lid in a pot still or through the top of the reflux tower and should measure the vapour temperature not the temperature of the wash.)

The temperature that good alcohol is given off at is critical to a safe distillation; alcohol given off at low temperatures is dangerous and should be discarded.Each still will vary in the temperature good alcohol starts coming off but it is likely to be between 79 - 85 degrees Celsius, if you are not sure on your still it is wise to throw away the first 150ml collected from a 20L wash.

Once the vapour temperature has risen above 95 degrees Celsius or the alcohol coming out of the condenser has dropped to 30% alcohol by volume in the case of a pot still or 50 - 60% in the case of a reflux still, the collection of drinkable alcohol should cease.

Under no circumstances should collection continue beyond 97.5 degrees Celsius, as high temperature alcohol distillation produces Fusel oils which whilst not quite as dangerous as low temperature distillate, are the source of hangovers! (and just taste bad).

If you do not wish to waste the alcohol it is an acceptable practice to save it and add it back into the still with the next wash.- or add it into a near-full petrol tank in your car and use your home made biofuel.  Adding back (to the next distillation) should never be considered with the low temperature alcohol.

Once you have collected your alcohol it is now ready for carbon treatment. If you have a high quality "Contact Reactive" type carbon available, it is simply a matter of sprinkling 80 - 100 gms depending on the grade to up to 6 ltrs of 40% alcohol, leaving it for 3 - 7 days and filtering it back out. The easiest method of filtering is a large funnel with a double layer of coffee filters. If you don't have this grade of carbon available you will need to use a coarse treatment carbon and a second filter carbon to clean the alcohol up completely. Both these processes will take out any of the impurities that may have got through the system, and soften the alcohol. There are also some EXCELLENT easy-to-use commercial carbon-block filter units available, which work really well to "clean up" your alcohol. "Best Practice" is now to invest in and use such a unit.

Finally we get to the best bit: flavouring and drinking! We flavour our alcohol with essences and exact dilutions are not possible as essences come in different strengths however most essences we use are 10 ml to flavour a 1125 ml (40 oz) bottle. You can be happy with this or with all essences you can have a play around to see if you can improve them. Whiskey and Brandy and to some extent Rum and Bourbon can be improved by the addition of oak, & Gin can be improved by the addition of coriander seeds and juniper berries.

See also Wines and Beers ......