Introduction: Potato Vodka / Moonshine

I had a go at making Potato Vodka, I have heard of it being made before in Russia and Poland and there are various recipes out there for it. For this one I picked the most basic recipe I could find out there.

Now this one was a learning curve for me as I have mostly done sugar washes and a couple of All Grain Mashes.

With this one I had a little bit of an accident/mistake which I will go in to later so that you can avoid making the same mistake that I did.

A quick bit on what Vodka is, other than tasty and good in cocktails and Mixers ;-)

So Vodka is a neutral spirit, it is not suppose to have a flavor, though some do have a little creaminess to them, what this means is that It could be made out of anything near enough, and in Russia and Poland they often did back in the day. Vodka can be made with Potatoes, Molasses, Sugar, Bread, Barley and most commonly wheat.

Majority of Vodkas are made with Wheat these days, though when I was in the supermarket, in the UK, the other day I had a look at the Vodkas and most of them where made from wheat but i found 1 made with molasses and one made with Barley. For those that wish to know Smirnoff is made with wheat.

I will be doing a wheat based vodka at some point soon so if that is what you are interested in then subscribe to me on Instructables and the site will alert you when I release some thing new.

Step 1: What You Will Need

First off you will need a still to turn the low level of alcohol in to spirit, traditionally vodka is done in a pot still and is processed multiple times. I have an instructable on building a pot still using a beer keg as a boiler, here is the link.

Building a Keg Still, Pot still design

with these stills you would have to run it through multiple times to get a pure product but this will be a more traditional way of doing it.

you can use a more modern reflux still, with this you could get away with running it once. Here is the link to my reflux still instructable using a beer keg as a boiler

Building a Keg Still Bokakob Design Reflux Still

Tools

Chopping board

Sharp Knife

Large Saucepan

2 x 25L Fermenter or a large Barrel 40L with an air lock, you need to put at least 23L of liquid in there with a lot of room at the top

Long plastic spoon.

A jug

Thermometer

Stick blender, or blender, or just a potato masher

Some jars or jugs, you will need a few of these

A couple of old blankets

1 x gallon Demi John or carboy

1 x alcohol hydrometer for spirits

you can also use a parrot which is optional ( here is my instructable on Making a parrot )

A charcoal filter which is Optional, but this would help to smooth the spirit out, I make one in my instructable on making Jack Daniels, go to step 5,6,7 for the filter, I will separate this out at some point as I feel it would be useful.

Recipe

9kg of Potatoes

1kg Barley Malt

Yeast, I used an ale yeast but you could use bakers yeast or wine yeast EC-1118 is my fav wine yeast.

Amylase, Optional

2kg Sugar, Optional

Step 2: Preparing the Potatoes

Prior to this part make sure you sterilizer your fermenter and large spoon, you can get sterilizing powder in home brew shops, this will stop mould's and bacteria infecting your brew.

OK scrub your potatoes to get any dirt off them, you don't need to peel them.

chop them up like you would be making mash potato, I chopped most of mine up in to 8 pieces, put them in your source pan with a little water.

Boil them until they are nice and soft, you want to gelatinize the starches.

Strain the water out of them and pop them in your fermenter, I wrapped a blanket round mine to keep the heat in while I boiled up more potatoes. I had to boil up 3 times to do all 9kg potatoes in a 6L pot, I wish I had a bigger pot and I could have done them all in one go.

once you have them all boiled up and in your fermenter you need to mash them up, or liquidize them, I used a stick blender but you could use a food processor or masher. it will be easier if you add some hot water from the kettle. You want them as close to liquid as possible.

Step 3: Converting the Starches to Sugars

Take the blanket off the fermenter and fill it up with a mixture of hot and cold water, you want to aim for a temperature of around 70 degrees C, if it's hotter it doesn't matter you will just have to wait for it too cool down, you want to take it up to just over the 23L marker.

Ok so now is the time to cheat, basically there are 2 schools of thought the purists feel that you should just use the potatoes and not add any sugar, but to increase the yield you could add sugar at this point. just stir in 2kg max of white sugar and make sure its dissolved. there are various recipes out there for potato vodka, some say to use sugar some don't even some of the really old Russian recipes say to use sugar. basically it's your call, But I would expect to get a max of around 2L of about 50% vodka from just potatoes on their own when distilled. When I have done sugar washes I get around 1L of 70% alcohol per 1kg of sugar, so 2kg should bump it up nicely.

