A guide to craft spirit distillation

There is a new movement to make local, small batch craft spirits or hard liquor. This movement is inspired by those seeking to make high quality gins, whiskeys, vodkas or rums which have a distinctive personal touch. In this article we outline what is generally involved and provide some recipes to get you started. Keep in mind that in most countries it is illegal (yet unenforced unless large quantities) to make spirits at home and you may want to read the law on this before you attempt anything in this article.

We need to make clear that anything you cook at home has risks and alcohol can catch fire. We suggest that you use caution if you choose to distill spirits and investigate what the proper precautions are. We assume no responsibility for any attempt at distillation based on what you learn in this article.

The general process for making spirits is to first identify your source grain or vegetable which will provide the sugars used in fermentation. Typically you can use corn, barley, rye, potatoes, wheat or sugarcane. You can use many other fruits or vegetables, but with less predictable results.

The process that you will undertake is one to first prepare your source vegetation in way that it will ferment (mash). During the fermentation process you will then need to distill the ethanol (alcohol) from the mash, to capture the spirit. You will then either age and/or flavor the distillant or re-distill for greater purity. You will need to capture the distillant and discard the heads (methanol) which is created in the first stage, as well as the tails, which are created at the end of the distillation process. (See step by step instructions below).

What kind of still?

There are three types of stills you can use for distillation. The pot still is for flavored spirits The reflux still allows for consolidating the process into a single device and assists in the process of cleansing the distilling vapors to provide greater purity. The fractioning still is a simpler still with a single column and … See our article on creating a still at home or explore our stills available for purchase on our website.

Step by Step Instructions for Craft Distillation

1. Investigate local law regarding distilling at home.
2. Read and research enough that you feel absolutely confident that what you are going to do is safe and that you have taken all safety precautions.
3. Acquire or build a distiller (see article to determine which type of still you’d prefer).
4. Prepare your wash based on what you are intending to produce (see recipes)
5. Yeast the wash
6. Ferment the wash
7. Add to still
8. Initiate the distillation
a. Discard the heads
b. Capture the distillant
c. Stop distillation as you approach the tails creation
9. Process your distillant (options below)
a. Add flavoring
b. Dilute
c. Age
d. Filter

For recipes visit our Distilled Spirit Recipe Page.