There’s something incredibly satisfying and rewarding in making your own alcohol to serve to family and friends, or enjoy by yourself after a long hard day at work. As a vodka enthusiast, I don’t find the vodka types available at the local stores as appealing as the vodka that my grandfather used to make. Note that I have Russian heritage, so you could say that it’s in the blood. But I digress, you don’t have to be Russian to love vodka, and you don’t need any special family recipe or equipment to successfully do so.
Nowadays, you can get all the vodka distilling equipment you need online, and just come up with a unique recipe of your own. If you’re up to the challenge, here’s what you need to know in order to make a good batch of vodka on the first try.
Type of Vodka Mash
Quality vodka starts with a quality mash. There are many different types of mashes to choose from, the most common being rye, wheat, corn, potato, molasses and beet. For me, it’s a no brainer, potato mash trumps all, it’s just the Russian in me, which is why I’ll focus on potato vodka. The recipe I use requires 25 litres of water, 10kg potatoes, and 2.5kg crushed malted barley. You’ll also need a mash pot, a heat source, a long spoon and thermometer. The procedure goes something like this:
-Scrub the potatoes to remove residual dirt, then cut them up in cubes.
-Boil them for 20 minutes in the 25 litres of water.
-Use an immersion blender to mash them, or just do it by hand.
-Move the mash in the mash pot and add a little bit more water so the total volume reaches 25 litres again.
-Raise the heat to 60°C and stir the mixture.
-Add the crushed malted barley, and keep stirring.
-Hold the temperature for 20 minutes, and stir every 4 minutes for about 30 seconds.
-After 20 minutes, raise the temperature to 65°C and keep stirring every 10 minutes for 30 seconds, for an hour.
-Perform a gravity reading, if below 1.065, add sugar so it gets to 1.065.
-Cool the mash overnight to 24°C to give barley enzymes more time to break down the potato starches.
Now, it’s time to ferment your potato vodka mash. You’ll need the following materials: a fermentation bucket, yeast, siphon, cheesecloth, citric acid, Iodine, a pH meter and hydrometer. The process is pretty straightforward.
-First, you need to create a yeast starter by sanitising a standard mason jar.
-Next, pour 120ml of 43°C water into the jar.
-Add 2 teaspoons of sugar and stir thoroughly.
-Mix in the yeast.
-Stir thoroughly again.
-Let it sit for 20 minutes and the mixture’s volume should double in that time.
Next, move the mash liquid only to the fermentation bucket using a strainer. Try to make as much splash as possible without losing liquid. Then, add the yeast started to the bucket before adding the ferment mixture and airlock. Store it at room temperature and wait two weeks. You can use iodine to check whether the fermentation is done. First, take a sample off the top of your wash and put the sample on a white lid or plate. Drip a few iodine drops, if the sample turns blue – it means the iodine is reacting to the present starches. If there aren’t any starches, the fermentation isn’t done, so give it a few more days. You can also use a hydrometer to measure the alcohol by volume. Once the fermentation is done, you’ll need to remove the solid materials, which are responsible for headaches. A cheesecloth is great for this purpose.
If you’ve reached this point, you’ve actually produced your vodka. However, that doesn’t mean you’re done. Now you have to distil it. Vodka distilling includes separating the good from the bad, the vodka from the other stuff in the batch you don’t really want. In order to do this, you’ll need a still, fermented and strained mash water, column packing and cleaning products.
First, you’ll need to prepare your still by cleaning it. After you’ve cleaned it, add clean copper packing to the column. Since vodka is a high-proof spirit, you’ll want to get the most reflux during the run. If you own a condenser, hook up the water input and output. Lastly, add the wash to the still with the help of an auto-siphon. You want to reduce the amount of sediment in the wash as much as possible.
Next, you’ll want to fire up the still. Make sure the column is packed with copper packing, and any columns, domes, hoses or condensers are attached securely before you turn on the heat source and start raising the temperature. If you’re using a condenser, turn on the water when the boiler reaches 55°C, or if you’re using a copper still, apply flour past to the joint between the column and vapour cone once it reaches 43°C. At about 75°C, the still will start producing, which is when you’ll want to dial in the heat source setting to achieve 1-3 drips per second consistently.