Whiskey, vodka, rum - Whats the difference?

Putting older posts here. Going to try to keep the novice forum pruned about 90 days work. The 'good' old stuff is going to be put into appropriate forums.

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CrackBadger
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Whiskey, vodka, rum - Whats the difference?

Post by CrackBadger » Sun Apr 27, 2008 7:39 am

I know that the difference between whiskey and vodka is the fermented mash each one is distilled from. With whiskey the mash is made from malted barley grain, water and yeast while vodka the mash is made from potatoes, water, yeast. That part I understand but what I don't understand is how the mash makes a difference to the distillate.

All the distillation does is separate the ethanol + water from the rest of the mash so what difference does it make to the final product what the mash consists of. Are some of the other ingredients of the mash carried over through distillation? For example does some of the barley get distilled along with the ethanol/water azeotrope?

Basically what I'm wondering is how whiskey becomes gold when its finished and why vodka is clear. If my knowledge of distillation is correct then the distillate from the barley mash should be exactly the same as the distillate from the potato mash so what difference does it make what kind of mash one uses as long as theres sufficient sugar/water/yeast in there?

Do they add whatever makes whiskey gold after the ethanol/water is distilled from the barley mash or what?

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Re: Whiskey, vodka, rum - Whats the difference?

Post by Husker » Sun Apr 27, 2008 7:56 am

CrackBadger wrote: If my knowledge of distillation is correct
Badger, I mean no real offense, but it sounds to me like your "knowledge" of distillation is pretty small.

Go to the "New distillers" section. There is a MINI-FAQ there and a "Distillation 101" (sticky links there). These will get you started.

Yes, distillation does concentrate the more volatile compound in the mix, but it certainly does not simply convert your mash magically into pure ethanol. A single distillation with a common "pot still", and a wash/mash that is 12% ABV, will start producing output that is a little under 60% ABV, and the output percentage will drop off pretty quickly from that point, as the ethanol is removed from the boiling wash. While the output is much stronger than the original starting wash'es strength, it is far from being just water and ethanol. There will also be other congeners mixed in with this output. These are what gives certain drinks some of their unique flavors (such as whiskey and rum).

Now, if you take this output, and redistill it, you will achieve an even higher %ABV of output. This 2nd run's output will have less flavor, and odor, and fewer congeners (many of which are different higher and lower boiling point alcohols). Take that 2nd run's output, and run it again, and you end up with a higher %ABV and even less flavor/odor. Do this enough times, and you produce a neutral spirit (i.e. vodka). However, in doing so, you have lost a lot of the ethanol amount (in trying to cut out the parts of the run with the highest concentrations of congeners, i.e. heads and tails).

However, a still can be designed, that does these multiple distillations, all in once. This type of still is a column reflux still. It uses a tall column, and some packing material that has high surface area. Thus, as vapors rise up the column, they are condenses, and fall back down the column, only to have "part" of their volume (the most volatile parts), re-evaporate, and do so in more concentrated manner. This can happen, 4, 5, 10, 16, ... times, and is about the equivalent of doing that many single re-distillations of output, but doing it in the column is much more efficient, and wastes a lot less of the final output. With a proper column (and running it correctly), you can produce the strongest ethanol that can be produced through distillation methods (about 96% AVB). Water that back down to 40%ABV, and you have a neutral that is far better than commercial vodkas you can buy.

The "color", you see in whiskey, rum, etc, does not come from the distillation process. All distillate output is crystal clear (looks like clear water). The color comes from adjuncts added (like caramel), or from an aging process, using toasted or charred wood.

H.
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CrackBadger
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Re: Whiskey, vodka, rum - Whats the difference?

Post by CrackBadger » Sun Apr 27, 2008 8:18 am

Thanks alot. I wasn't expecting such a quick and detailed reply. This looks like one of the best forums on distillation on the internet. Yeah I know nothing about distilling alcoholic drinks but I study chemistry so I know a bit about the general procedures such as fractionally distilling with the reflux column.

