How to Make Vodka at Home: A Master Moonshiner’s Complete Guide

by Karl | Updated: August 19, 2021

Typically made with grain, potatoes have been popular as a substitute mash for vodka, giving the vodka an earthy tone.

It’s important to note that the information here is purely for reference purposes. Brewing and distilling liquor like vodka and moonshine is illegal without a permit in most states.

If you’re still curious about how potato vodka is made, from the mash production to the final distillation, we’ve laid out the steps and equipment you would need here.

What You Need to Start Making Potato Vodka

Courtesy of: Still It

You will need a complete run-down of materials, ingredients, and equipment to properly make vodka clear and crisp.

Some of these can be easily found in most homes, while some may only be familiar to those who know about alcohol brewing and distilling.

Below you’ll find the equipment you’ll need to cover the three main steps of the potato vodka recipe: the making of the mash, fermentation, and distillation.

Potato Mash

Before you make vodka, you need a quality mash.

While vodka comes from a variety of sources such as rye, wheat, corn, and beet, we’ll focus on the use of potatoes as our main ingredient for this guide.

Tools and ingredients needed:

  • 14 gallons of water
  • 25 pounds of potatoes
  • 5 pounds of crushed malted barley
  • Mash pot
  • Thermometer
  • Long mixing spoon
  • Appropriate heat source

Fermenting

This process takes a while as you’ll need to let the mixture sit and develop the yeast-carbohydrate combination.

For this step, you’ll need the following:

  • Fermentation Bucket/Container/Commercial Fermenter
  • Yeast
  • Siphon
  • Cheese Cloth
  • Iodine (Optional)
  • Hydrometer (Optional)

Iodine is optional as you can use this to test the fermentation stage of your solution.

The hydrometer is the same as it can measure the Alcohol-By-Volume or ABV, but requires a bit more know-how on how to use it.

Distilling the Ferment

Lastly, you’ll have a fermented and practically produced vodka. The problem is that this vodka is mixed in with yeast, barley malt, and other fermenting byproducts.

To distill, you’ll need the following (arguably specialized) tools:

The Still and the Column packing are probably the more unfamiliar items on this list.

A still is basically a concentrated distiller that specializes in purifying liquids.

They can come with additional attachments like more condensers or a thumper, both of which affect distillation in different ways.

Column packing is a way to get a cleaner distillation due to an increased surface area within the column.

Normally you’d use a copper mesh for this, but ceramic rings are available if you want to avoid having to worry about packing your column mesh too tight.

Step-by-Step Guide: The Potato Vodka Recipe

Each tool and ingredient is necessary to properly make vodka good and safe. Please make sure you have the necessary permits and expertise before attempting this recipe.

If you’re still a beginner, you can use this potato vodka recipe for reference to see how artisans and skilled brewers manufacture and distill some of your favorite spirits.

Naturally, this recipe is one of many recipes on vodka brewing, but it just happens to be one of the more simple and direct ways to see the ins-and-outs of each stage of production.

Mash the Potatoes

Different processes are used for different ingredients, so we will focus on how preparation occurs with potatoes in this article.

  1. Prepare the potatoes by cleaning any residual dirt with a scrub brush or even the rough part of a clean, unused sponge. Any remaining dirt can affect the purity and clarity of your resulting vodka.
  2. The potatoes don’t necessarily need to be peeled, but rather cut up into small chunks to increase the surface area when boiling starts them. 25 pounds of vodka is ideal for a reliable batch of vodka.
  3. The cleaned and prepped potatoes are boiled for 15 minutes (20 minutes for large chunks) in 7 gallons of water. Alcohol-making is part art and part science, so the measurements need to be kept accurate to avoid any discrepancies with the formula.
  4. After the potatoes have been cleaned and boiled, they need to be mashed. The potatoes are strained and mashed either manually with a potato masher or automatically with an immersion blender. A food processor is normally not used as it may slightly cook the potatoes while blending.
  5. The mash is then transferred to another pot and filled with 7 more gallons of clean water, and then raised to a temperature of 140 degrees F, or 60 degrees C. It’s at this step you would add 5 pounds of the malted barley and stir it into the mash as the temperature rises. This will have enzymes to help break down the carbohydrates in the potatoes.
  6. This is run at a constant temperature of 140 degrees F for around 20 minutes, stirred for 30 seconds every 4 minutes to keep it from settling.
  7. After 20 minutes has passed, the temperature is increased to 152 degrees F, or around 67 degrees C, and run for around 1 hour. Stirring is kept to 30 seconds every 10 minutes this round.
  8. (Optional) For better accuracy, a hydrometer is used to get a gravity reading of the mixture. If the mixture reads below 1.065, add sugar until the readings match the desired level.
  9. The mash is then cooled, either to 75 degrees or around 23 degrees C or let it sit overnight to give the barley enzymes more time to break down the starch in the potato.

