Crafting Distilled Spirits at Home

Reader Contribution by Kellsey Trimble
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Photo by Getty Images/ManuelVelasco

In recent years, I’ve started to take an interest in good liquor and what goes into making one’s own distilled spirits. This interest either coincided with or was brought about by – I can’t remember which now – when I started working for some side cash in a tiny “speakeasy” in my hometown. The world of craft cocktails was opened up to me, which got me even more interested in the distilled spirits that make such delicious cocktails. Plus, my favorite show is MASH, and I always got such a kick out of Hawkeye distilling gin in his tent.

Just like cooking or baking, there is a fascinating science – and history – behind crafting good quality distilled spirits, and I wanted to read all about it. The book that took me down this rabbit hole was Craft Distilling by Victoria Redhed Miller. She starts off by delving into the history of home hooch making, as well as the when, how, and why it was outlawed, which the history buff in me really enjoyed. And Miller has a firm grasp on the intricacies of distilling spirits and liquor laws, which can get a bit cloudy, but she cleared it up easily.

Miller is true a hands-on person, and she thoroughly explains the ins-and-outs of how to make hooch at home. Reading what she had to say on the distilling spirits process was such fun. To echo her sentiments early on in the book, the whole process of making and distilling spirits seemed mysterious to me for so long, but she lays it out plainly and easily, i.e. distillation isn’t the making of the alcohol, that happens in the fermentation process. Distillation, when it comes to making alcohol, is the heating of the liquid and essentially concentrating it down by removing much of the water and other non-alcoholic “stuff.” This is where you also fine tune the flavors of your spirits.

 A person can even make their own copper still, and Miller shows you how in a chapter on making your own column still. I always err on the side of safety, and to avoid becoming one of those headlines about an exploded alcohol still that was poorly designed and made, I would advise to always abide by safety first and follow instructions thoroughly. And it goes without saying that generally speaking, be sure you are well versed on laws and regulations. It isn’t wise to go making booze willy-nilly.

 The really fun part to me was reading about which grains to get the type of distilled spirit you want. Wheat, corn, rye, or barley? There’s more than just these that can be used for making spirits, but these are the most commonly used. Miller outlines the making of rum, gin, vodka, tequila, and, of course, multiple types of whiskey – and there are a lot. When it comes time to age your distilled spirits, Miller lays out this process, too.

Once you have all your homemade liquor, it’ll be pretty tasty either neat or on the rocks, but I would also suggest perusing through the craft cocktail recipes in Craft Distilling. With a bit of experimentation, you might even end up with your favorite twist on a classic cocktail. My parents have taken a shining to making cocktails at home, and my father is particularly proud of a cosmopolitan made with black cherry juice instead of cranberry juice. I tried it the last time I was over for a visit, and I must admit I might request my cosmos with black cherry juice from now on when I’m out for the occasional cocktail.

I think I’ll start my distillation endeavors with rum, as this is another favorite of my parents, and also at the top of my own personal spirit list. When I move on to gin and perfect this, maybe I’ll have Hawkeye over for a drink.

Craft Distilling is a unique resource that will show you everything you need to know to get started crafting top-quality spirits on a small scale – and do it legally. Sure to appeal to hobbyists, homesteaders, self-sufficiency enthusiasts, and anyone who cares about fine food and drink, Craft Distilling is the ideal offering for independent spirits.