Specialist Questions - Spirits, Essential Oils, Vinegar

Would you like to ask us about spirits, essential oils and vinegar? Please observe our forum rules (see Helpful tips for use).

June 2018:

It has now been an unbelievable 16 years (!) since the last major change to the website and forums. When you think that two to three years are an eternity for the Internet sector, that is really something. In any case, there has been so much going on in terms of technology that it has become urgently necessary to completely redesign not only the forums, but also the entire website, from scratch and bring the programming up to date. Naturally, along with this we also introduced various new features; for example it was high time we allowed pictures to be uploaded with a forum post too or enabled users to subscribe to the forums via RSS feeds. And of course we have subsequently included pictures that are saved on external websites and were then integrated here using an img tag, so that no valuable information is lost. In any case, we hope you continue to have fun swapping experiences and trying things out.

Juni 2002:

At this point, we would first like to extend a big thank-you to all the users of our specialist questions for their lively involvement. Without you, we could never have developed such an informative and high-quality reference guide in such a short time (the first post dates from April 8, 1999). The large number of posts and high numbers of visitors made it necessary for us to develop the specialist questions ourselves using PHP and MySQL (at last no more annoying advertising banners!). During the course of this, we have hopefully introduced several improvements.

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Helpful tips on use:

Below are a few rules so we can maintain the high quality in the future as well.
  • This is a moderated forum. This means that anyone can write whatever they want, and the post will also be saved, but the content will only be published once it has been reviewed by our editorial staff, or deleted if necessary. Therefore, there is no point in posting the same contribution multiple times simply because it doesn’t appear immediately.
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  • The forum is very comprehensive, and many topics have already been dealt with extensively. Therefore we recommend using the search function or alternatively the advanced search function before you add a new post in order to avoid having posts with the same content.
  • After you add or answer a post, you then have a chance to change the text you have written. So read through your text again carefully after saving it and click on “Change post” if necessary.
  • If you ask a question, then also expect an answer. Think about this as well when you are wording your question. Hardly anyone will answer vague questions such as “How do I distil schnapps?”, “No oil comes out; what am I doing wrong?” or “The vinegar isn’t fermenting, why?”.
  • The three topic areas, i.e. distilling spirits, distilling essential oils/hydrosols and making vinegar, are divided into three different websites. Each website contains the two forums “Recipes” for all the topics concerning fruit and recipes, and “Discussion” for all the other topics related to distilling spirits, essential oils/hydrosols or making vinegar. If we find posts that are unintentionally in the wrong forum, we will move them to the right forum. These posts have not been deleted, just moved.
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So, that’s it. We hope you have a lot of fun swapping experiences, reading, posting and naturally also trying things out afterwards. Dr Malle & Dr Schmickl Dr. Malle & Dr. Schmickl
  • Question 3

    Senthil | India, 30.04.2020 18:06:14

    I started 2 liter mash  with 3.5 PH and 15 brix ( added sugar as per your tables in book)Fermentation completely stopped 13th day,On 15 th day I checked brix was at 4 but no more sign of further fermentation.Now I am ready for second stage of

    fermentation,Can you Please help me out for the nutrients to be added in this stage.
    Reply
    Is your mash an apple mash? If yes, it’s not necessary to add any nutrients, apples have enough of them. You have to add nutrients if you want to ferment pure, distilled (and diluted) alcohol.
    The easiest way to add nutrients is to add apple juice. Not a fresh one, but from the supermarket, pay attention that the juice doesn’t contain any preservatives. I don’t know which brand mark of apple juice is available in India, but a “common” apple juice from supermarket is perfect. We add 1 liter of juice to approx. 10 liters of fermentation medium.
  • Question 6

    Saisho | Singapore, 30.04.2020 17:45:07
    I run the still 5 times so far with Mint first time, rosemary 4 times. and 2nd time, I burnt Rosemary in the kettle and since then I cannot get rid of the smell from the distillates even though I clean the still with isopropyl alcohol 99%.
    Could you tell me what to do?
    Reply

    This happened quite often during our seminars (rosemary, dried camomile blossoms, crushed cinnamon). First we had to mill

    out the residual charcoal in the kettle with a drilling machine and an attached metal brush. After that we cleaned the kettle with washing soda or "Cif", a cream cleaner. Not to forget to clean the inside of the condenser dome with dishwashing
    detergent and a dishwashing sponge, the distillate outlet with dishwashing detergent and a tube brush.
  • Question 10

    Simon | UK, 28.04.2020 18:38:05

    I have used your online alcohol calculator but i need to know the following.


