For those of you interested in making authentic Vodka or Schnapps from
potato, the following emails from David Reid
should be of interest. The
problem with potatoes (as all starchy vegetables) is the need to first
break down the starch into basic sugars so that the yeast can use them.
This is done by using enzymes, either via malted grains or from a packet.
...there are probably better instructions and
details in books on Schnapps of which in English there is a real dearth of.
I would imagine there are some very good books available in German. What I
have described is basically the process for saccharifying barley which
applies to all grains as long as sufficient enzymes are added and the starch
chains are not too long or complex. Barley has by far the highest % of
natural amalase (diastase) enzymes plus a very high starch content of a
fairly simple nature which is more readily broken down than most grains
hence its widespread use and popularity from the ancient Summerians and
Egyptians to the current day.
The advantage of potatoes over most grains is
the amount of starch that can be produced per acre (up to 80 tons per
hectare with the world record being about 120 ton. Note wet weight not
actual starch content although this is generally 80% + of its dry weight).
Its disadvantage is the lack of enzymes which must be added (until 40 or 50
years ago not fully understood). I believe the only one that can equal
potaoes is cassava (tapioca) but you need a tropical climate to grow it.
Traditionally these have been processed at lower temperatures and left
soaking for quite a reasonable time, basically to give the enzymes time to
do their job and to save energy I would imagine.
I suspect the reason Simons first attempt failed was largely because of
insufficient amalase enzymes. Temperature possibly also had a small bearing.
I would imagine there is not that much difference in basic processing of
schnapps and vodka both being identical in the initial processing although I
have not done a lot of reading on the matter.
To get this better we really need to know the proper composition of potatoe
starch and its liquifaction and saccharification temps. Somewhere I have
some general details on these last two especially liquifaction but todate do
not have accurate details on starch composition. I believe the Danes have
done quite a bit of work and reasearch on this aspect (composition).
Potatoes are harder than most people think and you need a bit of
experience to get them right. Books make it sound so easy because they tend
to simpIify the process and take for granted that you have a full
understanding and experience of all the steps involved quite often leaving
out some of the elementary steps. Most of us need to fully understand the
basics first before we really begin to learn. I have not tried potatoes yet
myself but know this from my reading, broad experiernce of other aspects,
and experience with other forms of starch.
What you will probably need to do is what is called a Stepped Infusion Mash.
This is where you start the saccharification process at a low temperature
and then move it up in steps, halting for a certain time period at each step
to give each enzyme time to break down as much as they can at each stage. If
you have made beer in the past using an all-grain mash you will understand
To get a feeling for it and to understand the process better try the
If you muck around with the basic formula doing several batches, altering
the temperature and times a small amount each time you will quickly get a
feel for it and learn far more than you can learn initially out of books or
I can spell out for you.
- Cook your potatoes so they are still stiff - about 12- 15 minutes at
reasonable heat. Up to 20 minutes at low heat.
Note they should still be a bit undercooked, definitely not soft, mushy, or
- Add coarsely milled barley (particles mostly about 1/16 to 3/32" in size.
Definitely not too fine.). Use malted Ale barley or standard malted barley
rather than Lager barley as it is definitely higher in enzymes and enzymatic
Note you need sprouted malted barley not spray-dried malt which is normally
on a maltodextrin base and has had most of the enzymes destroyed or
inactivated because of the excessive heat used in the drying process.
- Cover with sufficient water and bring to 113 F (45 C). Hold 15 minutes
- Bring up to 133 F (56 C). Hold 15 minutes etc.
- Bring up to 149 F (65 C). Hold 15 minutes stirring constantly.
- Bring up to 158 F (70 C). Hold 15 minutes stirring constantly.
All up this makes 60 minutes which should suffice for a small batch. Some
batches will take longer especially bigger batches. Most of the liquifaction
and saccharification occurs in steps 5 & 6 rather than 3 & 4. If you want to
alter this reduce 3 & 4 to 10 minutes and increase 5 & 6 to 20 minutes or
longer where required.