Fermenting the Mashed Potatoes

Only the mash water is used in this step, so a lot of the solids included in the pre-fermented solution can be discarded.

A good high-quality fermenter is key here, as any leaks in the airlock or breaches in the seal can affect how the solution ferments.

Yeast Creation

A yeast starter will be used to ferment the main vodka compound, so a good amount of time is spent creating a reliable and high-quality starter.

  1. A standard mason jar is sanitized and filled with 4 ounces, or roughly 30 ml, of 110 degrees F water, or 43 degrees C.
  2. 2 packets of sugar, or around 2 tablespoons, is added to the water and stirred until uniform.
  3. This is where the yeast comes in. You can use standard bread yeast, but the type of yeast used will affect how the yeast can ferment.
  4. This compound is mixed thoroughly and let sit for around 20 minutes. If the yeast hasn’t doubled in size, a brewer would add sugar and sit for another few minutes to expand the yeast.

Fermenting Process

Once a decent starter is made, the brewer would mix the mash solution and the yeast starter in a fermenter. Since only the water is used, you could opt for a smaller 5-gallon fermenter.

  1. Mash water is strained out to remove any large part. Only this will be needed moving forward. Some brewers pour this into the fermentation bucket from a height to add aeration to the solution.
  2. A yeast starter is then added to the fermenter bucket and subsequently airlocked for at least 2 weeks at room temperature to convert starch into alcohol and carbon dioxide.
  3. Check on the solution every 12 hours to re-mix any solids that start floating on the surface.
  4. After 2 weeks, the solution will need to be strained to remove any impurities in the fermenter. Leaving this in can cause headaches when drunk, so a cheesecloth is commonly used to aid in filtration.

Taste-wise, it shouldn’t be so sweet anymore as the yeast had converted most of the sugars into alcohol.

Use iodine or a hydrometer as a way to measure whether the solution has completed its fermentation process as both can measure compounds that indicate whether the solution has produced the alcohol required.

If you’re using iodine, you can place a bit of the fermented solution on a white plate and add a drop of iodine.

If the sample turns blue, that means there are remaining starches in the solution, and you’ll need to give it more time to ferment.

If a hydrometer is used, you can determine the ABV of the product directly through the measuring device.

Bring down the liquid sample to the hydrometer’s appropriate calibration so you can properly determine the ABV content.

Distillation Process

The solution in this brewing stage is basically a produced vodka but is contaminated with lots of by-products from the fermenting stage.

In this stage, vodka gets its signature clarity, which will require most brewers to be familiar with distillers and their proper operation.

Preparing the Distiller

  1. Make sure your distiller is clean. This is an important factor of distillation as leftover residue from any past brews can affect the clarity of your distillation product.
  2. Pack clean copper packing material on to the distiller column. This helps the distiller produce a high-proof spirit by having a high reflux. A condenser also helps return the hot alcohol vapor into liquid form by funneling in cold water around the vapor.
  3. Attach an auto-siphon from the fermentation mash bag to the pot still to avoid any issues with sediments in your distiller.

Run the Distiller

Ensure the condenser, column still, copper packing material, and other attachments are properly secured to avoid any issues.

