Delicious potato vodka is easily one of the most popular varieties of vodka. It’s especially famous in Russia, where adults may drink as much as one bottle every two days. In this guide, you’ll learn more about the four primary steps of making a basic potato vodka recipe, as well as get tips and advice for doing it correctly.
Warning: Brewing Vodka At Home Is Usually Illegal
State laws vary, but brewing drinks like vodka at home is often illegal in the United States and throughout many other parts of the world as well. This guide is not intended to help you violate any laws against producing alcohol at home that apply to your area. If you want to brew vodka at home, look into getting an appropriate license in your area.
Some parts of the process described below are dangerous and could result in injury or death if performed incorrectly. Legal distilleries have the training and equipment to monitor the vodka production process and ensure that the final liquid is safe to drink. Make sure you follow all quality control regulations when making vodka, even if you have a license to produce it at home.
Part One: Making Potato Mash
No, not mashed potatoes, which are something else entirely. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, mashing is the process of heating certain types of grain in water. This helps turn starches into sugar, then dissolves the sugar into the water, creating an environment where fermentation can turn the sugars into alcohol. To get a quality potato vodka distillate, you need a quality mash.
You’ll need these supplies:
- A heat source (preferably one with fine temperature control)
- A very long spoon
- A very long thermometer
- A hydrometer
- A mash pot
- 7 gallons of good water*
- 25 pounds of potatoes
- 5 pounds of crushed and malted barley
See that asterisk by the gallons of water up there? Unfortunately, many people overlook this when trying to make vodka for the first time, and it can cause a lot of trouble.
For brewing, good water should be reasonably hard but with no iron in it. You may need to test your local water supply to be sure it’s appropriate. Iron can deactivate enzymes that convert potato starches, which ruins the entire mashing process. You’ll need more of the same type of water in future steps, but ensuring all the water is good from the start helps avoid problems.
The mash recipe is simple if you follow these steps.
Step 1: Scrub Your Potatoes
Start by thoroughly scrubbing all of your potatoes with a produce brush to remove any residual dirt. Don’t be afraid to get aggressive here. Cleaner is better, so don’t worry about removing a little of the skin on top as well.
Begin boiling the water while you’re doing this to prepare for the mash production.
Step 2: Cube The Potatoes
Cut the potatoes into relatively small cubes. This helps maximize the surface area, making it easier to cook the potatoes evenly and produce a better final result.
Step 3: Boil For 20 Minutes
Boil all of your cubed potatoes in the seven gallons of water you started heating in Step 1. They should be done after 20 minutes, but don’t be afraid to fine-tune the cooking time for future batches if your heat source is just a little off.
Step 4: Mash The Potatoes
You can do this by hand, with an immersion blender, or with a potato masher. Up until this point, the process probably feels similar to making mashed potatoes for dinner. However, this is the point where things truly start to switch over to making vodka, not food.
Once you’re done mashing, open your crushed, malted barley bag, but set it aside for now.
Step 5: Transfer The Potatoes To Your Mash Pot
Dump your mashed potatoes into the mash pot. Add more water to reach seven gallons total inside the pot, which is the best quantity for this particular recipe.
Once the fresh water is in there, heat the entire mixture to 140 degrees F. Stir it constantly until it reaches this temperature. Automatic stirring systems are useful here but not always available.
Step 6: Add The Barley Malt
Once you reach your desired temperature, it’s time to add the crushed malted barley that you opened earlier. Pour it into your mash pot, continuing to stir so you can ensure everything mixes evenly.
Step 7: Cook The Mixture
Hold your fermentation mash at 140 degrees for 20 minutes. Stir the entire mixture for thirty seconds once every four minutes, which means stirring five times in total while it cooks.
After the first 20 minutes, raise the boiler temperature to 152 degrees and maintain this constant temperature for one hour. Continue stirring it for 30 seconds once every ten minutes at this higher temperature.
At this point, use your hydrometer and take a starting gravity reading. Our goal for potato vodka is exactly 1.065 by this measure. If it’s too low, slowly add sugar to your mix. It shouldn’t be any higher than 1.065.
Step 8: Cool Your Mash
Cool the mash down to 65-75 degrees. If possible, let this occur overnight and do it slowly, rather than trying to rush the process. This gives the barley enzymes greater opportunity to transform the starch in the potato into sugars.
Part Two: Fermenting The Mash
Making a sugary potato mash is fun, if time-consuming, but it hasn’t even started becoming alcohol yet. That’s where fermenting comes in. While you can buy a yeast starter for this if you truly want to, it’s often easier to make it at home so you can have more control over the whole process. Get these supplies:
- A fermentation bucket
- Several cheesecloths
- A standard mason jar
- A pH meter
- The hydrometer from Part One
- Brewer’s yeast (not standard bread yeast)
- A siphon
Step 1: Create Your Yeast Starter
Sanitize your mason jar. There are many ways to do this, but try to avoid using any harsh chemical residue.
