Introduction: Potato Vodka / Moonshine

About: One day I shall own a Delorean.

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


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


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.


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.