I have always wanted to make Banana Brandy / moonshine, I thought it would taste quiet nice, I had images of having some at Christmas, mixed with a little lemonade and a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the summer, maybe just with a dash of cream like a baileys but with a tiny sprinkle of cinnamon on top, or drizzled on a pudding or just make some cocktails with it.
Anyway, so I have done a load of research and after some time decided on a recipe that I thought would be simple and easy to do, with ingredients that could be acquired locally.
This would also be the first time I have done a fruit mash / wine.
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.
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
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 or 2
Stick blender, or blender, or just a potato masher
Some jars or jugs, you will need a few of these
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 )
12kg of Bananas, now what you actually need is very ripe bananas, if you can get them reduced at the local veg shop then go for it, they should be going black basically, I will explain this later on.
Yeast Nutrient (optional)
Citric Acid or a couple of lemons
Hot and Cold Water
Yeast, a decent Wine yeast like EC-1118 by Lalvin, the Wilkinson universal yeast is actually EC-1118 it doesnt say on the packet but I emailed them a long time ago to confirm the strain, I used 2 5g packets one for each fermenter. if you wanted to you could use bakers yeast but you may get funny smells and flavors from the fermenter.
Step 2: About Bananas and the Recipe
Now there is something important to note about bananas, when you get them in supermarket often they are green or mostly green and we like to eat them when they are more yellow. What we are actually doing is having them before they are ripe, a banana is ripe when its going black.
We need our bananas to be going black, if you can hold off until they are near enough completely black then you should do so. Why? because the older the banana gets the more flavor comes out but also the banana as it turns black is converting everything inside to sugars which is what we want to ferment. if you can have a work with the local green grocer and get some of the ones that they cant sell reduced then you should do.
I wasn't able to do this so I just got the least green ones that I could at the super market, and then I kept them for about 4 days in a warm place, I just judged it by eye, I left them to go as black as as I dared for the first time of doing this one.
So what we are going to make is basically a wine with bananas, there are a lot of recipes out there for banana wine, some of them tell you to include a portion of the skins. I wasn't keen on the idea of this, I may try this once I have completed this one to see if there is a difference.
Some of them tell you to include raisins, not a bad idea, if you want to do this put 500g in each fermenter with the bananas at the start. This should give a slightly rum like flavor.
Talking of rum, you could use brown sugar instead of white or put some molasses in with it, that should give it some rum flavor which could be a nice accompaniment.
Step 3: Starting the Wine
Make sure you sterilize you fermenters and other equipment using sterilizing powder before you start, this will prevent molds and other bacteria colonizing your wine.
You need to peel all your bananas and divide them equally between the 2 fermenters, I weighed out 1 kg peeled bananas at a time so I knew exactly how much I had in each.
It turns out that 12kg of bananas actually weigh around 9kg without the skins, just in case you wanted to know.
as you peel then break them up in to chunks this will make it easier to mash / blend.
put in enough boiling water in to each of the fermenters to just cover the bananas this will make them easier to mash or use a stick blender, if you are doing them in a food processor then just put a splash of hot water in then put more water in the fermenter later. you basically need to liquidize the bananas, you don't want any chunks.
you will need a decent amount of hot liquid in there, mine came up to about 2cm below the 10L mark.
Add 1.5kg to each fermenter and stir it in to dissolve it.
Top up the water to the 15L mark, you could use cold water for this.
why am I leaving so much space in the fermenter when I could just fill it to the top and use only one? well let me tell you, I recently had a fermenter of potato vodka explode and the mess was horrific and I don't with to go though that again. I have been told that fruit wines and especially bananas have a tendency to foam a lot and get really high so I wanted to leave loads of space but produce enough to run in my still.
Step 4: Addatives and Yeast
Now you can add Yeast Nutrient to the fermenter, read the instructions for how much to add, this is optional as there probably is enough from the bananas.
Also you can add pectolase, this is used in wine making to help make the wine clear, it converts pectin in to a form that the yeast can consume, again this is optional but the way I see it the more the yeast can use the better. Again read the instructions on your pectolase before you add it.
