SPIRIT MAKING FUNDAMENTALS
The following is a brief description of the process followed by full instructions for different Turbo and Still combinations including Alcobase. There are five steps to making your own spirits and liqueurs by distillation. We have listed the steps in basic form first then expanded the descriptions. The distilling instructions below are available in the three most common forms. For more instructions covering all types of still recommended by Still Spirits then please refer to the downloads page. If you are unsure of a word used then please refer to the Glossary.
Here is a quick outline to making Spirits and Liqueurs by distillation
1st Step- Fermentation
Make the alcohol by mixing sugar and water and then adding a Still Spirits Turbo which is a mixture of yeast and yeast food (nutrients). The yeast will convert the sugar to alcohol by a process known as fermentation. We have a variety of Turbo yeasts to use that will suit your climate and conditions.
2nd Step – Distillation
Add the fermented mixture to a Still Spirits still. These are sold in some countries as Water Purifiers. The alcohol is then boiled off and the first portion is separated and discarded before collecting the potable (or drinkable) alcohol. We have separated out the instructions into three different categories.
3rd Step – Filtration
Filter the alcohol with the Still Spirits Z Filter unit. This involves running the spirit through a column of carbon mixture that removes any unwanted tastes and smells and utilises a filter paper to prevent the carbon from passing into the finished spirit.
4th Step – Mixing The Spirit To The Right Strength
Water the spirit down to the desired drinking strength by testing with a Still Spirits Spirit hydrometer (alcometer). Also learn about several additions you can make to improve or change your spirit.
5th Step – Mixing The Flavours
Once you have made the base spirit you can make many different drinks from the same batch of spirit. We have a full range of Still Spirits Spirit or Liqueur essences.
USA and Canada where it is illegal in most states to own a still but a Water Distillation unit is readily available from Sears catalogue.
Australia where it is legal to own a still under 5 litre capacity as long as it is for either either water purification or essential oil extraction.
New Zealand, Switzerland and Italy where it is legal to own a still and 25 litre stills appear the most common size. Click here for full instructions on distilling with a 25 litre Reflux still.
Please note that in Australia if you purchase a 3 in 1 fermenter, replacement 5 litre Reflux Condenser and thermometer then you have purchased the equivalent of a 25 litre still. Australian retailers are aware of this and will try to prevent you breaking the law in this manner. If you are intent on this course of action then make sure you make your purchases over two visits.
The above information was sourced from Still Spirits
Some terms you should know before we start:
Airlock – A device to allow air out of the fermenter but prevent bugs and oxygen back into it.
Body – The distillate or condensed steam collected from the still.
Distilling – The process where the alcohol is boiled off from the Wash and the steam is collected and condensed back to liquid.
Fermentation – The process that takes place when the yeast uses the sugar to make the alcohol.
Fermenter – The container that you use to mix up the wash.
Head – The first distillate or condensed steam from the still which can contain undesirable elements.
Pot Still – A simple still where everything that boils is collected and condensed.
Reflux Still – A more complex still with a chamber called the Reflux condenser, where the steam is filtered and some of the unwanted elements are returned to the boiling vessel. This results in purer, stronger alcohol.
Sterilisation – The process of cleaning and sanitising equipment before use.
Wash – The mix of water, sugar, yeast and nutrients that you will ferment to make the alcoholic base for distilling.
Yeast – An organism which converts the sugary Wash to alcohol.
Full mash brewing is a highly variable and time consuming process, but the results are well worth the effort. The three of us who brew together have produced some absolutely fantastic beer at a very good price, the only cost being the eight hours or so required by the process.
Below is a description of the process , the materials required.
But first, a few reasons why mash brewing is better than kit brewing.
The only reason I will accept from kit homebrewers, is that it is quick. This is the only advantage in kit brewing. Sure, you can use different yeasts, add some finishing hops, use a bit of a specialty malt to vary your kit beers a little, but the results almost invariably taste like HOMEBREW. This is a situation best avoided.
