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Feijoa Brandy

I’m making some feijoa brandy at the moment. Bloody busy, but the seasons wait for no man, and the wine had been fermented and sitting on the pulp for ages, so I had a late night session on it last night with a couple of stills.
Recipe was as simple as possible:

  1. Apply stainless paint mixer and power drill to feijoas,
  2. Add pectinase and yeast,
  3. Let the drama build.

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The pulp is a bit of a bastard to press – such a fine grit in that stuff around the skins. It’s much harder work than apples.

The product is still at the low wines stage right now, awaiting the final run, but I’m thinking it will probably be kept in the white at ~50%ABV. Some crazy bloody smells in places through the run, some of the mid tails is like burning plastic. Fores and heads are like feijoa essence, hearts kinda lemony. Interesting challenge in cutting this to come I suppose!
some piccies:

Press in all it’s glory:

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Making do without my hydraulic jack:

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Dry pulp

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Pot still running with some amazingly half-arsed insulation (i.e. I stole the dog’s towel)

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I’m looking forward to the results of a spirit run!


Fruits of the cider press labour


A 220l ex Chardonnay barrel, under the house to sleep over the winter. The best thing is that we get to reuse the barrel afterwards! Very exciting.

The airlock on the barrel is there because we primed the barrel with a bit of fresh juice when filling to take care of any oxygen I the process. It also got a co2 scrub to reduce h2s.

I can’t wait to sample it!


Partigyle Brew Day photos – Imperial fig stout / export stout

So, there is a lot going on in the shed at the moment. It’s messy. I apologise. I’m still processing some fruit (feijoas next, and maybe olives) and I’m testing out the new 4” potstill in various configurations before finishing off my scotch. Full post on that to come later. Amongst this I’m still brewing much more beer than I can drink (what a problem, eh?) and todays brew is probably interesting enough both technically and in the recipe to warrant a post.


First of all, the technique. Partigyle brewing refers to keeping the first, second, and sometimes third runnings off the mash separate, making two or three beers of sequentially decreasing strength from the single mash. This is a traditional English technique, and many styles we know today have their roots in this brewing method – e.g. ESB, Best bitter, and Ordinary Bitter. To learn more about the technique, and how to do it at home, this article by Randy Mosher (and the attached gravity and colour tables) should fill in the blanks, but I’ll quickly summarise how I plan on doing it:

  1. Mash enough grain for 2 batches of beer, calculating the expected split of gravities from the table linked to above,
  2. Mash out first runnings into the first kettle, get the boil going, and proceed as normal with the rest of the first brew;
  3. Batch sparge into a second kettle, correct colour with additional roasted malts, mash out, take a gravity reading to check how long a boil is needed, then proceed as normal for the rest of the second brew.

Just to make it even more interesting, my second beer will be done using the no-chill technique. more on that later.


So, on to the recipe – this is what I came up with:

40L batch size, 2 runoffs, ~80% brewhouse efficiency

Grain Bill:
8 kg NZ Malteurop ale base malt (3.5 SRM)
1kg Bairds Pale Chocolate malt
1kg Oats, flaked (cereal mashed)
0.8kg Thomas Faucet Dark Crystal malt
0.2kg Bairds Chocolate Malt
0.2kg Roasted Barley
0.15kg Weyermann Caraaroma
0.15kg  Weyermann Caraamber

Figs,other awesome stuff:

Imperial stout (Figaro):
1.5kg figs, caramelised, added to boil
80g Switch Espresso Ethiopian (added in cold conditioning, 4 days at 1°C)
20g Cocoa Nibs (added in cold conditioning, 4 days at 1°C)

Export Stout
Potentially this might end up as a milk chocolate stout, haven’t decided yet, but it would be:
120g Cocoa Nibs (added in cold conditioning, 4 days at 1°C)
400g Lactose

Imperial Fig Stout-
70g NZ Cascade (8%) @ 60 mins, 63 IBU
60g NZ Cascade (8%) @ flameout
20g Simcoe (13%) @ flameout

Export Stout-
80g Willamette @ 60 mins
30g Willamette @ flameout (nochill cube)

Imperial: Wyeast 1272 (American Ale II)
Export: Nottingham

Right, so those in the know will probably notice some similarities in the shopping list with the Epicurean, which is true, because this is definitely inspired by that beer, although I want to go a lot more figgy and less coffee, to the point that I’m not putting coffee in at all at this stage – some cold extract  or dry beans might go in later in the piece though, potentially with cocoa nibs as well but that’s a later question, after I’ve tasted it. [editing this later, yeah, they went in, moar flavour mwhahahaha]


First think I had to do was get a starter going from my 1272 slurry. I stepped this up over a few days before brewday on my DIY stir plate. A stir plate is such a great investment, they’re cheap to make and you can breed up yeast so much easier – and stop paying for it. Here in NZ, we also have the problem that liquid yeasts are pretty unavailable, so being able to easily breed up a sample to pitching size is great.


Roasting Figs

I got about 1.5 kilos of figs from Raffe, and dry roasted them for about 3 hours at 120°C, then mashed them, then grilled them for 30 mins or so at 190°C. They rendered down into a super gooey caramel sludge. Awesome smells.

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Weighing out grain

I have a couple of different sets of scales. For my base malts I use a nice pair of Salter analogue scales I put an old retired fermenter on and pour into. Nice and inaccurate, but I figure with the base malts it’s just a gravity point here or there, I wouldn’t pick it in the end product. For the specialty grains, I tend to use a little set of 1g resolution digital scales and be a bit more precise about it.


Milling Grain

I mill directly into my mash tun, which is of the cooler / esky / chilly bin and stainless braid persuasion. My mill is a Crank and Stein 2”, gets a nice crush and with the hopper I built and a step down motor attached, I can just pour the grain in and walk away.


