|HOW TO MAKE BOURBON AT HOME: A GUIDE FOR MAKING GREAT WHISKEY

HOW TO MAKE
BOURBON AT HOME:
A GUIDE FOR MAKING
GREAT WHISKEY

***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 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!

Browse By Step.  Click on any of these links to jump to the step you want to see:
Homemade Bourbon Recipe Ingredients
How To Make Bourbon Mash
Fermenting Your Bourbon Mash
Distilling Your Homemade Bourbon
Collecting Your Bourbon Distillate
Ageing Your Bourbon At Home

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

HOMEMADE BOURBON MASH MIX

HOW TO MAKE BOURBON MASH

A mash is just that – grains mashed up into a nice primordial bourbon stew. To create your own bourbon mash, you will need some grain. A traditional bourbon mash combines 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.

How To Make Bourbon Ingredients Rye
0%
RYE
How To Make Bourbon Ingredients Corn
0%
CORN
How To Make Bourbon Ingredients Wheat
0%
WHEAT

When you have your grains all pulverized, throw them into a pot with boiling water. Once the mixture gets to 86 degrees, add a cup of that distiller’s yeast while giving the mix a stir. Keep stirring for a few minutes to make sure the yeast is playing nice with your 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 

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 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 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.

COLLECTING YOUR BOURBON DISTILLATE

How To Make Bourbon Distillate Cuts

Now comes the delicate step of collecting your bourbon distillate.  This is where your practice and patience comes in very handy.  When you start the process of distilling your bourbon, you will collect the distillate in 4 stages.  The foreshots, heads, hearts, and tails.  Each of these stages will look, smell and taste differently.  Being able to detect the subtle changes between each of these 4 stages take lots of practice and experience.

FORESHOTS

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.

HEADS

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.

HEARTS

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.

TAILS

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 fusel 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

How To Make Bourbon Aging Barrels

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.

What did you think of our guide on making your own homemade bourbon?  Leave your rating below…

HOW TO MAKE BOURBON AT HOME: A GUIDE FOR MAKING GREAT WHISKEY
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2018-12-08T03:18:41+00:00October 17th, 2018|SPEAKEASY|20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Travis July 24, 2016 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    To make a mild sour mash bourbon other than aging in an oak barrels what else needs to be added during the aging process???

    • Demitrius October 23, 2016 at 4:38 pm - Reply

      Nothing! In fact, to be a legit bourbon you dont add anything but water. If you want to get sexy with it, you can add some french oak staves (like Makers Mark 46 does)

  2. Frank Milano September 5, 2016 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    Do you have to use a bubbler for fermenting like you do with beer? Otherwise will the fermenting process pop the tops d/t pressure build up?

    • Demitrius October 23, 2016 at 4:38 pm - Reply

      Yup. Send me a private message. I dont want the law coming after me! LOL

  3. TJ November 2, 2016 at 9:42 pm - Reply

    It is not illegal to distill your own spirits. It is illegal to sell what you do distill without paying the taxes.

    • Demitrius November 4, 2016 at 6:41 pm - Reply

      Ahhhh! Thanks for the clarification! I feel better about what Im doing now! LOL

    • Don April 5, 2018 at 7:53 pm - Reply

      Many states have a limit on the quantity you can distill for “personal consumption”. And don’t sell it!

  4. Q January 3, 2017 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    I just saw the statement about a bubbler. How/When do you add it to the mash that’s in the 5 gallon jugs and what bubbler would you suggest yourself?

  5. Jeremy March 11, 2017 at 1:30 am - Reply

    It is not illegal to distill spirits in most states…

  6. Todmartin March 25, 2017 at 8:15 am - Reply

    Thanks a lot

  7. Antonio Dowell April 9, 2017 at 3:38 am - Reply

    I’m all about home brewing and would love the bill to be past so I could learn to make my own try something new and put this law to rest you shouldn’t have to own a whole company just to see what kind of product you could make on your own. Then maybe start a company making it if you like what your making and have some perfected recipes.

  8. Antonio Dowell April 9, 2017 at 4:20 am - Reply

    Julie

    I’ve always wanted to make my own moonshine and this looks like it will make the process much easier! The 5-gallon kit is really sleek and compact, I think I’ll go with something like that compared to the 8-gallon kit.

    The time-lapse video was a fun watch and I appreciate that you included a link to recipes as well.

  9. Mike April 13, 2017 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    Anything additional I should do if I want to age for say 18 years? I want to make and aged bourbon around my son’s 3rd birthday so I can age for the next 18 years to drink on his 21st birthday together.

    Thoughts?

    • J D Kimple May 18, 2017 at 10:10 am - Reply

      I would be very hesitant to age any spirits for 18 years in a 5 gallon barrel. This small of a barrel would bring too much of the oak tannins, even at 1 year, let alone 18. Besides, the evaporation rate would leave you with maybe a tablespoon of liquid ar that timespan.

      18 years is even a hit or miss affair for the industry standard 53 gallon barrel. The vast majority is bottled in the 4-7 year range. To get an 18 year old whiskey, the major producers routinely sample barrels from many different floors and multiple rickhouses (where the barrels are stored), to find just the right ones that would not get too “woody” before the desired time.

      If you are really interested in aging your own bourbon, i would suggest Chuck Cowdery’s eBook “Small Barrels Produce Loudy Whiskey”. It is free and available at Amazon.

  10. Martin June 19, 2017 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    Hello

    In this recipe, how is the starches converted to fermetable sugars?

  11. Dennis October 28, 2017 at 3:16 pm - Reply

    AT the 3 month point what is the % of alcohol one should expect?

  12. Tony Bartlett November 14, 2017 at 4:03 pm - Reply

    Please can you tell me where I can purchase a still

    • Don April 5, 2018 at 7:49 pm - Reply

      Several stills are available on line. Even Walmart sells a 5 gallon copper still.

  13. James November 14, 2017 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    I have read about using “essence”. If I age moonshine in a charred oak barrel. Do I have to add essence? Or will I actually have bourbon just aging in the barrel.

  14. Colleen October 11, 2018 at 3:58 pm - Reply

    Don’t you add any sugar?

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