I post words on the internet therefore I’m a pretty big deal and it’s my civic duty to educate. Thus, I present the first officially licensed BringaSnack.com How To. In this case if you do everything the opposite of the way we did you might end up with a palatable whiskey, or at least something that won’t blind you.
“Have a taste,” my partner in this disaster said to me, as we were siphoning the partially-made whiskey from its fermenter to the distilling pot.
“Tastes…vinegar-y,” I said. “Good, but…yeah, vinegar-y.” We had no idea at the time, but this wasn’t a good sign. We pushed on with the distilling process.
Above all, make whiskey. Don’t make vinegar. I can’t stress this enough. Careful sanitation is priority number one when preparing for fermenting. If a single stray bacteria or wild yeast particle gets in after the boil, the result will be ugly, or at least not what you’re looking for. In our case we ended up with some pretty tasty malt vinegar, but that’s a very, very small consolation.
But, assuming you’ve gotten through the fermenting process unfazed and have achieved something alcoholic, don’t distill in a small room, like a bathroom. Leaving aside the obvious sanitation problems, if there had been any alcohol in this pot, its vapors may have seeped out through a leaky hose fitting (mistake number three). Confined alcohol vapors plus open flame equals BOOM! So we dodged a bullet there.
The goal of distilling is to separate the substances in your pot so you get the good stuff and can discard the rest. The temperature of the liquid is raised slowly, allowing certain bits to boil and evaporate and then be cooled by a condenser and turned back into liquid. Usually the condenser looks like a big copper coil and is cooled by air. Ours was a slightly fancier water-cooled version.
The first thing that we needed to watch for was methyl alcohol, which evaporates at 64.7 degrees celsius. This is poison and must be tossed out unless you want to go blind/crazy. So we had to keep a close eye on the temperature and when it reached the magic number we’d know the methyl alcohol was evaporated and we were safe to save the rest.
Unfortunately we were using an infared thermometer and trying to get readings off of a shiny metal pot, which kept showing suspiciously low temperatures. Hmm. As it turns out, infared thermometers work by
magic light and are thrown out of whack by shiny surfaces (mistake number…oh hell I’ve lost count).
So, even though we were boiling vinegar over an open flame in a tiny bathroom and had a leaky fitting, we managed to squeeze in one more mistake. I hung the condenser from the ceiling a few feet above the distilling pot and connected the two via a meter-long plastic tube. This means that the vapor particles had to travel all that distance to get to the condenser, but they never got there. They were cooled by air in the rubber tube and ran back into the heated pot. They were effectively condensed before they reached the condenser, which never got a chance to divert the liquid into our old timey moonshine jars. That’s one thing we got right. When making bathtub booze, always, always use old-timey jars.
It was a learning experience. I hope your attempts go better, or at least you love malt vinegar. Regardless, for all the “don’ts” this taught, it also reminded me of an important “do”: try, try again.