- Once virtually all the starch is liquified and broken down to simple
sugars to halt the enzymatic process raise the temp to 176 F (80 C) (Mashing
Out) and then drop it back as quickly as possible to between 140 F (60 C)
and 122 F (50 C) so the sugars dont get scorched or burnt.
- Cool down further to 75 F (24 C), establish an SG of 1060 (min) to 1080
(max = ideal) and begin fermentation.
I suggest you start with 3 or 4 kg of potatoes and 1/2 kg of barley each
time so you have plenty of enzymes together with a very large pot so it
dosnt boil over. Once you have got this basic process under control and
gained a bit of experience I can help you further with advice and help with
enzymes. Also once you have the experience and understand fully what you are
doing with the right selection of enzymes you can reduce this 4 to 5 steps
down to 2 or 3 steps and save a lot of energy and time producing virtually
the same result.
At first for the small amount produced it hardly seems worthwhile but you
will be amazed at how quickly you have control of the process with a bit of
experience. Learn this process properly now and it will save you a lot of
The most important enzymes are Alpha
amylase, Gluco amylase and to minor extent Beta amylase. Beta has largely
been replaced by Gluco. The other important factor is temperature with each
of these working best (most active) at certain temperatures. Alpha works
best at higher temperatures normally chopping the starch into smaller blocks
whereas Gluco and Beta work from the ends. Temperatures required of the
process are therefore dependant on makeup and complexity of the starch.
As mentioned without knowing the exact composition of the potatoe starch I
cannot advise exactly the necessary temps and times. The setup I have given
you is basically for barley but should work quite satisfactory with potatoes
because of the range of temperatures involved.
What I am saying here applies
to barley as well as individual enzymes. The heat of cooking the potatoes
will start the process. For all I know it may help to throw a handful of
barley in with the potatoes when you begin cooking. Keep good notes of
amounts, times, and temps and if you have much better success compared to
the last time or another batch you should be quickly able to repeat it. By
doing this you will quickly get a good idea of what is required. Keep me up
todate with how you get on.
Be aware that enzymes are protein and bio-catalyst and like other proteins
consist of long chains of amino acids held together by peptide chains. They
are present in all living cells where they perform a vital function by
controlling the metabolic processes and hence the breakdown of food into
simpler compounds eg. Amylases break down starch into simple sugars. As
bio-catalyst by their mere presence and without being consumed in the
process they can speed up chemical processes that would otherwise run very
slowly being released at the end of the process to begin it all again if
required. In theory this can go on forever but in practice they have a
limited stability and over a period of time they lose their activity because
of variables particularly temperature changes and are not useable again. In
practice therefore be very wary of quickly changing and wildly fluctuating
Teemu writes ...
Making vodka from potatoes
Two good reasons for using potatoes:
1. Traditionally vodka is made of grain or potatoes to achieve the smooth &
soft aroma; witch is typical to commercial European vodkas.
2. In Finland 1kg of sugar costs about 1,9e, 25kg sack of (feed) potatoes
from local Agri-Market costs 2e...
The recipe, which may lead to prosecute:
1kg of barley, malted and gristed
50-100g of good (Turbo/Prestige/Partymann...) yeast (hydrated)
Some fresh water
30 litre beer fermenter
A large (30-50litre) kettle (I use a milk can...)
A meat grinder (for mashing the potatoes)
A large scoop or a "wash paddle"
A hotplate with a thermostat
1. Clean all the dirt from the potatoes, (don't bother to peel them)
2. Put the potatoes in to kettle and cover them with water, bring to boil.
Cook until the first ones break down -this should take about 1hr. In
meanwhile hydrate the yeast and mix 1kg malt and 2litre of water (if you use
homemade malt, don't dry them -it weakens the mysterious "amylathic power").