Heating strike water

This is my number one brewing-quality-of-life improver: A thermostatically controlled hot liquor tun (HLT). I have a 2.5kW element welded into the keg, controlled by a cheap ebay thermostat (same as I use on my fridges for fermentation control) and one of those plug in timer socket things. A sight glass on the side gives me my volume measurements.

Because of the thermostat and timer, I can fill up my HLT the night before brewing, add a tiny bit of a campden tablet for dechlorination, go to work in the morning, and come home to perfect strike water ready for me to mash in with. It’s been a great help in my quest to brew on weeknights.


Water Chemistry

I have a very low mineral supply of water, which is great for brewing because it’s very easy to build up to whatever you want. I use some drug dealer scales and a combination of Epsom salts (MgSO4), Gypsum (CaSO4), Chalk (CaCO3), Calcium Chloride (why the hell doesn’t that one have a catchy name?), baking soda (Na2CO3), and salt (NaCl) to correct my water profile to whatever I decide I want on the day. Generally, you want to correct the pH to an appropriate level for mashing (5.2), and then vary the relative levels of sodium, chloride, and sulphates to swing the perception of the beer from malty-sweet to bitter depending on what you’re after.

Alternatively, you can aim to match a famous water – like Dublin for a stout (lots of carbonates to buffer the acidity in a dark mash), or Burton on Trent for a English IPA (oodles of sulphites for dry hoppy bitterness).

I normally make up my own profile on the day because I’m incapable of following even my own recipes, let alone anyone else’s!


Mashing in

I don’t use pumps in my brewing, just gravity, so I simply drain the water from my hot liquor tun into the mash tun at the right temperature, and then give it a good stir and chase down all the little dough balls and squash them. Single infusion mashing (i.e. add water @ certain temp and forget about it for an hour) is pretty simple and easy really, no matter how much we like to complicate it when talking smack about brewing.

My mash tun is pretty close to capacity on a partigyle batch like this. It’s also always a little scary working with oats in the mash, as they are notorious for giving you a “stuck sparge”, where the filter/manifold in the bottom of the tun clogs and ruins your day. I try to avoid this by doing a separate cereal mash on the oats upstairs on the stove, where I can do all the protein rests etc with a bit more precision.



… Is a fancy word for pouring some wort out of the mash tun and then putting it back in the top without splashing too much. The idea is to set the grain bed in the tun into a big filter matrix to help get clearer wort into the kettle. I basically did this out of habit, without thinking that the beer is actually going to be about as clear as engine oil due to colour alone.

I just run off into a jug and then pour it back into the tun over my mash paddle. Fancier setups would do this with a pump.


Mashout / First runnings



During the first runnings I’m going to sort out my figs. They’ve been chilled overnight after roasting, and they have basically been rendered into figgy treacle. It tastes like awesome.


I have this big reel of muslin cloth for the cider press, but I’m also using it for hop bags and such in my beer making. I reckon it’ll be perfect for holding the solids back of the figs while the caramel and sugars can steep out into the boil.


I bagged up the figs with plenty of room to spare, I don’t want them tightly packed.


In goes the yumminess…


They’re tied to the rim of the kettle to eliminate the slim chance of any scorching to the bottom of the pot.


Batch sparge, second runnings / gyle

After getting the first runnings into the boiler, it’s time to batch sparge – add more water to the mash tun to wash out some more sugars. In a normal brew this would go into the same kettle, but in the partiglye method, I’ll be draining to a different kettle and making a smaller (weaker) beer with the second runnings.

I’m going to darken the second runnings somewhat by adding a little Carafa Special II (a dark roasted malt with the husks removed to avoid astringent flavours), which I’m just going to crush by hand, it’s too small a quantity to bother with the mill.


I’m going to dump the carafa into the mash tun. The 10-15 minute or so steep should extract what I want just fine.


The sparge water is added to the mash tun at about 76°C. I feed my water in through the braid filter at the bottom of the tun, which I’ve recently discovered is unusual.


After a 10-15 minute or so wait, I vorlauf again, then mash out into a second kettle – my hot liquor tun is done for the day so I’m using it, with it’s 3kW element it can just give a good enough boil.



I weigh out my hops on a 1g resolution set of scales, and then make a hop bag out of muslin cloth for adding them to the boiler, much the same as how I added the figs.


While I’m hopping the imperial stout, the export stout is getting to the boil:


Checking Specific Gravity, blending

I recently got a refractometer. How did I live without one of these? I’ve broken so many hydrometers that I should have bought one right at the start, it would have gotten cheaper pretty quickly.


Anyway, I tried to take a photo down the… Uh… Lens? Scope? To show the gravity reading. It sort of worked, but it’s not as clear a line as it is to the eye. I did a bit of blending between the two gyles (first and second runnings) to adjust the gravity south a little in my imperial stout – I didn’t want it to be too imperial. Having a refractometer that can test little samples during the boil without cooling down 100mls or so is a serious plus. This pic is taken during blending, the first runnings gravity was much higher than this.



With the imperial stout getting pretty close to flameout, my immersion chiller goes into the boil to sanitise it, and aroma hops etc are added, and some koppafloc finings (again, habit).


When the boil is over, I run cold water into the chiller and then out into my mash tun to use for cleaning, which seems better than tipping boiling water down the drains. I cover the kettle with plastic after the first few minutes of chilling.


Racking to the fermenter

With the imperial stout chilled, I can rack to the fermenter. Again, gravity feed is how I roll so I just lift up the kettle and put it on my keg freezer, and rack to a plastic fermenter.

Meanwhile the other boiler is boiling away, almost done now.


No Chill, Cube hops

No chill brewing is (according to legend) what the aussies came up with to combat high groundwater temps that mean you can’t chill right down to pitching. Or scarce water, or something.

