***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 email subscribers is whether its 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!
What You Will Need
You will need a few items to pull this off – all of which are readily available online. Here is the shopping list I used.
- Two 5 gallon jugs
- One 5 gallon oak barrel
- 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?)
- A heapin’ pile of whole kernel corn.
- A few handfuls of rye
- Some wheat
- A few nut milk bags
- toasted oak chips
- Some distillers yeast
Prepare The Mash
A mash is just that – grains mashed up into a nice primordial bourbon stew. To create your own mash, you will need some grain. Traditional bourbon mashes combine corn, rye, and wheat, so that’s what we will be using for our mash bill. Play around with the grain ratio’s, but for instructional purposes, we recommend 70% corn, 15% rye and 15% wheat. Throw all the grain into your Corona corn and grain mill. It will take three passes to get the mill texture that you are looking for.
When you have your grains all pulverized, throw them into a big ass pot with boiling water. Once the mixture hist 86 degrees, add a cup of that distillers yeast while giving the mix a stir. Keep stirring for a few minutes to make sure the yeast is playing nice with the mash.
What you should be looking at is a nice pot full of dough like substance that smells like corn bread.
Now its time to ferment! Put your mash into those two 5 gallon jugs that you purchased above (you will have to split the mix up). Seal them up and put the jugs somewhere to ferment for about 2 weeks.
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 the Still
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 a very weak and watery alcohol. The still evaporates 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.
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 alot 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!
Three months later and you should be ready to go.
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!