Traditionally, whiskey is made in a gooseneck or a pot still. Pot stills are too rudimentary in design and do not afford sufficient separation of the mash compounds to make a good quality whiskey. For this reason, they are never recommended for the production of beverage alcohol anymore.
Gooseneck or whiskey stills have been used for centuries for making whiskey and are used just as much today as they have ever been. Some of the world's finest whiskies are made in such stills, and some artisans argue that the finest whiskies can only be made in this design of still.
However, the operation of gooseneck and whiskey stills is very temperamental and subjective, and requires a great deal of skill to maintain a careful balance of heat and flow rate. Commercial whiskey distillery operators require years of training and experience to become accredited distillers.
A lot of whiskey nowadays is produced in special-purpose fractionating stills. These stills are high-separation stills that can separate out each compound in a mash by virtue of its boiling point. The level of separation in such stills can be very precisely controlled up or down and their operation is much more consistent and systematic than whiskey stills. And, it is because of these characteristics that the high-separation fractionating still design has been chosen for making whiskey in this text.
A secondary advantage that arises from using a fractionating still is that it can also be used to produce pure alcohol for making vodka, gin, and essence-based spirits. An excellent book describing exactly how to do that is, John Stone, Making Gin & Vodka, www.gin-vodka.com.
More will be said about stills in the chapter on Distillation.
The components of the distillation equipment described here can be purchased from domestic hardware stores and plumbing suppliers. They need some modification and adaptation, but the task is well within the capabilities of the average handyman.
As for scale of operation, the equipment and procedures described in this book are based on the mashing and fermentation of 30L (8 US gallons) of corn mash to yield about 2L (2.1 US quarts) of 40% alc/vol corn whiskey and about 900 ml (1 US quart) of 91% alc/vol feints. Feints will be explained in the chapter on Distillation.
An excellent mashing vessel for producing 30L of corn mash is a 34-40L (9-10 US gallon) stainless steel stockpot with an aluminum plate bonded to the bottom, and a lid. This can be purchased at restaurant-supply stores. As well, you will require a large plastic or wooden spoon or paddle to stir the mash, and a floating dairy thermometer or a brewers' mashing thermometer in the range of 0-110oC (32-230oF). These can be purchased at home beer and wine making supply shops.
The mash pot can easily be heated on any standard kitchen gas or electric stove burner. It's best to use the larger burners rather than the smaller burners, but both will work.
For fermenting you will require at least three 30L (8 US gallon) food-grade plastic pails with lids. 30L pails hold 30L with 2 or 3 cm (an inch or so) to spare. Such pails can be obtained as empty bulk food containers from restaurants or health-food stores, or purchased quite cheaply at home beer and wine making supply stores as specially designed fermenters with volume graduations on the side and with a hole in the lid for a fermentation lock.
Siphon: You will need a 2M (6') piece of vinyl siphon tube with a racking cane. A racking cane is a hard cane-shaped acrylic tube of a size that the vinyl siphon tube will fit over. These can be purchased at any home beer and wine making supply shop.
Refractometer: If you buy a refractometer you won't need a winemaking hydrometer. A refractometer measures the sugar content of a small sample of mash. They are fairly expensive and can generally only be purchased from a scientific supplier.
Hydrometer: A standard winemaking hydrometer can be purchased at any home beer and wine making supply shop. You will not need a hydrometer if you have a refractometer.
Proof Hydrometer: A proof hydrometer is a hydrometer for measuring % alcohol content of a distilled spirit. A lot of home beer and wine making supply shops carry them. They can also be purchased from scientific and laboratory suppliers.