I'll read the FAQ and info before asking any more questions but one thing I was wondering is if its legal to distill ethanol just for the fun of it as long as theres no indication that you intend on drinking it. I'd say distilling spirits is illegal in my country (Ireland) but I wonder if its only distilling AND drinking the product thats illegal. They can't outlaw distilling ethanol in general because loads of people distill it for fuel.

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Re: Whiskey, vodka, rum - Whats the difference?

Post by Husker » Sun Apr 27, 2008 8:40 am

CrackBadger wrote: I'll read the FAQ and info before asking any more questions but one thing I was wondering is if its legal to distill ethanol just for the fun of it as long as theres no indication that you intend on drinking it. I'd say distilling spirits is illegal in my country (Ireland) but I wonder if its only distilling AND drinking the product thats illegal. They can't outlaw distilling ethanol in general because loads of people distill it for fuel.
I can not speak for the laws of Ireland, but here in the US, it is illegal to distill ethanol IN ANY FORM without proper permitting. There are permits (and lots of red tape about gauging for tax purposes, and large bonds), for distilled spirits, and there are permits for fuel (with less red tape). There "might" be exceptions to the permitting laws for places such as college or high school chem labs, but even there, they might have some sort of permit (just not a spirit or fuel permit).

There are very few places on earth where today, it is legal to distill. New Zealand is one of those places. If you go to the parent site of these forums (http://homedistiller.org" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" rel="nofollow), you will see that the home pages are built by Tony Ackland, who is from NZ.

However, the laws will vary from country to country. Also, the punishments will vary from country to country. Here in the states, a "first offense", (especially if JUST for your own consumption), might not garner much punishment at all. However, a first offense in some areas of the globe (such as the middle east), would be a punishment I certainly would NOT wish upon anyone.

Badger, If you choose to explore the world of (better quality than you can buy) home distilled spirits, then it is wise to keep quiet about your endeavors.

H.
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Re: Whiskey, vodka, rum - Whats the difference?

Post by Uncle Jesse » Sun Apr 27, 2008 9:07 am

Anyone know which vodkas are actually made with potatoes these days? Most of them use 192 proof which they buy and then either water down or redistill once and then water down.
If only the best birds sang, the woods would be silent.

Amos Moses

Re: Whiskey, vodka, rum - Whats the difference?

Post by Amos Moses » Sun Apr 27, 2008 9:14 am

Uncle Jesse wrote:Anyone know which vodkas are actually made with potatoes these days? Most of them use 192 proof which they buy and then either water down or redistill once and then water down.
Chopin is made with potatoes. I buy it for martini's. It's smooth and has very little flavor on it's own. The flavor it has is different from other vodkas.
Linkage: http://www.chopinvodka.com/

Good stuff

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Re: Whiskey, vodka, rum - Whats the difference?

Post by Bohunk » Sun Apr 27, 2008 12:51 pm

Husker,

What a nice thing to do!! You take the time to help some one, and do in such a nice manner, you must be one hell of a dude. I have always been tempted to post a poll asking for votes as to who is the most helpful person on the forum. You are tops, then Pint, Uncle Remus, Uncle Jesse, etc, Takes a special guy to have the patience and knowledge to sit in your chair, glad you, Larry the Cable Guy and I are all Nebraskans.

The Bohunk

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Re: Whiskey, vodka, rum - Whats the difference?

Post by Husker » Sun Apr 27, 2008 2:09 pm

heh, git-r-done !
Hillbilly Rebel: Unless you are one of the people on this site who are legalling distilling, keep a low profile, don't tell, don't sell.

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Re: Whiskey, vodka, rum - Whats the difference?

Post by HookLine » Sun Apr 27, 2008 4:40 pm

He he.

Underneath those tatts and rough Nebraskan corn shucking hands, Husker is just a big cuddly bear. Ain't ya, H? :mrgreen:
Be safe.
Be discreet.
And have fun.

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Re: Whiskey, vodka, rum - Whats the difference?

Post by Husker » Sun Apr 27, 2008 4:45 pm

hehe. Kinda soft and fuzzy like cable guy, but I have a little more wardrobe choices than flannel.

H.
Hillbilly Rebel: Unless you are one of the people on this site who are legalling distilling, keep a low profile, don't tell, don't sell.

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