Doing the Research

Well, vacation is officially underway. I’m way outta dodge, but my thoughts are still with my…still. Since the days of fast paced, jet set vacations are in my rearview (for now) I needed to pick up some reading material. I had my eye on How To Distill by Aaron Hyde for a while. It has a pretty good reputation as a beginner text. Good for me, because I’m more than rusty with the soup to nuts process. Sounded like a win-win…and I’m pleased to report that I was absolutely correct.

Sure, a lot of the material covered in the text is stuff that I already know (much of which is also discussed here), but I think that the volume is as good or better than the Guide to Urban Moonshining for beginners. For those who have read most of this blog, you’ll know that’s high praise. I would likely pick this text over the Kings County text because not only because of it’s exhaustive discussion on the processes and equipment required, but also because of the recipe collection contained within a rather slim and very approachable text.

Recipes? You ask. Indeed. What’s more is that there’s a tequila recipe that uses agave syrup. Now, you won’t be shocked to hear that I’ve been doing some research between now and the last time I posted. Sure, I have 7kg (~15.5 pounds) of agave coming, but what’s that actually going to do for me? I had big dreams of gallons and gallons of wash, but…why? There are obvious reasons, like my desire to observe fermentation in the Spike vs. the ol’ Chapman. But, at the end of the day more water is more waste. For christ sake, Jim, I’m a distiller not a brewer. More water means more nonsene to carry, mix, heat up (slowly), and throw away. Why on earth would I go through the extra effort. I changed my focus and want to go for efficiency rather than scale.

To this end, I found some pretty good material by BSG that seems to have been put together for ADI in 2020. I’m way too lazy to link it, but I’m sure you can google “BSG Agave Project” and come up with something. To my surprise, the quantity of Agave was much higher than seemed to be advised by the folks at I sort of had this broad strokes plan to mix agave and water until we hit 24ish bx and then pitch the yeast. Now, I think I’m going to dump 15 pounds of agave into a 5 gallon batch (water added) and pitch the yeast. I’ll still activate with ELO as described below. Because I’ll be in town I’ll also come up with some check points and make sure that the fermentation is proceeding as desired.

Honestly, I’m also interested in how the viscosity will change as the yeasties do their work. I worry about running that much syrup through the still (burnt sugar). I may end up adding water after fermentation to keep the still in ship shape. I guess more to come.

Yes, yes…I will be posting the recipe when I complete it. I am not going to post Aaron Hyde’s because if you’re that interested…buy the book and get in the game :). The fermentation should kick off (with posted recipe) around July 22-24.

Good News and Bad…

Well, the CQ can’t happen this weekend. I was banking on the fact that I had seen agave syrup at Bulk Barn, a Canadian bulk retailer. I’m talking bins and bins and bins of nuts, flour, and just about anything that’ll give you type 2 diabetes. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I called 6 locations and none of them had Agave syrup.

“Not a problem,” says I. I will pay more and go to the grocery. It’s the cost of doing something glorious. I bought out the store…all 1.18 liters. That’s no where near enough to make 7 gallons. It might make just under a gallon, but that’s not nearly enough for a meaningful run on the still. I scoured the city and came up with…nothing. It was with great reluctance that I pulled out the laptop and went shopping. The good news is that I now have 7 kilograms of agave syrup on the way. The bad news is that the timeline has been pushed back by at least 2 weeks. The other bonus here is that I can make well over 7 gallons with 7 kg (about 15.5 pounds). I might be able to get the Chapman and the Spike going. I might also attempt multiple batches in a single fermenter to tweak the recipe. Honestly, I’m leaning towards the latter…but we’ll see. I really am a sucker for instant gratification. I may or may not be interested in doing consecutive batches. I guess I have enough time to consider options and solicit feedback from a few of my friends.

I can also consider a few other things as well. For example, I’m out of copper mesh for the still. Do I want more mesh for the column? Do I want to try to pack it with something else (ceramic, etc)? It’ll also give me the opportunity to carefully consider where I want to do the distillation (not an urban event typically speaking).

I guess every gray cloud does have a silver lining…but every silver lining has a touch of gray. Yeah, that makes no sense.

