Distilled alcoholic beverages, such as whiskey, rum, tequila, gin, and vodka, are produced by distilling a mixture that was created by alcoholic fermentation. Fermented alcoholic beverages include beer, wine, and hard cider. The distilling process includes several steps, and seems complex at first glance. In truth, it is about as complicated as baking, and like baking a good cookie, there is a learning curve. With luck and a little know-how, you’ll get a smooth, tasty spirit. However, if the process goes wrong, you’ll end up with a product that ranges from poor to dangerous. If making your own spirits sounds like an interesting and rewarding hobby, but you’re worried about what could go wrong, read on for a few ideas to set your mind at ease.
Follow The Law
At present, distilling alcohol for your own personal use is illegal in the United States. However, this could soon change. A bill (The Craft Beverage Modernization Act) that includes legislation to permit home distilling for personal use is currently in congress and has enough co-sponsors to pass. Permits are also obtainable for craft distillers who create spirits for the purpose of selling them. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (or TTB, formerly known as the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau, or ATF) is the government agency responsible for the oversight and permitting process.
Take It Outside
Distilling can be dangerous, and can be a fire hazard, due to the fact that alcohol is extremely flammable. In order to avoid an emergency visit from your local fire department, set your equipment up outside. Allow plenty of space between your distillery and your house, garage, fence, and landscaping. Keep a fire extinguisher handy, don’t allow children or pets to come near, and never leave your still unattended.
Use Quality Equipment
In order to produce a safe, high-quality product, you need to use equipment that meets standards. Food-grade, 100% pure copper or stainless steel stills are the only ones that should be used. Additionally, make sure the solder used in your still is free of lead. You may have heard stories about building your own still from an old radiator or barrel, but doing so can result in a dangerous process and product. Save yourself time, money, and anguish by purchasing a quality still.
Use Quality Ingredients
Just as with any food or beverage producing project, the quality of your distilled product will only be as good as the ingredients that go into it. Depending on what spirit you are making, you will need grain, sugar, water, and distillers yeast. There are many types of yeast available, so be sure to use one that is recommended for your desired product.
Use a Glass Collection Vessel
The distilled product that you are creating will be collected in a vessel that is separate from the still. You may be tempted to reuse plastic soda bottles for this, but beware that plastic will melt or burn rapidly in the event of a fire. Also the plastic may not be resistant to the alcohol. Instead, use glass bottles or jars and set them as far from the still as possible. Creating your own spirits at home can be a fun and rewarding project. Remember to play it safe, use the best equipment and ingredients, and consume responsibly.