We want it to cool to around 66 degrees C, this is the best working temp for the Enzymes in the barley malt, they work between 60 - 70 degrees C. What these Enzymes will do is to convert the starches int he potatoes in to sugars. These sugars can then be used by the yeast later on which will convert them in to alcohol.

in a bowl, pan or jug put your barley malt in and add some water, not hot water this will kill the enzymes, use cold or warm water, give it a stir and add it to your fermenter when the temp in the fermenter is around 66 degrees C.

Give the fermenter a good stir and pop the lid on, wrap it in blankets to keep the heat in and leave it over night, don't forget to cover the top as a lot of heat is lost here.

Leaving it overnight gives the enzymes more time to work, and keeping the heat in will let them work easier and longer, i left mine overnight and 10 hours later it was at 63 degrees C.

Take the blankets off and allow it to start to cool, if you want to speed up the cooling process then crack the lid a little as long as you are not in a dusty environment.

NOTE if you have any Amylase from the home brew shop and you want to make sure you get as much conversion done as possible, you need to add them at the same time as the barley malt. Barley Malt already has Amylase in it from the germination process which is part of malting. At some point I will make an instructable on malting your own grain.

Step 4: Preparing and Pitching the Yeast

At this point if you dip a sterilized teaspoon in to the liquid and taste it, it should be slightly sweet which is great.

We are going to make a Yeast Starter, Using a sterilized jug half fill it with liquid from the fermenter, let it cool to the working temperature of your yeast, which should be between 18 - 25 degrees C but check your yeast for its working temps. if you are going to use bakers yeast then a temp of about 22 degrees C should be good enough.

You should also be allowing your fermenter to cool to the same temp at this point as well, it will cool slower than the jug because of the volume.

stir your yeast in to the jug and let it sit until the fermenter has reached the working temp of the yeast, then pour it in and give it a good stir, try and get some air in there with it if you can this will help the yeast get going before it gets in the main fermenter and should speed things up a little.

At the start of the instructable I mentioned I made a mistake, and it was at this point I made it, normally i fill a fermenter up to about 2 inches from the top. this is not normally a problem for a sugar wash, and you can sometimes get away with it on an All grain as well. Now I am not sure if it was the fact that i was using an ale yeast or that I over filled the fermenter but at this point I popped the lid on, with an airlock in it, and went to bed. woke up the next day and the airlock is bubbling nicely, it takes a little while to get going. So I left it and went out for the day, I come back about 8 hours later and the fermenter has exploded. What happened was a foam or cap had formed on the top, which is normal, and this got sucked/pushed up in to the airlock which is called puking, this blocked the airlock. Pressure built up and the lid popped open spilling a foamy mix of potatoes all over the work area and all over my air-con unit. I was too busy cleaning it up to take a lot of pictures but I have some of the cap and a little of the mess from half way through cleaning it up. DO NOT PUT THIS BACK IN THE FERMENTER if this happens to you. You risk infecting the stuff in the fermenter.

I then had to split the the wash/mash in to 2 fermenters with airlocks to avoid this happening again.

if you have a big fermenter and there is a lot of room at the top you wont have to split it, if you are using a 25L fermenter like mine then I would advise you split it in to 2 fermenters.

this mistake cost me about 2L or more of the wash which now wont become vodka :-(

I was using an ale yeast, ale has a lot of foam on it, and the yeast produces that foam, i suspect that if I had used another yeast such as a wine yeast EC-1118 or bakers yeast then it may not have been too much a problem. But if you are going to try this your self I would split it away to be safe.

Note on bakers yeast

if you are using a bakers yeast you may get some strange odors coming from the airlock, I have had some bakers yeasts smell like rotting eggs. this does not mean your mash or wash has gone bad this just means the yeast is producing sulphides which stink. keep a note of that yeast and don't use it again.

Step 5: Fermenting and Racking

During fermentation you will get solids that get forced to the top by the carbon dioxide that the yeast produces, you will need to mix this back in to the liquid, do this every 12 hours if you can. Eventually the cap will fall back in on its own, this will start to happen as the fermentation slows down.

When your air lock stops bubbling, then the fermentation is complete, if you taste the liquid now it should not taste sweet anymore which is good because that means the sugars have been used up and turned to alcohol.

