For those looking for the "Cilffs Notes" summary of how this works: Fill a 4-foot polycarbonate tube with approximately 1lb of (12x40 mesh size) Activated Carbon (activated charcoal), put a couple coffee filters over the end, pour the alcohol into the top, and watch as your cheap swill magically transforms into decent, respectable booze. Total Cost: about $15.
I enjoy a drink on occasion, usually after work and/or before bed. These days, my drink of choice is often a Scotch whiskey, but we can't afford to drink Glenmorangie 12-year all the time...
My wife found some SUPER cheap whiskey on sale at Costco, and bought a bunch for me. (She's sweet.) The whiskey, however, was a bit harsh...Which led me to wonder, "can't I just filter out the impurities myself?"
Turns out, you can. The system I designed mimics what's officially called the "Lincoln County Process," which is still in use today by Jack Daniels Corp. in Tennessee. If you're interested, you can read a bit more about it via the below links:
After filtering the whiskey once through the giant Brita, my dad and I decided that it tasted AT LEAST as good as Jim Beam. Not quite Jack Daniels, but your mileage may vary. We also added a very small amount of vanilla extract after filtering, which REALLY balanced out the flavor and body of the whiskey.
In the following pages, I'll detail the parts needed, and the (easy) steps...
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Step 1: Procuring Your Precious Parts...
Parts Needed for your Alcohol Filter:
- 4-foot, transparent polycarbonate tube, available for $3.57 at the Home Depot... http://www.homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1v/R-100163152/h_d2/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10053&langId=-1&keyword=polycarbonate+tube&storeId=10051#.ULWB7POe-qg
(if that link doesn't work, it's Model # TGT8CL4 R24, and/or Store SKU # 408360.)
- Approximately 1lb Activated Carbon (also known as Activated Charcoal), at about 12x40 mesh size (This equals about the size of coffee grains.)
(A .pdf explaining carbon mesh size: http://www.calgoncarbon.com/solutions/documents/UnderstandingCarbonMeshSize.pdf )
I found my activated carbon on eBay for around $10 from this seller:
- a round piece of fine metal mesh to hold the activated carbon particles on the inside of the tube while letting the filtered liquid escape (optional; otherwise, small amounts of carbon will end up in the coffee filter whenever you change them out; you can dump them right back into the top of the tube.)
- A stack of coffee filters; you'll need to use two per filtering batch
- A few rubber bands to hold the coffee filters in place
- Hose clamp of at least 2" diameter (to fit around tube and help hold it in place; see the first step on the following page...)
Step 2: The (not-quite) Lincoln County Process:
1) Remove both tube caps, rinse out the tube, and replace only one tube cap.
2) MacGyver some method of holding the tube vertically while the liquid filters (I suspended mine with rubber bands and a hose clamp inside a round wood jig that my dad had made for another purpose). I imagine that the easiest way would be to attach a hose clamp (carefully tightened) just above the middle of the tube, and then suspend the hose clamp from a loose vice or spring clamp of some sort.
3) If you didn't opt to place a small circle of metal mesh inside the bottom cap, secure coffee filters around the bottom of the tube. (If you DID use a mesh circle inside the cap, there's no need to place a coffee filter around the base at this step.)
4) Pour activated carbon into the tube...Note: Some alcohol will remain in the tube after filtering each batch; since we were filtering a number of bottles, our net result was virtually the same amount of alcohol. If you're only processing one or two bottles, you may want to use less activated carbon, since less alcohol will remain with the carbon after filtering.
5) Run as much clean (preferably, pre-filtered drinking) water through the tube as you'd like (we used approximately 3-5 gallons of filtered water to pre-flush the filter). This step gets rid of some of the carbon dust that will filter through into your alcohol. Note: activated carbon / activated charcoal is PERFECTLY safe to digest in small amounts; people often take activated carbon tablets as a dietary supplement.
6) After you've filtered the carbon dust out to your liking (and the resulting water is as clear as you'd like it to be), let the water drain out for a bit. Even after waiting for the water to drain, it will look as if there is still some remaining water left in the filter; you'll notice little to no taste difference in the first batch of your filtered alcohol.
7) Replace (or place) two coffee filters tightly around the bottom of the tube, and secure as near to the bottom as possible with rubber bands. You'll change these filters each time you run a batch of alcohol through.
8) Filter away! Place an empty bottle and funnel below the tube, pour your alcohol into the top of the tube, and go entertain yourself for half an hour. When you return, your filtered alcohol will taste FAR smoother than before. As mentioned on the first page, we also added a very small amount of vanilla extract after filtering, which REALLY balanced out the flavor and body of the whiskey.
After you've filtered all of your bottles, your activated carbon CAN be "recharged," stored and reused. Empty the activated carbon onto a baking sheet, and bake it in the oven at about 250 degrees for half an hour.
I'd love to hear how your batches came out, and any best practices that you discovered!
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