Recipe 1 Batch Production

To summarize my experience yesterday…nothing’s ever easy. For those of you that are keeping up, the Vodka Recipe (Recipe 1) was my first attempt at a batch using grain rather than a simple sugar wash. I can’t say that it went as I had hoped and dreamed. I’m not sure if the proportions of the recipe were off, or if my ingredients were off, or if I can’t follow simple instructions. I’m going to go with options 1 or 2. I have a high degree of confidence that my wife votes for option 3.

Anyhow, before we get going I should let you know what I used. I used Briess Flaked Rye, Flaked Oats (OIO), Briess Traditional Dark DME, about 4 pounds of generic amber honey, and the usual Alotec 48 turbo yeast.

It looked a lot like this:

Vodka 1 ingredients

There were several “command decisions” that had to be made throughout production. First, I overestimated the size of my pot. Historically, I’ve used a turkey frier pot, and that worked pretty well. However, when I thought about the ingredients I realized that the grains were going to expand and I had to cut the recipe back. So I settled on 6 gallons of water and modded the batch accordingly. However, that was not enough. I should have, in retrospect, gone with about 4.5-5 gallons. That was my mistake.

What I ended up doing was removing about a gallon of mash that was really, really thick (oatmeal thick) and adding some more water so that I could successfully stir the pot and not burn things to the inside of the (or make a mess on the stove). Because I took the grain out, I replaced it with simple syrup to keep the sugar content up. I decided to toss in a few frozen blueberries as well. The final distiller’s sin of the day was neglecting to take original gravity at the end of the process. With all of the other  issues, I was way past late by the time I got it into the fermenter and didn’t have the opportunity to let it cool and take the measurement.

This is what it looks like while it’s cooking away:

delish vodka mash

So the moral of this cautionary tale is that I need to be more aware of the volume increase the grain goes through. I need to be careful to leave more room. Additionally, I’m curious if the fact that I used flaked grains rather than regular grains. I went flaked because I thought it would breakdown into starches easier. I think it worked…but the expansion was remarkable.

I checked on it today, and it’s fermenting away. Hopefully in a week’s time I’ll have something usable. Filtering the mash is going to be quite the experience this time.

All frustration aside, I’m pleased that I took a shot at working directly with the grain. I’ve used the Mr. Beer beer kit before, and I’ve used a sugar wash. Regardless of the outcome, I think that making a move towards the grain was a good step. I think the yield will be odd. I’m sure that we’ll get something to distill (it is fermenting after all), but I’m just not sure what the yield will be. More to come on this, I’m sure.

Batch Thoughts – Vodka Preparation – Recipe 1

Next weekend I’ll be embarking on my first attempt at creating a grain based vodka. I figure that we could spend a few minutes discussing the process leading up to cooking the mash.

First things first
I decided to go with vodka for a couple of reasons. Vodka is a prolific liquor that’s used in a variety of cocktails. The quality of the vodka tends to be judged more on it’s tastelessness than any actual flavor profile. That means that I can worry less about my cuts and focus more on the process of distillation. It will also give me an excuse to get my activated carbon filter up and running. As I mention in the batch recipe, my intention is to triple distill the liquor and then run it through the filter. I’m sure that I’ll cover the filtration and distillation in upcoming posts.
I also went with vodka because it doesn’t require any aging. That’s right…for my second batch I want something that will provide some instant gratification.

The recipe and sourcing the ingredients
The recipe is based on a recipe I found online. I can’t honestly say which site I used. I’m sure if you cruise around the web looking for rye vodka recipes, you’ll find something very similar. I look forward to being at a place where I can write my own recipes, but I’m not there just yet.
I got my ingredients (all of them except for the honey) from beergrains.com. I linked them on the Links page. I lucked out and they have a pickup place just down the street from me at a brew pub. They have a good selection and the prices are reasonable. Not paying for shipping is another bonus.

What I’ll be watching…
I’ll be paying special attention to the grain and the texture of the mash. I’m specifically interested in the role the DME plays in the consistency of the batch. I’ll also be paying attention the the gravity. I’m going to attempt to start drawing a correlation between the amount of grain, type of grain and the sugar content of the mash. Ideally, I’ll be able to get a good reading on it and then heat it back up if necessary (it will be necessary for the yeast). Lastly, I am interested in any “non-vodka” tastes in the batch. I’m using Alotec 48 turbo yeast this round. I’m not sure what (if any) taste that will leave. The rum from the first batch wasn’t very…well…rummy. I want to see if there’s a similar taste with the vodka (before and after filtration).

Welcome to the Journal – Fair Warnings

So here it goes. First, I want to welcome you to The Distiller’s Journal. I’ll be honest and say that this post isn’t much fun. It contains all of the warnings that would be distillers should hear at least once. It also contains some information on getting started. If you’re reading the first post, it also likely means that the website doesn’t have a whole lot of meat on its bones just yet. Please bear with me as I continue to post information in order to turn this site into a workable knowledgebase for amateur distillers.

First Things First

I’m going to assume, since you’re hear that you’re interested in home distillation. I am also going to assume that if you’re interested in distilling your own liquor… there’s very little I’m going to do to talk you out of it. That being said, like an overly cautious parent, I’m going to tell you again.

1. You can kill yourself, your friends and everyone you ever met

Nothing quite like hyperbole. In all seriousness, distillation is something that should be done with care. There are a few risks that you should know about. First, while your still pot contains delicious, delicious alcohol, it also contains a variety of poisons that you want nothing to do with. These poisons include methanol and propanol which will do some damage over the long haul. When you’re making your cuts, and we’ll discuss your cuts later, it’s important to be careful and, when in doubt, err on the side of caution. A little part of you might die if you think you’re tossing away delicious ethanol. Just remember that it’s better a part of you die than the whole thing.

2. It’s probably illegal

Know the law in your country/province/state/county. Most countries have outlawed the unlicensed distillation of alcohol. Some countries tend to turn a blind eye if the quantity is sufficiently small, and you’re not selling it, but the moral of the story here is that you need to do some research to figure out what the risks are. No one can tell you how much risk is acceptable…it’s a decision that you’ll have to make for yourself.

3. You can blow yourself up

You remember all that good stuff coming out of your condenser? Well, its flammable and it’s pretty close to a heat source that may or may not be an open flame. Test your equipment before you use it, and keep a close eye on your equipment. Monitor the temperature of your column, monitor the temperature of the pot, monitor the flow from the condenser. Distillation should be fun, but care must be taken. Keep your wits about you, and you’ll be sippin’ on something delicious in no time.

There you go, I’ve said it and I feel better. If you are still interested in moving forward that’s on you. It’s a decision that every home distiller has to make for him or herself. If you’re still up for it, then read on.