While you’re sanitizing, heat water to exactly 110 degrees. Pour four ounces of this water into your sanitized jar. Remember that transferring water into new containers can reduce its temperature, so consider warming those containers before using them. We want to keep the water as close to 110 degrees as possible before it goes into the jar.
Add two teaspoons of sugar to the hot water. Many people use simple white sugar for this, but you can modify the flavor of your drink by using other types of sugar instead.
Add your yeast to the mix, strictly following the instructions on its packaging. These can vary somewhat, so always read the packaging for what type of yeast you bought.
Stir the mixture, then let it sit for about 20 minutes. You should see the volume double over this period.
Step 2: Transfer Your Mash
Transfer only the liquid from your mash mixture into your fermentation bucket. If possible, try to splash the liquid without losing any. This aerates the liquid and helps create a better product.
The easiest way to transfer only the liquid is by straining it through something, which is what the cheesecloth is for. You can also use other types of strainers as long as they catch all the residual solids.
Step 3: Add Your Yeast Starter
Once you have your yeast starter and the liquid from the mash ready, transfer your yeast starter into the fermentation bucket and give it a quick stir to mix it.
Step 4: Seal And Wait
Secure your fermenter bucket with a proper airlock and ferment the whole mixture inside the bucket for about two weeks. This is the longest part of making proper potato vodka, and there’s no point in trying to hurry it along.
Make sure to label your fermentation bucket so you can remember exactly when you started it.
However, if you’re not happy with the results, you can start on a fresh batch of vodka and use the experience from your previous attempt to try and do it better. Practice helps a lot, so the more you follow the steps above, the easier it will become to distill a high-quality product.
Step 5: Check The Fermentation
Once you’re done waiting for it to ferment, it’s time to check the process and see if it’s done. Take a small sample from the mixture (often called the “wash”), carefully avoiding any solids that may still be present. If you strained the mix correctly, there shouldn’t be any solids.
Put the sample on a white plate or in a white bowl, then add a drop of iodine. This is a little chemistry trick to check for starches. If the mixture turns blue, the iodine is reacting with lingering starches, and it’s not done fermenting. Let it sit for a few more days.
Alternatively, you can use your hydrometer to check the fermentation process, but this is harder for amateurs, and I don’t recommend it for your first few batches.
Step 6: Strain The Mix
Once you’re done fermenting, it’s time to strain the mix again. This will help catch any solids that are left in your liquid alcohol, including those that are small and hard to see. Once again, cheesecloth is a great choice for this.
Part Three: Distilling
At this point, your vodka exists. You just need to extract it from the existing mixture. This is the heart of brewing, and like the previous steps, it takes experience to do this correctly. Don’t worry if your first few batches seem wrong. You’ll improve naturally if you keep brewing.
Collect the following:
- A still
- Your strained mash liquid
- Appropriate cleaning products
- Citric acid
- Column packing
Step 1: Clean Your Still
Always clean your still before you start using it, even if you cleaned it after the last time you used it. This helps remove dust, dirt, and any other debris that could contaminate your drink.
The owner’s manual for a still typically has the cleaning directions, including any suggested products or things you should avoid doing. Always follow these instructions exactly. Deviating from the manufacturer’s advice could damage your still or your drink.
Let the still dry after you’re done cleaning it.
Step 2: Add Packing
Clean copper packing is the best choice for distiller column packing here, but you can use other materials if you want to. We suggest copper packing material because it helps maximize reflux, which is essential for high-proof alcoholic drinks.
Double-check all of the hoses, attachments, and joints in your still to be sure they’re all right, then siphon your strained mash water into the still. Now, it’s time to start the real fun.
Step 3: Run The Still
To make a top-shelf product, run your still according to the manufacturer’s directions.
In general, producing potato vodka involves turning on the cold water once your boiler reaches 130 degrees, and the still will start producing actual vodka once it reaches 170 degrees. Keep the heat constant.
If necessary, adjust the temperature a little to modify the rate of flow for your vodka. One to three drips each second is a good rate. Any faster than that, and you’re probably rushing things, while any slower means you can nudge the temperature up a bit more.
Part Four: Collecting Your Vodka
Collecting vodka is partially a matter of skill, especially when estimating how much of the process is done. Using labeled bottles and rotating them through as needed will help a lot.
The vodka itself is divided into four parts when it comes out of the still. Each part can be measured by its approximate volume if you paid attention to the quantity of liquid you’re working with.
The first 5% of each run are the foreshots. Foreshots contain methanol, which is why we’re going to throw it out unless you’re collecting that chemical for another reason. Methanol is poisonous to humans, and drinking foreshots can lead to blindness or death.
Do not drink the foreshots under any circumstances. Do not sniff them or taste them, no matter how curious you are. Just throw them down the drain and move on to the next part of the process.
The next ~30% of your run is known as the heads. The heads of a vodka run contain acetone, a volatile alcohol that is not particularly toxic but can give nasty hangovers. Acetone is also rather smelly, so it’s easy to identify when it’s in a bottle. In most cases, unless you’re collecting acetone for some reason, it’s better to throw these out as well.