In summary, you rack boiling wort directly from the boiler into a HDPE jerry can or “cube” and seal it up. It’s then more or less shelf stable wort – it cools naturally and you can open it up at a later date and ferment. I was pretty sceptical about this because of my fear of DMS (off flavour like cooked corn / cabbage resulting from poor boils), but it seems to be well and truly established now that no chill brewing doesn’t cause DMS. Also, you continue to get hop utilisation as it cools in the cube, so you need to advance the hop additions by 10-15 minutes or so – so I’m adding what would have been a 15 minute addition into the cube before racking onto it.

Some more info about no chill brewing is here.


Hot wort then gets racked into the cube…


You squeeze out any air and tighten the lid. Too easy. It now awaits me getting around to ferment it. This saves me from having two stouts on tap at once, and helps manage the fermenting pipeline. It’s a pretty neat trick really, I’ve been using it a lot to piggy back a second beer onto a brew day.


So there we have it. Imperial stout into the fermenting fridge (Thermostatically controlled) and the export or maybe milk chocolate stout into a no chill cube for me to deal with later.

As I write this, the Imperial stout has been fermented and kegged, and I can let you know that it rocks the partigyle. Teheheehehehehe.

Can’t wait to brew this recipe again, but I’ll have to, because there aren’t any more figs til next year.



Uh… Sort of forgot to say what I’m actually building…

It’s been gently brought to my attention that I haven’t really explained what the hell I’m up to. I kind of started writing that last post without considering the fact that not everyone has been rolling the design around in their head for the last year… I’m trying to create a very modular collection of parts that can assemble into a variety of different arrangements, but for now we’ll just look at the two extremes. The full reflux column and the pot still.

The column is going to look a little like this:

The full reflux column

Experienced distillers amongst you may be saying “um, wtf are you doing?”, so let me explain the design.

For a start, if I want to go commercial, I’ll need a good supply of neutral to experiment with, without having to spend a whole weekend to do a run to get it. So, an upgrade from 52mm (say a generous 2.5l/hr @aezotrope) to 103mm diameter column, which should do at least 8l/hr if I can get enough heat input to it. This will mean I spend less time making ethanol and more time crafting flavoured spirits.

A standard VM

Secondly, I want to try and build a new type of head on the still to see if some more control can be eeked out of the vapour management design. Currently, a VM relies on turbulence and ethanol density to get a vapour split between the overhead reflux condenser (which will return reflux back down the column) and the takeoff port, which leads to the product condenser. While this way of doing business has some serious advantages that I won’t go into right now (see this thread I wrote on home distiller to understand more), the big disadvantage to this is it’s very hard to run in low reflux operation – say for flavoured spirits. I want it to work differently.

Instead of  using a passive split, I want to force the vapour to split between two ports that resize in tandem – If I want to set reflux to 75%, the product should then be 50%. I also want to be able to completely shut down reflux and run as a tall columned pot still. The easy way to do this would be to have two valves. However, that would break a golden rule – never build a system that could allow the still to build pressure. It must always, always be open to the atmosphere.

So, I’m going to put a cross pipe through the column at the top with an aperture cut into it. A machined copper plate will slide along inside it to change the vapour split. It will have a teflon braid (safe with hot ethanol) seal around it. This should force a vapour split, and allow me to “dial in” a specific reflux ratio. This isn’t all my idea, I’ve had help from a lot of people, most notably Harry Jackson for the concept of a forced VM, and Airhill on for brainstorming ideas of how to actually accomplish it.

An illustration of my splitting valve concept

Note that these illustrations don’t actually show all the pipes – the plumbing of the cooling and reflux circuits is excluded.

The split will control the flow between two types of shell and tube condenser. The reflux condenser will be a 4″ / 1/2″ shell and tube, heavily inspired by the Jackson Crossflow condenser.

The crossflow condenser as it is traditionally configured. This is a type of shell and tube condenser. Image credits to Samohon on

By mounting this offset instead of overhead, I can form a pool of distillate, which can be drawn off back to the column as reflux, or via a needle valve, as product takeoff via liquid management. This will allow me to bleed the heads components without letting them contaminate my product condenser.

The product condenser will be a 63mm & 13mm  ‘shotgun’ type of shell and tube condenser.

This is a standard configuration for a "shotgun" type shell and tube condenser. Image credits to Samohon on

If you look at the illustration of my design, you’ll see that the shotgun condenser is designed to be removed, and is also way, way overkill for a reflux product condenser. This is so that it can be reused as the condenser for the pot still.

The reason I’m getting away from liebigs and coils for cooling is simple – backpressure. I recirculate all my cooling water via a pump and a radiator, and the pump really struggles with the coils. shell and tube condensers by nature have a very wide water path, so you can get very good flow rates on a shitty pump.

The pot still head is going to be more simple, I’m not even going to bother drawing it up. a 90 bend at the top of the column, then a triclamp, then a 45, reduced into the shotgun condenser. The triclamp will allow me to set any output height, which is a huge quality of life improver when running a still – remember you can’t use a plastic funnel or anything like that to direct output, not ethanol safe. Here’s a mock up:

Just some parts thrown on the table to illustrate the pot still shape.

Initially, I’ll just be using a keg boiler. Longer term I think I’d like a small hot water cylinder. They’re all copper here, and about a 100-150L boiler with pre-installed elements and drains would be very convenient I think. Either that or I’ll look into getting a stainless boiler fabricated for me, or salvaged.

Hope that clears up what I’m up to.



A still is born. Well… Conceived?

Who would trust me with one of these?