I have also been told that banana washes need to have citric acid adding to balance them out on the PH scale, I struggled to get litmus paper to find out what the PH was of the wine, so I just added it anyway. Remember to read the instructions, you could even use lemon juice instead.
give it a really good stir, try and get some air in to if you can, then take some of the liquid from each fermenter in separate jugs and allow it to cool to the working temp of your yeast, read the packet to find this out, you should be able to pitch EC-1118 at around 30 degrees C, if you don't know what temp your yeast should be try it at 22 degrees C to be on the safe side.
Add the yeast to the jugs, one 5g packet to each jug, stir it in and leave it until the fermenters get to the working temp of the yeast, give the jugs a good stir and pour them in to the fermenters.
Slide the lid on and leave it cracked for 24 hours, even if you have an air lock, the first 24 hours can be very energetic and you don't want to be woken in the night to the tops blowing off.
after 24 hours you can put the lids on but make sure you have an air lock with clean water in it.
every 12-24 hours you may want to use the big spoon to push the cap (the foam stuff on the top) back in to the wine.
for those who wish to know, I used a hydrometer to get the SG (Specific Gravity) which was 1.60, we can take it again at the end and work out the final alcohol of the wine. From that we should be able to work out what the yield will be from the still.
when measuring out your powders and it says tsp or teaspoon, make sure you use a kitchen measure and not an actual teaspoon as most kitchen teaspoons are not the correct measurement.
Step 5: During 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 clean pillow case or some cheese cloth, pour the liquid through it in to a new fermenter or other vessel, strain the liquid out as much as you can, I managed to get an additional 5L of liquid from the sludge at the bottom.
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: Distilling
Using a beer/wine siphon move the liquid in to the boiler of your still, making sure not to pickup the yeast and solids left at the bottom.
Now the trick is that you want the flavors to come across in the spirit, is to run it slow. If you are using an electric still like the one in my instructable that I am using for this run, then about 1 third of the power would be more than enough. You don't want the temperature too hot otherwise you will get too much water come over.
Bare in mind that the banana is likely to foam up inside your still so make sure you allow a fair bit of head room for the foam, if this goes up in to the column this is called puking and it will ruin the flavor of your spirit.
It took a long time to heat up the still until it started to produce spirit, but when it did it came out at just under 80%! this is way too high to drink, but as the percentage drops off the overall % of the whole batch becomes less, I ended up with about 1 imperial gallon (4.5L) of spirit.
when you do your run, you need to throw away the first 100ml, this contains the methanol which is dangerous to drink. after this is best to capture it in a lot of jars around 100ml at a time, the first part that comes out will be a little harsh and you may not want to add this to your final run. this is called the heads, it will also contain some trace amounts of methanol.
Next the hearts come out, this is a little smoother and should last a fair time, and as the % starts to drop off the flavor will change and taste bad, this is the tails you don't want this in your final spirit either. You want the middle, the hearts the smooth stuff which is best.
Step 7: Oaking (optional) and Conclusion
So we now have some Banana Brandy/Moonshine, once it has been watered down to 40% you could drink this as it is, people are surprised that it comes out clear and store bought brandy and whiskeys are amber in color, this is achieved through oaking or oak aging.
You can age it by putting it on oak. Normally a brandy is aged in oak barrels for a couple of years, this smooths the spirit out further and adds extra flavor, sometimes they use new barrels and sometimes they use old bourbon or sherry barrels.
We can achieve the same thing by using oak chunks from a home brew shop, just pop a few in the bottle, making sure that the ABV % is between 60% and 65% and leave it for a few months, shake it every few days and taste it, until it reaches the taste you want then filter it with a coffee filter. It should turn a dark amber, darker than a shop bought because the bottle is thicker so you are looking through more liquid and also because you have to water it down to 40% to drink it.
With regards to the oak chips, you can put them in as is, or you can char / toast them like they are done in bourbons and sherry's. to toast them just wrap some chips in foil and pop them in a preheated oven at around 200 degrees C, and leave them for about 45 minutes, let them cool and put them in your spirit. you could char them a little with a blow torch too if you like, but don't burn them.
you could use Jack Daniels smoking chips to save toasting and charring your self.
I have included a chart of oak toasting temperatures to give the desired flavors.
The banana flavor did come across but it was faint, the next time I do this one I will let the bananas get blacker and I will also put in about 1 quarter of the banana skins chopped up. This should give a lot more flavor to the batch, also i will run the still so that a lower % comes out, the lower the % the more flavor you will get.