Methods of Polishing Spirits

Please note that the previous iteration of this page recommended using plastic and PVC as containers and apparatus for polishing your spirits.

This advice was not only incorrect but harmful!

Ethanol is a solvent. Do not let your ethanol come into contact with plastic or PVC at any point, or you, your friends and your family will be drinking whatever chemicals the ethanol manages to leech into your final product.

We recommend that you use copper and/or stainless steel only!

The best place to find information and advice pertaining to spirit polishing is on the Homedistiller Forums where people share and update information based on real life advice and experimentation, and where safety is emphasized.

The following info is here for historical purposes and whatever usefulness is contained, but please, do not use plastic or PVC for any of these processes. We recommend only the use of copper and/or stainless steel.


When you have finished filtering your spirit, do a final filter using say 250-500mL of water. This will flush the remaining alcohol which is wetting the carbon, and save you from throwing it away. Put this back in with the next wash you distill.

Kez has optimised this ...

    I think I had a stroke or genius yesterday in filtering my spirit. I usually run a litre of water thru at the end to get the final amount of spirit out of the tube of carbon. To see when the water begins I just sit at the end and taste the spirit until it tastes diluted, which is a pretty grey area after about 20 tastes (yuk).

    So yesterday I put in a litre of hot tap water instead of cold.
    This told me 2 things.....
    1. I could feel in the tube where the water was and it told me that all the carbon was being used in the filtration.
    2. When the water was about to come thru cutting down on about 18 tastes, YES!

    To celebrate my new knowledge I had a couple of scotches. I love it when a plan comes together.

To remove any of the very small carbon carbon particles left in the spirit, you can pass it through very fine filter material - down to 1 micron pore size. This will leave it crystal clear and clean.

From Cheryl (Victoria, Canada)...(posted on http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Distillers)
    What I have found that works well for me is, I add a 1/2 tbsp virgin oak per 2 litre container, in with the activated charcoal and treat for only 2 days (or it takes on the color, of the oak) then filter, add water to 50% and, perfect vodka.
Jack does similar ...
    Most people are familiar with "sugar vodka" and the numerous off flavors and strange tastes and smells that a pure sugar wash can create, even when carbon polished. It seems that everytime someone throws every random failed batch of wine/beer/etc into a still and "salvages" the alcohol, the vodka it produces tends to be the "smoothest batch I've made". Even though it was made from homebrewer "remnants". Rather than trying to rely on a bunch of wine or beer I'm not happy with, and can only turn into vodka, I found a method to get the smooth taste of a "random batch vodka".

    Simply make a pure sugar mash, using turbo yeast or whatever else you have handy. Ferment it out and distill it to 95% (or the best of your stills' capability). Dilute the spirit down to 40 to 50% and age it for a month on some uncharred American oak chips. About 2 tablespoons per gallon. Let this sit a month, until a nice oak flavor can be tasted in the spirit ( I try for Glenmorangie Scotch/gold in color), almost like a bland, one-dimensional, failed bourbon whiskey. THEN filter out the oak chips, add your carbon, and treat it as you normally would any sugar vodka. I have tried this with a small test batch, I am now soaking oak chips in ALL my vodka- even the stuff already carbon polished (I'll just re-polish it). After carbon treatment, there is no color and no wood flavor. The taste, however, is markedly improved. It tastes just like the wonderfull once-a-year-distill-all-the-remnants-I've-never-gotten-around-to-bottling batches people come up with now and then, but it can be done consistantly now! Appearantly the acid and tannin content in the oak mellows the spirit out through various chemical alterations/combinations, and these beneficial changes are noticable even when the flavoring compounds they form have been removed by carbon. Your sugar vodka will be the best in the neighborhood after this-and just as water-clear. Give it a try!
The following method is recommended by Gert Strand, in order to get optimum performance from the carbon.
    Activated carbon will work best when used in a granulated form as a filling in a filtration column using the following method.
    • Fill a tube 1.5 meters in length and at least 40 mm diameter with pre wetted granulated, activated carbon. Beware! The tube must be at least 38 mm diameter or it will introduce a "wall effect" where alcohol slips through the column without being purified. The filtration must go as slowly as possible without stopping, or the effects are much reduced. The filtration rate must not rise above approx 400ml per hour. Place one coffee cup of Norit activated carbon (0.25 to 1 mm) at the bottom of the column to reduce speed. With some carbons the speed can be higher.
    • To get achieve maximum effect from activated carbon the filtration must take place through the carbon bed without channeling, and in addition, the tube must be free of any air. To accomplish this proceed as follows;
    • Put the carbon in a bucket or kitchen pot and completely cover with 2-3 times more hot or boiling water. Mix for a minute and pour out any excess water. Repeat 4-5 times to wash out soluble material from the carbon.
    • Place filter papers in the tube. Fill the tube fill with warm water, then top up with the pre-wetted carbon so it flows into water and no air at all remains in the tube.
    • Filter 2-3 liters or more of water through the column to wash out any water soluble substances present in the carbon.
    • Start pouring the alcohol to be filtered directly "onto" the water so that no air comes into contact with the carbon in the tube. Filter all of the alcohol in one run, again to prevent any air from coming into contact with the carbon. Run about 1 liter of water through at the end of the alcohol to flush out the last of the alcohol. Taste the alcohol and stop collecting when you detect water.

