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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  • 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 10

    Wanderer Wondering | Portugal, 24.03.2022 20:30:20

    First time i attempted to make vinegar.

    I cut fresh oranges into 8 pieces and filled a 4litre jar 75%. Then added 3litre of water and 1 cup sugar.

    Stopped bubbling after 4 weeks. Removed fruit and strained most of it. Seems to have a mother.

    pH is 3.7 but earlier in the process while still bubbling is went down to 3.2.

    Not a strong vinegar taste. Leaves a bitter aftertaste.

    Can i correct this? What did i do wrong?


    Thank you for your photo, it obviously shows, there is no mother-of-vinegar (MOV) at all. Since orange juice is very rich in trace vitamins, minerals, and sugar, the MOV will become considerable thick after fermenting for only about a week, i.e., between 0.5 and 1 cm (about 0.2 to 0.4 inches). Besides this, for the same reason the MOV will be quite stable (can only be torn up with both hands and a bit of force) and gelatinous like a jellyfish.

    To learn properly how a vinegar fermentation works, I would suggest to mix vodka, water, and orange juice, don't forget to add cultivated mother-of-vinegar, available at winery or vinegar producing suppliers. A detailed description of the recipe you'll find in the mentioned books (see https://www.making-vinegar.com/books/) or in our online seminar of course.

  • Question 9

    Des Pirkhoffer | Scotland, 20.02.2022 11:44:55

    Thank you for your book, "The Artisanal Vinegar Maker's Handbook", I have been reading it in detail but have 2 related technical questions:

    1. I understand that during the conversion phase of alcoholic substance to vinegar the process should not be allowed to convert 100% of the alcohol to vinegar. On page 77 (of the English version) you state the alcohol content will sink to about 0.3%

    Is this the only measurable value that should be used to determine that conversion should be stopped? I know that you mention smells and so on, but I’m interested in a measurable value.

    2. If the above measurement is in fact the only true technical way to determine when to stop conversion, then how should I measure this value?

    I have read your process for measuring ABV via distillation, starting on page 109 (again the English version) but it seems to require the measurement of the distillate via a refractometer to values of less than 1% Is this realistic?

    Using your suggested volumes and formula on page 113, and wishing to observe a sample ABV of 0.3% I see the following calculations:

    Volume of distillate 0.4ml

    Alcohol content of distillate 0.375%

    Volume of sample 0.5ml

    Alcohol content of sample 0.3%

    You will notice that this requires me to use a handheld refractometer to 3 places of decimal accuracy. This is not realistic. Even an accuracy of 1 decimal place is highly questionable.

    So, in summary, how should I determine the point at which to conclude alcohol conversion?

    Many thanks,


    Thank you, we appreciate that you enjoyed reading our book! :-)

    ad 1) Yes, this is true, no other measurable value indicates if the acidic fermentation is very close to its end or not. Of course, you could also observe acidity, but even the most accurate method (titration) will not show the difference between for example 0.5 and 0.0 % of residual alcohol. It's not guaranteed that every "piece" of alcohol will turn into acetic acid, you can't accurate enough take into consideration the amount of evaporated alcohol, effects from over-oxidation, losses caused by the formation of mother-of-vinegar, etc.

    ad 2) Of course, it would be ideal if hand-held Ethanol-refractometers with 0.1-%-tick-marks would be available. But they aren't for a reasonable price. So we intentionally use "standard" Ethanol refractometers for our equipment (the one's with a scale from 0 to 80 %ABV Ethanol). With the proper instruction (see book, online course, or video) and a little bit of experience it's quite easy to estimate the read off value with an accuracy of 0.1 %ABV. Will say, the value between for example the tick mark 1 %ABV and the tick mark 2 %ABV. Surprisingly enough, this estimation can be done without any effort by completely inexperienced, non-scientific people visiting our vinegar hands-on workshop. Up to now, every attendee were able to "find" the correct 0.1-%-value after my five-minutes explanation. We're hosting vinegar seminars since 2008 already. Of course, to be sure, it's advisable to perform a so-called error calculation: you're not sure if it's 0.6 or 0.7 %ABV? Just calculate the result by using both values and hereby determine the margin after the calculation. It's not necessary (and not possible) to be more accurate with the read off than +/- 0.1 %ABV.

  • Question 19

    Darryl Parker | canberra, Australia, 10.12.2021 20:32:37

    When I attempted to test for the starting Alc% of my spirit following distilling, the hydrometer would not even float and sank immediately to bottom of testing tube. I checked the hydrometer and it floated correctly with tap water.


    In this case the alcohol content is to high for liquid level. In other words: the higher the alcohol content of the measured liquid, the deeper the hydrometer will sink in this liquid. Thus, the liquid level must be high enough to ensure the hydrometer can float without touching the bottom of the testing tube. Or rather: take a taller testing tube...

  • Question 18

    Swallow | Brandon, 09.12.2021 19:57:34

    Hi, do you use liquid carbon in fermenting sugar wash? Some people do and

    some do not.


    No, we don't, it doesn't have any advantage. To remove unwanted taste, it's better to treat the distillate with activated carbon and thereafter distill a second time.

  • Question 17

    Rum guy  | Uk, 26.08.2021 07:39:19

    If I have 10lt of spirit at 37.5% how much spirit at 70%do I need to add to bring it up to 40% ?


