How To Make Your Own Vodka Using Potatoes
My first attempt at making potato vodka was a wonderful experience - getting to see your own potatoes (I grew my own!) turn into such a marvelous drink was a great experience and now, after brewing it around 8 times I feel like I am experienced enough to share my experiences with you!
Vodka is a neutral spirit with an average of a 40% alcoholic content - it is usually tasteless though it can have a creamy taste to it. Brewing potato vodka will sometimes give a creamy taste depending on how long you cook the potatoes for.
- Chopping board
- Large saucepan
- 40L large barrel/pot which can be airlocked (you can seal it with tight wrapping of clingfilm
- Big spoon
- Several jugs
- Blender/potato masher
- Some blankets
- Nice gallon bottles to store your vodka in
- Alcohol hydrometer (tells you the ABV)
- 10kg of potatoes
- 1.1Kg Barley Malt
- Yeast (ale yeast is better but bakers yeast or others will work)
- Amylase (optional)
- 2.2kg sugar (optional)
Another thing you will need is some way to distill your vodka to make it purer and tastier! To do this you can buy one online: the cheapest I can find is $105 and comes with a free alcoholometer, negating the need for a alcohol hydrometer. Alternatively you can build your own using a beer keg which you can find instructions for here.
Now I will begin the main part of the guide - actually making your vodka!
Step 1: Preparing Your Potatoes
This step is quite simple really but before you start you should make sure your fermenter (large pot) and any equipment you will use are all properly sterilized - this will reduce the risk of bacteria growing in your brew and infecting it.
Firstly get all your potatoes together and wash the, all under the tap - use cold/lukewarm water so you don't activate the starch too early. Scrub them down to get rid of any dirt that may be on the outside.
What type of potatoes should I use?
The answer is - it doesn't matter! You could use maris piper or baking potatoes but as long as it has starch in it the end result will be almost the same. Why not try using different types and see how it affects the final taste!
Personally I always use British white potatoes as I grow them myself and use these for cooking too so always have some on hand! But use whatever you have available and it won't affect anything too much.
Back to preparing your spuds. You won't need to peel them as it will all be mashed together at the end anyway and you're only using the juices that come out of the potatoes. Now chop them up - roughly quarter them then slice each piece once more.
Now put all your potatoes into your large saucepan and boil them for around 15-20 minutes. You want them to be nice and soft but definitely not flaky and dry, they should be slightly under-cooked.
Now strain the water and place all the potatoes into your fermenter. You may need to make several trips so wrap your fermenter in a few blankets to keep it warm if you need to do this!
Now when you have all your potatoes in the fermenter you should blend/mash them all up. You may need to add some boiling water to make it easier and don't be afraid to do this as it won't affect things too much. You want your potato mix to be as close to liquid as possible - imagine mashed potatoes but with under-cooked potatoes and more liquid.
Step 2: Forming The Sugars
Now we need to convert all the starches in the potatoes into sugars so we can ferment them with yeast. First take the blanket off the fermenter and check the temperature, we need to add a mixture of hot and cold water to get us up to 25L of liquid and have the temperature of around 70°C. If it's hotter than this that's fine just wait for it to cool.
Now you have two options for how to proceed. You can either add sugar or not. If you add sugar you will get around 2L of 70% vodka whereas you'll get about 2L of 50% vodka without sugar. If you choose to add sugar add it now - about 2kg of sugar should be a good amount for this amount of potatoes.
Now, in a large jug, put your barley malt and some water in, use cold water or your enzymes will be killed. Mix this all together and add it to your fermenter when the temperature falls to 66°C. This is the best working temperature for the enzymes to break down the starch into sugars. If you are using amylase to get as much vodka as possible, add this at the same time as the barley malt.
Mix the fermenting mix all together and wrap it up. If your fermenter has temperature control then set it at 66°C, otherwise blankets will have to do. Leave it overnight and this will be loads of time for the enzymes to break down the potato starch into sugars.
The next day you can take the blankets off and allow the mix to cool, open the lid a little if you want to speed this up.
Step 3: Preparing The Yeast
Now if you try your fermenting mix it should taste a little sweet - this is a good sign that the starches have been converted into sugars. The next step is allowing the yeast to ferment the sugars into alcohol. We will make a yeast mix to start this process.