3. Pour the water out from the kettle (use mittens, be careful). Mash the
potatoes in the grinder while they are hot. (If done right the mash looks
like thick porridge.)
4. Put the mash to kettle (and adjust the hotplates temperature to 60C).
Add 1/3 of the hydrated malt to the kettle and stir well. Wait until the
temperature has dropt to 65C. Add the rest of the hydrated malt and stir in
well. Let sit there for about 2 hours. Stir often. (If done right the wash
should have turned flowing.)
5. Turn the hotplate off. Put the kettle in somewhere cool. When the
temperature has dropped down to 25C pour to fermenter and add yeast (no
nutrients needed). First carbon dioxide bubbles should rise after couple of
hours; main fermenting takes about two days, ready for distilling in four
days -if you have done everything as written. Result will be 7-12vol%,
depending the starch level of potatoes.
This is how I do it. There are many different ways too-but there are always
1. Softening the cellular walls.
2. Mashing the potatoes.
In industrial scale steps one and two are usually done by using the
HENZE-kettle, witch is basically a direct-steam heated pressure cooker
(pressure is up to 8atm and the cooking time about 40min).
3. Converting the starch to maltose.
Notice that there are only those 2L of water added to mash, no more are
required because the potatoes contains ¾ of water.
If the wash is done right you should be able to distill it with a still that
has an inner heating element -I have a 2kW inner (silver plated) heating
element in mine.
When I asked if he needed to filter the wash before distilling it, Teemu replied ..
No, no filtering required, but if want to be really sure strain trough a
kitchen sive (hole size about 2mm) to get rid off the peaces of malt. The
reason why grain washes burn onto the element is that they contain a lots of
cellulose (like porridge). [Dry grain (rye) contains up to 40% of
cellulose.] Potato wash wich is mashed well and fermented dry contains such
a tiny amount of cellulose (like soup), so that it won't burn onto the
element! (Fresh potatoes contains only about 14% of cellulose.) You can see
this in practice -- typical ready grain wash is thick stuff like
(milk) cocoa, ready potato wash is flowing like coffee.
Just keep sure that the potatoes are mashed enough small bits (>0.1mm)
before adding the malt.
More scientifical explanation why the potato washes don't burn on to the
|Potato vs. Grain
|  || Water|| Proteins||Fats|| Starch|| Cellulose
|Oats ||12%||13%||7%|| 60%||12%
|Barley ||12%||11%||2%|| 63%||12%
|Rye ||12%||12%||2%|| 62%||12%
Now if we calculate the water and the starch as element-friendly materials
and others as un-element-friendly materials we found that the grains contain
ca. 26% of un-element-friendly materials (non fermenting, burnable, low heat
transfer rate...), when potatoes contains only ca. 2.6% of
un-element-friendly materials! In practice this means that there is only
about half a kilo of un-element-friendly materials in 25l batch of potato
wash, but in 25l of grain wort the number can be as high as 1.5kilos!
Other reason why the potato mash doesn't burn onto the element is
convectional floating; the viscosity of fermented potato mash is enough near
of water to create the enough rapid convectional floating.
Dane writes ...
potatoes work really well, It is the enzymes in the barley
malt that convert the starch in the corn,
Potaoes are almost entirely starch, and water.
I use 20lb of 'taters with 5 gal of water, cook for an hour+ mash
them all up well, so it's a rumnny, thin mush. Add a couple spoon
fulls of acid blend. Add 2 lb of 6 row malt at 150 deg. maintain temp
and stir for several hours. let cool add another couple spoons of
acid, and nutrient. Add about 1 lb or 2 of pure sugar for some added
Use Ec-1118 and wait a week
It makes a really good spirit after 2 distillations and a little
Here's one recommended by Andrew, from Eastern Europe.
Combine all ingredients and leave until fermented, should take approx. 2 weeks
- 21 Litres of water.
- 7 kg of sugar.