I’m finally getting started on my new still.  It’s going to be a modular system that can be reconfigured into various reflux column heights, and the humble pot still. It’s going to be 103mm, 63mm, and 13mm copper pipe, and stainless triclamp ferrules.  No Copper fittings if I can avoid it, although I might end up getting a couple of 4″ endcaps imported from aussie. Why not use copper fittings, I hear you ask? Because in NZ, buying copper fittings is like pulling down your pants and grabbing your ankles. You’re going to get reamed. Even at trade price, 103mm fittings are well over 100 dollars, closer to 200-300 for some of em.

My stash of triclamp unions.

So, this build has to be adaptable, modular, and made entirely from ferrules (I came across a supply of very, very cheap triclamp unions in a fair game of chance) and pipe. How hard can it be right? I’ve never soldered much, especially not with an oxy-acetylene torch, but as an engineer mate of mine said the other day “Yeah bro, people stupider than you use lathes and gas welders every day”.  With that sentiment in mind, I set out on some deep end learning (the best sort of learning).

First challenge – Get the copper pipe to mate nicely and strongly with the stainless triclamp ferrules. The pipe ID (~102mm) is approximately the same as the ferrule ID, but the ferrule has an extra 1-2mm of wall thickness, so the OD is more like 107mm, compared to the pipes 104-105mm. Two clear options – expand the copper over the pipe, or somehow get it fitting on the inside of the ferrule.

Second, related challenge – Make sure that when the ferrules are brazed to the copper, they will be square – this is important, as the even distribution of downwards flowing reflux in a reflux column is a big help for column efficiency, and crooked ferrules lead to leaning columns.

Third challenge – Make bends without buying fittings. This one seems pretty easy. Cut the pipe at precisely 90-desired angle)/2, rotate the two halves 180, then carefully braze them together. Then braze on my triclamp ferrules to each end without completely fucking the joint I’ve already made.

So, Leaving the whole “not paying bullshit prices for fittings” thing for now, I started to sort out that ferrule mating and squaring problem. I actually had a bit of a false start on this one, and built myself a very, very homemade sort of mandrel expander, 4 segments of steel that could sit around a lathe chuck, which you could then wind out to expand the pipe. This did leave challenge three as a complete nightmare though – how could I seat that square for brazing? I didn’t come up with anything, so after wrecking one end of a column section and completely failing, I decided to look at a new method – get the copper inside the ferrule.

I couldn’t think of an easy way to go about contracting the pipe. I calculated the relative coefficients of expansion with heat, and the distance I needed to move them was greater than I could do by freezing the copper and putting the stainless in the oven. The stainless is way, way too hard to think about expanding, even if I could do it even enough to still seal. So, I had to turn to the lathe.

Lathes are pretty cool, especially ones like this with a good autofeed and digital readout.

I ended up turning a wider ID for the ferrule, about 8mm deep into it. I figure that 8mm is enough surface for a good lap joint, plenty of space for the solder to wick down and make it strong. Stainless, especially in grades  like this (316L), is a tricky metal to machine. It’s very hard, kind of stringy, and needs a lot of care when working. Bear in mind when taking anything from the following process that I’m a rank novice at fabricating.

A ferrule during machining

When I set the flange in the chuck, I clean both surfaces, tighten it slightly, and then get a rubber mallet and gently tap all around to make sure it’s sitting square. I set the lathe very slow, 112 RPM seems to be a nice spot for me. I tried 80 and it’s great too, but 112 gets it done quicker without too much extra heating. The auto feed speed is set to about 0.05 mm/rev (not sure on what the correct notation is for that unit? distance travelled per revolution of the workpiece). I’m only cutting about 0.5-0.7mm per pass, so about 5 passes required to turn out the ferrule to fit the pipe. As for cooling, I just stand there with a bottle of cutting fluid and slosh a little bit onto the tool and the workpiece every now and then, once or twice per pass is working really well for me. You can probably see a bit of the fluid pooled on the ferrule in the above photo, a pink liquid. I’ try to tweak the depth / speed / feed until I get a nice spiral swage coming off in long strings, and I pay attention to the colour of it – a pale straw colour is acceptable, this is the point I’m aiming for in terms of efficiency, although sometimes I’m going slower if I’m not paying attention. If you start getting purple, slow down, more fluid, give it a rest, etc. That should be a drama though, because the cutting fluid will be boiling constantly by that stage.

The results sit tight and snug, though the slight deformations of the pipe from cutting can mean that if you want them really snug you need to give the pipe a slight squeeze in the vice or something. After the first one, which I had to seat with a hydraulic press (overkill), most of mine have been fine to seat by hand after I’ve filed a leading edge onto the copper.

Filing a leading edge onto the copper to help it seat in the machined ferrule.

After filing, they came together nicely, square, and almost perfectly flush on the inside:

Nice and flush

Nice and square.

Also appealing about this method is the fact that copper expands faster than stainless when heated – that means these joints will get tighter, not looser, as they are brazed, or as the still is operated.

So, with the ferrule joints no longer a problem, I needed to get started on making some copper bends out of my pipe. Off the shelf bends are normally die-cast – this is way beyond my resources.

A 90 bend being trimmed down to size in the drop bandsaw.

The fittings I’ve needed so far have been pretty easily created by using a drop bandsaw running nice and slow to cut for a brazed miter joint. I could cut at 45 and end up with a 90 bend like pictured being worked on in the drop bandsaw above, or at 22.5 and end up with a piece like below. I actually made that 90 on top of a long section to be the column on my pot still before realising that I’m wasting a potential 30cm of column height on the reflux still by not putting a union in below it – now I’ve cut it I can take that section and pack it. Modular!

A home made 45 bend with a ferrule seated on one end

I still haven’t decided if I’m going to make 4″ endcaps for my shell and tube condenser (reflux condenser for the column), or get someone to buy them for me in aussie and send them over. It seems that their prices probably make it worth it compared to the time cost of more complicated fitting fabrication than simple bends.

