Hobby Distillation of alcohol – a great hobby
…in those countries where it is allowed.
First of all, amateur distillation is for people who want to produce a quality product. It is not worth the effort of making a nice still, and taking time to ferment and distill if it will be done quickly and carelessly, if you are looking for quantity over quality. If you use bad tasting alcohol to make liqueur, the finished product will also taste bad, even if you use it as vodka. Who wants bad tasting vodka?
On the other hand, if one knows what to do (follow the book), uses quality yeast and ingredients, distills twice and distills as pure an alcohol as possible (temperature control) … and then dilutes the alcohol and purifies it with activated carbon … even if it only hold traces of volatiles left in the cooler from the fore shots and the head: one gets a premium vodka as a result. This can then be flavored to make outstanding liquor and liqueurs …or used simply as a vodka.
This is also why you must have a column still and not a pot still. If you try to make whisky, cognac, slivowits, calvados, rum or another pot still distilled alcohol you must copy every single detail to have a result comparable to the liqueur industry’s, and you must mature your product under exactly the same conditions. This is impossible in practice. But to produce a pure alcohol, a premium vodka, is no problem, ever! Compare this to wine- or beer-brewing at home, and try to match a famous Bordeaux wine with the liquid in your demijohn.
With your pure alcohol as a base you can then use essences to flavor Citron Vodka, Rum, etc. Gin, most liqueurs, Citron Vodka, Mandarin Vodka etc. are created exactly the same, with the same type of ingredients, and you get a commercial result … sometimes even better, for example if they have chosen a cheaper flavor!
Scotch whisky contains 1300 volatiles which combine to produce the smell and taste, and as it is made with pot distillation of beer, if you move the process somewhere else, it is impossible to copy perfectly. You can make something close to whisky. With cognac, you can make something very close to cognac. You can make an identical copy of rum.
You can always compare the quality of your home brew shop’s yeast, essences and activated carbon by ordering counter samples from Gert Strand AB in Sweden. Only first class quality is sold and their essences, Prestige, (the world’s biggest seller) is only a consumer variety of the essences they sell to distilleries. This is true of Turbo Yeast, as well. Also, the quality of activated carbon is easy to compare with Chemviron or another of their brands.
Quality of the end product is as good as the weakest link in the chain. Use quality throughout and you produce superior quality. A good book or know-how, good yeast, granulated sugar, a good column still (producing 90-95% alcohol), good workmanship, good activated carbon and top quality essences … and you end up with a product comparable with commercial brands (except for whisky, calvados, slivowits and cognac), otherwise you must do it better next time.
When you, in a blind test, occasionally beat commercial brands, you are a good amateur distiller – but not the only one: everyone with quality thinking will do the same.