    Just use our "mixing"-calculation-tool see the following link. I have entered your figures already, so there you'll see the result and you can, if necessary, also change them to calculate other concentrations.


  • Question 18

    Sylvie Sgf | Quebec, Canada, 22.07.2021 01:46:04

    I am going to buy your book. But I heard you also sell stills (for
    making essential oils). I will need to buy one. So I found your website
    and I see pictures of the stills that you sell and they are made of
    copper. I have a feeling that maybe it would be better to have neutral
    components, like glass, could the copper make a copper residue in the
    oil that we absorb and it would make us have too much copper in our
    body? Maybe my question does not make sense, because I really don't know
    much on the subject. So maybe you could help understand more about the
    use of copper in the stills. But if you do answer this in your book,
    then just forget my question, because I will buy your book. Thank you
    very much in advance.


    In principle you're right, but centuries of distilling essential oils
    have shown, copper doesn't harm at all. Moreover the opposite is
    true, this material has a positive effect on the distillate. But why is
    it nowadays more common to use steel? For the simple reason, it became
    much cheaper to weld steel and the material also became cheaper than
    copper in the scope of the time.

    And no, neither essential oil nor hydrosol contain measurable amounts of
    copper. BTW, the human body needs copper salts in small amounts, we
    would even die if we had no copper in small amounts in our food. Copper

    is only toxic for mold and similar microorganisms.

  • Question 17

    Emerita | Venezuela, 29.04.2021 15:37:22

    Hello, how are you, regarding the answer to question 16, I have a question: when distilling chamomile and rosemary, the essential oil obtained is only chamomile or is it a mixture of chamomile and rosemary essential oil? Thank you for your attention. Cordial greetings, Emerita


    Of course it will be a mixture. For this reason, hay flowers oil always smells also a bit like rosemary, since rosemary is mixed to the hay flowers to improve the oil yield.

  • Question 16

    e | Venezuela, 24.04.2021 18:43:59

    Hello, how are you? Check out the video on YouTube dated January 12, 2017, where 210 g of rosemary and

    290 g of chamomile were distilled. My doubts are the following: why were those two plants distilled? Can rosemary be distilled with another plant? Best regards, Emerita


    Yes, in fact all plant materials can be mixed, it just depends on your personal "taste" if the mixture fits or not. Rosemary is different however, this material helps other materials to lose their essential oil. Thus, the combination of chamomile and rosemary results in a higher yield of oil than the sum of both yields, if distilled separately.

  • Question 8

    Alex | SEATTLE, 04.04.2021 21:54:16

    Hello, I have your book and the ebooks, I am a home cook putting my ingredients in Mason jar. I want to make an intense orange vinegar using blood orange, or perhaps mandarins. I don't think infusing the oranges in the vinegar for two weeks will give me the intense flavor I want. Is it possible to put the oranges in the jar at the beginning of the fermentation process?

    I do not have a white wine mother. So I thought I would combine in a large jar 1)a warmed, live, nonfiltered white Vinegar 2)a bottle of white wine adjusted for sulfites/ABV and 3) the peels of the oranges. I would check in about 3 to 4 weeks. Is this a good plan? How long could this all sit in the jar to get the best flavor? Or should I remove the mother at first sign of vinegar and let the peels/vinegar sit on their own before bottling? What do you think?


    Yes, putting the oranges in the jar at the beginning of the fermentation is possible, but this is not really a different to infusing the oranges. It will be more intense, if you only use the peel (incl. white parts) or the zest (without white parts) of the orange. Take care to use only fruit with untreated peels, like organic cultivated oranges.

    You do not need a white-wine-mother-of-vinegar, the type doesn't matter, it's just important to add living vinegar bacteria. Yes, if the bacteria in the nonfiltered white vinegar are still alive, you can use it. How to test activity of the bacteria: just add a small amount of distilled alcohol to a sample of the white vinegar (alohol content of the mixture: roughly estimated about 2 % ABV). Cover the glass (jar) with a sheet of kitchen paper and place it in a warm environment. If after about five days to a week a mother-of-vinegar has developed, you can use the vinegar to start your fermentation.

    >> How long could this all sit in the jar
    not longer than fermentation takes, to avoid musty smell. The flavor depends on the amount of peels / zests you have added.

    >> remove the mother at first sign of vinegar and let the peels/vinegar sit on their own before bottling?
    No. How intense the taste will be, depends on acidity, the higher, the better. Thus:

    I would suggest to do it in two steps: at first perform the fermentation until finished, thereafter start the infusion. Infusion time depends on amount of peels and your personal taste, can take several weeks. Thus, test regularly, and if you're satisfied, remove the peels to avoid excessive bitter taste.

    We wish much success!

  • Question 16

    Azar  | sweden, 11.02.2021 09:24:45

    1. Do you have a fermentation container?

    2. Can I infuse anis with 12 percent dry white wine?

    3. How do you make clear Arak when you are infusing the anis? Will, it not turn to another color during the infusion?


    ad 1: Yes, but only for our own use. You can take an oval bucket right (available at hardware stores), drill a hole in the lid to plug in the fermentation lock.

    ad 2: Infusion: No, too less percent, better use 43 % at least high-quality Spirit: yes, the percentage shouldn't be higher.

    ad 3: yes, this is true, for this reason the infusion should be distilled, or rather make a spirit, this results in a better quality. As already said with tasteless 12 % alc. put the anis in the steamer basket.

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