Hydrometer Cylinder: A 250-ml graduated cylinder can be used for both the winemaking hydrometer and the proof hydrometer. It also makes an excellent receiver for the spirit still where the quantities of each phase need to be measured and recorded. Most home beer and wine making supply shops carry hydrometer cylinders, but they are usually not graduated (i.e. have markings on the side indicating the volume). Most people will have to go to a scientific supplier for a 250-ml graduated cylinder. Also, make sure the cylinder is made of glass or some other alcohol-resistant material. A lot of home beer and winemaking supply shops sell acrylic hydrometer cylinders. Acrylic is not acceptable for containing distilled spirits. Acrylic cylinders are okay for a wine or beer up to 10-20%, but for a 40-50% first run or a 90+% spirit-run they will dissolve.
pH Meter: A pH meter is a device for measuring the pH of an aqueous solution (i.e. the acidity or alkalinity of a solution in water). Each time a pH meter is used it needs to be calibrated to a specific pH using a special buffering solution of known pH. For mashing, the pH-meter precision should be calibrated to around pH 6 (say a buffering solution of pH 6.01). However, buffering solutions of pH 6.01 are hard to find, so you may have to settle for a pH 4.01.
pH meters are fairly expensive, but they save a lot of time compared to using pH papers. For the better ones (better referring to reliability and accuracy) you will probably have to go to a scientific supplier. However, a lot of homebrewing supply shops now carry lower-end models that are very reasonably priced and are more than satisfactory for mashing. These will do just fine.
If you decide not to invest in a pH meter, pH papers will certainly suffice, but they are much more time consuming.
pH Papers: If you don't have a pH meter you will require two ranges of pH papers: pH 212; and pH 4.5-6.5.
Both the beer stripper and the spirit still (both described below) are filled, emptied, and flushed out using the upper and lower ball valves on the sides of their boilers. Generally, the upper ball valve is used for filling and flushing and the lower is used for draining. Although, some setups may favour using the lower ball valve for filling as well.
To make the required transfer hoses, you will need:
4 female garden-hose couplings
5 hose clamps
1 siphon starter (alcohol resistant if using a beer stripper)
Filler-hose: The filler-hose should be about 1.8M (6') long. It will need to reach to the top ball valve on the boiler from the mash container, which must be placed at a height above the boiler.
Attach a female garden-hose coupling to one end of the filler-hose and secure it with a hose clamp. Attach the siphon starter to the other end and secure it with a hose clamp.
Drain-hose: The drain-hose will need to reach from the bottom ball valve to a floor drain.
Cut the drain-hose to length, attach a female garden-hose coupling to one end, and secure it with a hose clamp. The other end is led to a floor drain.
Flushing-hose: The flushing-hose will need to reach from a faucet equipped with a gardenhose fitting to the upper ball valve.
Cut the flushing-hose to length, attach female garden-hose couplings to both ends, and secure them with hose clamps.
Immersion Chiller (Optional)
An immersion chiller is used to chill the mash down to fermentation temperature after the mashing process is complete. This will be explained in the chapter on Mashing. For the batch size discussed in this book (30L), the mash will cool to fermentation temperature in 8 to 10 hours. Leaving it overnight can easily accommodate this. But for larger quantities, it will require force cooling with an immersion chiller.
An immersion chiller is basically a coil of 3/8" copper tubing about 8M (25') long that is immersed in the hot mash with cold water flowing through the tubing. The immersion chiller described here will force cool a 30L (8 US gallons) batch of mash from 63oC (145°F) to 38oC (100°F) in about 10 minutes. It can be used to chill batch sizes up to 75L (20 US gallons) in about 30 minutes.
To make an immersion chiller, you will need: Qty Description
Bend the 3/8" copper tubing into a coil about 25cm (10") in diameter. Usually, copper tubing comes coiled at about that diameter so this step will probably already be done for you.
Next, with the coil sitting on a flat surface with the coils running parallel to the surface, bend the two ends of the tube (one from the top, the other from the bottom of the coil) upward so that both stand roughly 50cm (20") from the surface. Place the coil in the mash pot and, at a point where they clear the top of the mash pot, bend the ends in smooth arcs until they are horizontal and side-by-side. Take care not to crimp the tubing.
3/8" copper tubing 3/8" clear vinyl hose female garden-hose coupling faucet-to-garden-hose adapter hose clamps bare copper wire
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