The French call it Eau de Vie, the Germans call it Schnapps, The Irish call it Poteen and in South Africa we call it mampoer. For this article we will call all of them "Unaged Fruit Brandies".
These are all the same thing: fermented fruit, that becomes fruit wine and distils to "unaged fruit brandy" and when aged in, or with French Oak wood, becomes fruit brandies. When we use grapes, then we just call it "brandy" after it has aged or "witblits" if it has not been aged yet.
To make any fruit brandy, the principle stays the same:
1. Take fruit and ferment it into fruit wine (if the fruit is grapes, then we just call it "wine")
2. Then distil the fruit wine to get an "unaged fruit brandy"
3. Dilute it with water to get "unaged fruit brandy” or;
4. Age this in French oak barrels (or add French oak chips into the unaged fruit brandy - even in bottles) and it becomes a fruit brandy after some time.
To make both Schnapps and Brandy requires the same process to be followed for fermentation and distillation. Brandy just needs to get that "woody" character after aging with the French Oak whereas schnapps is just the “brandy” in unaged form.
The equipment that we would recommend for small scale fruit brandy manufacturing:
Equipment for fermentation:
1. A 20 or 25 Liter Food grade plastic (or better a stainless steel) bucket with lid that can seal air tight.
2. A "fermentation lock" that can be fitted to the lid of the plastic bucket and a silicone bung.
3. A triple scale hydrometer (to measure sugar content and monitor fermentation progression) – Read also: How to use a hydrometer/alcoholmeter.
4. pH Test strips(to make sure the pH stays between 3.5 and 4.5 during fermentation)
If you would like to go smaller, consider even a 5L fermentation bottle instead fo the a 25L bucket.
Equipment for distillation:
1. A 25 Liter alembic copper potstill (or other size if you would like to go bigger or smaller) with matching condenser (all our pot stills comes with condensers)
Why we recommend this:
a. “25 Liter” to match the fermentation bucket (or a 5L small one to match a 5L fermentation bottle)
b. “Alembic pot still” – specifically for fruit brandies
c. “Copper” – to remove H2S (rotting egg) aromas from fermentation during distillation
2. Thermometer (80 to 120 degree C) (included in the above pot still)
3. Alcohol meter (0-100%) and 100ml measuring cylinder to use with the alcohol meter
4. A gas burner (Preferably) or an electric heating plate or you may build the pot into a brick structure to use wood as energy source (not recommended as it is difficult to control evenly an dthe mash might get birned very easily)
The above setup will allow you to produce the following per single distillation batch run:
1. 3-5 bottles (750ml) of fruit brandy at 43% alcohol by volume (abv), based on fruit wine fermented to 12% abv or;
2. 15-20 bottles (750ml) of liqueur at 24% abv (with sugar added) based on a fruit wine fermented to 18% abv. or,
3. 1-2 bottles (750ml) of fruit brandy at 50% abv for fruit (other than grapes) without the addition of sugar to the mash.
For aging “unaged fruit brandies” into proper “fruit brandies”:
Then there are a number of “consumables” that you may also want to consider:
1. Pot distiller’s yeast - then none of the following are required:
2. Distiller’s yeast(to do the fermentation)
3. Yeast nutrients(used during fermentation)
4. DAP (to provide Nitrogen during fermentation)
5. Potassium Carbonate (to adjust pH to become more alkaline)
Then off-course, some knowledge on how to ferment, distill, do cuts and blending etc is required. This is perhaps the most important part of all. A good distiller will create excellent spirits even with really poor equipment whereas a poor distiller will only create bad spirits with even the most expensive equipment. Have a look at our most popular workshop: Making Mampoer and get started with the right knowledge.
The desktop still is great for making sugar based rums or vodka – but unfortunately not great for mampoer, schnapps or brandy (as it contains no copper to remove the H2S that comes from fruit fermentations).
If you now take the unaged fruit brandy and sweeten it with sugar, you'll get an "American style schnapps".
When you Infuse herbs, spices and adding other ingredients and sugar into your "unaged brandy" and dilute it further with water, you will be making a liqueur.
Adding dairy products (such as "ideal milk" with sugar) will turn it into a delicious "cream liqueur".
We can even add some spices (or fruit skins or even fruit slices) into the steam path to make a more aromatic, fruity spirit. This technique is called "ginning".
...or we could even make our own spice, fruit or any other natural flavour extracts and add it to the end product for an exotic spirit...
...and so we could go on and on... on "all things distilling" .... the fun never stops!
Cheers! Gesondheid! Oogy-wawa!