Distilling spirits is as much the art of preparing the fermented wash to distill as it is the actual distilling. These recipes were prepared so that the beginning distiller can have early success in producing quality spirits. These recipes are for 5 gallons of fermented wash and the ingredients can be adjusted proportionally for greater or lesser quantities. You will need a large stock pot and a fermentation vessel large enough for the batch you wish to produce. Equipment used for home brewing beer is typical.
Rum is usually the spirit first recommended to the new distiller. It is the easiest to produce with ingredients locally available to everyone. Rum is the distilled fermentation of molasses. Molasses is the by product of refining sugar cane into white granulated sugar. Molasses still contains sugar ranging from 40% sugar content in blackstrap molasses to as high as 55% in light table molasses. While it can be argued that the best rum comes from a fermentation of pure table molasses and water, the quantity of molasses required for such becomes very expensive for the hobby distiller. Brown sugar is white sugar with a coating of molasses (use only “Cane” sugar, if the package doesn’t say “Cane Sugar” then it is beet sugar). Brown sugar (use the dark variety) can produce very tasty rum at far less expense than using pure molasses. Be aware that we are using two pounds of brown sugar per gallon. If you have access to reasonable cost unsulphered table molasses the recipe could be altered to substitute two 12 oz jars of molasses per pound of the sugar. Do not use more than three 12 oz jars of molasses per gallon as the osmotic pressure due to the density of molasses will be too high for fermentation. One could also use a combination of white granulated sugar and table molasses (say 10 jars of molasses and 5 pounds of white sugar).
10 lbs of pure cane dark brown sugar
4 gallons (approximate) of prepared water (see other distilling information)
1 sacket of Gert Strand Rum Yeast (for substitution see other distilling information)
Heat 2 to 3 gallons of the water to approximately 130 F (hot enough to dissolve the sugar but not boiling) in a large stock pot. Dissolve the brown sugar in the water. Pour the sugar water into your fermentation vessel. Top off with cool water to a total volume of 5 gallons. Let cool to 80 F. Sprinkle yeast across surface, allow to stand for 15 – 20 minutes and then stir in. Ferment for 5 to 7 days (as long as fermentation continues). Siphon into your still boiler keeping as much of the yeast sediment from entering the still as possible. Distill per still instructions. Age for 30 days at distilled strength shaking once a day. Dilute with aerated distilled water to 80 proof. Enjoy!
Easy Bourbon Recipe
Bourbon is made from the fermented mash of corn with the remainder being malted barley and other fermentables. Commercial distilleries use sophisticated procedures and chemical enzymes to convert the starches in the grains to fermentable sugars. This recipe utilizes easily obtainable Beano tablets as the enzyme and then makes up for the relative inefficiency by using sugar as an additional fermentable to boost the alcohol production.
4 lbs corn meal (grocery store grade)
3.3 lb can of unhopped malt extract syrup
5 lbs of pure cane sugar (if it doesn’t say “cane” then it is beet sugar)
3 crushed Beano tablets
1 sacket Gert Strand Prestige Whisky Yeast w/AG (substitution not recommended)
12 toasted oak chips (for aging)
Heat 2 to 3 gallons of the water to approximately 200 F (just shy of boiling). Stir in the corn meal and stir. Dissolve the sugar in the corn meal/water porridge. Pour the mash into your fermentation vessel. Top off with cool water to just over 5 gallons. Check temperature. Stir in and dissolve crushed Beano tablets when temperature has cooled to at least no higher than 110 F. Let cool to 80 F. Toss yeast per directions on package and ferment for a week or longer till fermentation is completed. Strain mash into the still boiler using a large straining bag or clean white pillow case. Distill per instructions provided with the still. Age at distilled strength with the oak chips for 30 days or longer shaking once daily. Strain off oak chips and dilute with aerated distilled water to 80 proof. Enjoy!
OTHER INFORMATION FOR PREPARING A WASH
Equipment: Fermenting a mash or wash for distilling requires the same type of equipment used for home brewing beer. Sanitation practices will also be the same. You will need a large stock pot, a fermentation bucket (preferably with an air lock), a thermometer, a large straining bag (a clean white pillow case will substitute), and at least one gallon jug (for aging). You will also find it very helpful to obtain an alcoholmeter. An alcoholmeter is very similar to a hydrometer in that it floats in a tall slim test jar. It measures proof or alcohol percentage. Alcoholmeters can be obtained mail order off the internet from the same shops that sell turbo yeasts (just Google it).
Water: The quality of your water is important to making good spirits. The water should be clean, chlorine free (chlorine can kill yeast), ideally have some calcium content (but devoid of iron content) and be approximately 5.5 to 6 on a PH scale (just slightly acid).
Chlorine can be removed by boiling but boiling also removes the necessary oxygen that the yeast needs initially. Boiled water will need aeration prior to pitching yeast.
PH can be measured and adjusted with supplies purchased from a homebrew shop. If you want to proceed without actually measuring the PH most municipal water supplies and bottled store water have a neutral PH of 7 to 8. Add ¼ tsp of lemon juice per gallon and then your water will likely be in the ballpark. Calcium content can be increased by adding 1/8 tsp of gypsum per gallon. Aeration can be accomplished by filling a sealable container half full with your water and shaking it vigorously for 60 seconds. Aeration can also be done with an aquarium air pump used with new clean tubing and a new clean bubbler stone. Pump bubbles through your water, wash or mash for 20 minutes.
Yeast: Different yeasts can be used successfully. Bread yeast does work but it will die at only 8-9% alcohol and settles out poorly. Turbo yeasts already include the nutrients (no additional nutrients required) that aid in fermentation and can be used with most any type of spirit. Gert Strand Prestige turbo yeasts are perhaps the best known and are of high quality. They also have specific yeasts for each of whiskey, rum, and fruit fermentations. Generic distillers yeast works well in any grain mash but requires added nutrients in sugar type mashes. Wine yeast is often obtainable rather economically (try Lalvin EC-118) and will also require added nutrients in sugar mashes. Wine yeasts are sold in small sackets so you will need one for every 2 gallons of wash. Homebrew beer yeasts can be used for grain mashes but they are typically not used very often for distilling purposes as they are limited to about 10% alcohol fermentations and develop flavor profiles which are suitable usually just for whiskey. For yeast nutrients you will find that homebrew and wine making shops sell a variety. You will need one that includes both vitamins/minerals and DAP (diammonium phosphate) or buy the two separately. If nothing else is available to you at least throw a few raisins into your wash to add nutrients. Grain mashes typically require little added nutrients.
Fermentation Temperature: Yeast works in a very narrow temperature range. Most all yeasts will die at high temperatures (above 85 F) and work very slowly (if at all) at low temperatures (below 65 F). Keep your ferment around normal room temperature (70 to 74 F) for optimum results. Be aware that the fermentation process itself generates some heat particularly with large batches. It may be necessary to keep your fermentation vessel in a cooler place than your desired temperature especially for the first few days.
Fermentation Time: Complete fermentation can take from 5 days to two weeks depending on the ingredients, the yeast being used, and the temperature of the fermentation. Rigorous fermentation will be obvious during the 2nd and 3rd days after tossing your yeast but will become much more subtle after that. The best way to tell when fermentation has ceased is to use a fermentation vessel with an air lock. That way you will see when the air lock stops bubbling entirely. Generally speaking it is OK to leave a wash sealed in the fermentation vessel for an extra day or two if needed before you distill.