***Before we get started, let me get this out of the way: It is illegal to distill spirits at home. Not because it is dangerous to do so, but because over half the retail price of a bottle of distilled spirits consists of taxes.
Taxes on beer and wine are low compared to the very high taxes imposed on whiskey, vodka, gin, and all other distilled spirits, and the government doesn’t want to lose any of the many billions of dollars it receives each and every year by letting you make your own bourbon. The law will come after you if they think you are making bourbon or any other spirits. Therefore, this article is for entertainment purposes only.
It’s only wrong if you get caught.***
One of the most frequent questions we get from our Bourbon Of The Day email subscribers is whether it’s possible to make bourbon at home. Beer is going crazy right now, with previously unknown operations creating their own funky-named brews on a damned near-daily basis.
While any old college kid can make a batch of stout, it takes a little more time, effort, and some specialized items to make bourbon at home. For starters, you may want to pick up a copy of The Home Distiller’s Handbook. This book provides most of the information that you will find below.
If you want to go above and beyond the beer boys, roll up your sleeves and try your hand at making bourbon at home!
Browse By Step. Click on any of these links to jump to the step you want to see:
HOMEMADE BOURBON RECIPE INGREDIENTS
You will need a few items to pull this off – all of which are readily available online. Here is the shopping list I used.
BOURBON WHISKEY HARDWARE
- Two 5 gallon jugs
- One 5 gallon oak barrel- By definition, bourbon must be aged in new charred oak containers (e.g., barrels), and it’s thanks to a white oak that the delicious toasty, vanilla, caramel, nutty notes come to life when consumers enjoy a glass of Bourbon.
- A corona corn and grain mill
- A funnel
- A food thermometer
- A 10 gallon copper still (didn’t know you could buy these, did you?)
HOMEMADE BOURBON MASH MIX
HOW TO MAKE BOURBON MASH
What you should be looking at is a nice pot full of dough-like substance that smells like cornbread.
FERMENTING YOUR BOURBON MASH
When 10 – 14 days have passed, grab your nut milk bags and strain the mixture into your copper still.
This is where the magic happens.
(…dum dum dum dum da da da dum dum dum…)
INTO YOUR BOURBON STILL KIT
The hard part is over, but you ain’t ready to get red-faced just yet. The stuff you are straining into the still is very weak and watery alcohol. The still evaporate the alcohol and separates the distillate into the pot. You will need to put the still over medium heat for an hour and let it work its magic. If you purchased a still from our recommended link above, your still will come with instructions on how to make everything happen.
COLLECTING YOUR BOURBON DISTILLATE
First are the foreshots, which make up about 5% of your total distillate. You will be collect and throw out this part of your bourbon distillate. The reason? Foreshots contain methanol, a toxic form of alcohol that should never be consumed. This is due to the fact that it will make you go blind if you drink it.
Next up are the heads. The heads make up around 30% of your total distillate. This part of your distillate will also be thrown out as they also contain toxic alcohols, such as methanol, acetaldehyde, and acetone. These chemicals will also cause injury if consumed. You can recognize this phase of your distillate by the solvent-y smell usually associated with rubbing alcohol.
The hearts are the area of your bourbon distillate that you should be aiming for. These make up the next 30% of your bourbon distillate. This is the sweet spot of your batch that is safe to consume. The hearts are made up of mostly ethanol and can be recognized by their sweeter taste and neutral smell. The part of your batch won’t have the chemically smell that the foreshots and heads had. When you begin to notice that the solvent-y smell is gone and start to taste test your distillate, DO NOT swallow the liquid. Instead, simply taste a very small portion and spit it out, as you don’t want to accidentally consume any toxic elements that may still be distilling out of your batch. The hearts are what you will be aging in the next step and turning into your batch of homemade bourbon.
After the hearts have been collected you will notice that your distillate becomes more bitter than sweet and will have an oily residue that sits atop the liquid. This portion of your distillate is known as the tails. It will comprise about 35% of your total batch and can be reused for your next batch of bourbon distillate. The tails contain chemicals such as propanol, butanol, acetic acid, and fuel alcohols. These are what cause the steep decline in sweetness that you can use to detect this stage of your distillate. Collect the tails and save them to be used during your next distillation.
AGEING BOURBON AT HOME
You should now have a nice ‘white dog’ (aka moonshine) that you can drink or age. I HIGHLY recommend aging your concoction in one of the small barrels listed above. Why? Because un-aged spirits are for un-aged drinkers.
The aging process takes a lot less time since there is a smaller bourbon to barrel surface area. Add charred oak chips (or some spices if you like) and voila. You are aging bourbon like a boss!
Good homemade bourbon takes time to age. You’ll want to age your bourbon batch for at least three months. If you’re the extra patient type you could age your bourbon for years. This will allow the oak flavors from the barrel to fully saturate your bourbon distillate. For instance, Booker’s Bourbon is aged 6 to 8 years and it is an absolutely astonishing bourbon. Either way, you wish to experiment, you’ll be happy that you decided to make your own homemade bourbon.
This isn’t the easiest process, and you will have to trust yourself and your Home Distiller’s Handbook. But once you take that first sip of your very own concoction, the effort, and the wait will be worth your while!
If you have any questions, comments, advice, or if you have tried your hand at home distilling, leave us a comment below.
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