Batch Production – Recipe 1

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.

Mash Straining

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.

too mashy

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.

Distillation

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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).