As for the actual brazing, I’m still a novice with the torch, but I think the after some TLC with a file and emery cloth, my joints aren’t going to be too ugly. First of all I lightly sand and flux both surfaces, then press fit, then reapply a bit more flux to get it sitting on that lip of the stainless:

well fluxed and seated ferrule

Then I get out the oxy torch and set the flame pretty neutral, maybe a hair on the carburizing side. I heat only the copper side of the joint, and maybe 5cm up from the joint. Copper transfers heat so well that you’ve got to work like this to avoid buggering the stainless. Then it’s just a matter of getting the workpiece up to a flow temperature for my solder rods (silfos 15, got a kilo or two of it for free), and soldering the joint. I try to keep the torch moving across the work so that it doesn’t overheat a specific area too much.


I’m going to experiment with different ways to “lay” the solder onto the joint, and see if that gets me neater. here is a snap of a joint that I’ve quickly hit with a wire brush. More cleanup to come.

Hot off the press

For now, at least things are finally happening on this build, I’ve been talking about it for almost a year now, it’s good to put solder to copper.

I’ll be doing some more brazing shortly, and then working on my shell and tube condensers. That will probably be my next post. When this is all done, I’ve got a lot of scotch I need to run! I’m filming the whole build, so when I’m done I’ll stitch it up into something entertaining.




Making gin

This is a copy of the gin album I had uploaded to my imgur account and posted to Reddit. I figure I should get a backup on here so it can’t be lost…

First, pour a drink:

To make a drink, you must first drink a drink. No one knows where there first drink came from. It’s a great mystery. I’m all out of gin (that’s why I’m making some, of course), so I’m setting for a beer, and I hope the homebrew gods won’t take exception to this minor slight. Anyway, this album will document how I make my own gin. First of all, we have to create neutral spirits to use as a base, so there’ll be a ferment and a couple of distillations before we even start thinking about gin. I’ll try to keep the jargon to a minimum.

Making the wash

The ‘wash’ is the distillers name for the liquid to be fermented and distilled. I’ll be making about 70L of sugar based wash. That big pot is going to be used to mix up fermentables, yeast nutrients, and some of the water, and it’ll be given a good long boil.


I’m going to help out my yeast a bit by bumping up the nutrient content with a number of things – diammonium phosphate, epsom salts, a B-vitamin tablet, gypsum, and some citric acid to drop my (very hard) local water down to the range where yeast are happy.

And some grain for good luck

I like to thrown in a bit of grain as well, just to make sure that there are traces of everything the yeast need to be happy and healthy little alcohol machines – The less stressed the yeast is, the ‘cleaner’ the end result will be. I normally throw in whatever is lying around. I was out of malt and wheat at the time I made this wash though, so the pantry got raided. Here is some of my flatmate’s oatmeal making the ultimate sacrifice.


Inverting the sugar

Inverting the sugar (by boiling it for a while in the presence of an acid) helps the yeast process it more efficiently. After this has been done, I cool this mixture, then add another 40L of water or so (I’m targeting a ‘gravity’ reading of 1.08, as measured by my hydrometer), and pitch the yeast, and wait for the ferment to finish. This bit is boring, so no photos. Now, some beer makers reading this are probably scoffing at a recipe (if you can even call it that) like this, but as we’re shooting for neutral, flavourless spirits, there isn’t much point starting off with grain. This is a hell of a lot easier and cheaper, and we’re going to remove all the flavours later anyway. All we want from this is the ethanol.

Stripping run

The ‘stripping’ run is the first distillation, this is pictured. I use a beer keg as a boiler, and that copper contraption is my pot still head. This is a pretty simple device, it is just a column, a bend, and a jacketed condenser to turn the boiled vapours back into liquid. The condenser is hooked up to a water recirculation system. There is very little finesse to a stripping run. You just run the still as hard as it can (without overwhelming the condenser or ‘puking’, where foam is forced up and out the column), and stop collecting when the alcohol is mostly depleted. I’m stripping directly into another keg boiler here, because after a couple of these stripping runs, I’ll have enough “low wines” (that’s what the stripped wash is called) to bother getting out my reflux still and doing a “spirit run”.


To measure the progress of the stripping run, I use my alcometer – this tells me the strength of a given sample. The output ABV will slowly drop, and when the output drops below about 20%, there is very little alcohol left in the boiler, and it isn’t really worth the energy to continue to extract it.

Spirit run

Right, so over a couple of ferments and stripping runs I’ve collected 40L of low wines at 40%. Now we fire up the big reflux still to make the neutral spirits that will be the base for a gin. A reflux still creates a very pure product by condensing a portion of the vapour and returning it down the column, where it mingles with the ot vapour coming from the boiler. The end result is that the ‘heavier’, higher boiling point compounds (such as water) get returned to the boiler, and the lighter fractions (like ethanol) make their way to the top. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s the idea in a nutshell.

Vapour management

This is the top of my reflux column. The valve allows me to change the proportion of vapour that is returned as reflux, and the amount that is taken off as product. The thermometer allows me to see what I need to be doing with the valve, as the vapour temperature tells me the strength (%ABV) of the product being taken off at that time.

And the results….

This shows my alcometer giving a reading of 96%ABV. This is pretty much as strong as you can distill ethanol at normal atmospheric pressures.

Reducing takeoff

This is towards the end of the run. You can see that the valve is mostly shut – I’m mostly returning vapour as reflux, to supress various undesirable compounds and keep my ethanol clean. Eventually, like with the stripping run, I’ll decide that the last little bit of ethanol isn’t worth the time and energy, and shut down.

The run, cuts.