Once you’re past the heads, it’s time for the high-quality hearts, which are the next 30% of a vodka run. This is the good stuff. The smell of acetone should be mostly gone here, replaced with the sweeter-smelling ethanol that we want. Bottle and save the clean hearts as you prefer.
The remaining 35% of a vodka run is known as the tails. These contain some protein and carbs that throw off the taste, and you’ll notice a distinct drop in sweetness and an oily film once you reach this point of a run.
Some people like to run the tails through a still to squeeze out a little more of the hearts. This isn’t necessary for smaller-scale distilleries where it’s more time-effective to make a new batch, but if you’re allowed to make vodka at home, it’s more viable.
Special: Cutting Your Vodka
Cutting is a slightly strange term for producing vodka, considering it’s rather difficult to truly cut a liquid.
Once you’ve finished distilling, you should have an extremely high-proof spirit. For example, freshly distilled vodka is usually 190 proof, or 95% alcohol content by volume, although some distilleries will use techniques to push it as high as 195 proof.
This is, frankly, too much for most people. That’s why the next phase of the process is optionally filtering the vodka (activated carbon is a popular choice), then mixing it with purified water to reduce the drink down to about 80 proof, or 40% alcohol by volume. Adding the water is known as cutting the drink.
For the best results, try using water that you’ve put through reverse osmosis. The purer the water, the better, as even trace amounts of minerals can heavily affect the flavor of the final drink.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions that people have about making vodka.
Is Vodka Flavorless?
No. As Wine Enthusiast points out, vodka has a variety of mash types, basic ingredients, and flavors. These are quite apparent to experienced drinkers, although newcomers may find it harder to pick up some of the subtler nuances.
That said, while vodka isn’t flavorless, it does tend towards a neutral profile. Some buyers prefer having the most neutral-tasting vodka possible because that helps ensure it won’t throw off existing cocktail recipes.
Federal statutes updated in 2020 support this definition, as they no longer require vodka to be without distinctive tastes.
Can You Age Vodka?
Theoretically, yes, but there isn’t much point in aging your distilled product the same way you age whiskey.
The main reason for this is that finished vodka is almost entirely alcohol and distilled water. Therefore, there’s very little to change by aging its natural ingredients. Instead, aging vodka is more likely to result in it absorbing the flavors of the wood.
In short, aged vodka will probably taste like oak.
However, if you want to get creative, you can try aging vodka in used casks. Wine and bourbon casks, for example, could impart residual flavors into your vodka and produce a more complex, interesting drink.
This is similar to the process for producing starka, an eastern European beverage that’s about halfway between whiskey and vodka. You won’t find much serious production of aged vodka, though, so this is mainly the realm of experimentation and creativity.
Can You Infuse Vodka?
Yes. Infusing alcohol is significantly faster and easier than attempting to age it, and it’s an excellent way to add new flavors to an otherwise-finished drink. This is especially useful if you want to make cocktails and add new flavors without adding new ingredients and potentially throwing off the ingredient ratios.
Infusing vodka is a fairly simple process. Start by getting a few glass jars with solid lids. Mason jars tend to work best, but they’re not reusable like other sorts of lids.
Once you’re ready to start, put a few pieces of whatever ingredient you’re infusing into the jar. Fruit is a common choice, but you can also use herbs like basil, whole vanilla beans, chili peppers, or nearly anything else. Make sure anything you put in is washed and cleaned, though. Cut up any large ingredients (like pineapple and mango).
Avoid ground spices, though, and use whole spices instead. Straining ground spices out of infused vodka is a pain.
If you’re particularly inquisitive, you can try mixing several ingredients into one infusion. It’s usually better to do one ingredient at a time, though, and mix the results instead.
After adding the other ingredients, pour your vodka over them and seal the jar. Shake the jar several times a day for about five days. After that, your infusion should be done.
Finding the best ratio of ingredients to vodka can be tricky, so don’t be afraid to experiment a little. Once you’re done infusing, strain out the extra ingredients and pour your vodka into a new, clean jar. If you used perishable ingredients, store the jars of product in the fridge. If you used shelf-stable, quality ingredients, you could keep your infusion in the cupboard instead.
Can I Make Vodka From Other Ingredients?
Yes. You can make a good vodka product from practically any grain, although it may require a recipe that’s different from the one above. People often use wheat, rye, rice, or corn to create different types of mash for vodka, and these are widely available on store shelves.
Some people also make their favorite spirits from rarer ingredients. The most notable of these are fruit-based variants, such as apple and grape vodkas. A few people have even made vodka from maple sap and honey. (That may sound strange at first, but remember, honey is the main ingredient for mead. It’s not especially strange to use it for making other alcoholic drinks.)
Alcohol brewing is an art form. The key factor for making perfect spirits from any ingredient is the ability to get sugar from it. That’s what the fermentation process converts into alcohol, and once you can do that, making batches of potato vodka is mostly about the straining and distilling process.