Ingredients: Apricots and/or other soft fruits, wine yeast (or bread yeast in a pinch), winemakers' yeast nutrient salts(optimal, but also optional) and water.
The great thing about summer is there is always fresh fruit to be had, especially if there are a few fruit trees in your backyard or a farmers market near-by. Sometimes you end up in a situation where you have much more fruit than you could ever eat and are looking for a non-wasteful use for it all. Here is a little suggestion from Doug, one of our coppersmiths: apricot brandy! This is Doug's recipe for brandy with apricots, but you could use and fruit or combination thereof for your own run. However, make sure you only pick ripe fruit as this will have the highest sugar content. Additionally, make sure all of your equipment is clean and sterilized. Nothing is worse than distilling vinegar...
The best time to pick fruit is in the late afternoon because this is when the flavors are most pronounced and the fruit has been warmed by the heat of day. The reason for this is because warm fruit will ferment faster than cold fruit.
Select only the best ripe fruits for your brandy and throw away any damaged or rotted pieces.
A total of 45lbs of apricots were collected, more than enough for our purpose.
Washing the Fruit
Wash the fruit with plenty of water. We recommend transferring the fruit to a container that will hold water. This makes washing much easier to do a thorough job.
After washing your fruit, place in a crate or sieve to allow the water to run off. The fruit does not need to be completely dry, our goal is simply to remove excess water.
Removing the Pits
Then one by one open the fruit, remove the pits, and squash the apricots. Although they may contain insignificant quantities of cyanide we don’t want to be taking any chances.
At the same time mash the apricots in a sterile container.
Really do a thorough job of it. If you want to cheat, use an immersion blender.
This is the container that will be used for the fermentation process. Be absolutely sure that the containers used for the fermentation are sterile. It is important to determine the pH level of your mash to ensure a good fermentation by using a pH indicator or litmus paper. Also some micro-organisms thrive if the pH level is too high. The ideal pH level is 3 but slight variations are tolerated. You can correct the acid level with lemon or orange juice. Although we used a carboy, you can use whatever large food-grade vessel you want, just keep in mind some are harder to seal. See: Airlock.
Add some water to the mash to give it a more liquid consistency, about a half a gallon. You’ll need a funnel for filling if you used a carboy.
When the container is half full begin to add the yeast, wine yeast is best, but bread yeast will work. Also 10grams of winemakers' yeast nutrient salts was added to boost the process (optional). If you’d like your brandy stronger you could add extra sugar for the yeast to feed on. You can measure the sugar content using a mustimeter although in this case were looking for a more natural product so it's unnecessary.
Shake Before Use
You need to give everything a good shake so your yeast and the yeast nutrients are evenly spread. This will also oxygenate the mash which will get the yeast to reproduce itself. In the next step we will want to cut the oxygen supply so the yeast can begin to convert the apricot sugars to alcohol.
Fit an airlock and top up with water to the required level. This will allow the carbon dioxide to escape and keep the air and foreign matter out. These are available at local brewing supply companys, but if you don't have one near you, just use a balloon or an un-lubricated condom.
During the fermentation you want to keep the mash between 70ºF-80°F. Fermentation should be monitored carefully; this is where practise, patience, and experience comes in. Depending on sugar content, temperature, and yeast fermentation will take anything from a few days to a couple of weeks, at which time the airlock will stop bubbling or the balloon will stop inflating.
After allowing the mash to settle for a day decant your mash carefully into the still and discard any sediment at the bottom. For this example we are using a 10 gallon whiskey still.
Before sealing your still ensure there is no obstruction in the piping that could lead to an excessive pressure build up. Place the onion lid onto the pot and seal joints where vapor could escape. In this case high temperature resistant silicone tape was used but teflon tape or plumbers tape could also be used. The old-fashioned method still works as well: make a simple dough from flour and water, then push it into the seams to seal it.
Filling the Condenser
This is self explanatory.
Bring the mash up to a slow boil. Check the temperature of the copper tubing near the brass fastener regularly and once you find that you can no longer hold the copper tubing lower your heat source to ensure a slow distillation. The slower the distillate exits from the condenser spout the better quality product you’ll get.
..you should discard the first ounce per gallon as this may contain some undesirable volatiles that will ruin taste.
The Good Stuff
Have some clean containers on hand to collect your distillate in. Ideally you should collect by the pint; mason jars work great for this. Check your temperature regularly and once you reach 200-205ºF you should stop distilling or else you’ll be collecting the tails of the run. Alternatively, you could check the smell and taste throughout the run. Any distillate that smells funny should be regarded as tails and set aside. Finally turn off your heat source and open the lid - be careful, it's hot! . Wash the still, dry it, and store safely away. See our Cleaning and Maintenance article for instructions on how to keep your still in good shape.
Relax and Enjoy
Lie back in your favorite lounge chair, put on some music and enjoy your homemade apricot brandy in the company of friends.