Look At This Little Beauty

Was that a shoutout to the late, great Steve Irwin? The only man I’ve ever known to make reptiles and amphibians not only pallatable, but…kind of endearing? You’re damn right. It’s been what, the better part of 20 years? I can still remember his voice and contagious enthusiasm. Alas, this isn’t a blog about bygone heroes. It’s a blog about the ‘shine.

We’re now about 48 to 72 hours before the rubber has to meet the road, and the CQ has to get into the fermenter. The trouble is that I’ve been hurt before, and I’m not ready to trust again. Don’t believe me? Scroll down to my discussion on my (at the time) new Chapman 14 gallon fermenter. As a dewey eyed youth I pontificated on its merits only to meet with bitter betrayal as the connection to the ball valve leaked. The sweet, sticky, yeasty nectar dribbled fourth winning me the People’s Choice Award for “Best Husband”. I can still recall the enthusiasm in her voice as she…encouraged me to clean it up. Yep, that’s how it happened.

Anyway, since the plan is currently to shoot for a 7 gallon batch, I’ve polished up and assembled my Flex+ fermenter from Spike Brewing. For those of you who are down in the US and looking for some quality home brewing/fermentation supplies you should check them out. I’m not on their payroll, but the quality of their work speaks for itself. I’m a big fan. It’s the brand that famously asserted that “your liver will fail before our equipment does”. So far, that commitment has held up. Despite my deep and abiding love for this particular fermenter, I wanted to make sure that my assembly was rock solid before I had to be…encouraged…to clean up for a second time.

I did tell you it was beautiful, right? I mean, Jesus…look at that little beauty.

So I filled it up about half way to make sure that the racking arm and the thermowell wouldn’t be an issue. Here are some more shots.

Here’s a shot of the inside. You can see the racking arm on the right is adjustable. It’s a really solid addition to the conical bottom which would help home brewers/winemakers/distillers keep their batches clean of the, technical term incoming, shmutz that accumulates at the bottom of the mash. Admittedly, it’s not super useful for a CQ wash (with no grains whatsoever) as the conical bottom should hold the attenuated yeast and the racking arm is perfectly placed to avoid it. That being said, I’m happy to have it.

One last closeup, Mr. Demille.

Here you see a 100% authentic pirate gold coin (according to my oldest), and perhaps an even more impressive racking arm. You’ll note that, unlike the Chapman, this rig uses TC clamps and gaskets along with some top quality machining to form a watertight seal. The arm itself is actually separate from the valve and can be adjusted to minimize the shmutz.

I can’t say that I’m surprised, but I will admit that I’m happy to report that there were 0 leaks. It’s safe to say that I’ll need no “encouragement” this batch. It’s also particularly good since I’ll be away during the tail end of the fermentation. Questions might have been raised if the young lady across the street returned home from pet sitting smelling like tequila and wet cat food. Anyway, nicely done Spike!

In addition to the water tight testing, I thought I’d also give the thermowell a shot. I have the ability now, so I might as well go for it. It’s time to turn in the ol’ analog rig and embrace the digital future. I’m, of course, doing this at no cost because I whined to my friend to loan me his digital. He said that in order to get completely accurate results I’d need to seal up the probe. I was, admittedly, curious about the accuracy of a temperature probe in a thermowell. So here’s the test.

Here we see the OG Analog, my tried, trusted and dubiously accurate BBQ thermometer, the room temp (up top) and his fluke (it’s both the thermometer brand and his preferred term for our continued friendship).

Full disclosure, there’s literally no way that the thermoworks smoke is more accurate than the fluke. They’re in different weight classes when it comes to accuracy, but I’ve been using the smoke for a long time, and not a single one of my guests has died from food poisoning (that I know of). The smoke thermometer is definitely on to something. All I had to do was drop the smoke into the water, insert the fluke into the thermowell, and wait.

So, how did it stack up? Here’s the results after 10 minutes in the water/well:

1 tenth of a degree Fahrenheit difference. That’s right, I said it…Fahrenheit. Twelve plus years north of the border aren’t enough to diminish my love for Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit or his completely, 100% logical way to measure and report on temperature. I think that’s a margin of error that I can manage.