Using a sieve, pour the liquid through it to filter out most of the solids, I did this 3 - 4 times to make sure I removed as much as possible. I used a wire coat hanger to hold the sieve over a fresh fermenter and emptied the other 2 in it through the sieve.

Try and put your fermenters in a cold place for around 24 - 48 hours, this will allow everything to settle to the bottom, this is called racking.

Step 6: First, Second and Thrid Distillation

If you have a look at some of the labels for vodka some of them say they are triple filtered, this means they have put it through a carbon filter 3 times. Others say they are triple Distilled which means they have run it through the still 3 times which is what I am going to do, this basically helps to remove all the crap and makes a smoother tasting vodka.

Siphon out the liquid in to the still, leave behind the solids at the very bottom, this is mostly yeast.

I put my still on at half power, and then put on the column, I also added a Sight Tower (you don't have to have this) just so that I could see it working, I put a couple of copper scrubbers in there which help to slightly reflux the vapor making it a little purer.

Where possible you want as much copper in your still as you can, this helps to remove the nasty tasting sulfides from the spirit.

Ensure your condenser is cold, I use a Liebig so I made sure it had water running through it, this will condense the vapor back in to liquid.

IMPORTANT NOTE: you MUST dispose of the first 100ml, this has most of the methanol in it, this stuff is dangerous if you drink it, it can make you go blind, these are called the foreshots.

Using a parrot that I made I could monitor the output volume which helps
when making your cuts, its not as cut and dry as doing it specific percentages, its more about the taste of the spirit. you may not want the beginning after the foreshots, as it may not taste right. And you don't want the end of the run when it gets below 30% ABV (60 proof) as this will taste funny too because of the fusel oils. We want the middle part known as the Hearts this is the best tasting and smoothest of the run. you can use a load of jars to keep 100ml at a time and then you can taste the flavors as they progress through the run.

IMPORTANT NOTE: you do not want ANY leaks in your still, this is very very dangerous, Alcohol vapor is denser than air and will drop to floor level, and if you are running your still on a gas burner BOOM! if you find a leak you need to plug it quickly, I had a bad gasket on my still, and tightening the Tri clamp didn't help so I went old school moonshiner on it. I made up a paste of flour and water and put it all around the leaking clamp, the heat from the still baked it on and stopped the leak.

You can keep the heads and foreshots from each run you do and when you have enough you can run them again, I collected around 1.5L of both heads and tails, I put them in a bottle with a little from a previous run.

so thats the first run, now all you have to do is run it 2 more times, Put water in your still enough to cover the element then put in your spirit and do the same again, take cuts, each time the hearts will be smoother.

You can run them through a carbon or charcoal filter after that to take out a little more of the oils and stuff.

Check the % ABV of the final run with a spirit hydrometer, using this you can water it down to drinking % around 40% (80 proof) should be about right.

Comments

author
AminM4 (author)2017-07-10

just wondering in science part of this

both sugar & potato are cheap so why potato instead of sugar?

whats the ratio of conversion of raw potato to actual alcohol compare to sugar
tnX

author
n1cod3mus (author)AminM42017-07-10

you end up with a smoother vodka with potato vs sugar its not really about the yield and it s a traditional recipe. you will find if you make up a sugar wash and run that the product will be very harsh tasting. you have to consider the esters produced during fermentation as well as the alcohol ;-)

author
Patrickf60 (author)2016-06-19

Is it possible to use instant type dehydrated potatoes ? sounds good in theory.

author
n1cod3mus (author)Patrickf602016-06-19

I dont know if i am honest, i guess if the starch levels were high enough but I would imagine that they would be lower as they would have had most of the starch washed off during the manufacturing process.

author
The_Voice_Within (author)2016-03-22

Hello, I've been trying to learn about this for a while. But the whole methanol and going blind thing is kinda what I'm paranoid about lol. Now I've seen that this will boil at about 143 degrees so if i have a way to control my temp (stove, hotplate, etc.) could i just leave it at 143 until the condenser stops spitting it out i could discard that and then move the heat up to 173 to get the ethanol, correct?

author

you will find it very hard to get that level of precision out of your hotplate / burner / element. but the methanol will come out first so all you need to do is discard the first 50 - 100 ml depending on your batch. You can also smell and taste it and you will know when it has gone.

