Vodka, comrades. Whether it’s in a sophisticated Martini, a refreshing Bloody Mary or the all-too-strong Long Island Iced Tea, cocktail hour wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without it. If you consider yourself a connoisseur, an expert mixologist or just really, really like vodka, you may want to learn how to make it yourself.
Of course, you should know off the bat that distilling your own alcohol at home is illegal. Yep, despite the plethora of information, stills, equipment and recipes out there, it’s a no-go with the Feds. So unless you’re a licensed distiller, this very real recipe is for theoretical vodka that you can enjoy in your theoretical Cosmopolitans.
That being said, we’re going to take you through the whole process, including making your own mash, fermenting the mash, distilling the vodka and collecting it. Yes, it is a bit of work. But if you have the time and really enjoy an artisanal cocktail, it could be worth your while.
Let’s see how to make vodka from home.
It’s All in the Mash
When you think of vodka, one of your first associations is probably potatoes. And, yes, spuds are at the base of one of the most classic mashes when it comes to making this type of alcohol.
Other popular varieties of mashes include wheat, rye, corn and molasses. So what’s the difference? According to experts, potato vodka is full-bodied, creamier and has a more distinctive flavor. Grain-based vodka, on the other hand, tends to taste more neutral.
But if you’re going to all of the theoretical trouble of distillation, you might want vodka that has some character, right? That’s why for this article, we’ll focus on vodka made with a potato mash.
What You’ll Need to Make the Potato Mash
Before we get started with the step by step recipe, here’s what you’ll need to make your mash:
- 25 Pounds of Spuds
- 7 Gallons of Filtered Water
- 5 Pounds of Crushed Malted Barley
- Mash Pot
- Hand Masher or Immersion Blender
- Long Spoon
- Brewing Hydrometer
As any connoisseur will tell you, good stuff comes from good ingredients — including vodka. So buy yourself some quality (maybe even organic?) roasting potatoes and malted barley, and be sure to use filtered water instead of tap water.
And don’t bother peeling your tubers. Your vodka will have more character that way.
Also, don’t skip out on the thermometer. Temperature will play a crucial role in breaking down the starches in those potatoes, but you want to be sure you don’t burn them.
A brewing hydrometer is another important piece of equipment that you’ll need in order to take what’s called a gravity reading. The gravity reading will indicate how much sugar is in your mash, which later translates to alcohol content.
Now let’s break down how to make your mash step by step.
How to Make Your Potato Mash
1: First, give your potatoes a good scrubbing. (But don’t peel them. It will save you time and give your vodka more flavor.)
2: Chop the potatoes into cubes.
3: Now boil your tubers for 20 minutes in 7 gallons of water.
4: Allow the potatoes to cool.
5: Now get in there with a hand masher or immersion blender and mash those spuds.
6: Next, transfer the mixture to your mash pot and add enough water until you have 7 gallons of total volume.
7: Heat the mash to 140℉ while stirring continuously. (This is where that thermometer comes in!)
8: Now stir in the 5 pounds of malted barley.
9: You’ll want to maintain the mash at 140℉ for another 20 minutes. Be sure to stir the mash for about 30 seconds every 4 minutes.
10: Now it’s time to turn up the heat on this baby. Raise the temperature to 152℉ and hold it there for an hour. Be sure to stir the mash for 30 seconds every 10 minutes.
11: After the hour is up, take a gravity reading with your brewing hydrometer. If it’s less than 1.065, add sugar to bring it up to 1.065.
12: Before starting the fermentation process, allow the mash to cool to 75℉. But if you’re not in a hurry, let it cool overnight to allow those potato starches to break down some more.
What You’ll Need to Ferment Your Potato Mash
Now that you’re done mashing, it’s time to start the fermentation process. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Fermentation Bucket (with airlock to keep out unwanted bacteria)
- Cheese Cloth
How to Ferment Your Potato Mash
1. The first thing you’ll need to do is make your yeast starter.
First, sterilize a glass jar.
Then heat 4 oz of water to 110℉ and pour it into the container.
Add 2 tsp of sugar and stir well.
Add the yeast (The amount will depend on the type you purchase, so be sure to follow the directions on the packet.)
Let the mixture stand for 20 minutes. (The volume should approximately double.)
2. Now, you will transfer ONLY the liquid from your potato mash into the sterilized fermentation bucket, leaving any sediment behind. You can do this with a strainer. Try to make as much splash as you can without losing any liquid, as this will help to aerate the mixture.
3. Next, it’s time to add the yeast starter to the fermentation bucket and put on the airlock.
4. Now comes the easy part where you leave your mash to ferment for two weeks at room temperature.
5. After the two weeks is up, you’ll want to check your mixture to be sure fermentation is complete. One way of doing this is with iodine. Just take a sample of the liquid from your bucket and put it on a white plate. Add the iodine.
If the mixture turns blue, it means that starches are still present and that the fermentation process is not complete. In that case, leave the mixture to ferment a few more days and then perform the test again.
