I recently wrote about some of the amazing cocktail ingredients that you can grow in the garden. But you never would have thought potatoes could fall into that category. Potato has been one of the foundation ingredients for many large vodka brands for years, so we thought we would share how to make your own vodka at home. Before getting started it is of course necessary to have some high quality potatoes, which you can either buy or follow our guide to growing your own.
When it comes to making potato vodka, the ingredients that you need to fement into vodka are important. These are the ingredients which you need.
First off you must wash the potatoes, as the cleanliness and quality of all ingredients in the process is essential for producing the best finished vodka product. Then you need to mash your potatoes, we would recommend dicing them and boiling them until they are nice and soft before draining them. You can either use a hand blender, blender or standard potato masher for this, and you are aiming to break down the starch into sugar. Breaking the starch into sugar from potatoes requires help from enzymes, which is where the malted whole grains come in (and sugar if you have decided to use it).
Once the potatoes are mashed you need to add the enzymes to break down the starch. At this point you would add more water and bring the temperature to over 65°C (149°F). When the temperature is right it is time to stir in the whole grain malt. Cover the pot and stir every 10-15 minutes for 2 hours. After this process is complete, the mix needs to be cooled to around 27-29°C (80-85°F). You can cool the mix quicker with an immersion chiller but we would recommend cooling over a longer period of time to give the enzymes more time to break down the starch in the potatoes.
Image credit: Stockarch.com
Cleanliness is an important part of controlled fermentation. If the area and utensils used in the process are not free from bacteria then the mix can be affected and result in different flavours and alcohol levels. It is recommended that you clean and sanitise everything to ensure a more consistent process.
Once everything is cleaned you need to strain your mix before pouring into your vessel. It is best to use a fine mesh strainer to get the liquid from your potato mash in the most convenient form. We recently spoke about aeration and how important it is for lawns to grow best, and that same process is very important here. It is advised when pouring the liquid to do so from a bit of a distance to make it splash (be careful not to lose any over the sides though!), which allows a small amount of aeration. This process needs aeration because the yeast requires oxygen to start to grow, which results in a higher quality fermentation.
After the liquid is in your vessel it must be sealed and an airlock must be put in place to allow CO2 to escape without letting anymore oxygen in. This is necessary becasue after the initial intake of oxygen, yeast produces alcohol when no further oxygen is available.It is still possible to ferment with an open container but the process will not be as successful. You must never seal the liquid in completely because the CO2 build up will create enormous pressure and the mix may explode.
The last thing that you need to is add the yeast to start the fermentation process. stir the yeast into the liquid and close the lid. You will notice that the airlock will begin to bubble, more frequently at first and decreasing as the fermenting reaches completion. Ideally you should be aiming to keep the container at a temperature between 27°C-29°C (80°F-85°F) for the optimum results. The fermentation process should take at least three days but in some cases can take up to six days. If you have an airlock it is a good indicator of the progression so keep an eye out for when the CO2 bubbles have nearly or completely stopped.
Image credit: London Cocktail Society
You may have been in the super market in the past and seen the labels on the vodka have statements such as 'triple distilled' on them. This is the process of heating the fermented liquid so that it is at a temperature greater than the boiling point of alcohol (78.3°C / 173°F) but less than the boliing point of water (100°C / 212°F). By doing this, the alcohol will vaporise and leave the water at the bottom of the still which allows the alcohol vapour to travel through tubes where it is cooled back into a liquid.
There are two different types of still that you can use; a pot still and a column still. We would recommend using a column still if you have one available to you. A great tip is to have as much copper in your still as possible as it helps to remove sulphides which do not taste very nice.
As the liquid temperature rises you will get the first bits of vodka coming through. We cannot stress enough that you do not drink/ taste this alcohol. The first 100ml of distillate contains harmful methanol which can cause you serious damage and even make you blind in some cases. This first batch of alcohol is called the 'heads' and must be thrown away.
Continue to collect the alcohol and move it to a separate container until the temperature of the liquid reaches close to 100°C (212°F). At this point you should remove the last 50ml as it can also contain chemicals that are a bit nasty. This portion of the alcohol is called the tails
The alternative that you might see on labels for vodka is 'triple filtered' as an example, however brands do vary in the number of times the vodka is filtered. This is the process of carbon filtration that is optional when making vodka but does contribute to the smoothness quite some bit. The most popular filter for this process is a carbon filter which you can buy at most homebrew shops online. If you are tight on a budget but still want to filter it has been suggested that you can filter alcohol using a Britta Filter.
This is another optional stage and it very much depends on how much alcohol you have in your vodka at this point. You can measure the percentage alcohol volume using a hydrometer, and add water to dilute the vodka to whatever % ABV you desire. Most people prefer to drink vodka at around 35% to 40% ABV but nothing is completely out of the question as it comes down to personal taste.