Jan writes about freezing when filtering ...
    About carbon filtering: I Dilute the spirit app. 50/50 then use one spoonful carbon / litre (US. Quart), leave it for two days with occasional shaking.- filter through a coffee filter. THEN ---- I freeze it !!! Three days in the deep freeze at -25 deg. C. This makes the water and remaining fusels AND fine carbon particles stick together. Run it through a coffee filter as fast as it allows (filter density). What I'm left with is pure, clean, no smell alcohol which can be diluted to preferred strength (35 - 40 %).
Baker quotes from "The Alcohol Textbook" by Jacques, Lyons, & Kelsall:
    Production of vodka

    The 1982 US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) regulations define vodka as neutral spirit so distilled or so treated after distillation, with charcoal or other materials, as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color. The use of charcoal filtration is now optional, whereas in earlier regulations it was mandatory and even the time and amounts of fresh charcoal to be used were specified. This change is in recognition of the relatively recent improvements in the quality of neutral spirits. Vodka is generally taken to be odorless, tasteless and colorless ethanol, but in the past in Eastern Europe vodka was lightly flavored with grasses or herbal extracts.

    It should be stressed that not only is the charcoal treatment nonessential, it is also not particularly effective and will not make a poor quality, improperly rectified neutral spirit into a good quality vodka. Neutral spirit should be diluted to about 55% before charcoal filtration. The old BATF regulations (1961) specified dilution to between 55% and 40% at a minimum contact time of 8hrs with 10% of the charcoal replaced every 40hrs to give a minimum usage of 6 lbs of new charcoal per 100 gallons of spirit treated.

    This was usually achieved by passing the diluted spirit through a series of eight or nine cylindrical charcoal filtration beds in a slow, continuous flow with one of the beds changed every day. The fresh bed would be connected last in the series. This meant that the beds were constantly being rotated; so the preferred arrangement was to set the beds in a circle to facilitate the changing. A simple alternative treatment method is to add charcoal to diluted neutral spirit in a tank and agitate or circulate it through a pump for a suitable length of time.

    The water used in the initial and final dilutions should be clean, odorless and preferably demineralized. The demineralization is generally for aesthetic purposes as consumers do not like to see a white film of salts around the side of a bottle or glass if the vodka has been allowed to evaporate.

    In countries where laws require that all spirits be aged in wooden barrels, it may be necessary to add a small amount of sugar and/or glycerin to be able to classify vodka as a liqueur or a compound spirit rather than as an immature spirit. The amount of sugar or glycerin used is normally the minimum required to provide proof obscuration. This occurs when there is sufficient dissolved material to cause the apparent proof obtained by direct testing to differ fractionally from the real proof obtained by distilling the ethanol from a sample in a laboratory still and retesting after redilution to the original sample volume.

    Great care should be taken in the bottling of vodka to prevent contamination with residues of other odorous products. The tanks and bottling systems should be washed thoroughly if previously used for other products. However, some bottlers prefer to keep a set of tanks and a bottling line dedicated solely to handling vodka. For further reading on vodka processing seethe reviews by Simpson (1977) and Clutton(1979).


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