Making a wash

Drinks, Spirits No Comments »

Maybe should also be “making a wish”? 😉

To make beer, wine or spirits, you need alcohol. How so you get alcohol? You use yeast to ferment sugars anaerobically (means without oxygen). If you do the ferment aerobically then you won’t get alcohol – really – you won’t.

Ok – so I can just get some sugar and some yeast and I get alcohol and we are done? In theory – yeah – but it won’t taste too good. You are missing a lot of things, possibly the main on being taste. Also – there is a really good chance that it won’t ferment properly. Yeast, like all living things, needs nutrients as well as just food. Without nutrients – those little yeast cells just won’t do what you want them to.

Where do those sugars come from?

Well, for beer, they come grains. Grain is heated in hot water and then left for a while. The grains release their sugars into the water. The water is then cooled. The resulting liquid is called a “wort“. The wort forms the base for the taste of the beer. The taste can also be affected by the type of yeast used and what else is added.

For wine, the sugars come from the grapes (if making grape wine) or from the fruits used. Grapes are an ideal source of sugars for making alcohol as they not only provide the sugar, they also have an almost ideal level of nutrients for yeast. To get the sugar from grape, the fruit needs to be pressed and thats about it (other than you call this a “must“). Throw in water and yeast, leave and you get wine on the other end.

So for spirits, I just need to grab some sugar and some nutrients and water and call it a funny name? Then add yeast and get whiskey or gin?

Partially this is right but – if only it was that simple…

First off – it’s a called a “wash“. Second – there are a few other things to add to give it flavour. Third – after you have added the yeast and it’s finished fermenting – you get something called a “fermented wash“. This is almost like a wine but isn’t too good to drink as it contains potentially all sorts of things besides alcohol. Fourth – it doesn’t contain the amount of alcohol required to call it a spirit. It’s typically between 8% to 12% ABV.

Sediment, lees, trub?

A little side step – after fermentation, there is a lot of junk in the bottom of the container that you used to do the fermentation in. This is the dead yeast, bits of stuff that didn’t get fermented and general gunk. This is a useful source of nutrients and also potential new yeast for your next fermentation. More on using this in later posts but for now – know that it’s got a name and is useful.

So I need to make a wash?

Yup – simple as that. And here is a simple wash to begin with. This would allow (in theory) a simple wash to be made suitable for (after distillation) making rum…

  • 4 kg Molasses (food grade, no sulphur)
  • 3 kg raw cane sugar
  • 14 g instant bakers yeast (2 sachets)
  • Enough water to make up to 25 l
  • 7.5 g DAP
  • 25 ml Magnesium Sulphate
  • 75 g Potassium Nitrate
  • 0.15 g plaster

To make this, sterilize your fermenting vessel, dissolve the molasses in 5 l of hot water (ideally about 80 deg C). Add this to your vessel. Dissolve the sugar in 3l of warm water (again around 80 deg C). Top up with cold water to around 25 l.

An initial SG reading should be around the 1065 to 1080 range. This will give you a potential alcohol of around 8% to 12%. In general this is an ideal percentage for a spirit wash. Wines will typically by higher. Beers usually a bit lower.

The idea is to have a finishing temperature of around 30 to 35 deg C. Using a clean long handled spoon, stir things up and add the chemicals (except the yeast). Don’t forget to leave some headspace (the space between the top of the liquid and top of the vessel) because fermentation can be quite vigorous.

Note on Nutrients:

Nutrients are needed for yeast growth and development. Simple as that. If you are using grape juice then there is (usually) sufficient of everything for the yeast. Unfortunately, we are not using just grape juice, we are using mostly just sugar and whatever else is in the molasses and sugar. Typically this is nowhere near enough for the yeast to do their thing. So we need to add. The items included above are perhaps not directly available to everyone. In this case, there are alternatives (including using tomato paste) that should be used. A good place to start would be a local home brew/wine making store. They will have a range of nutrients. Start with an all in one mix. Even better, maybe ask them for advice?

Move the fermentation vessel to somewhere out of the way and relatively warm. You will need to be able to keep the temp of the thing above 20 deg C.

When moved and the temperature is correct (30 to 35 deg C) – “pitch” the yeast. This means just sprinkle it on top of the wash. No need to stir it in. In fact, it’s better that it isn’t stirred. Put the top on, make sure the airlock is in place and leave.

Bakers yeast? Yes – this is a good choice for rum. It adds flavour. If you were making other products (say a brandy) then you would use a wine makers yeast. This would give a cleaner finish.

If everything is correct then fermentation should finish in 4 to 5 days. In any event, leave the thing for maybe 10 to 14 days to finish. There should be no more bubbling. If you take an SG reading – then it should be below 1000, meaning it’s gone to completion.

And thats it. You’ve made a rum wash. And now you are ready for the next bit – distillation.


Drinks, Spirits No Comments »

In this blog (which I admit isn’t updated anywhere near enough) there are numerous posts about electronics, food and drink. Electronics is fun. Food is fun and drink – surprisingly enough – is also fun…

Let’s have a look at drink though.

I’ve made beer (not a lot and a long time ago), it’s probably something to do again but it always seems such a messy process.)

I’ve made wine and is something that I will certainly do again. It’s a fun but yeah, slower process than beer making, not as messy though.

I’ve made liqueurs, quick and tasty. Tasty and relatively simple. To make though they do tend to require a constant supply of vodka as a base. It gets expensive quickly.

What I haven’t made, until now, is (hypothetically) spirits like rum or gin. Sure, at school we all did the distillation thing and had a giggle at something so subversive but to make the real thing? For yourself. From scratch? For real? Won’t I get arrested?

And that’s kind of the issue…

In some countries, distilling your own spirits is (very) illegal. Some countries (hello New Zealand) it’s perfectly legal. In most countries however, it’s a grey area. It’s (probably) ok for personal use but most certainly not to sell. There may be a permit required and records needed to be kept and shown to the customs and excise man.

There is also the question of safety…

Whilst it’s not difficult to distill your own, it’s very important to do it correctly. Two main hazards spring to mind:

  • Methanol poisoning
  • Explosions from alcohol vapour.

Couple that with cost of equipment, the potential cost of energy and all the materials, then maybe it’s not like making a bit of tea wine or milk stout. But…

Then again…

Whats life without a challenge?

I will put up a few posts about hypothetically making spirits. Rum in particular. It’s relatively simple to get a reasonable product. It can be done at home and it can be done safely.

A great introduction into a rabbit hole of a hobby 😉

Watch this space for a series of posts on how you could (if you wanted to) make your own rum.


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