How to distill alcohol at home?
First of all, depending on the legislation of the country where you are, it will or will not be legal to distill alcohol.
In Spain, at least, distillation in a particular way is allowed as long as it is for personal consumption, because the consumption of alcoholic beverages made at home can cause serious damage to health.
Poor distillation of alcohol can leave irreparable physical damage, such as blindness. Governments generate quality controls on distilleries to ensure that commercialized beverages don’t contain impurities that could be harmful to health.
A clear example of how dangerous it can be to consume alcoholic beverages from home distillation is the methanol poisonings in Spain which was an intoxication outbreak in Galicia in 1963 from consuming products made from methyl alcohol.
In any case, if you decide to do it, it’s under your responsibility, and always respect the quality of the product you are going to consume, for the sake of your health.
To begin with, let’s refresh what it means to distill. It’s the process of separating the components of a liquid substance through selective boiling and condensation. A simple distillation example is that if we distill saltwater the result will be freshwater.
To explain this a little better, when we have a fermented liquid, be it either the product, resulted from the malted flour maceration for whiskey, or the one obtained by heating molasses until the point of obtaining more sugars.
The mix is heated until it turns into steam, which is then collected and taken to another tank where it turns into liquid again. Separating alcohol from the rest of the liquid.
This can be done because the boiling temperature of alcohol is lower than that of water, it evaporates at approximately 78º above sea level. Because of this, the first thing that evaporates when heating a fermented drink is alcohol.
Steam condenses when getting cold, and returns to its liquid state. The result is a colorless substance, with aromas related to the substance type from which it comes.
Types of distillation
Discontinuous distillation. This type of distillation is done in parts, it’s the oldest, it’s said to be discontinuous because as the liquid to be distilled runs out it must be replaced in the alembic.
This is the type of distillation we commonly see in artisanal distilleries. Depending on the type of alcohol you wish to obtain, it can be distilled several times.
The discontinuous distillation is the oldest and has its origins in ancient medicine, the devices used to distill this way are the alembics and tars.
Continuous distillation. It’s not necessary to dive much into the concept, it’s simply the distillation in which the process has no interruptions.
This process is more common industrially because distillers are expensive and there are several different types to choose from.
What can we get when distilling?
All spirits have their origin in some type of initial fermented product, depending on the product you want to obtain, it has to distill something specifically.
If you want Vodka, what you should do is to have pure alcohol and this has to be neutral as possible. You can extract Vodka from potato, wheat and other cereals. On the other hand, if what you want to obtain is Gin, what you should do is aromatize the Vodka with special herbs.
Keep in mind that these products do not age, which is why it may be easier to reproduce them at home. Distilled products that are aged in barrels acquire properties that are given by contact with the wood.
Whiskey, Bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and others come from the distillation of cereal-based fermented beverages. Rum comes from the distillation of molasses fermentation.
There are grape-distillated like Cognac and Brandy. Also, the famous Peruvian Pisco is a product of the distillation of a fermented grape-based beverage.
Tequila and Mezcal come from de distillation of Maguey, only for the case of blue agave Tequila. Click here to know the differences between Tequila and Mezcal.
How to reduce the alcoholic concentration?
To reduce the alcoholic grade of a beverage, use water. But not common tap water.
It has to be of low mineralization or distilled water since the minerals in the water can affect the purity of the drink. The best distilleries in the world use pure spring water.
What spirits drinks are easier to reproduce at home?
My recommendation is for you to start with something that’s already fermented so that you can familiarize yourself with the distillation process. This way you’re not going to spend a whole week creating the perfect fermentation then ruining it in the distillation. You can start with a wine to practice.
Once you know how to distill well, dedicate yourself to fermentation. You can use a sugar and water syrup to start and add a few grains for flavor.
If you don’t want to wait to drink a good whiskey. Here you’ll find the best whiskeys on the market 2023.
Once you’re comfortable with this process, distilling whiskey from grain will be a piece of cake. Also distilling from Wine to Brandy will be easy, you can use the same process, only it’ll be from fruits and not grains.
How to age my spirits drinks?
Aging a spirit drink on a small scale can be really hard. There are small wooden barrels that can hold from 2 to 5 liters, but you have to be careful that they don’t spill.
Keep in mind that for it to get old you’ll have to wait a long time and without knowing if the final product will be worth the effort. I would recommend that you skip aging as much as possible because it can be difficult to reproduce at home.
How to use at-home distillers?
At-home distillers vary according to the brand and model. But they’re generally very easy to use.
They basically have a container where the liquid to be distilled goes, depending on the model this may or may not have a built-in heat source.
It’s very common that the container where the alcohol is going to be deposited is at the top of the distiller where the steam will be carried through a hose. They have a thermometer so you can control the distillation process without problems.
Once the heat source is on, and the temperature is more or less 80º. To maintain the temperature, they use a water cooling system. Depending on the model you should see how the operation is, it should turn on approximately 40º.