Using Potatoes

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 the process.

    To get a feeling for it and to understand the process better try the following:
    1. 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 floury.
    2. 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 action. 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.
    3. Cover with sufficient water and bring to 113 F (45 C). Hold 15 minutes stirring regularly.
    4. Bring up to 133 F (56 C). Hold 15 minutes etc.
    5. Bring up to 149 F (65 C). Hold 15 minutes stirring constantly.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. Cool down further to 75 F (24 C), establish an SG of 1060 (min) to 1080 (max = ideal) and begin fermentation.
    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.

    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 time later.

    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 temperatures.

    Good luck
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:
    20-25kg potatoes
    1kg of barley, malted and gristed
    50-100g of good (Turbo/Prestige/Partymann...) yeast (hydrated)
    Some fresh water

    Equipment needed:
    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 four steps.
    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.
    4. Fermenting.
    Notice that there are only those 2L of water added to mash, no more are required because the potatoes contains ¾ of water.

    P.S. 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 element:

    Potato vs. Grain
      Water ProteinsFats Starch Cellulose
    Oats 12%13%7% 60%12%
    Barley 12%11%2% 63%12%
    Rye 12%12%2% 62%12%
    Wheat 12%11%1.5%64%11%
    Potatoes75% 1.5%0.1%14%1%

    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 kick. Use Ec-1118 and wait a week It makes a really good spirit after 2 distillations and a little polishing

Potato Mash

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 ferment.

    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 ferment.

    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 ( 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.'

      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)
    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.     This page last modified Tue, 20 Jan 2015 20:51:05 -0800