  1. The heat of the still begins to rise in temperature to start boiling the solution to bring the alcohol and water to their respective boiling points.
  2. For those with copper stills, flour paste (a compound of flour and water) is used between the vapor cone and column once the temperature of the still run reaches 110 degrees F, or 43 degrees C. This helps seal the column to avoid any leaks and keep a tight airlock.
  3. If a condenser is attached to the still, water will run at 130 degrees F, or 54 degrees C, to start cooling the water-alcohol vapor back into liquid form.
  4. Keep the heat constant to achieve a final heat of 170 degrees F, or 77 degrees C. At this temperature, it should start producing the vodka in slow 1-3 drip intervals.

Collecting the Vodka Distillate

This is when “making vodka” finally turns into a real produced vodka. But brewers don’t just start bottling the distilled product and call it a day.

Certain parts of the distillate have increased levels of methanol and alcohol content that can likely injure those who drink it.

These separate distillate parts are known as the Foreshots, Heads, Hearts, and Tails.

Depending on the volume of your distillate, each part will be separated by its approximate volume.

Foreshots

The foreshots are the highly toxic parts of your distilled alcohol. These have high levels of methanol and will cause serious injury if imbibed. These constitute the first 5% of the alcohol you distill.

Heads

The following 30% of your alcohol is known as the heads. These have volatile alcohol levels and contain chemical compounds such as acetone.

You can identify this through a distinct smell, almost like a solvent, especially if you’re familiar with alcohol smells.

These aren’t as dangerous as the foreshots but will definitely give you a pretty bad experience when drunk.

Best not to drink these. Isolate the heads and foreshots to throw out.

Hearts

This is the vodka you want.

Strong, smooth, and clear – the hearts represent the alcohol you’re looking for. The solvent acetone smell has pretty much run-off to be replaced by a better-smelling ethanol. This will be around the next 30% of your distilled batch.

Experience can tell you when the heads end and the hearts begin, so take care when smelling and identifying parts of your distilled vodka.

Tails

The last portion, around 35%, of your vodka, will be known as tails.

These contain protein and carbohydrates from the distill that you don’t want to drink. You can identify these from an oily film that occurs on top of the product. One of the best ways to split these up properly is to use several 100ml mason jars to separate each level properly.

We hope you enjoyed our little guide on how brewers make their batches of potato vodka.

Remember that while this recipe and other recipes are readily available online, it still remains illegal to brew and distill your own hard liquor.

There are many dangers to improperly brewing alcohol, so leave it to the experts to brew our favorite clear drink.

Overview of How to Make a vodka [Without Potatoes]

So I figured this is a good time to do a step by step overview of how to make a vodka from start to finish, to give all those people out there, trying to figure this out a bit of a jumpstart.

Courtesy of: Still It

Transcript: Welcome to still it everyone. This is the channel all about chasing the craft of home distillation and making it a legitimate hobby. So if you’re into distilling or craft spirits, have a look around and subscribe.

If it looks like you also have a channel, chances are you can help me out. And I guarantee you’ll learn something from the other people we’re hanging around here, too.

Future GC here. I just need to cut in and let you know something I’ve been editing this video and it turns it’s running over 25 minutes. You guys are awesome, but I can’t expect you to sit there and watch that. That’s ridiculous.

So, unfortunately, I think I’m going to have to split this video into two parts because I can’t figure out a way to cut it down and make it manageable. And next week I’ll release the video for the cuts. I know for those guys that have been following the channel, that’s a bit of a tease and I’m really sorry for that, but I just don’t want to make people sit through a big ole video.

All right. So I thought it might be a good idea to summarize all of the videos that I’ve done in the last few weeks that pertain to this neutral spirit to give a step by step order and tutorial on how to make a neutral spirits.

So for those of you that have helped me get to this point, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And I promise I’m always going to do the best I can to take the knowledge that everyone shares with me and share it around to anyone else that wants to learn.

If you’re new and you’re getting into this hobby, it is awesome. I cannot believe how much fun and how much fulfillment I’ve got out of this so far. It’s been awesome. But I totally understand that if you’re new and looking at getting into it, it’s pretty daunting and you just don’t know where to start.