The kit itself used in homebrew, is a concentrated, hopped liquid malt extract, made in a factory somewhere in huge quantities. What really goes into it? The extracts from the grains are boiled for hours until they reduce about 25 litres of pure grain goodness down into a little tin can. Some hops is added along the way and cooked until all the aromatic oils, that give good beer its flavour and aroma.
It really isn’t hard to do it properly. Washing and sterilising 30 bottles is tedious at the best of times, so you might just as well put something drinkable in them!!
HOW TO MAKE BEER PROPERLY
All you need to make proper beer is malted grain, some hops, water and a good yeast. In Germany , it is illegal to use ANYTHING else in commercially produced beer, unless it is called something else, so why should you at home? About 4kg of pale malted barley will make about 25 litres of beer, with about 50g of Hop pellets adding flavour and bitterness.
The Malting process has begun the conversion of the proteins and starches in the grain and has greatly increased the number of enzymes available to help you finish the process.
The process of mashing completes the transformation of the long chain proteins and starches, down into short sugar molecules, with the aid of the naturally occurring enzymes. The temperature of the mash is absolutely critical for successful conversion, low temps resulting in heavy, sweet and cloudy beers, and to high temps will leave the beer thin and watery (or will kill the enzymes and slow the process dramatically). Mashing holds the wet grain at certain temperatures for set periods of time to ensure adequate sugar conversion. Mashing can be done in one hit, at about 65° Celsius for about two hours, or in steps, eg. 50° for 1/2 hour, 63° for 45mins then 68°for 1 hour. The latter method is more difficult to accomplish at home, but will result in clearer, cleaner beers. The conversion of proteins down to starches occurs best between 60°-65°, while the conversion of starches to sugars occurs best between 64°-68°.
After mashing, the grains must be rinsed (Sparged) with hot water to extract maximum goodness from the grains. The grain itself filters the liquid so it runs clear, it may need to be passed back through itself a few times. The resulting liquid is then boiled for about 45 mins to reduce it slightly, and ensure final beer clarity. After 45 mins (or a bit more), the bittering hops is added to the boil, approximately 25g of 8% alpha acid hops will give average bitterness. 30 mins later, the flavour hops is added, about 15g of 4% alpha acid hops works well, followed about 10 mins later by the aroma hops, accompanied by the removal of the heat to stop the boil. The aroma hops can be about 10g of the flavour hops. Let the mixture sit for about 2-3 minutes then strain and chill as quickly as possible into the fermenter, the mixture must be below 30° Celsius before the yeast can be pitched. Always use a good quality liquid yeast (Yeast Lab, Wyeast, Peet etc.) which has been started a few days in advance (mix yeast in a sterile room temperature wort of boiled malt extract and water, put in a bottle with an airlock or a sterile cotton wool plug and wait until fermenting vigorously, add directly to fermenter). Ferment and bottle as normal.
MATERIALS REQUIRED FOR MASH BREWING
I will describe our brewing setup, as it was quite cheap, easy to make and very effective. I will add photos as soon as I can borrow a friends digital camera,( I can’t be bothered scanning as well)
Two large (approx. 50 litre) Stainless steel containers.
One medium size esky/coolbox/icebox.
Three quick action 1/2 inch flow, stainless and Teflon ball valves.
One large gas burner
About 10 metres 12mm soft copper tube.
About 1.2m 19mm straight copper pipe.
6x19mm copper elbows
3x19mm copper Tee’s
6x12mm copper elbows
3x12mm copper Tees
About 7 metres 1 inch black poly pipe.
Brass fittings as described below, incl. 2x12mm compression joiners
Lead/Cadmium free silver solder.
Both stainless containers must be able to withstand the large gas burner underneath. 50 litre beer kegs work very well with the top cut out, (try to buy them as breweries could get upset if you steal them from behind a hotel). Our whole setup is powered by gravity, we couldn’t afford a pump or a permanent installation. We built a frame of two levels, the gas burner being under the highest level where one keg sits, the esky sits on the lower level, then the other keg is on the ground at first, such that liquid can fully drain from one to the other to the other. The ball valves are attached to the kegs as low as they can go on the sides. Threaded brass pipe that threads into the ball valves, with brass nuts on either side of the keg wall, then soldered are ideal. On the inside of the kegs, a brass fitting that also threads onto the brass pipe, and is soldered onto a piece of 19mm copper pipe, to an elbow, down to the absolute bottom of the keg, acts as a syphon pickup that can be unscrewed for cleaning.