- 175 grams of yeast.
- 3 small (125 mL) packets of tomato paste/concentrate.
- 0.5 litres of natural plain yoghurt
- 1.6 kg raw grated potatoes.
Wal writes ...
If you do not have too many potatoes, you can make a potato and sugar
mash, as suggested in a Russian samogon site. This would be a good
way to get an idea of the effect of potatoes on taste.
In the Russian language site there is no mention of adding malted
grain to convert the starch to sugars, which could be a problem,
unless the potatoes they use have sprouted so much that most of the
starch has already been converted! It is recommended to use about 5%
malted grain for potatoes as otatoes have about 20% fermentable
material, the rest being water.
Potato and Sugar Mash
4 kg potatoes
200 g crushed malted barley
4 kg sugar
20 L water
Peel and cook the potatoes in a minimum of water. Mash. When cooled
to 65C, add crushed malted grain and leave for 90 minutes for
conversion. Combine mashed potatoes, sugar and water, add yeast and
There is one Russian samogon recipe that combines potatoes and oats,
which could also give a good Irish poitin mash, as oats and potatoes
are common Irish ingredients. Although it suggests crushed oats,
rolled oats would be more convenient. No malted grain is mentioned,
but the addition of up to 1 kg of crushed malted grain would be
useful. Here is my modified version of the recipe:
Potato and Oats Mash
5 kg potatoes
4 kg rolled oats
1 kg crushed malted grain
20 L water (5 US gals.)
Grate the potatoes. Add some boiling water to grated potatoes and
rolled oats mixture. Allow to cool to 65C and add crushed malted
grain. Allow 11/2 hours for the conversion. Place mixture in a
fermenter, adding additional water to make 20 l. Add yeast and
Whether potatoes were used to make poitin is debatable, due to the
lack of information except for oral stories.
Malted barley was the original ingredient for poitin/poteen (unaged
whisky), but later other unmalted grains, treacle, sugar were used
due to availability and cost factors. Recently even
sugar beet pulp is used!
A method of producing spirits from potatoes was developed in 1669,
but commercially potatoes began to be used for distilling alcohol
sometime after 1820.
Lex Kraaijveld (http://www.celticmalts.com/edge.htm) has a couple of
references to the use of potatoes in Scotland and the British island
colony of St Helena.
From June 1, 2002 -
"Evidence for this in Scotland comes from the goldmine of
information, the 'Statistical Account', compiled and published in the
late 18th century. Besides barley and bere, potatoes are mentioned
several times as a product from which a spirit is distilled. The
quality of potato spirit was not considered very high. Rev. Joseph
Macintyre, of the parish of Glenorchay & Inishail in Argyll,
writes: 'Some distill a fiery and harsh spirit from potatoes.' and
the writer of the Aberdeen parish report agrees. 'Potatoes are less
fit for distillation than barley; the spirit produced is much
fouler'.....Rev. Alexander Small writes in his report of the Lowland
parish of Kilconquhar: 'Potatoes were scarcely known in this country
40 years ago; they now afford the poor half their sustenance, and
generally appear at the tables of the rich; they are well known to be
very proper food for horses and other animals, and are sometimes
distilled into whisky.'
So it seems quite probable that in Ireland, poitin (whisky's illicit
sister) was also made from potatoes, although due to taste, I suspect
that barley would have been the preferred traditional source.
From February 1, 2003 -
"St Helena is a small island in the middle of the Atlantic. In the
late 17th and early 18th century, distillation of 'arack' from
potatoes was a common activity....In the St Helena records it is
written in 1717:
'The miserable devastation formely made by distilling Arack from
Potatoes is too sencibly felt now by ever one in the place....."
The population of St Helena is of mixed ethnic origin but it is
recorded that 'Irish cottagers' grew potatoes there. (Five Views of
the Island of St Helena, Lieut. W. Innnes Pocock, 1815)