6. Once fermentation is complete, you’ll need to remove any solid material in your wash (the fermented liquid). You can use a cheesecloth and a new sterilized container to do this.
What You’ll Need to Distill Your Vodka
Congrats, you’ve done most of the heavy lifting when it comes to making your own vodka. Now it’s time to distill your mash water and collect the product! Here’s what you’ll need:
- A Still
- Your Mash Water (aka Wash)
- Column Packing
Stills come in two major categories: pot stills and column stills. While either type can be used to make vodka, copper column stills are usually preferredwhen making high-proof, neutral-tasting spirits (like vodka) because the copper helps to remove sulfides and produce a better smell and taste.
With that in mind, we’ve based our instructions on a column still.
Distilling Your Vodka
1: Prep Your Still
As most experts will tell you, distilling the best vodka is all about attention to detail. And one of the most important and sometimes overlooked details in the distillation process is cleaning your still.
Even if you cleaned your still thoroughly after its last run, it’s best to clean it again. You’ll also want to add clean copper packing to your column. And as with any run, you’ll want to check that any domes, condensers, columns and hoses are attached securely.
2: Run Your Still
Once you’ve cleaned your still and checked that everything is attached properly, it’s time to fire ‘er up! The still should start producing at about 170℉.
You’ll want to heat your wash to about 173℉ but make sure that the temperature never exceeds 212℉ (which is the boiling point of water at sea level).
Collecting Your Vodka
Now comes the fun part — collecting your vodka! But even though you’re nearing the end of the process, attention to detail is more important than ever.
When distilling any liquor, you cannot consume everything that comes out of the still. This is when you’ll need to separate the foreshots, heads, hearts and tails of the run, a process that experienced distillers think of as an art form.
Let’s talk about this in a little more detail.
Approximately the first 5% of the liquid that comes out of your still is what’s referred to as “foreshots.” THIS PART OF YOUR RUN IS TOXIC AND CANNOT BE CONSUMED. Foreshots contain methanol which is extremely poisonous and volatile.
In fact, drinking methanol is so dangerous that it can actually result in blindness or even death. That’s why it’s vital to separate your foreshots and throw them out.
So to repeat — bye-bye foreshots!
About the next 30% of your run is what distillers call “heads.” This part of the run is also filled with volatile alcohols that you DON’T want to consume. One of the main components is acetone.
If you have a sensitive nose, acetone is usually pretty easy to identify as it smells like solvent. And while acetone won’t kill you, consuming it will make you feel seriously awful — like beyond-your-worst-hangover awful.
So like the foreshots, you’ll also need to toss the heads parts of your run.
Hearts are the sweet spot of your run. After the heads, they compose approximately the next 30% of what comes out of your still.
This is where having a good nose really comes into play. Gradually, you should notice that the solvent-like smell of acetone begins to diminish while the more sweet smell of ethanol starts to come forward.
Experienced distillers pride themselves on being able to identify where the acetone ends and the ethanol begins. Part art, part science, developing this skill will help you produce the highest quality vodka.
The last 35% of your run is what’s called the “tails.” You can usually identify the tails by tasting a small amount of the liquid on your finger. You should notice a drop in sweetness as well as an oily residue in the liquid that comes out of your still.
Like the foreshots and heads, you won’t want to drink the tails of your run as they contain fusel alcohols like propanol and butanol.
You can, however, set them aside and use them as the wash for another run in order to pull out more product. (But as in the run with your original wash, you’ll also have to discard the foreshots, heads and tails.)
Check the Alcohol Content
Once you have the hearts of your run separated, you’ll want to cool them to about 68℉ and use an alcometer to measure the alcohol content. To be considered vodka, the distillate should have an ABV of between 40 to 90% (that’s 80 to 180 proof).
If you find the vodka too strong, you can dilute it with filtered water. If the vodka is too weak, you can redistill it to increase the alcohol content. In fact, some premium brands of vodka are distilled 4 or 5 times. However, keep in mind that the foreshots, heads and tails must be discarded in EVERY run.
Filter the Vodka
After achieving the desired ABV, many vodka connoisseurs like to filter the alcohol at this point so that it doesn’t have any unwanted flavors or aromas. Running the vodka through an active carbon filter will ensure that your product is extra pure.
Well, we’ve come to the end of our vodka-making run. It may be clear and mostly odorless, but as you can see, distilling a high-quality product requires good ingredients and a lot of attention to detail.
At the center of the process is separating your foreshots, heads, hearts and tails. This step of distilling will require some fine-tuning to make a great spirit. But be patient and pay attention to your nose, and you too can make a vodka worthy of toasting with.
So hang in there, and keep the bloody mary mix handy. Cheers to you, comrades!
You might also be interested in: How To Make Kombucha At Home [Complete Step-By-Step Guide]
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Sherry De Alba
Sherry is a freelance writer who worked as an actor before transitioning to an award-winner career in advertising. During a vacation to Mexico, she fell in love and never left. Sherry (aka Cherita) now spends her time bouncing between the US and Mexico writing, running, cooking, meditating and exploring lots of cool stuff on the other side of the wall.view post