Making whiskey at home, legally

Distillation is illegal, because the stinking revenuers want their tax money. But is there a way for crafty people to make their own whiskey without running afoul of the law? Read on, my friend.

All liquors come out of the distillation process clear and most liquors get their color and flavor from the aging process. That got me thinking. If I can’t distill the alcohol (because Governor Tarkin says I can’t), I can still age it. That’s perfectly legal.

Inventive, imaginative, innovative people like homebrewers should be able to get around this. So here’s my idea, and my challenge to other homebrewers.

The idea is to create new and interesting kinds of liquor by focusing on the aging part of the equation. That is, buy some grain alcohol, dillute it as necessary, and mix it with various things to create a new flavor of liquor. (Or age it and then dillute it. I’m not sure yet which is the right approach.)

I’ve tried it, and my first batch turned out pretty well.

The People’s Republic of Maryland recently outlawed the sale of grain alcohol, but it’s still possible to buy very strong neutral spirits. I bought some Everclear that was 151 proof, which worked just fine for my purposes.

For some reason I had the mistaken notion that bourbon is supposed to be aged in charred oak barrels that had been used to age burgundy. That’s not so. Bourbon has to be aged in new charred oak barrels. But proceeding according to my misperception, here’s what I did.

I bought some oak chips from Maryland Homebrew and soaked them in red wine for a week. (I used Merlot because that’s what I had.) Then I took the oak chips out to my mini charcoal grill and smoked / charred them on a small wood fire. Then I mixed my 151 Everclear with enough water to get it close to 80 proof and soaked that on my charred wood chips for a couple weeks.

(I’m not giving you precise figures because I want you to experiment, and I’m not confident my recipe is the best place to start.)

What I ended up with was a very smoky amber-colored drink that could pass for scotch or bourbon. In fact, I think it’s quite good. I’m having a small glass right now.

I need to play with the recipe a bit. I think it’s a touch too smoky, and I want to try it again with oak chips that were simply charred and not soaked in wine. But this idea creates a whole new area of exploration and experimentation for me.

Here’s the best thing about it, in my opinion.

When real distilleries age whiskey or bourbon, they store it in oak barrels and rely on a very slow process by which the alcohol soaks into and out of the barrel because of changes in atmospheric pressure and whatnot. It’s a painfully slow process that can take years.

Since I’m soaking the alcohol in wood chips, it all happens a lot faster. No, it’s not precisely the same as the process that “real” whiskeys go through, but … I’m not trying to duplicate Maker’s Mark. I’m trying to invent my own thing, and I’m too old to wait three years for each batch.

My method — from start to finish — takes a few weeks. And it will take even less time when I skip the soaking in wine part. I think that’s pretty darned cool.

2 Thoughts on “Making whiskey at home, legally

  1. halconen on May 4, 2016 at 2:10 pm said:

    I think many bourbon whiskeys are aged at a cask strength of around 120 proof then diluted down to 80-95 proof. I see nothing wrong with they way you are doing it but if you want to speed up the already quick process you might dilute down to 120 proof before aging then cut it again to 80 proof afterwards.

    Also some folks that do what you are doing with un-aged spirits will open their aging jars once a week for air and vapor exchange to simulate the sharing with the angels that goes on naturally in barrels over time.

  2. GregK on May 4, 2016 at 2:14 pm said:

    Good thoughts. Thanks for the tips.

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