    I want to make a bottle of flavoured gin with the finished ABV of 40% in a 700ml bottle I add 140ml of flavoring. soi need to add 560 ml of alcohol to make up the 700ml here is the question, what ABV % does the spirit need to be to give me a full bottle of flavoured alcohol at 40%?

    Reply
    The answer is quite simple:
    In total you need 700 ml with 40 % ABV. This means you need 700 / 100 * 40 = 280 ml pure Alcohol (100 %). So you have to add 560 ml with an ABV of 280 / 560 * 100 = 50 % ABV.
  • Question 2

    brian | USA, 27.02.2020 11:26:03
    Our concentrated juice is depectinated. The pectin improove the sugar-alcohol content or the taste ?
    Reply
    Pectins are the "walls" of the fruitcells. These walls prevent the extraktion of sugar and aromatic substances. Yeast destroys these wall with pectinase otherwise the yeast has nothing to eat. But sometimes the amount of pectinase is to low to survive, so it makes sence to add pectinase, this is the "Verflüssiger".


    Another advantage: if more fruitcells are liquified, more sugar is set free and simultaneosly more aromatic substances are set free and soluted now. Finally only the liquid is used, so it's important to get as much as possible aromatic substances in solution.

  • Question 5

    Monica | Singapore, 25.02.2020 10:19:42

    We put in 1.5L water for distillation. Can we not use this water as hydrosol?

    Reply
    You mean the leftover in the kettle after distillation? You can use it, but this is quite the opposite of a hydrosol: - hydrosol contains the volatile, water-soluble components of the plant material. - the leftover contains all NON-volatile, water-soluble component So the latter you can compare with a very strong tea of herbs (or of any other plant material).
  • Question 9

    Peter | USA, 24.02.2020 11:04:50

    Do you believe that 91 C is the start of tails regardless of the type of still used (e.g., pot still, reflux still, etc.)?

    Reply
    Start of tails at 91 °C is a good approach for almost all fruit mashes, if they are not too pulpy. But if distilling for example beer, the hops taste won’t come out before about 91,5 to 92 °C. Cereal mashes are a different story too. So in fact you’re right, the right moment to start with the tails indeed depends on the kind of material you are distilling. To be save and to prevent wasting too much of the last part of the heart fraction (this mistake is done very often in practice!) you should know the smell / taste of the tails already and perform an olfactory separation (with your nose). To do this, collect the distillate in several small glasses, not a big one, at this stage of distillation.
     
    Note: often it’s easier to recognize the tails in an empty (!) shot
    glass, a few minutes after you’ve emptied (depending on quality, enjoyed or
    poured away) the content of the glass.
  • Question 1

    Greg | USA, 19.01.2020 17:53:48

    When describing ways to test the vinegar for both alcohol and acidic acid - there is no mention of ph. I am comfortable with titration. But I also have a small handheld ph meter. Could I use the ph meter to track the progress of the vinegar or is it too innacurate? How best to convert the PH to acidic percent ?

    Reply
    pH is a logarithmic scale. Thus, pH 1 is the same as 10-1, pH 7 = 10-7, and pH 14 = 10-14 mol H3O+ per liter.
    The acidity of vinegar is the unit percent acetic acid, thus grams acetic acid per 100 grams solution.
    Example:
    The acidity of vinegar changes from 4 to 5 percent. How much is this change in mol per liter? For easier calculation, we assume 100 grams is equal to 100 ml.
    So 4 percent is equal to 4 g / 100 ml. This is the same as 40 g / liter. Molar mass of acetic acid is 60.05 g / mol. Thus we have 40/60.05 = 0,66611 mol / l = 10-0,17645 mol / l.
    The same calculation for 5 percent: 50/60.05 = 0,83264 mol / l = 10-0,07954 mol / l.
    Thus the simplified “pAcidity” changes from 0,18 to 0,08. BUT: acetic acid is a so called soft acid, which means the CH3COOH is not completely split in CH3COO- and H+. The ratio of the split to unsplit portion depends on the specific pKs value of acetic acid (which is 4,76, see wikipedia).
    So far the theory. I wanted to verify this with my brand-new handheld pH-meter which I’ve never used up to now. But unfortunately the instructions for use says “soak in KCl for 24 hours”. T
  • Question 4

