Vodka is one of the most widely consumed alcohols in the world. This is because it can be distilled from just about anything. While potato vodka is common, you can make it from grapes, corn, flowers, or really anything else that is readily available. If you are curious as to how vodka is made, most forms of vodka will go through a similar distillation process (although there may be slight differences based on the main distillation material). If you are curious as to how it is made though, here are the basics you need to know for how to make vodka.
What Is Vodka?
Vodka is a clear, alcoholic beverage that originally hails from Russia, although it now is made in nearly every country in the world. Early Russian and Polish forms of vodka relied on distilling alcohol from readily available local products, including potatoes and cereal grains. Classic vodka has an alcohol by volume of 40 percent (or 80 proof). The exact ABV may differ in some locations. Some vodkas have an ABV of 37.5, but the vast majority of vodkas you find will be of the 40 ABV variety.
Can You Make Vodka?
Theoretically, you can make vodka. It is possible to make most alcoholic spirits, even with the most basic preparation equipment. The first form of alcohol came about when grains were left to ferment in water for an extended period, so producing vodka isn’t all that challenging.
With all of that said, it is important to point out that, at least in the United States, it is currently illegal to produce your own vodka or any other alcoholic spirit. You can home-brew beer and even wine, but these have a lower alcohol percentage. These kinds of alcohol also don’t have the same kind of explosive potential (stills for higher percentage alcohols can explode if not properly monitored).
So, while you can theoretically make vodka, gin, or moonshine (a category which both homemade gin and vodka will typically fall under as it does not go through the same government approvals as commercially produced alcohols), you shouldn’t. These instructions are offered more so you can understand the overall process of how to make vodka and what goes into the production process.
Of all the spirits you can make, vodka is the one that takes the least amount of time. Most brown spirits (such as the various forms of whiskey) need to age. Bourbon will often age for two years, if not longer. Scotch may age for well over a decade before it is sold. Vodka, gin, and other clear spirits do not require this kind of extensive timing. Due to this, it is possible to make a batch of vodka usually in a few weeks (depending on how quickly each step is performed and how many times the vodka is filtered).
How to Make Vodka
This is a standard recipe a small batch vodka producer might follow when just starting out. It is small, so not on a larger, commercial size. Instead, this is a recipe the commercial distiller could follow to make a few bottles of vodka. This way, they can determine whether the recipe is what they are looking for before moving into larger scale production.
There are a handful of ingredients someone looking at how to make vodka will need. These ingredients and materials include:
- 25 pounds of potatoes
- 7 gallons of purified water
- 5 pounds crushed malted barley
- Mash pot
- Long spoon
Prepping the Mash
Most vodkas come from what is known as a “mash.” This is a broken down version of the material that will be used to make the vodka. When using potatoes, the mash isn’t all that different from mashed potatoes. However, it will change somewhat when using grapes, corn, flowers, or whatever else is used as the main fermentation material.
To begin, when using potatoes, it is important to scrub away all the dirt from the potatoes. The potatoes should then be cut into smaller cubes: while not necessary, it does make the cooking and prep process easier. The potatoes then need to be boiled in the seven gallons of water for about 20 minutes. It should be a rolling boil.
Once the potatoes have cooked through, they need to be mashed. A standard potato masher can work well for this, although an immersion blender will make it easier (mashing 25 pounds of potatoes by hand can take a while and will be a strain on your arms).
When you have the potatoes mashed, the next step for how to make vodka is to put the mash into the mash pot and fill it with water until the pot’s total volume is seven gallons. The pot needs to then be placed onto a heat source and heated to 140 degrees. The mash should be stirred continuously in order to avoid any sticking to the edge of the pot, which also prevents burning. If the potatoes are burned, the mash should be thrown out; otherwise, there is the risk of the vodka taking on the burned taste.
Adding the Malted Barley
Once the mash reaches 140 degrees, the five pounds of crushed malted barley needs to be added. The entire mixture should maintain its 140-degree temperature for 20 minutes with regular stirrings. After 20 minutes, the temperature needs to be increased to 152 degrees and then maintained for another hour. Again, it should be stirred on a regular basis.
A professional at this point will take a gravity reading. This will help show what the eventual alcohol by volume will be. Classic forms of unregulated vodka (such as the moonshine bootleggers would run during prohibition) would follow a recipe but not take a gravity reading. However, modern vodka makers do need to take a gravity reading (there is a simple gravity reading tool available at most home-brew stores) as this will give a more accurate alcohol reading.
The gravity reading needs to be at or above 1.065. If it is below, it means the potatoes did not contain much starch and sugar, which means it is not giving off enough to reach the 40% ABV. In these instances, sugar should be added a little at a time until 1.065 is reached.
When the 1.065 is reached, the mash should be cooled to 75 degrees and then left to cool overnight.
Fermenting to Vodka
The next phase in how to make vodka is to ferment the mash. Right now the sugars are ready to ferment into alcohol, but it needs yeast to assist in the fermentation process. Ingredients needed for fermentation include:
- Fermentation bucket
- Citric acid
- pH meter
Yeast starter kits are available. However, for those who want to create their own starter kits (which helps a distiller understand what exactly is going into their product better), the distiller needs to clean a glass jar, add in four ounces of 110-degree water into the jar, and then add two teaspoons of sugar. From here, the yeast needs to be added and then mixed. Once it is left to sit for 20 minutes, the yeast amount will appear to double.
Moving the Mash Liquid
It is important to move only the mash liquid. The mash itself is no longer needed. With a cheesecloth over the fermentation bucket, the mash can be poured over the cloth (or through a strainer). The yeast starter should be then added to the bucket. With an airlock placed on the fermentation bucket, the bucket needs to be left to ferment for two weeks.
Iodine makes it possible to check on the fermentation process and to know when it’s done. A few drops of the liquid from the top of the bucket can be added to a plate and then mixed with iodine. If it turns blue, the fermentation has not finished.
After fermentation, the material needs to be poured again through a cheesecloth into a still. The still will remove undesirable material from the liquid to leave you with alcohol. The still should run at 110 degrees and boiled until it reaches 130. Steam will run out and the alcohol will drip out, leaving you with the vodka.
When it comes to how to make vodka, it is important that regular citizens understand it is illegal to make vodka for personal consumption in their back yards. There is too much of a danger. However, there are instances where the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) will approve such a venture.
The recipe given here is a small batch recipe that someone who is just starting to experiment with commercial vodka production can follow in order to make just a few bottles at a time. In general, though, vodka production is relatively straightforward and doesn’t take all that long to make (at least when compared to other spirits). Whenever following how to make vodka instructions, it is important to follow all safety measures to keep distillers and the property safe.