So here’s the thing, watching this video by itself is not going to prepare you to make vodka from scratch. It’s just not, it’s going to take lots of time to learn. If you just want to make cheap cuts to get drunk with buy T500 and follow the instructions on the box. I don’t mean that as an insult. I’m just saying that if you really want to take the next step and do a little more than that is going to take some research.

So while this video isn’t going to give you all the knowledge you need to just go out there and do it. I’m hoping that it will give you a really good place to start and give you the knowledge you need to jumpstart that learning process. So to the guys that have been at this for a while, and really know your stuff, call BS on me.

If I screw up, stick it in the comments down below, I’m not going to hide it. Hopefully you guys know by now that that’s not my deal. And I’m totally happy to look. The full effort helps other people. If you knew, check the comments, check it out. Cause I guarantee you there’s going to be stuff down there that is going to help you as much, probably more than this video. Okay?

Step 1: Make a Wash

So making a neutral spirit or a vodka, that’s a five-step process. Number one, you need to make a wash. A wash is basically a solution that contains everything the yeast need to make you that sweet, sweet alcohol.

There’s a whole bunch of different ways to do it. And really the way you do it is up to you. What you have experience with, or really what’s cheap in your area. What you have access to, all those sorts of things are going to play into it.

But for now, I’m going to suggest two options to you guys. One is the tomato paste wash or TPW. You’re going to see that everywhere on forums, check the forums out though with it.

Step 2: Fermenting

Number two is the fast fermenting vodka or FFV, which is what I use to create this. I’ll stick a link up top to that video, if you want to check it out. And the reason I suggest those is that the both sugar washes. When you’re starting out sugar washers have a whole lot less to stress about.

Basically the only things you need to do is get the right amount of sugar and the right amount of water with the right nutrients at the right temperature to pitch the yeast.

And trust me, that really is on the simple side of things. You could go and make some kind of all grain or fruit wash as well, but there’s definitely an argument to be made for going cheap and easy when you don’t want a lot of flavor carrying over into the final product, like a vodka.

Number two, you need to ferment the wash. This is where the magic happens. This is where you pitch yeast into the wash and those little yeasts are going to metabolize the sugar and basically spit out carbon dioxide and alcohol. In actuality they’re going to do a whole lot of other stuff too, but don’t stress about that too much now. Just know that ideally, you want to make your yeast happy at this point.

There’s a couple of core things to mention about keeping the yeast happy. First, get your wash right so you’ve got the right amount of sugar and the right amount of water with the right amount of nutrients. Doing that, it’s going to make sure that the yeast have everything they need to multiply and to metabolize the sugar.

And it’s also going to make sure that you don’t stress them out with too much sugar. You’re also going to want to oxygenate the wort or the wash before you pitch your yeast. Oxygen is really important for the metabolism of the yeast. So make sure you do that.

And lastly, and arguably one of the most important is the temperature that your fermentor sits at through the duration of the entire ferment. Please note that the ideal temperature for any given yeast may be considerably different than a another yeast. So ideally when you’re new, you’re going to want to use the same yeast or a very similar yeast to what the people used in the original recipe.

If you’re using baker’s yeast. And that’s obviously not a bad idea for something like this, you’re going to want to be in the range of about sort of 25 to 30 degrees.

And the key is to try and keep that temperature stable through the whole thing. For me, once the yeast are done fermenting and your wash is as dry as it’s going to get it’s time for number three, the stripping run. Now there is an argument to be made that the stripping run is not entirely necessary. And I guess I see that side of the argument, but from what I’ve seen, it seems like a really, really smart step.

Step 3: Stripping Run

Once again, I’ve got a video doing the stripping run by itself. I’ll stick a card up top for that. So if you’re not too sure, go and check it out. But basically you’re running a potstill hard and fast with the goal of getting as much of the alcohol you want out of the wash and in a smaller volume, that’s easier to distill to a higher ABV later on.

Stripping runs conveniently will also let you take a wash that is greater than the size of your boiler and condense them down into low wines that you can then put into your reflux run later on. Running hard and fast and cutting down on volume is going to save you a whole lot of time in the long run.

