HOW TO MAKE SPIRITS*
HIT THE SMACK
The night before brewing, smack the yeast pack and let it incubate, says Bell, a former home brewer who stumbled into distilling after an aborted career making biodiesel. Smart move.
TURN UP THE HEAT
Boil 2.5 gallons of distilled water, remove from heat, and add fermentables. (Bell suggests a simple whiskey recipe: 3.3 pounds of liquid amber malt extract and 6.6 pounds of liquid rye malt extract.) Reboil the brew for 10 to 20 minutes. Congratulations! You’re the proud parent of sugary wort. Now cool it in an ice bath.
After sanitizing your fermenting bucket, accessories, yeast packet, and scissors, add about two gallons of cold water, followed by the wort, minus any sludge that has collected at the bottom. (You’ll want about five gallons total.) Aerate the wort by sealing the bucket and rocking it back and forth for a few minutes. When the temperature nose-dives to 78 degrees, stir in the yeast, add a teaspoon of sugar to the fermentation lock, reseal the bucket, and let the fungi gorge. In three to five days, you’ll have wash, a.k.a. distiller’s beer.
Dump the wash minus the sludge into the boiler, pour cold water into the condenser, and let the still rip. As the hooch nears a boil, vapors pass through the condenser and drip into a vessel. Stop when a swampy smell emerges—this will take hours. Discard remaining liquid.
THE NOSE KNOWS
Pour the distillate into the still for a second run. The top quarter, the “heads,” will smell like nail-polish remover. That’s nature saying, Do not drink. Discard it. Once the noxious aroma fades, you’ve hit the hearts. Save every drop. When the distillate smells like a Louisiana bayou, you’ve reached the tails. Discard that, too. The hearts can be barrel-aged, but who are we kidding? You deserve a drink. Test the alcohol level with a hydrometer. Add water to reach 80 to 100 proof.
DAREK BELL, AUTHOR OF ALT WHISKEYS AND OWNER OF NASHVILLE’S CORSAIR ARTISAN DISTILLERY