Also worth noting that the methanol in your wash would be the same amount that is in beer or wine as its not taken out in those processes. the levels are fairly low.

the methanol going blind rumour is some what true back in the day but also false for todays makers, it goes back to the days of prohibition, the moonshiners would throw away the first portion with the methanol in it and then send the rest to the distributor who would then cut the spirit with methanol so he could make more money. problem was that they would put a hell of a lot in there, way more than the moonshiners where throwing away. Sometimes it would be a 50-50 mix. the really high levels of methanol is what lead to blindness, this is why there is the myth that moonshine/illegal spirits can make you go blind.

Interestingly modern distillery's use continuous stills so they actually leave the methanol in as they have no method for removing it, its just mixed in with the spirit. But its such low levels its not a danger, as I said before its the same as you would get in beer or wine.

author
AminM4 (author)2016-03-07

can you please tell me how much enzyme to potato mash ratio plz thank you

author
n1cod3mus (author)AminM42016-03-07

I didn't measure it, I think i put in a couple of teaspoons of it as well as the barley malt which has its own enzymes.

author
TerryC1 (author)2014-11-23

Hi! I was wondering if you could clear something up for me.... In the quilting world they are starting to make Bad Girl Spray that is made from vodka don't laugh hehe I have used it and it works great! My question is they are saying to use potato vodka because of the starch.. From what I gathered from your instructions the starch Is fermented out is this right? Would appreciate your input Thanks!

author
n1cod3mus (author)TerryC12014-11-23

in theory yes it should be converted in to sugars and eventually fermented out. how ever, there may be traces remaining which could come over when its distilled, but it would be trace amounts.

is there anything else in this spray? they could just be using the vodka to dissolve other substances.

what is the purpose of this spray?

author
Kcmusicman1970 (author)n1cod3mus2016-01-27

Can you email me....kcmusicman1970@gmail.com
I really loved your post. Im just getting started and would enjoy advice from a pro as yourself.

author
n1cod3mus (author)Kcmusicman19702016-01-27

done, dont send annoying emails, make sure you have read this post and my others about distilling and building stills before you ask questions. also checkout the home distiller website

author
TerryC1 (author)n1cod3mus2014-11-24

It is mixed with distilled water at different ratios depending how you like it. It is sort like a sizing more than a clothes starch. Really good for ironing out wrinkles. If you were to do a searh of. Vodka spray starch or. Spray starch made from vodka. They are saying to only use potato starch and not the grain. But with what you said, ut wouldnt matter what the vodka was made from.

author
DanU1 (author)2015-07-01

You do realize if your in the United States that you committed a felony - Five years in Prison and forfeiture of your assets. Before you say that doesn't apply to personal use or it's legal in your state. No it's not - The fed want's their tax money pure and simple - Please refer to the TTB website.

author
JacobF26 (author)DanU12016-01-20

it is fine to make for personal consumption (no money made whatsoever) because they get their taxes from the ingredients used to make it and if you are to be caught making it (if legal in your state) it is against the law for you to be arrested. It is also good to know how much you can legally own or make at a time.

author
SeanZ2 (author)DanU12015-11-11

DanU1, If you know that making it is illegal then why are you looking this stuff up? That's kinda stupid of you to be saying on here.

author
n1cod3mus (author)DanU12015-07-01

I'm not in the US, there are other places in the world other than the US where it is legal

author
RyanK31 (author)2015-10-01

I can't imagine doing it the way you've outlined. A 30L brew kettle and fermenter would have saved you loads of time and also saved you having to throw out all that water full of starch. Boil. Blend. Malt. Ferment. Done! 2 vessels. I'd also not really want to put a stick blender into a fermenter, scratches are notoriously hard to clean and can cause infection in subsequent fermentation. I'd love to know what your gravity was from just the potatoes. Unless you have a bunch of spare free potatoes, its probably cheaper to just buy sugar ...rather than potato, barley, and amylase. Not to mention easier. Esp. if you say you don't notice a difference :)

author
n1cod3mus (author)RyanK312015-10-01

yeah in hindsight I should have kept the water, and yes I could have used a brew kettle but that would require buying specialist stuff for an experiment, and using the stick blend doesnt cause scratches as the shroud stops the blades touching the sides.

you can make vodka from just sugar, well i use sugar tomato paste and the juice of a lemon.

it really depends on what you are going to use the vodka for, if you are doing mixers then sugar is easier, if you are drinking it straight then grain or potatoes are better as they taste smoother out of the still than just sugar. again if you want to do a panty dropper recipe then sugar is also fine.