If you’re not too sure what I’m talking about there, I go into it in a little bit more depth in that stripping around video. So if you are new to all this, and you’re kind of struggling a little bit to get an overall view of what’s going on, check that video out too. And hopefully that will help you out.

Once you have enough low wines from stripping runs to charge your boiler, you’re ready for a neutral reflux run. So I know that all these words that distillers throw around and get a little bit daunting when you’re trying to get into this, don’t stress about it.

There’s going to be a point where it just sort of starts to click for you. And saying that I would say that at this point, I’ve put maybe a little bit more research into this than most people would have simply because I’m talking to you guys as well. And I still know nothing. Speaking of knowing nothing, I got to say that my priorities were a little bit messed up tonight I had to watch Game of Thrones before I came and recorded this video. That shit is getting intense.

Anyway, like I was saying, don’t stress it too much. You’re not sure what a reflux still is, Google it, or I’ll try and get a video sorted at some point in time describing the differences between a potstill and a reflux still, but just know that it allows you to create a higher ABV than a potstill.

It also allows you to really compress all of the chemicals that are going to come over into your cuts jars compared to the potstill, which lets you create much more defined cuts. Once again, I know that’s a whole lot of words for you, but stick with it guys. Trust me. It’s really not that bad. Once you’ve got the lingo sorted.

Step 4: Reflux Run

In any case, a reflux neutral run is pretty much the exact opposite of a stripping run. You’re going to run super slow and super precise. And the goal is to create really defined cuts between the four shots, the heads, the hearts and the tails. And what that’s going to give you hopefully is a really defined high, ABV larger hot section. In other words you going to get more vodka out of your wash and it is going to be insanely clean.

I just tried my first sample the other night. I don’t want to say too much yet before I do a blind taste test against the commercial vodka. But dude, I was, I was pretty impressed. So guys, the hype is real as far as I’m concerned and it is worth it. It is so worth it.

Anyway, once you’ve finished your spirit run, you’re going to be left with all of these cuts here and I’ve got some more over there too. The next step is to figure out which of these jars you going to put into your final product. What’s going to turn into your vodka and which of them you going to throw into your faints jar to possibly used in another reflux run later on.

I’m going to be doing that bit tonight as soon as I’m done with this talking stuff. Honestly, this part of the process is going to be a little bit easier than any other spirit that requires flavor carry over from the wash.

And the reason for that is you don’t really have to take into account any complex FAPE flavor combinations or what flavors you want to rescue out of the heads or the tails to go into the final product. Because we just want something that’s super clean. So any jar here that isn’t super clean is not going to make the cut.

Step 5: Blend

The second part of that step is to then blend all the jars that you’re keeping back together and then store that product. And when we’re dealing with something that is essentially a poison and ridiculously flammable, it’s important to do that properly. Furthermore, it’s important to store it in a way that’s safe for you to consume later on. And because the stuff is a pretty serious solvent, there’s some fairly serious restrictions on what sort of containers you can keep it in.

So there you have it team the five steps to making a kick ass vodka, make a wash ferment it, strip it, run it through a reflux still, choose the cuts you’re going to keep and store it. Honestly, I guess this kind of a bonus step as well. And let’s face it. That is the fun one. Enjoy it and experiment with it.

The reason that I’ve done such a big neutral wash is that there’s so many things you can do with this stuff.

So I hope for those of you that are looking at getting into this hobby and just getting started, I hope that gives you a decent overview, something that you can use to spring off and go out and find the rest of the information you need.

If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to ask. If I can’t answer them for you. There’s a bunch of people that watch these videos that probably will be able to. So sorry for having to cut the video in half again. I know that kind of sucks, but remember the next half was coming next week. Thanks a bunch to everyone. That’s helped me out.

Thanks to everyone for watching this video. If you liked the video, give it a thumbs up. That helps me out heaps. If you really liked it, have a think about subscribing and I’ll catch you guys next week. When I give you the rest of the video, see ya.

Lead marketer, brewer, dad, and husband. Pretty much an all-round awesome guy.