The esky must have its drain plug removed, the hole enlarged, and some of the same threaded brass pipe put through the hole. It can be sealed with the large brass nuts and Teflon or fibre washers (fibre washers must be replaced regularly as they break down and cannot be cleaned). The other ball valve goes on this pipe on the outside of the esky. The esky is the mash tun, so that is why an insulated container is required. In the bottom of the esky, a copper manifold must be built to pick up the liquid, but strain out the crushed grains of the mash. We built a pickup out of short bits of 19mm copper, 4 elbows and 3 tees into a digital #8 configuration with an outlet in the centre at one end that fits into the brass pipe. All the pieces of the manifold have hacksaw cuts along one side to lay at the very bottom of the esky.
Some of the remaining 12mm copper pipe and fittings , with the help of some brass fittings to thread into the ball valves, are used to ensure the liquid travels down to the next level without spilling. There is also the need for a section of pipe over the esky to shower the grain evenly, ours is the same design as the esky manifold, but is 12mm, with drilled holes.
How it all works.
The esky on the burner at the top, is filled with filtered water, and the gas burner lit, to get the water hot. All the grains are put in the esky, and the hot water used to raise the temp of the grain for the mashing process, the esky insulation holding the temperature between steps.( A thermometer in the esky is essential). When the mashing is finished, the liquid is filtered through the grain bed into the other keg, then more hot water is run through the grains to rinse all the goodness through. When the second keg has about 30 litres of liquid in it, is usually close to right for the next step. The hot water keg is lifted off the burner (with welding gloves), and the other keg, the kettle, lifted up and the mixture boiled, as per the instructions for the beer, with the hop additions, etc. When the mixture is ready to go into the fermenter, it must be chilled to below 30°c and strained through a hop strainer. The mixture can be easily chilled using the remaining 12mm copper and the 25mm black poly pipe. If the copper is passed through the poly, and the ends of the poly sealed, and connected to a cold water tap, the beer is passed through the copper to the fermenter, while the flow of cold water on the outside of the copper takes away the heat very effectively. The cold water must be flowing in the opposite direction to the beer for maximum efficiency. The 7m recommended is enough to drop boiling beer wort to about 28°c depending on flow rates of hot mixture and cold water, and the temp of the tap water. The compression joiners are so the chiller and other bits can be attached when they are required. Ferment as usual.
Expand your extract brewing horizons by learning how to use small amounts of base malts in a partial mash.
Talk to us about how to start.
If you are new to the hobby of homebrewing, you should master the techniques of extract brewing before venturing into the all-grain arena. So where to start? A complete novice should most likely start with a well known commercial extract kit (such as Coopers, Muntons, Morgans etc). The instructions on these cans vary and are sometimes a bit over simplified, however they do teach the basic principles of brewing and make pretty good beer. Speaking from experience, your first beer, no matter how bad, is going to be great! — however, you may be drinking it on your own…
How to improve on the basics
So you’ve done a batch or two using only the can kits, following the instructions that come with them. What’s next? Well, the simplest would be to steep some specialty grains to get more complex flavours and colours. Check your favourite homebrew recipe book to get some ideas, but by starting with a good quality pale (or light) dry malt extract and then adding anywhere from a 250gms to 500gms of specialty grains, you’re on the right track. Normally your grains are already cracked, place in a grain bag (a.k.a. muslin bag ), and then place in your brew kettle along with the malt extract. Try to maintain the wort hot but not quite a boil (about 85C). Keep it there for about 30 minutes to get the grain goodness out… After this time, strain off the wort and add to the fermentation vessel. The great thing about this process is that it doesn’t add significantly to the amount of brewing time, but helps significantly in the flavour department.