you could run a sugar wash through an activated carbon filter to help smooth it out but even after a few runs through it still tastes a bit rough.

this was just an experiment to see what it would be like.

author
desahih (author)2015-09-10

hey bro can i replace barley malt with wheat?i cant find any malt in the supermarkets...i dont have time to go to a farm.thanks

author
n1cod3mus (author)desahih2015-09-10

only if its malted, its the malt that turns the starches in to sugars and then those sugars turn to alcohol ;-) try a health food shop, homebrew (beer and wine) shop, or order it from ebay. if you are in the UK they do malt in Wilkinsons in the homebrew section. you may even find it in boots.

author
DanU1 (author)2015-07-01

author
desahih (author)2015-06-11

ok so i only throw the foreshots and heads of the first run then the first 100 ml of the 2nd and 3rd run are still foreshots or no?

author
desahih (author)desahih2015-06-11

and what do you mean by "covering the element with water" i didn't understand that

author
n1cod3mus (author)desahih2015-06-11

the heating element, did you even read the instructable?

author
n1cod3mus (author)desahih2015-06-11

dont put the foreshots in AT ALL. on the first run you shouldn't have anything as you haven't made anything.

knowing about the foreshots on other runs is a matter of experience, you can tell by the smell and taste you cant just assume the first 100ml once you have already taken them out on the previous run.

I'm not going to answer any more questions on this now as its getting some what annoying that you haven't read what I have done in the instructable correctly. if you have any questions go to the homedistiller.org forum.

You should do your reading before asking questions, get on the home distiller website and read EVERYTHING, then go through the forums.

author
desahih (author)2015-06-09

i have a question...foreshots and heads should go for the second and third run with the heart?wouldn't be better if i throw them away?and another question...when i collect the heart of the first run...should i add some water to them for the third run?or i put the heart only without anything and distill again untill the third time?
thank you in advance!

author
n1cod3mus (author)desahih2015-06-09

foreshots, throw them away, you could throw the heads away but some of them are useful so might as well put them in the next run.

so the second run should you add water, it depends if you do a few batches you can just collect them all and run them together in the second run or you can add water to make sure your element is covered. I put enough water in to cover the element then add my run but thats only if I am doing one batch.

and the third distill I would do only the hearts.

author
frank.costanzo (author)2015-05-18

N1cod3mus, why did you toss the water leftover after your potato boiling and not add amylase or barley malt to it as well? When you boil potatoes for mashing or whatever else, the boil water has TONS of starch leftover in it. I routinely set aside my "potato water" from family dinner mash potatoes for making potato dextrose agar media for yeast cell culturing and harvesting. It works great for finding wild yeasts or harvesting yeast from commercial microbrews and homebrews. I'm sure it would work great for making a potato vodka wash as well.

author
n1cod3mus (author)frank.costanzo2015-05-18

Didn't think about it if i am honest

author
frank.costanzo (author)n1cod3mus2015-05-19

When you finish boiling the potatoes, just scoop them out of the boil water or pour out the water through a collander into another pot. Then while you're making your potato mash, just leave the boil water simmering on the stove to concentrate it down. Once you're ready to add barley and/or amylase, just use the boil water as your source of heated water if you need more temp to hit 66C for starch conversion.

I love it when homebrewers help out distillers and vice versa. I'm just now getting into the distillation game, but it's only natural since I've been making beer for almost a decade and it seems I've been barrel aging tons of my batches the past few years already too. Cheers

author
res_is (author)2015-04-09

So you strain off the cooking water before mashing them? Wouldn't it contain useful starch?

author
n1cod3mus (author)res_is2015-04-10

it will have some starch in it, but not much, its also got a load of dirt in it and other junk you might not want

author
craftclarity (author)2014-06-05

How's it taste?

author
n1cod3mus (author)craftclarity2014-06-05

It tastes like normal vodka, smells like vodka, you wouldn't know it was made with potatoes.

I think people have this idea in their head that its going to taste of potatoes, floury or course. but it doesn't.

the potatoes are just a source of starch, when you buy vodka off the shelf in the store you don't taste wheat. ;-)

author
n1cod3mus (author)marinromania2014-06-03

there is no sound on that video, also using such a small still makes it very hard to do the cuts correctly

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