And, just for grins…one more:

Testing complete, we’re one step closer to the CQ. Tally Ho!

Supply Chain Woes

So much for the best laid plans of mice and men. Now, let’s not get too disappointed; we’re still proceeding with the tequila. We just have to be flexible because the stuff I wanted wasn’t available locally. Given time constraints that I’d just as soon not get into here, I want to start the fermentation this weekend. That will put distillation day towards the end of the month.

Most of my disappointment is in my inability to source Fermaid-O in a reasonable amount of time. I’ll for sure pick some up in a future project, but for now I’m in a “beggers can’t be choosers” sort of mood. Rather than Fermaid-O I am going to use Elo’s Premium. Now, I don’t want to get anyone excited. A quick search around the net has revealed no connection between the yeast manufacturer and the band that brought us “Mr. Blue Sky”. More’s the pity, I’m afraid.

I went with Elo’s Premium because it was available and because it claims to provide the yeast with the horsepower it needs to go the long haul in a wash more or less devoid of nutrition. It has a decent reputation and I’m excited to check it out. This will be the first time to “activate” the yeast rather than “pitch and pray” turbo yeast.

I’ve picked Lalvin D-47 as the yeast for this round, and I can honestly say that the yeast wasn’t picked primarily for it’s availability. It’s a yeast that seems pretty well regarded by mead makers for both it’s speed and efficacy (up to 14% which will help out with the post distillation yield). It also states that it has a moderately low nitrogen demand. The long and short is that it feels like a pretty safe bet for my first attempt and yeast activation. It’s not everything I had hoped for, but I’m far from discouraged. Besides, perhaps we’ll try the same recipe later in life with Fermaid-O or Midwest’s Yeast Nutrient.

Next step for me is to source the agave. I’ve seen it in the larger grocery stores around town. I’m looking for a nice amber syrup. We’ll just need to figure out how much of it we’ll need to achieve the desired sugar content. I’m not gonna lie, my plan at this point is to over sugar the wash to make sure we have enough to make the magic happen.

Hoping to get the party started on Saturday or Sunday this week.

Next Up…

So, you’ll probably remember a few days ago when I was all like, “let’s take it easy. let’s not go crazy. Let’s not jump into the deep end of the pool.”. Well, I guess the best laid plans of mice and men. There’s no doubt that my focus hasn’t changed. I still want to spend the time, do the math, and suffer through the scientific method of measured, analyzed fermentation. The end result, however, is going to be a bit different.

My initial plan was to kick it, maybe make some wine, some beer, some prison hooch…who knows. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the prisonhooch subreddit…check it out. My thanks to a very special member of my family for turning me on to it. You know who you are, you shameless bastard :).

Anyway, I’m off on a tangent. I reached out to my dude, “the man of Steele”. I mentioned him in a post several years back. It was a long time ago, but since I’m a blog delinquent it’s not much of a “scroll down memory lane” if you’re inclined to fact check me. I thought that he’d let me get away with something easy, but that’s not his style. He made the same request that he made years ago when we worked together. I asked him what he wanted to make and he said…well, he said “let’s make tequila”.


Ok, so let’s make some tequila, or, as I’ve come to call it, cheaterquila. Why is it “cheaterquila”? Simple. It’s “cheaterquila” (henceforth referred to as CQ) because I live in Canada. It’s a beautiful land with no less than 12 weeks of amicable weather annually. Canada has tremendous natural resources, but Canada has a striking absence of blue agave. Casual searches proved that I could indeed import it for a ridiculous sum of money. I’m not going for that. So I went down the internet rabbit hole.

When I came reemerged I had the base of a plan. I’m not going to process the agave, I’m going to start with agave syrup. Look around online if you’re interested, there’s a ton of information on it. I’m going to use my 7 gallon spike fermenter (we’ll discuss that later) to bring create the agave wash. I don’t really know what to expect, but I’m gonna shoot for about 22-26 brix OG.

