This blog provides information for educational purposes only. Read our complete summary for more info.
How to Make Whiskey
Some say that whiskey (also spelled whisky) is the most popular distilled spirit in the world. It's consumed across the globe and is made on every continent. But exactly how is whiskey made? In this article we're going to explain how to make whiskey, step by step, with the help of a master distiller. We've also created a two part video how to series which is further down in the article.
Please note: this article is for educational purposes only. Don't try this at home.
Whiskey Making Process
Here's a video on the first part of the process, which is making a whiskey mash. Full whiskey recipe details and procedures are below. Also, if you're curious about what exactly whiskey is, skip to our definition of whiskey.
Making whiskey is a multi-step process. Here's a table of contents if you're interested in a particular part of the process:
- Create a whiskey recipe
- Procure whiskey ingredients
- Make a whiskey mash
- Ferment whiskey mash
- Distill the whiskey wash (fermented mash)
- Age the whiskey in white oak barrels
What is Whiskey?
Whiskey is made all over the world and the definition varies from region to region, However, generally speaking, whiskey is a distilled spirit made from fermented cereal grains. Here's a bit of background on exactly what whiskey is and how it's made.
The answer to question of what is whiskey made of depends on the exact type of whiskey in mind. Single Malt Scotch Whisky (notice the omission of the "e" in "Scotch Whisky"), for example, is made with 100% malted barley contains no other types of grain. However, most other types of whiskey (and whisky) typically contain additional cereal grains. The three main ingredients most whiskey are water, malted barley, and yeast, but whiskey also typically contains corn, rye, wheat, oats, and more.
Whiskey Proof and Aging
According to Chapter 4 of the United States TTB's Beverage Alcohol Manual (BAM), whiskey is always bottled at 40% ABV (80 proof) or higher. Prior to bottling whiskey is often aged in white oak barrels.
Whiskey typically tastes a bit like the grain that's used to make it. For example, Bourbon, which is technically whiskey, is primarily made form corn and has a sweet corn taste. Aged whiskey often tastes a bit like the oak barrels it is aged in with sweet, vanilla, smoke, caramel and may even have undertones of cherry fruit.
The high alcohol of whiskey often creates a "warm" feeling in the mouth and the after taste is often peppery or spicy - especially when rye is used in the mash recipe. Though a whiskey recipe that features what will tends to be a bit more mellow.
Health and Nutrition
Although drinking whiskey in excess is generally considered to be unhealthy due to its high alcohol content, 1.5 ounces of 86 proof whiskey is about 105 calories, which is about half the calories of 12 ounces of IPA beer. So, relatively, it's potentially a better choice than beer for folks who are counting calories. That said, always drink responsibly and limit alcohol consumption to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
Added Color and Flavors
According to chapter 7 of the TTB's Alcohol Beverage Manual, food coloring and artificial flavoring can be added to whiskey. In fact, almost every type of American whiskey, with Bourbon being the only exception, allows for artificial flavoring and food coloring in amounts up to 2.5%. of the total volume. The only other type of whiskey made in the U.S. that cannot contain added color and flavoring is whiskey labeled as "straight." For example, "straight whiskey," and "straight rye whiskey" cannot contain such additives.
History of Whiskey in America
Although whisky was first produced in Ireland and Scotland, it also has an incredible history in America. In fact, in a letter sent from George Washington to John Hancock in August of 1777, the former suggested that the newly formed American Government set up public distilleries because importing whiskey from Europe had become nearly impossible due to attacks levied by the British Navy. Why was this so important? Well, because the soldiers needed it, of course.
In like manner, since our Imports of Spirit have become so precarious—nay impracticable on account of the Enemy’s Fleet, which infests our Whole Coast, I would beg leave to suggest the propriety of erecting public Distilleries in different States. The benefits arising from the moderate use of strong Liquor have been experienced in All Armies, and are not to be disputed.
George Washington would later open his own distillery at Mount Vernon, his private estate, located just 7 miles south of Washington DC.
How to Make Whiskey
Here are the individual steps one would take to make whiskey. Note, the legality of making whiskey at home is no different than the legality of making moonshine at home. Check the link or watch the video for more information.
There are a lot of different types of whiskeys. Bourbon is one of our favorites. But we also love Scotch and Irish whisky. Hell, we love Japanese whiskey too. Hmm, perhaps it's safe to say that love all types of whiskey. That's why it was so difficult to decide upon a whiskey recipe for this project. Though, after a lot of deliberation we decided to make something closer to a Tennessee style whiskey.
