How To Make Vodka – Expert Tips
We asked experts in the industry what they do to maximize the quality of their vodka runs. Check out their time-tested wisdom below.
“Vodka is a tricky one and a good/great vodka requires many factors to be taken into consideration. For us the following are important:
-A light floral raw material for mashing/fermenting. For example, we use 100% agave at State 38 Distilling for our vodka, which brings a sweet and floral finish to the vodka. If you start with rye as the base, you will have a spicier vodka. Potato will bring more a starchy/earth feel. Good/Great vodka is in the olfactory of the beholder, but your raw base material will immediately point you in the direction of what your finished vodka will result as.
-Fermentation temperatures and pH are vital for vodka production, so as not to stress the yeast and give more acetate/methanol resulting in a rubbing alcohol finish/feel to the final vodka.
-Distillation is of course very important, but we tend to distill only to the minimum required proof of 190 so that we can maintain as much sweetness and original raw material characteristic as possible. Some distilleries will go up to 195 proof by redistilling 10 or more times. To me that is just further removing the unique character for a vodka.
-Filtering is arguably the most important for State 38 Distilling vodka. We hand-built a 40 foot stainless steel filter which gravity feeds the vodka through 4 columns of fresh activated carbon. It’s basically a Pure water filter on steroids.
-Finally, the finish cut water to proof the vodka should be void of dissolved solids or any cholorine/bromine aroma/flavor. We reverse osmosis filter our cut water resulting in a pure, floral, clean and lightly sweet vodka.”
“Making a good vodka product (or any spirit for that matter) begins with selecting quality raw materials for your fermentation. Once you’ve decided on your mash bill simply buy the highest quality grain or sugar you can afford and begin your fermentation.
Temperature controlled fermentations generally produce cleaner ethanol so if you have a way to control the temperature I recommend it. (You don’t want it getting too hot).
Once distillation begins I believe there are three key components to producing good vodka, copper contact, reflux (lots of it), and cold water to create all that reflux. Vodka must be distilled at 190 proof or above and in order to reach this proof you’ll likely have to distill very slowly and use lots of cold water.
If you really want to get tech with it doing a stripping run before your final distillation will not only make a better product but it will also help you reach your end proof of 190+.
After distillation I recommend chill filtration along with activated carbon.”
Peter Grundy – Owner and Head Distiller of Anvil Distillery
“In my experience as the owner and Head Distiller so far with Anvil Distillery, Vodka is actually the hardest spirit to “finish”. To bring of a spirit over 190 proof (the legal definition of Vodka) and thats temperature adjusted, you have to distill a few times.
We do an initial distillation to separate our alcohol from water via a stripping run with 3 fractional columns. It comes of the the still around 170proof on this initial stripping run. The we do a second distillation with 10 fractional columns.
And for a volume of around 15g it then takes 8 hours or more to run the still slow and high to maintain a proof of around 196proof. So for a good clean vodka “slow and steady’ wins the race.”
“Make your cuts conservatively – don’t get greedy and try to increase the yield, because it will very quickly decrease the quality. Also, if you’re running a column still and you have a pre-condenser or dephlegmator, let it do most of the work rather than your condenser. This will help you more easily achieve 190° proof if your still is capable of it.”
“Perfect spirits require perfect water. a 750mL bottle of 80 proof vodka is 60% water. It matters. At Spring44, we use only water directly from our artesian mineral spring located at 9,000 ft in the Northern Colorado Rockies.”
“I think distilling the best vodka starts with good quality grains, to be very sensitive to your heads, hearts and tails cuts, in addition to using good quality water and filtering.”
“I personally think creating the best vodka comes from starting with the best organic ingredients, then working to keep as much of their character as possible… even as vodka. Simple as that.”
“We think the perfect vodka comes from unique ingredients mixed with patience, good equipment and making your cuts at the right time.”
“Mashing & Fermenting with Colorado Grown Grains, Pot Distilled and in addition, filtered through Crushed Yule Marble.”
“To craft the best vodka create the base; ferment your product in house. Don’t buy it.”
“In my opinion, vodka is the most difficult spirit to make well. While vodka is supposedly “flavorless,” I think that as distillers we can probably all agree that that’s not quite true.
The flavors in vodka are just (hopefully) very subtle. To me, for example, good wheat vodka is slightly sweet, potato is a little spicy, and corn is a bit hot.
However, it’s easy to tip from those subtle flavors into something that resembles white whiskey without good fermentation, a proper still, and good cuts. While there’s nothing wrong with good white whiskey, it’s still bad vodka.
On the other hand, I’d argue that vodka that has no character at all other than pure ethanol flavor isn’t very interesting. There’s also quite a lot of it to be had in the mass market and less reason to do it on a craft basis. Good craft vodka is a balance of very small things.
Grain, enzymes, water, and yeast produce the palette of flavors that you have to work with at distilling time, and different combinations produce a different set of flavors.
With vodka there’s nothing for unwanted flavors to hide behind and no barrel to forgive any sins, so it’s generally easiest to figure out which mash combination that you enjoy produces the fewest or most subtle flavors to start with.
From there you need a still capable of producing 95% ethanol in hopefully no more than a couple of runs. Finally, be very vigilant about tasting during distilling to hit the heads and tails cuts such that you can harvest nice, clean hearts to become your vodka.
Until you get the feel for your wash and your still, it’s generally easiest to just make a whole lot of cuts, so you can teach yourself roughly when the good bits start and end as well as what that tastes like.
And then on to the post-process! In my experience, no (reasonable/practical) amount of filtration can truly make bad tasting vodka fantastic, but carbon filtration can make a decent vodka even cleaner.
So I’d say try some filtering, and experience will tell you what you like best from your equipment. Finally, the dilution water does matter — definitely filter to remove chlorine and anything else you might not enjoy from your local supply.
I’m fortunate enough to be in the city voted “Best water in the US” so I don’t have a ton of experience adjusting water for anything serious.
Christopher Joseph – Founder/CEO of Wild Roots
“When creating spirits what we have done at Wild Roots is kept it simple and relied on the natural resources the northwest has to offer. From what I have seen in the industry is people try to overcomplicate recipes to try to differentiate from other products.
My tip for distillers would be to keep it simple and ensure you are using quality ingredients. We don’t use artificial flavoring, coloring, or any additives in our spirits.
By sticking to the basics and relying on the resources surrounding us, such as fruit, water and lava rocks, we are able to create a unique spirits that resembles the land from which is comes.”
“Go low and Go slow – low heat and low cooling is key.”