But wait, that can’t be all, right? Oh, that’s right! Remember, the focus here is on fermentation. I did some reading and it turns out that syrup/sugar/honey is more or less completely devoid of nutrition. It doesn’t have the YAN or other nutrients needed for healthy, prolonged, fermentation. Now, I could go back to my roots and pick up a package of turbo yeast, but that would go agains the whole plan. The solution? TOSNA. It turns out that I’m not the only person who has faced this particular difficulty. There’s a whole organic process to create healthy, happy yeast…and I’m gonna do it. Check out this calculator.

So here’s the TLDR:

  • I’m making Tequila/CQ
  • I’m going to ferment about 7 gallons (for my 8 gallon still)
  • I’m going to start with a wash of ~24 bx
  • I’m going to give TOSNA a shot
  • I’m gonna bro out with “the man of steele” and have a damn good time.

I’m still working on the recipe. I’ll keep you posted.

Is It Time?

Well, it’s been five years. Despite my best intentions there was no way to keep up the hobby and the blog in the face of new babies, new jobs and the occasional global pandemic. I’ve kept the site and the desire to move forward on the backburner for longer than I’d like to admit. I won’t say that it happened every week, or every month, but I’ve regularly asked myself, “Is it time?”. About two weeks ago, for the first time, the answer was, “Now’s as good a time as any.”. So, here we go again.

What’s the Plan?

Well, I have enough material to float a few posts with the work I’ve done over the past few years. I’m pleased to report that I’ve done more than a handful of distillation runs over the past few years. While it hasn’t been earth shattering, each one has been successful and I’ve been able to play with different techniques. Honestly, I’m a lot better than I was 5 years ago. Perhaps it’s the patience that is forced on you in order to successfully raise children, but I am able to take it slow and steady and to let the heat transfer that comes with evaporation control the still.

In addition to the work I’ve done in the past, I’ve completed the first iteration of my home fermentation lab. That’s right, it’s a really fancy name for the area in my workshop with all the fermenters. Calling it a labratory makes it legitimate, that’s what Dexter taught me in the late 90s. I want to spend some time honing the fermentation end of distillation. It’s not that the distillation process isn’t interesting or worth documenting, it’s that we can’t “quest for the perfect batch” without focusing, at least a bit, on the first three quarters of the process. I have a few projects in mind, so stay tuned.

I guess, by way of closing, I’ll say welcome back to the journal. WordPress tells me that I’ve had a single hit this month. It was likely a lost little lamb or a bot, but I’ll take it.

More to come.

Back in black.

So, to catch you all up, the spring run ended alright. There was nothing to write home about (or blog about for that matter). The yield was low, but that’s not a surprise given the fact that we had to shift the wash around so many times due to the leak in the fermentation tank. The jackassery mixing the turbo 48 yeast with the about to expire whiskey yeast was also a complication. In short, we took the last run as an opportunity to bring a friend up to speed with the fermentation and distillation process. We took the lessons learned from the spring run and did some good stuff in the fall.

That’s where we pick up our tale. Let’s take a trip back, waaaaaay back to September, 2016.

Resounding silence.

The bubbling at the airlocks has stopped. Two fermenters lie dormant and waiting – filled with the promise of ethanol. My fears surrounding the multiple moves and keeping the environments sterile seem to be behind me. There is no mold growing in either tank. They just need to hang tight for a few more days.

dun dun dunnnn….


In case you’re wondering…

Despite the fermentation setbacks, the May batch is moving forward. Here’s a shot I took to illustrate the color before and after it’s 5 days fermenting.


We went from a deep, brown molasses color to the light brown that you see on the left (and also below in the transfer photos). Also, the brix measurement has decreased to about 4.8. That means that, as long as we don’t mold, the batch will be a success. There’s only about 2.4% more ABV to be gained under ideal circumstances. If, at the end of this, I only lose 2.4% I’ll consider it a success. I’ll also be looking to increase my OG in the next run. I’d like to get it back into the mid/high 20s. I just underestimated the need for the 13 gallon batch. Right now it’s at about 7% ABV which will yield almost a gallon at 100% (which is unattainable, so the yield will likely still be over a gallon before we cut.