    Magnus | Iceland, 19.01.2020 17:22:23

    Regarding the preparation and the fermentation of the Angelica root, do you have any literature references as there seems to be little references regarding preparing material for essential oils extraction other than your excellent book, which I was very happy to find :)


    In last February there was unusually warm week here in Iceland with no frost in the ground and I went to the country side and found some Angelica herbs from last summer and could easily pick up the herb from the ground along with the root.  The root had this wonderful mild spicy smell, and I‘m sure that the

    essential oils from the root is very special.


    In your book you say it is custom to store the root from 2 or 3 years before distilling, is that part of the fermentation process?


    In Iceland the type of birch we have here is Betula pubescens https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betula_pubescens, but the white birch you mention is probably of the type Betula pendula https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betula_pendula.  Anyways, I will try to distill both the bark and leaves for

    experimentary purposes.

    Reply
    Angelica: seeds also contain oil, but the smell of the root is smoother. Harvest the root in autumn, not before the second or third year after the plant started to bloom.
    Fermentation: there are several variants, professional producers use specialized microorganisms to do this. A similar process is to repeatedly dry and moisten the plant material several times. To do this, cut the root in small pieces, dry them at low temperature as described in the book, take care the material doesn’t go moldy. As soon as the material is in a dry condition, moisten the cut roots with a spray flask or something similar. Put the material in a plastic bag for one or two days, after that let the material dry again, moisten again, put it in the same (!) plastic bag and so on, until the material has considerably changed in color and condition. Leaves become dark brown or rather black, but with roots the change of color is not so significant. The art during this proces is to avoid the material goes moldy. Alternatively ask a
    homegrower of hemp (cannabis) how he processes his harvested buds.
    Another method is to cut the roots in small pieces, put them in a bucket and leave it outside for several years. Outside means under a roof, but not in a closed room. So the change in humidity and temperature over the years also
    causes a fermentation. The disadvantage of this very simple method: it takes years instead of several weeks.
    Birch: commercially the oil is extracted from Betula lenta.
     
  • Question 8

    Mike | U.K., 19.01.2020 10:35:52

    I have a small still, very like the ones you recommend. This morning I carried out my third distillation. To practice, I am diluting shop-bought vodka down to 20%abv and getting 63% back out, which matches with your chart correctly. But this morning I got 8% which makes me think it must be refluxing slightly?


    However, I have also noticed that the mash retains a 5%abv (is that normal?) and that 1000ml of wash input resulted in only 960ml out - I'm thinking I perhaps have a leak, presumably on the seal? The 1000ml input consisted of 320ml 63%abv (from the previous run), but I returned only 240ml at 68%abv. There is obviously a quantity in the remaining wash volume, but I think there must be a leak too. I'd appreciate your thoughts on this, if you have time.


    Going forward, I will be experimenting with a turbo sugar wash (to stop wasting vodka!) and once I think I have the hang of it I'll introduce botanicals and fruits.

    Reply
    A leak you would notice immediately, you would see a trail of steam or a puddle below your still. So, the losses can only be explained by the empty space in the still: the bigger the empty space, the more steam will not condensate, the higher your observed losses. Therefore it’s only sensible to calculate such balances if the kettle of the still is almost completely full at the beginning and the empty space of the helmet is quite small in comparison to the size of the kettle.
    Second, diagrams like the T-X-Y are measured under laboratory conditions with special devices to reduce influences like air pressure, losses by empty space, reflux effects etc.
    Thus, you should use the T-X-Y not more than a kind of guideline. Under normal conditions and with a common shaped still it’s not really possible to repeat the indicated values. Not to forget the influence of solid parts in the mash. Such components are shifting the curve significantly.
  • Question 3

    Rosanne | atlanta, 09.12.2019 12:52:32
    While separating for 1- 2 months do you think refrigeration helps preserve the hydrosol/oil?
    Reply

    No, just store the bottles at common room temperature, which is something about 17 - 23°C (63 - 73°F). If it’s too cold, many essential oils become solid and it’s annoying to get them fluid again. This is not so trivial as you might think...

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