Experimenting with my Brew.

Last night, I got to experiment a little with the rooibos brew that I’ve had going for the last month or so. I tried a real boer-maak-n-plan (that’s African hillbilly for you international folk) distillation using only 700ml of my 18 litre batch. This is how it went, step by step…

The first thing that had to be done, was the setup. It ended up looking like this.

DSCF0608Before I get into it, I’ll mention this – the intended final product is something close to a brandy though, I’ve very little idea as to what I’ll actually get out of all of this.

So, the large pot is filled with water. The kettle with the brew. The idea is that the pot’s water heats up slowly, and evenly (unlike steel). This, in turn, heats the steel kettle slowly, and evenly to make sure that the temperature is nice and controlled.

Alcohol has a boiling point of about 78 degrees Celsius. This does somewhat depend on the altitude – basically, the higher up you are, the lower the boiling temperature, and that’s why it needs to be easily controlled. Theoretically it should be 78 degrees (I’m looking at the sea while I type this), but playing it by ear (eye?) is apparently a good idea.

Now, as my intention was to make something close to brandy, I didn’t want to keep the temperature at 78 degrees, instead I wanted it a little higher so that I get some flavor, and not just the spirits.  Half following a guide, and half following my own ideas, I proceeded on a low flame.

We waited a very long time while the brew slowly heated up (it was pretty nippy last night).

After supper, it had finally gotten to the minimum temperature, and was beginning to show signs of life(?) under my anticipating gaze.

And then…

The gas bottle…




The gas bottle caught fire! Not some close-by object made of easily flammable material. The bottle containing an explosion caught fire. Between the women’s panic, and the threat of the wobbling, flaming tower, the potential catastrophe was averted.

This did not deter. The tower was moved over to the stove, which is where the real problem started, I think.


I quickly added a pot of cold water for the pipe to cool down in.

Of course, the whole endeavor could have been misguided from the start.

At this point, you may be wondering about all the tape covering that poor kettle. This kettle is not what you may call ‘new’ or ‘good’. It’s a camping kettle, and is as engineered as the bush it calls it’s home. No seal what-so-ever.

Back to the stove. The problem with said stove, is that it’s electric. If you haven’t ever gone from gas to electric (or vise versa) you are missing out (on gas)! The biggest problem with this electric stove is the lack of control. Heat settings that range from 1 to 8 don’t really tell me much about temperature… where as a gas stove’s flame can be more finely adjusted.

Anyway. I surged onward, fueled by hope and actual brandy.

20 minutes later, the stove did not catch a light. This was good. The first hurdle had been overcome.

That lack of a seal I mentioned earlier proved to be the final nail, and ultimately the experiment was a bit of a flop. At the end of all of this, I ended up with a pretty watery tea-thing that tasted like sadness. Nothing remotely close to brandy.

The issues in this attempt were the following:

The very low kettle spout (steam rises, after all). The flow of liquid was dismal at best.
The steel kettle (bad heat distribution).
The gas bottle catching fire.
The bad seal, most of the EVERYTHING just steamed into the air instead of the tube.
The tube that wasn’t cooled enough.

That being said, I am happy with the experiment, because I learnt a bunch! I can now chuck the rest of the 18 litre batch into my copper still with a much better idea of what I’m actually doing.

Hopefully I won’t waste my bucket of booze.

A bunch of other stuff happened, too, but they involve beards, strangely 70’s satanic music, tiny speakers, and other people, so I assumed you didn’t want to read about any of that.

Yours in writing
Definitely not Benjamin.




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