For those of you that have reviewed my reviewed the mash cooking section of the blog, it won’t come as a surprise that the distillation was not as simple or straight forward (read: successful) as I had originally hoped. I guess what I’m trying to say is that while yesterday wasn’t a particularly good distilling day, I learned a whole lot.
The problems yesterday were first identified when I opened the strainer. The mash, while it did have the trademark fermentation smell, smelled too sweet. It’s safe to say that I knew I was in trouble when I popped the lid on the fermenter and the sweet smell of unfermented sugar hit my nostrils. Needless to say, the mash didn’t thin out much. As I may have mentioned, my inexperience had led me to think that perhaps the DME would work to help break things (starches) down. While I believe that it did help, it’s certain that the breakdown did occur, it certainly didn’t occur to the extent that I had hoped. Take a look at this picture. You will see gigantic globs of rye sitting on top of the cheese cloth. Trying to get it strained was every bit as fun as you might imagine.
So, fast forward about 70 minutes and I managed to get about 3 gallons of liquid out of the mash. I was concerned that it was too thick and would burn, so I added about 1.5 gallons of water. I thought, hey…I’m distilling the water out anyway.
I’ll be honest and say that I was not in the best of moods by the time the mash was strained and ready to go. However, I was determined to make a go of it despite the projected low production of the mash. I got the still setup and put the heat to it. Here’s where I made a pretty interesting mistake. I’ll be honest, I’m not a student of physics. I’m not sure how it happened, but here it goes anyway. I decided that I didn’t need to start pumping cold water to the jacket that surrounds the condenser until we hit about 140 degrees (F) at the top of the still. The plan was to turn it on when it was at about 140 so that when the methanol started coming out at 150ish that I’d be ready to catch it. The interesting thing is that the temperature at the top of the column spiked like crazy. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we went from 140 to about 205 in the span of 10 seconds. I flooded the column (a neat little brewhaus thing that I’ll explain more in a future post), and took it back down to about 140, but I was less than impressed. The moral of the story here is that moving forward I will keep the condenser cool to prevent any unnecessary temperature fluctuations.
The rest of the distillation went about as expected. From my (approximate) 3 gallons, I got about 500 mL of product. Given the temperature issues that I experienced I will be doing a second distillation to make sure that I get the nasty bits out. I will probably just toss it in with my next attempt at a vodka and distill it with the new mash.
All in all, I’m interested in a second attempt at a rye vodka. Hey, it’s tradition. I will do some more checking around for a recipe and compare that with the first attempt (posted on the recipes page.