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Making Spirits - Your Questions Answered

Making Spirits - Your Questions Answered

Is spirit making natural?

Yes. People have been making spirits for hundreds of years, and distilled alcoholic beverages first appeared in Europe in the 12th Century. The Still Spirits process involves the controlled manufacture of alcohol from a known mix of natural nutrients, being sugar and yeast. The distillate is then cleaned with activated carbon to remove unwanted flavours, to produce a smooth tasting spirit.

Is it safe and legal to make my own spirits?

Distilling alcohol for making spirits is not dissimilar to fermenting wine or home brewing beer. Following the instructions will result in pure clean alcohol that in most cases has less by-products and impurities than alcohol produced from commercial sources.

It isn't hard to make great spirits at home, but you do have to play by the rules. To begin with, in New Zealand, Austria, Italy, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine it is perfectly legal to home distill for personal use. 

In most countries it is illegal for an individual to use a still for the purpose of making your own pure alcohol. Yet it's not against the law to own a water distillation unit or a simple air-still, (under 5L in Australia) and many people already use these devices to distill water or to make essential oils. For more information on distilling in Australia, check out this article.

If you are in a country where amateur distillation is not permitted, you will need to purchase the base alcohol from a store in order to create your own liqueur, spirit or schnapps. Low-priced vodka or gin are ideal for this purpose. Please note that using Still Spirits flavourings and yeasts are legal in every country.

In most countries where home distilling is illegal, local authorities have historically been reluctant to move against citizens who are producing alcohol for their own personal consumption. Yet authorities in all countries around the world will prosecute anyone producing alcohol for sale without a license. Still Spirits strongly recommends that you check the legal status of amateur distillation in your country beforehand.

How long will it take me to make each batch of spirits?

There are a lot of variables so a definitive answer is not possible. However, depending on the kind of still you have and the type of yeast and nutrients you are using, based on the EZ Filter carbon process, you can be drinking your own home made spirits within 7 days.

Which is better and more productive - a Reflux Still or a Pot Still?

All stills collect alcohol from the 'wash' at varying strengths, and the total amount of alcohol collected depends on how much is present in your wash. Reflux Stills collect less alcohol by volume but it is much higher in strength. Alcohol should always be watered down to below 50% ABV before filtering.

After filtering and watering down, the total amount of finished alcohol should be the same, no matter what kind of still you have used. The exception to this rule is the Super Reflux still, which sacrifices a little on total quantity (around 5%) to achieve the purest best quality result that can be achieved.

If I add more sugar to my 'wash' will I get more alcohol?

The answer is possibly. However, it's important to know that you shouldn't add more sugar than the recipe or the manufacturer recommends, as yeast varieties are made and selected for different properties. For example, a yeast variety which can ferment rapidly may not be very resistant to alcohol and so adding too much sugar may result in unfermented sugar remaining in the wash.

If too much is added this may cause the wash to froth during distilling, which is to be avoided. Most spirit yeasts and nutrients have a recipe printed on them so you should select the yeast which best suits your needs.

What are the five things that most influence the quality I can achieve?

  1. The type of still you use. Pot stills collect all the 'condensate' from boiling and condense it, while Reflux stills have a separate chamber which further purifies the condensate before condensing. This produces a distillate that is more concentrated with fewer impurities than pot stills and is why they produce a better quality spirit.
  2. The degree of carbon treatment and type of carbon. You should always use a reputable brand of carbon that has been designed specifically for the job, and be aware that charcoal varies greatly in quality. Some distillers actually run the spirit through the filter twice or three times to improve overall smoothness.
  3. The type of wash you use. If you want to maximize the quality of your end-result, it is essential to use a high quality yeast and nutrient to produce the wash and maintain the correct fermentation temperature. Distilling unwanted or excess spirit will lead to poor taste and quality and may cause equipment damage or failure.
  4. Storing and aging. Stockpiling in a cool dark place some of the spirit you produce in glass for a long period of time will lead to favourable mellowing. Some home distillers age their spirit in oak barrels to imitate the commercial brands but you can easily replicate this process by adding oak chips or oak chip essences to the spirit, and then letting it rest for a specified time to achieve an excellent result.
  5. The final alcohol percentage. An important determinant of quality is the actual percentage of alcohol in the final result.

For best results, and for the sake of your health, Still Spirits recommends that you do not drink spirit at more than 40% alcohol by volume. You should water down alcohol if necessary - see packs for details.

Note: If you consume alcohol over 60% by volume, alcohol poisoning will occur leading to death or serious permanent injury.

Will I make methanol when I distill?

When distilling Still Spirits Turbo products you may produce extremely small quantities of by-products such as methanol, as you will only be fermenting sugar with a known yeast and nutrient mix. This will be removed in the first portion of distillate which is separated and called 'the head'.

If you wish to distill other mixtures in a Pot or Reflux Still, then methanol could be produced. Making alternative fuel is one thing, but if you want to make a drinkable alcohol spirit, the results could prove disastrous, and Still Spirits does not recommend you do this, unless you follow a reputable manufacturer's instructions.

Why don't I have to age my spirit like commercial distilleries?

Following the Still Spirits method, you make alcohol using pure sugar, Turbo Yeast, Still Spirit Carbons and drinkable water, to produce an extremely clean alcohol. You can then add essences to the drink to replicate the specific characteristics of your favourite whisky, bourbon, rum, gin or whatever. So aging isn't necessary.

Historically, aging has been necessary as excess raw materials have usually been inexpensive or in some cases like rum they have been a waste product and costly to dispose of. Cheap raw materials have been converted into potable alcohol and aged to improve their smoothness - sometimes in oak barrels to also remove unwanted flavours and any unwanted alcohols. Raw spirit from some of these products can be undrinkable and even dangerous, so aging is necessary for many reasons. But not when you home distill.

Can I distill beer in a Air Still and T-500?

Yes this is possible, but it is likely you will get a lot of volatiles in your distillation. For beer distillation we recommend the alembic pot still.

Can I add salt to the 'wash' before beginning distillation to raise the boiling point?

Using salt will not make any difference to what boils off or when. Making alcohol is different to boiling a pot of water on a stove-top as the amount of energy applied to the wash will determine the amount of steam that is boiled off.

Does using a new and technically advanced still, produce purer alcohol?

Yes. Using the most advanced type of still available - the Super Reflex - when compared to a standard Reflux Still will provide a more polished and refined result but the final yield will be lower. During the purifying process more impurities are removed leaving more pure alcohol. If the spirit was then diluted with clean water to the same strength as previous generations of stills, the spirit collected from the latest Super Reflux Still would be considerably more pure. However, you will get around 8% less drinkable spirit than using a standard Reflux.

How much alcohol do I need to throw away from each batch?

There is a risk that methanol can be present in your batch of spirits. However, the methanol comes off first from the still so it is easily segregated and discarded, and easily observed via changes in vapour temperature. A simple rule of thumb for this is to throw away the first 50 ml you collect.

How do I measure the strength of my alcohol?

You need a alchometer. This is a wee float, with a scale in it. The more alcohol that is present , the lighter the density of the liquid, so the alcohometer sinks a bit lower. You then read off the scale how much alcohol is present and dilute accordingly.

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