Tennessee whiskey is made primarily with corn. Malted barley is added for starch conversion and body. And rye and wheat are also often added to either spice things up or mellow them out. The exact details of are recipe are as follows.
This style of whiskey is made using typical whiskey ingredients (corn, barley, and rye), but it's also "charcoal mellowed" which requires some additional materials. The mash bill for Jack Daniel's, one of the most popular whiskies in the entire world, is made with 80% corn, 12% barley, and 8% rye.
Keep in mind that final product that comes out of a still is only going to taste as good as the ingredients that went in to begin with. As such, we're using an "all-grain" mash bill in our whiskey recipe.
Here's exactly what we added to our whiskey mash:
- 9 gallons of water
- 1 lb. 11 oz. rye
- 2 lbs. 9 oz. malted barley
- 16 lbs. 15 oz. flaked corn
- Distiller's yeast
Notice, our recipe matches the relative percentages of Jack Daniels almost exactly. To calculate the relative percentage of a mash bill use the following math: Convert all weights to a common unit (in our case we're going to use ounces). Then add everything together to get the total weight. After that, divide the individual ingredient weights by the total and multiply by 100.
1 lb. 11 oz. rye: 1 lb = 16 oz 1 lb. 11 oz = 16 oz + 11 oz = 27 oz
2 lbs. 9 oz. malted barley: 2 lbs = 32 oz 2 lbs. 9 oz = 32 oz + 9 oz = 41 oz
16 lbs. 15 oz. flaked corn: 16 lbs = 256 oz 16 lbs. 15 oz = 256 oz + 15 oz = 271 oz
Total weight: 27 oz (rye) + 41 oz (malted barley) + 271 oz (flaked corn) = 339 oz
Now we can calculate the relative percentages:
Rye: (27 oz / 339 oz) * 100 = 7.96% (rounded to two decimal places)
Malted barley: (41 oz / 339 oz) * 100 = 12.09% (rounded to two decimal places)
Flaked corn: (271 oz / 339 oz) * 100 = 79.94% (rounded to two decimal places)
The relative percentages are approximately 7.96% rye, 12.09% malted barley, and 79.94% flaked corn. Not exact, but close enough!
If you watched the video you likely noticed that there was an issue with the amount of water used for this recipe. The exact amount of water needed is going to be highly dependent on the type of corn used and the brewing equipment used to make the mash. We recommend starting with about 9 gallons of water and adding more until the mixture is fairly "loose" and soupy.
Make a Whiskey Mash
Making a whiskey mash involves crushing grain and then mixing it with hot water. The purpose of making a whiskey mash is to convert complex sugars into simple sugars that are more easily consumed yeast and turned into alcohol during the fermentation process.
Note, the ingredients above are portioned to allow for mashing to comfortably take place in a 20 gallon kettle and represent approximately 1/3 of the total ingredient amounts needed in order to make 15 full gallons of wash for a stripping run and a subsequent spirit run in an 8 gallon still.
You'll either need to make this mash recipe 3 times or you'll need to scale it up and brew it in a larger brewing system in order to use the 8 gallon still we used for this process.
To make our mash, we'll do something similar to how Jack Daniel's makes their mash. Howevever, Jack first gelatanizes the corn at 212F, they allow it to cool to 170F and add the rye, then they cool it all the way down to 148F and add their malted barley. Because we're using flaked maize, which is pre-gelatinized, we don't need to cook the grains at 212.
There are quite a few ways to mash grains including fly sparging, batch sparging, step mashing, and the brew in a bag (or basket) method. This article will focus on the brew in a bag process as it is the easiest and requires the least amount of equipment.
The brew in a bag method is the easiest way to mash grains for an all grain mash. In this method, crushed grain is added to a mash strainer basket - the mash strainer bag acts as a filter which makes it very easy to remove the grains from the wort at the end of the mash.
After the mash is complete, the mash bag is simply lifted out of the mash tun, allowing the wort (the liquid after mashing) to drain back into the kettle. We used Clawhammer's 20 gallon brewing system to make our whiskey mash. Note: make sure to add enough water and your mash will turn out great.
For more distilling equipment recommendations, check out our distillation equipment guide.
Whiskey Mash Steps
Here's the entire process for making a whiskey mash.
- Crush grains
- Add 9 gallons of water to a kettle and heat to 147 degrees F.
- Add the grains to the water while stirring.
- Check mash consistency to make sure it is soupy and not lumpy or dry.
