The fermenter

Before discussing distillation we need to make the alcohol. Many of you who read this book will have been making beer or wine for years and will have all the know-how and equipment you need for fermenting sugar to a potable alcohol. There may be others who aren't quite as familiar with the process, but even for the beer and wine makers — perhaps especially for the beer and wine makers — it is necessary to explain that fermenting for alcohol production is a very different type of operation to fermenting for wine and beer. This will be explained later on in the chapter dealing with procedures, but for now just accept that fermenting for pure alcohol production is a very crude and very simple operation compared with the great care required for making a fine wine or a palatable beer. All you will be concerned with is speed and simplicity and not at all with taste because we're not going to drink the stuff.

For those who do not already have fermenting equipment, a polypropylene laundry tub makes an ideal fermenter. A common size is 45 x 50 cm by 30 cm deep, standing on four legs to give a total height of 85 cm above the ground. The working volume is 50 - 65 litres. A suggested arrangement is shown in Figure 1. The legs of the laundry tub are placed on four cement blocks so that the beer can be drained completely into the stripper by gravity flow following fermentation.

One can make this fermenter as simple or as elaborate as one wishes. In its simplest form one would simply close the drain hole with a rubber stopper, add the sugar and dissolve it in warm water, add the yeast and stir periodically. This, presumably, is how they made "bathtub gin" in the old days, using a bathtub instead of a laundry tub. But for convenience, for speed, and to get the best yield of alcohol a few refinements should be added. One is a cover to keep out dust, any insects flying around, and to reduce losses due to evaporation and oxidation. An air-lock is not necessary. Another very useful gadget is an electrically driven stirrer. A third is a heater to maintain the optimum temperature over the several days of fermentation. A fourth is a faucet attached to the drain to permit the beer to be run directly into the still (see below) and wash water to be directed to the house drain when the fermenter is being cleaned out and rinsed.

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