This article presents guidelines for setting out on a vodka distilling adventure. It provides a basic synopsis of how to get started making your own vodka, and where to find further resources.
Vodka is made from food items containing starches: sugar beet, molasses, rye, potatoes, wheat and other grains. Smoother vodka is made from grains, such as rye or wheat. Rougher variants are made from potato, molasses or sugar beets. As is true in any recipe, quality ingredients going into the mix when combined with proper technique will ensure a quality end-product.
Few vodka drinkers, however, do not realize that they can make this potent potable right in their own homes. All it takes is some patience, equipment and proper distilling skills.
I should warn the reader that the process of making homemade vodka correctly is time consuming and intensive. There is a further warning that the improper preparation of vodka could be harmful to the drinker's health - even resulting in blindness. The making of homemade vodka is not for the beginning distiller. Rather, it is suggested for those who are already experienced in making other alcoholic beverages in their home. For example, vodka distilling is an exciting departure for those already experienced in brewing their own beers, lagers and ales and for the home winemaking enthusiast.
It is recommended that the beginning vodka producer consult with one who has distilled before, in addition to employing resources available on the Internet or in books. Nothing makes up for experience in setting up a still.
Another item to note is that home-distilling - especially with intent to distribute or sell the end-product - is illegal in many states. To stay on the right side of the law, it is recommended that the beginning home distiller check with the laws of his or her home state or community.
The first step in making homemade vodka is the purchase or assembly of a home still. A still, and plans for making a still, can be found for purchase on-line. Many of the parts for home assembly of a still can be found in many home-brew, cooking and hardware stores.
A still is made of four main parts: a heat source, a boiling chamber, water cooling pipes, and a collection bottle. A properly constructed still will look not unlike the still found in the tent of Hawkeye and Trapper John in the popular television series MASH.
Vodka is created in five steps.
Step one is sanitizing all of your equipment with a bleach-and-water mixture. Any foreign particles in any step of the process can add disflavor to your finished vodka.
Step two is the creation of a mash. Starting from your carbohydrate source - sugar, grain, potatoes - you then proceed to turn these complex sugars into alcohol molecules. Different sources will require different mashing techniques. Consult your expert or a book for the specific mashing technique. For example to make a mash out of grain, add purified water to the grain and heat it for an hour. Add yeast and let it sit for some time (one to two weeks). It is best to use home brewing equipment when creating the mash. Consult your resources for the proper proportions and heating temperatures, which will differ due to variables such as altitude and volume. For the best flavor, remember to use the best water available in every step, preferably distilled or purified water.
The third step is the distillation process. Add the mash to the boiling chamber and light your heat source. The alcohol in the mash will evaporate and move through the water cooling tubes, collecting in the collection bottle. Vodka has its clear and pure quality due to its many distillation stages. Clean and sanitize the boiling chamber and distill the vodka at least twice more. For clearer, and smoother, vodka you can distill it a fourth or a fifth time.
Each time you distill, it is vital to discard the first and last fifty milliliters that you collect. This gets rid of the bad methanol (the alcohol in wood alcohol), that can cause serious damage, even blindness. Do not ever drink the first or last vodka.
Step four is filtration. Filtration is the vital step that takes away the roughness of the vodka creating a smoother vodka. The most popular method of filtration for vodka is by using activated carbon filtration. High quality store-bought vodka can go through as many as seven filtrations through carbon. Some fancy vodkas even claim to filter through diamond! For the home distiller, take a funnel, place a cotton ball in the bottom, stick in some activated carbon, and pour the thrice-distilled vodka into a bottle. Repeat as often as necessary.
The fifth step is dilution. Using distilled or purified water, dilute the distilled vodka at a ratio of three to four (or to taste). Distilled vodka is quite strong, and it is recommended that you dilute it.
Your vodka is ready to drink. If you wish to flavor your vodka, you can add fresh berries, peppers, horseradish, orange rind, or a vanilla bean to the vodka. Let it sit for a couple of weeks and the vodka will take on the desired flavor.
Again, it is recommended that you consult as many resources as possible before embarking on your home vodka making adventure. Learn the proper way to use and make a still, and be prudent in following each and every step.