Sterilize a jug and half fill it with the fermenting liquid, let it cool to around 20°C, or whatever the working temperature of our yeast is. You should also be letting your fermenting liquid in the fermenter cool to this temperature as well so that the yeast can work actively on it too! Now stir all your yeast into the jug of fermenting liquid and wait until the fermenter reaches the working temperature of the yeast.
Now pour your yeast mix into the fermenter and give it a good stir, allowing the yeast to reach everywhere, try and sort of "fold" the mix to get lots of air through the mix, this will let the yeast work more effectively!
Now you are ready to ferment. Pour your mix into your large barrel/pot and make it airtight. The biggest problem now is that pressure will begin to build up in your container. As the liquid ferments it will bubble and these bubbles will make the container very pressurized. If you used sugar in your mix then this isn't a major problem but you should be aware that it may happen anyway.
The benefit of using clingfilm is that if pressure builds up you can see it happening and let it out if needed. If your container does burst and the mix goes everywhere - do not put it back in or you risk infecting the rest of your mix. Simple clean up the mess and re-seal the mix that remains. A good rule of thumb is that your container should be a 50-50 mix of liquid and air to avoid large pressure build ups.
Sometimes, depending on the yeast you use, you may notice strange smells coming from your mix, this is not a problem for your vodka it simply means your yeast is producing sulfides (these contribute to worse hangovers as well!). Just avoid using this yeast in the future.
Step 6: Purifying Your Vodka
As your mix ferments you will get solids form which are driven to the top, you should try and mix these back into your mix around twice every day to improve the output of your vodka. Eventually this will stop happening as the fermentation slows and you are almost done!
When the mix stops bubbling around the edges of your airlock this is a sign that your fermentation period is complete! If you are unsure taste your mix - it shouldn't be sweet anymore as all the sugars should have been turned to alcohol.
Get a sieve and place it in a sterilized large pot/bowl. Pour your fermentation mix in through the sieve to remove all the solids. Repeat this process a few times and sterilize your equipment each time! This should remove all the solids from your mix. If there are still bits in it, try using a muslin cloth.
Now place your mix back into your fermenter and leave it in a cold place like a shed for between 1-2 full days. This lets everything collect at the bottom of your fermenter and is called racking.
Step 6: Distilling
Now we are ready to distill our mix to get the purest vodka we can! You have probably noticed on vodka labels that many are "triple distilled" for example, this means that the process we are about to do has been done to it 3 times. What distilling does is removes all the remaining impurities to give a very pure vodka.
First we should remove the liquid from our fermenter, leaving the solids at the bottom. Do this by skimming jug fulls off the top of the mix and allowing it to settle again. It doesn't matter if you get some solids into your mix as they will be ignored by the distiller anyway!
Your distiller will come with an instruction guide anyway, but if not, this is the general idea. Put the liquid into the still (the piece of equipment that distills) and put it on at just over half power. Put the column on and if your distiller comes with it put some glass beads or a copper scrubber into your still's top section to condense the liquid and give a purer product. The copper will also remove any sulfides from your mix so try and get as much of this as possible into your column.
Your condenser should be cold to make sure it condenses the liquid. One way to do this is to use a Liebig condenser which runs cold water around the outside.
This is very important: you should dispose of the first 120mls of your mix. This stuff contains most of the methanol which is dangerous to drink and can make you go blind. This is called the FOreshots.
After this you can monitor your vodka using an alcohol hydrometer to check the ABV of your mix. You might want to throw away some of the mix right after the 120mls as it might not taste so good. You don't want anything less than 30% ABV as this tastes funny too due to fusel oils, these are found towards the end of the distillation and are called "the Tails". The liquid in between is called "the Hearts" and is the sweet spot of potato vodka. This tastes the best and is the smoothest, purest part. Why not store 100mls at a time and test each batch to monitor the taste and ABV.
You also need to make sure there are no leaks whatsoever in your still. This will release alcohol vapor which will fall to the floor. As this builds up it will eventually reach the flame that powers your still - after this, BOOM! Find any leaks by pouring a colored liquid through it first to find any leaks.
After you have distilled it you will have your foreshots, your Tails, and the Hearts, all the good stuff in the middle. Now take your Hearts and distill it all over again to get double distilled vodka, again for triple distilled. Both times you should dispose of the first 60mls again as some foreshots still remain. Eventually you will get the Hearts which are so pure and so tasty - this is your potato vodka. Check the ABV and water it down to about 40% to get a standard vodka. Enjoy it, but drink responsibly as always!