You have to make ‘cuts’ in a spirit run to keep the ‘heads’ (i.e. nasty hangover juice) out of the main run. These bottles are lined up in order of takeoff. The first three will be cut (although the 3rd bottle is still better than most commercial vodkas, I’ve got high standards). This means I’ve got 5L of heads that will be used as a general purpose solvent around the shed, and 13L of very clean, neutral spirits at 96%. I don’t bother taking off the ‘tails’ (mainly fusel oils) section of the run on my reflux still, I just shutdown and let them return to the boiler, so no tails cut to make. I find their smell and taste at these sort of concentrations to be so repugnent I don’t want them dirtying up my condenser. To my senses, they’re like rancid soap, filthy wet dog, and rotting mint. At pot still concentrations they aren’t so bad, more like wet cardboard.

Back to the boiler

So, I’ve reserved some of my neutral for other products, and the rest is going back into the boiler to be the base of our gin.

Don’t forget the water!

Water must be added back as well! It’s not very safe to boil pure ethanol, you put yourself at risk of observing the wonders of physics from far closer than desirable. So, nothing over 40% ever makes it to my boiler. I’ve got about 16L at 40% in there.

Fun time – Botanical mix

This is my favourite part of the gin making process – playing with botanicals. I am going to use a pestle and mortar here, but sometimes I get lazy and use a spice grinder or an old coffee mill. My recipe for today is:
113g juniper
1 big basil leaf
10 peppercorns
2 rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon catnip flowers (about 0.5g)
0.75g licorice root
1.2g fennel
2g almond
0.8 cinamin
4g orris root
15g corriander seed
0.16 dill tips
1.6g lemon zest
3.6g tangello zest
.5g bitter orange peel

This will make a nice fruity/floral gin. It is designed to knock the socks of a person who likes “that gin that comes in the blue bottle”, and as such is a bit of a gateway drug into other, less loveable gins. It stands up ok to a tonic but really shines in a martini. It is very customised to my tastes, but if I put my taster hat on, I think the obvious criticism is that it is “busy”. This is something that crops up in everything I do, brewing, distilling, cooking… I just plain like complicated, fiddly recipes and the tastes they create.



I normally smash up my juniper berries separately from everything else, to ensure they get really nicely crushed. Juniper is the foundation of any gin, so I take special care with it.


Precision is essential in recipe development and repetition. I have some drug dealer scales that are accurate to 0.01g that allow me to be precise with my recipes.

The gin basket

This is a little basket that sits in the pot still column and allows the vapour to pass through the botanicals, extracting their essential oils and creating our gin. This is called vapour infusion, and is just one way to make gin. This is the way gins like Bombay Sapphire are made. This is a big batch, bigger than my basket can hold, so I’ll wrap the remainder in muslin cloth and put it above the basket in the column.

Basket in the column

Looking up the bottom of the pot still column to see the gin basket. The basket rests on the inside of my boiler connection flange. I made this basket in about 15 minutes, using a pair of scissors and an old tea strainer. It’s served me well.

First drips

The pot still is boiling, with the botanicals in the column, and the garage smells awesome. These first couple of drips hold a lot of oils, I normally keep them separate and then I can add them back at my discretion later.


See that layer of oil that’s come out of suspension in the first drips I’ve saved? Smells awesome.

The twist

See how the stream is twisting? That’s a property of high strength ethanol. Old time moonshines would refer to a second distillation run as a “double and twist”.
While it’s twisting like this, I don’t even have to reach for my alcometer. Later on, I’ll see the stream slow and smooth, and then as the ABV drops near the end of the run, it will become broken and splatter due to the surface tension of water.

Tasting the output

One of the awesome things about running gin is that all the oils tend to boil at different temperatures. This means that the flavour is constantly changing, and if you want good control over your end product, the different flavours must be captured in separate bottles for blending later. Of course, once you get comfortable tweaking recipes, you can do this at the recipe development stage, but I always collect in multiple vessels just for peace of mind, even if they only get a cursory taste during blending to confirm nothing has gone wrong.

Flame out

The ABV has dropped below 20%. I normally run to about 15% on my gin runs to catch a lingering almond / cinnamon finish that comes over very late.

The run

All my individual bottles are now ready for blending. They range from 82% down to 17%.

Spent botanicals

These botanicals are almost completely devoid of flavour now – we’ve captured it all, except a hint of cinnamon. A good sign.

Blending pot

I use my 30L stainless brew pot to blend the spirits in. You’ve got to be a bit careful what materials you put into contact with high ABV alcohol, but stainless and copper are very safe.

Cutting to drinking strength

Now, if I left it undiluted, we’d have gin at 70% or so, which is a bit over the top, and not very safe (for drinkers). So, I’ll use my cutting alcometer (it can only measure between 70% and 30%, but is much more accurate as a result) to get the gin down to 40% for general consumption. I prefer to leave it at about 45% for myself, but I don’t like giving away anything over 40% – you can’t rely upon others to be responsible around alcohol, and the potential damage increases sharply as the ABV goes up.


A true test of a spirit should always be a sample drunk neat. I gave this sample to SWMBO and didn’t get it back, so it must be alright. I find that if I sample with mixed drinks, I’ll overlook flaws that will bug the hell out of me later. Doing this as a hobby turns you into a real perfectionist in some areas.

Xmas pressies good to go!

All bottled up and ready to go to friends and family for gin and tonics in the christmas sun. This run yeilded 14 bottles of gin @ 40%ABV, plus some sampling and a bit leftover. The leftovers were disposed of humanely.
Til next time (a post on scotch production should be along soon),
Cheers, good health.

Making white rum, and therefore mojitos

First, acquire a beverage

The sacrifice

This album is going to document making a batch of white rum, my style. The drink pictured is what I want to be making on the other side – a mojito, which according to me is made with muscovado sugar, before anyone comments on the colour 🙂

This has a few implications at the outset. I want to make a white / silver rum, so I need to ensure it is nice and smooth off the still, as it won’t get the benefit of extended aging on oak. It also means that I need to aim for a light and fruity rum that still has enough flavour to shine through when mixed with plenty of lime and mint.