- Maintain 147 degrees Fahrenheit for 60 to 90 minutes, while either recirculating liquid or intermittently stirring.
- After mashing is complete, elevate the basket so liquid can drain from the grains.
- Once the liquid has drained, chill the wort to 70 Fahrenheit.
Fermenting a Whiskey Mash
Before fermentation, make sure to clean and sanitize everything that the chilled wort will come in contact with (this does not include the brewing system). Cleaning and sanitizing all equipment is the best defense against getting an infection that will contaminate the mash. Using a cleaner such as PBW and a sanitizer such as star-san will decrease the likelihood of a contaminated batch of wash.
- Sanitize fermentation equpment.
- Transfer the mash liquid to the fermenter.
- Add distillers yeast.
- Add a lid and aerate.
- Install an airlock.
- Allow to ferment for 10-14 days.
How to Distill Whiskey
As we mentioned above, this article is for educational purposes only. Making a mash at home is legal. But distilling alcohol is illegal without a federal, state, and local permits. Our distillation equipment is designed for legal uses only. Please read our complete summary on the legalities of distillation for more information.
Here's a video that shows each step of the whiskey distillation process. The entire process is also detailed below, step by step.
Conduct a Stripping Run
Jesse conducted a "half stripping" run for this project. That means that some, but not all of the wash was quickly run through a pot still before being added to a column still for a final distillation.
Note, this procedure is slightly modified from Jesse's procedure in the video below, but matches the mash recipe above a bit better.
Here's how Jesse completed stripping distillation for his whiskey mash:
- Place the still outdoors or in a well ventilated area.
- Add 6.5 gallons of wash to the still along with an anti-foaming agent.
- Install the still lid, column, cooling hoses, and drain hose.
- Ensuring that liquid completely covers the heating element at all times, heat the still to at least 174F.
- As the still is heating, check for vapor leaks.
- Collect the stripping distillate in a sturdy container.
- Always ensure that distillate is cool to the touch coming out of the still and that vapor is escaping leaking from the still output hose.
- Collect all distillate until the distillate being produced is 5-10% ABV or less.
- Complete 1 more stripping runs with the fresh, undistilled wash.
- Empty and rinse still.
Conduct a Spirit Run
Following the same safety procedures listed above, Jesse did the following to complete his stripping run using a column still with a copper shotgun condenser.
- Add the remaining wash as well as the liquid from both stripping runs to the still.
- Apply heat and begin a spirit run;
- Discard at least the first 75 milliliters, as this could contain methanol;
- Collect spirits in individual 475 milliliter containers, labeling each one numerically as it is filled by the still.
- Early numbered containers will contain heads.
- The middle numbers will contain hearts.
- Later containers will contain the tails.
- Separate containers based on aroma and taste.
Charcoal Mellowing Whiskey (Optional)
Charcoal mellowing is what sets Tennessee whiskey apart from all other types of whiskey. Here are the steps that Jesse followed to charcoal mellow whiskey:
- Chop maple hardwood into small pieces
- Place the maple in a metal container with a small vent hole
- Heat the container in a hot fire for several hours
- Allow to cool.
- Place maple charcoal in a column
- Slowly drip whiskey into the charcoal bed
- Allow the whiskey to drip through the bed of charcoal
- Collect in a sturdy container
Whiskey can be quickly aged in small batches using charred white oak. The process for aging whiskey is as follows:
- Place whiskey in a small container.
- Add charred white oak to the container.
- Allow to sit for up to 6-8 months.
The time required to age will depend on a lot of factors. Most important is the ratio of the volume of liquid to the amount of wood added. Jesse recommends taste testing every few weeks to determine when it's ready. Again, he can do this because it's legal where he lives.
Whiskey is blended by tasting all of the whiskey in the various aging vessels and pairing the vessels that make the best aroma and flavor combinations.
Whiskey can often be bottled in empty store-bought bottles. If the bottle was originally corked, it can be re-corked using a corking tool.
Additional Whiskey Recipes
There are many different types of whiskey which are made all over the world. Here's a list of some of the more popular types of whiskey along with some information on how each is made:
Rye whiskey - Rye whiskey mash must be made predominantly with, you guessed it, rye. Here's a sample recipe for rye whiskey mash: 60% malted rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley. This is actually a very special recipe. According to historical distillery ledgers dating back to the lat 1700's, this is the recipe that George Washington used to produce the rye whiskey made at his estate.