I’ll just go ahead and apologise now for the large amounts of text in this post – this was actually an Imgur album originally, but I couldn’t stand the wall of text it made and so had to start a blog.

Then, make a mess

I normally boil up the sugar sources and nutrients for my rum on the stove in my indispensable brew pot.
On the left we have my molasses drum. I take this into the nearest farming supplies store (which is really far away because I live in the middle of a city) and fill it up with bulk, feed grade blackstrap molasses. Blackstrap molasses is a byproduct of the sugar industry, and more or less consists of whatever is left after the sugar mill has extracted as much sugars as are economically viable. It’s about 50-60% fermentable, depending on the local economy and season. Molasses this concentrated is pretty strong stuff, and is really too heavy to use alone for the sort of rum I want to make, so I’ll be adding some plain white sugar to the mix as well.
Cheap white sugar
Cheap and cheerful sugar, used by a cheap and cheerful distiller. As I alluded to in the above paragraph, by changing the ratio of various ingredients, I can influence my output characteristics (duh). One of these ratios is the amount of sugar to molasses. This varies a lot depending on your molasses source. In some places, it may be cheaper to buy “fancy” or “table” molasses (not as processed, lighter flavour, more fermentable sugars), and you might not need any sugar in the mix for a middle of the road sort of rum. The more sugar added, the “lighter” and “fruitier” the end flavour is, and more molasses added ends you up with a deeper, more complex, almost buttery rum.
When deciding the ratio, you need to consider what you’ll be doing with the rum. I’m planning on leaving all of this white, i.e. no oaking, so I don’t need a big flavour backbone to stand up to oak or spices. I’ve settled on about a 1:1 ratio of sugar to molasses. I’d go as high as 3:1 for a dark, oaked rum. Using raw or brown sugar is a whole other bag of worms, so I’ll leave discussing that out of this.
Other ingredients
There are a couple of other ingredients that really help out a rum ferment. Molasses is often quite low in various trace elements that yeast like, so I add some yeast nutrients to help them along. A couple of tablespoons of diammonium phosphate (often sold alone or in a blend as “yeast nutrient salts” or similar in brew shops), half a teaspoon of magnesium sulphate, and a couple of B complex vitamins.
Many distillers use boiled (i.e. dead) yeast, as yeast are happy little cannibals and will feast on the exploded cells of their departed brothers and sisters.
It is common to adjust pH with an acid addition as well, but I’ve got something to deal with that later in the process.
Finished sugars and nutrients
This is now a “high gravity” (lots of sugars dissolved in it) rum “wash” (what rum distillers call unfermented liquid instead of wort). This will now be cooled, and diluted with water and dunder (more on that later).
Into the fermenter
I ferment my washes for spirits in 75L-ish tighthead drums. They’re foodgrade and about $5 each, readily available, easy to work with, and movable (just) when full if you’re a reasonably strong person.
Introducing the dunder pit, aka my pet infection
Dunder is spent wash from rum production, or what’s left in the boiler after alcohol has been extracted in a “stripping run” (fast pot still run with no cuts to strip the usable alcohol out of a wash).
There are a lot of unfermentable sugars and proteins in a rum wash due to the nature of molasses, so there are lots of goodies still in the dunder, and in traditional rum production, a “dunder pit” was developed, where dunder is allowed to become infected. The bacteria eat a lot of things that the yeast cannot, and produce esters that enhance the final profile of the rum.
This infected mess is added back to the wash, and the amount you add controls wash acidity, and also influences the final flavour profile. Recycling dunder is essential in crafting a fine rum (IMHO), but aging it like this isn’t absolutely  essential, I’ve made many a fine rum with fresh dunder hot out of the still boiler. It does add a certain special something though, buttery / floral flavours to my palate. This dunder has been, well, rotting in the sun for about 6 months now. It has been all sorts of colours, but seems to be settling out now.
Racking dunder into the fermenter, trying not to breath
I have a dedicated bit of hose for this that stays a long way away from the rest of my brewing equipment. I’m just eyeballing it, but depending on your local water profile and end flavour requirements, you might use as little as 20% dunder by volume if it’s very ripe, or as much as 40-50% if it’s young and hasn’t been recycled many times. Too much and the acidity will slow and eventually kill the yeast.
Controlled fermenting environment
I ferment in temperature controlled fridges. The controllers are cheap on ebay, and fridges are virtually free if you aren’t picky. My rum yeast (EDV493, isolated from sugar cane, hell of a yeast) likes it hot, so the fridge is warmed up to 30C. The Yeast will be pitched at this temperature, but then It’ll end up cooling as the fermentation produces heat – this is a very, very vigorous yeast.
Making a yeast starter
In the warm fridge, my EDV493 has been bred up from the yeast bank on my DIY stir plate. This was about half a litre of very thick slurry in a roughly 2L starter – probably enough to not really need a starter for such an aggressive yeast, but it had been in the fridge for a while, and I wanted to get it nice and active.
My yeast, fresh of the stir plate. This is third generation yeast.
Yeast Pitched
The fermenter topped up with water (this provides one last opportunity to get the wash at the correct pitching temp), and then with much grunting, I get the fermenter into the fridge, where it will ferment out in a few days.
If you are making rum, you should be aware that a high finishing gravity is to be expected, normally around 1.025, due to unfermentable sugars and the likes in the molasses. A lot of novice distillers get a bit worried that their wash has stuck, so worry not. The fridge will then be turned on, and the yeast will flocculate (drop out of suspension). EDV493 has extremely good flocculation.
Stripping run -pot still
Half the wash is racked to the boiler. Molasses is notorious for foaming in the boiler and causing the still to “puke”, which is a real pain in the ass, so plenty of headroom is left. Some people add antifoam agents, I don’t bother, as two runs per ferment works very well for me.
A stripping run is a simple pot distillation, if you want to read more about it, see my Making Gin album on imgur (this picture is actually from there… I forgot to photograph my rum stripping run but it’s exactly the same).