Bourbon whiskey - Bourbon whiskey is predominantly corn with malted barley for starch to sugar conversion. It's then either rounded out with rye for a more lively drinking experience and spicy finish or with wheat to mellow things out. We prefer to keep things a bit more on the mellow side with Bourbon since it's already very robust given the amount of corn in the mash bill and the new white oak barrels that are used to age it. Our preferred recipe is: 70% corn, 16 wheat, and 14% malted barley. Note, enzymes may need to be added to this recipe to achieve complete saccharification.
Scotch whisky -Scotch whiskey is made in Scottland, as one might imagine. The legal definition for Scotch sates that it must be, "...distilled at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added)." We take this to mean that Scotch is primarily malted barley and minimally "other cereals." Our suggested malt bill would be 85% malted barley and 15% corn.
Tennessee whiskey - Although listed above, here is our preferred Tennessee whiskey recipe: 80% corn, 12% malted barley, 8% rye.
Corn whiskey - 80% corn and 20% malted barley
Wheat whiskey - Wheat whiskey is one of our favorites and a wheat whiskey recipe would look something like this: 51% wheat, 80% wheat, 15% malted barley, 15% corn.
Malt whiskey - 51% malted barley, 40% corn, and 9% wheat.
Moonshine - Like Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, moonshine is made predominantly using corn and malted barley. One of the moonshine recipes that we hear is more common is 82% corn and 18% malted barley.
Just a note. In the first sentence, it states “whiskey (also spelled whisky).” As if the two words are interchangeable. This is incorrect. Whiskey refers to certain kinds of whiskey, bourbon whiskey, Tennessee whiskey, etc. whisky refers to scotch whisky and Canadian whisky.
low yield out of no sugar grain mash . can someone help?
Hi there. Is the gallon measurement Us liquid gallon? And how much yeast?
Made the Single malt whiskey with this recipe adjusting for 4, 6 gallon batches mash the strip run.
Did add 1 tblspn yogurt to fermenter and used Red Star DADY.
After very slow spirit run and separation we used all hearts and hit deep into tails for grain flavor.
Put this in a 2.5 gallon charred oak barrel for 6 months. It is a fantastic Whiskey. We tasted and asked seasoned whiskey drinkers to give honest feedback.. all are amazed at the quality, complexity and flavors of this whiskey.
Thank you Clawhammer for all info and supplies.
I just followed this recipie to-the-t and got 1.021 OG . WTF did I do wrong? Id be lucky to get 3%abv. 13 lbs 2-row barley, milled. 5Gal h20. Stirred occasionally @150F for 60mins.
Im interested my grandfather and great grandfather and uncle were shoneres sheriff was one of his best clients only time he wpuld take free Christmas time
Love the info and availability of supplies. Making a all barley whiskey now. After mash I’m reading pabv 7.2%. Not bad for bib on a 6.5 gallon mash.
Thank you, Plumber
How long do you leave it in the fermentation vessel for?
what is the ratio of water to grain to make scotch single grain whisky mash also what is the amount of alcohol that will be produced from one ton of grain for scotch whisky before it is cut
How much yield do you usually get from 5 gallons?
Your recipes are great but where the hell can I buy this stuff.Should I call you on the phone to get the info I need????
All I see is questions with no way to see answers. I read above where you don’t respond to certain questions. What is the significance of posting all the questions and requests for help on the webpage?
why is copper used rather than steel?
why is copper used rather than steel?
Still# 1. 7 gal. Mash
6 scoops cracked corn
2 scoops 2 row malt barley
1 scoop rolled barley
10 lb. sugar
1 capful yeast nutrient
3 packets dry ale yeast
1 1/2 gal corn sours
To make your shine smoother, try running your worm a bit colder,I use a 6’ long condenser vs. a worm,30ga of ice water,frozen milk jugs. The output is usually 55 degrees F. If I’m running 30 gal. I usually add more jugs around qt. # 8. Or make your cuts earlier,jars 5 6 and 7 are usually pretty smooth and tasty.
What are your thoughts on putting copper in the white dog to get rid of the eggy smell?
Lee, you gotta just have time in the barrel. One easy way around it is to fill your demi-jon with oAK CHIPS (i DUNNO, A HANDFUL OR SO) AND THE GREATER SURFACE AREA WILL ACCELERATE AGING. nOW PUT THE DEMIJON AWAY AND LET IT SIT FOR A FEW MONTHS MINIMUM.
yOU CAN ALSO ADD A SMALL AMOUNT OF GLYCEROL (LIKE A TEASPOON AT MOST) TO SMOOTH OUT THE MOUTHFEEL, BUT ITS KINDA CHEATING.