Spirit run – detuned reflux still
My rum distilling process is a little bit different to many distillers. I add the “low wines” (uncut product of the stripping run at 30~40%ABV) back to the boiler, and then add the remainder of the wash from the fermenter. I then put on my vapour management reflux column, but with only about a third of the packed column, and with a restriction under the reflux condenser that allows me to divert more vapour to the product condenser (instead of returning it as reflux) than is usual for this type of still.
Warning – science follows. Skip if you aren’t interested :).
A crash course in packed reflux stills: The column is packed with a medium (in this case copper mesh) to provide surface area for mass exchange between upcoming vapour and reflux (returned condensate from the top of the column). This effectively provides multiple distillations and increases the separation of components in the distillate.
If I ran rum in the full column, it would be too efficient for my tastes, and I’d get no flavours in my final product. Or, more accurately, the flavours will be concentrated in the undesirable parts of the distillation run instead of being smeared through into the “hearts” of the run. That would make me deeply unhappy, and my mojito would taste like it was made with vodka instead of rum, which would make me even more unhappy.
So why then am I using a still which encourages separation instead of the simple pot still which is also at my disposal, I hear you ask? Two reasons, the first of which is esterification. Yes, that’s a real word. For the complete rundown, look at this wikipedia article. If you aren’t that interested in chemistry, let me break it down – by refluxing (returning all of the boiled vapour back down the column as liquid reflux) for a period before taking off my distillate, I can create esters, which are delicious, and will give me lovely floral, banana, and coconut flavours as well as a good buttery-ness. I can’t do this with my pot still.
The second reason is that, given my goals (a delicious mojito), a little bit of separation is a good thing. If I wanted a deep, dark rum to put to sleep on oak for a couple of years, then this would be inappropriate and I’d be better off with a pot still run, smearing all the different components together, which, on oak, would mellow out into a nice, complex rum. However, to get a smooth drinking product straight off the still, a little bit of reflux is acceptable, or even desirable.
For the operation of this slightly unusual setup, I heat up the still, then leave it under total reflux with a higher than normal heat input for about 90 minutes, then open the valve fully and collect the spirit run as if I was running a pot still.
End of the run
By the time that the thermometer is reading 91 C, I know that the boiler is almost completely depleted of alcohol (if there are any distillers out there saying “what, that’s too low”, Remember this is a reflux column).
I can tell this by working backwards off an ethanol/water phase diagram and the number of theoretical plates in my column, if anyone cares!
The practical reality is that I’ve probably already collected several bottles of “tails” that will be excluded from the drinking product, but will be recycled back into future batches, and with little ethanol left to recover, it’s time to shut down.
Collection bottles; cuts
Ignore the bottle of starsan, bits of still and other brewing paraphernalia, and pay attention to the row of bottles. Those contain the whole run, in order of collection.
The left hand bottle is the “foreshots”. These will be thrown away, or used as a cleaner round the house or for sterilising, or something. These are not recycled to prevent a buildup of undesirable cogeners in future batches. It is often mistakenly said that these contain methanol, but actually they’re chiefly esters like ethyl acetate mixed with ethanol. Methanol is not a concern for beverage distillers.
The second two bottles are the fraction called heads. These still contain a prohibitive amount of cogeners to be included in the potable product from this run, but can however be put aside as “feints” to be added to future runs to increase yield and flavour. Heads sometimes smell quite nice, especially rum heads, but there is a chemical, acetone bite that can’t be missed. Harsh tasting spirits often have been cut badly, including too much heads.
The next four bottles are the “hearts” cut – this is the good stuff, mostly ethanol, but with enough cogeners smeared through from fractions on either side to make our rum… rummy… Center hearts normally tastes almost neutral. It is a lesson hard learned by many distillers that the esters that provide flavour are really components of heads, and are like condensed hangover. Learning to place cuts between fractions so as to prevent hangovers and still get good flavour needs experience and patience. This fraction will be diluted to 40% before drinking for safety reasons.
The last two bottles are “tails”. These are under represented here, because the nature of a reflux column suppresses most of the tails (pot stillers reading this will have noticed that I stopped collecting at 91 C, which is about 60%abv, much higher than you would on a pot still). Tails contain a lot of fusel oils and higher boiling point compounds, and can taste and smell sort of like cheap soap and mint mixed together from a reflux column, or like wet cardboard or wet dog from the more dilute tails of a pot still. This fraction will be put into the “feints” container with the heads to be recycled into a future batch.
The cut points in a spirit run are best established by taste, smell, and sometimes feel. There are no hard and fast temperature or strength rules, as each still, recipe, goal product and even each distiller/blender will have produce or require different results to the next.
This is the hardest part of distilling to get right. True master distillers can cut straight off the still, but personally I find I get better results after airing the run out for a couple of days first.
So then, how about that mojito
I muddle a sliced lime with a tablespoon of muscovado sugar (dissolves easy, tastes great), then clap a handful of mint leaves and very lightly muddle them in so as not to break up the leaves too much. I then add ice to about halfway, add my measure of rum, almost fill up with soda water, stir to get the lime, rum and sugar off the bottom, then top of with more soda. Drink through a straw.
Well there you have it. Rum was made, and it is good. To learn more about this sort of thing, check out and for advice and info. If you embark down this road, be aware of your local laws. I’m in New Zealand, where this is a legal hobby. And the sky hasn’t fallen in since it was legalised in 1996, either, but that’s another story. Cheers.