Banana Brandy – Making Ugandan Waragi (Moonshine)

good afternoon a couple of months ago we promised that we would be doing some videos on laboratory techniques and today what I'd like to do is cover the process of distillation it's obviously very important industrially it's how gasoline is made and water is purified and it's also useful to understand some of the techniques and the principles behind distillation in a layout but rather than do some sort of dry example or demonstration with beakers and flasks what we're going to do today is we're going to make something worth distilling we're gonna make brandy and in order to do that what we have to do is we have to ferment a beverage and then what we're going to be doing is distilling that a little bit later after the fermentation is complete a few years ago I saw an interesting video that was produced by Vice it's somewhat disturbing but very interesting and we'll put a link to it at the bottom of this video nevertheless back in the 70s and the 80s there was a real long series of civil wars that were going on in Uganda and because of budgetary reasons and in order to give the soldiers that additional duct courage there was a lot of alcohol production in digitus alcohol production and the most readily available starch for the purpose was bananas recently a lot of private individuals have gotten into the act of producing a banana beverage and what we're gonna do today is show you how that's done if you go into a liquor store and you look for banana brandy you're probably going to find what's a mixture of grain alcohol and some corn syrup and banana extract and it's pretty nasty if you do this the right way though the end result is actually a very tasty and pretty subtle but to do that what we're gonna have to do is we're going to have to go through the process of fermenting the bananas when you're making a distilled spirit from grains you're making a whiskey and when you're making a distilled spirit from a fruit you're making a brandy and in the process of making a whiskey the first step is to make a beer it's not the kind of beer you go into a pub and drink it doesn't have hops but that's the first step in the distillation process when you're making a brandy the first step is to make a wine so today what we're gonna do is are gonna make banana wine now one of the important things to keep in mind with bananas is that unlike fermenting sugars or grape juice they've got a few extra challenges simply because the fibers fibrous nature of the fruit and the thick heavy skins so the first thing we're going to need to do is we're going to need to peel and cut off the bananas these bananas are nicely right but we're gonna be taking off the skins and that's an important thing because in grains you have tumult the grain or essentially get it to begin sprouting in order to take the starch which is a good way for nature to store energy and turn it into sugar which the seedling can eat and that's the same thing that happens with fruit except the enzymes that do that ripening process are in the skin because we're going to be removing the skin we're gonna have to do something to make up for the lack of enzymes okay we'll call that 2.7 kilograms before making up this banana mush now when you're making wine obviously you don't have to boil or heat the liquid but because we are going to be using an artificial enzyme to enhance the sugar conversion that enzyme link'll amyloids works best at an elevated temperature of between 140 degrees Fahrenheit 160 degrees Fahrenheit and so we're going to need to warm the mixture in order to give the Amazon to do its job there are two forms of amylase there's the Alpha and the beta the alpha amylase works at a slightly higher temperature and breaks down the very long-chain polysaccharides the shorter chain polysaccharides and single sugars the beta-amylase works best at around 140 degrees Fahrenheit and will further the process by breaking down any of the remaining polysaccharides it looks right now like we've got 2.25 kilograms in the second batch so if I do the addition right that's almost exactly 5 kilograms so now we're going to add the water one gallon of water is a little less than four kilograms so we're going to add a gallon and a half of water to this this is not anyway a precision activity now you can do this with a blender and help further break down the fibers and get this blended up I like using an immersion mixer simply because there's less steps it's less messy and there's less chance to introduce bacteria and other kind of foreign particles into the make sure if you're just doing this in a single operation [Applause] all right this put a thermometer in here so we can measure the temperature and we'll do this in Fahrenheit as I've been giving you all the factors in Fahrenheit but you can obviously do the conversion pretty easily we're gonna run up to a hundred and sixty degrees Fahrenheit so that we can add the alpha-amylase then we're going to let it cool a little bit more we'll add the beta-amylase and then let it cool a little bit more and we'll add the yeast okay as you can see we've gotten to about 160 162 degrees and we're gonna allow nature to cool this off but I want to do a little demonstration before I put in the amylase this is the alpha amylase it comes from BSG number of different companies make it and what it does is it breaks up starch this is some cornmeal that I added to water to make it into sort of a porridge and because of the heavy starch content it's obviously thick I mean you could make wallpaper paste out of this I'm gonna add a little bit of this amylase to this generally speaking you want to add about a teaspoon per gallon or 15 cc's per four liters you can do some of the conversions but I'm just gonna throw in a small quantity of this alpha amylase into here and then I'm going to mix this and you saw the viscosity before and see what happens now once we add the amylase this has been heated up to about 160 degrees and generally it'll take about an hour in a big mix to do all of the conversion but as I mix this in here you'll notice that it's starting to become a little bit you know hurting the starch and sugars much more soluble in ER liquidy mixture and now what we're gonna do is we're going to add the same amylase to our VAT which is just about the right temperature here so with three gallons that means 45 CCS that's one tablespoon to be mixed into here you could add more but you don't need to sprinkle that around try to get most of it in the pot a little bit under the air but just gonna enhance that a little bit and that's sufficient now what we're gonna do just blending that in and out of here and you can see that the mixture is noticeably thinned and it will continue to thin as the starch is converted to sugar it would have been nice to know about this when you visited aunt Bertha and she was making some of her wallpaper paste Farina in the morning you didn't need to sneak sugar you just needed to have a little amylase in your pocket alright so we'll wait a few more minutes allow this temperature to drop naturally to about 140 degrees and then we're gonna add the beta-amylase this is harder to obtain I got this from alpha azar which is a chemical company or a pharmaceutical chemical company years ago but you can get this is just a little bit less readily available and it will help to enhance the process because you'll get a little bit more of the very simple sugars that the yeast likes to eat alright it's been about 10 minutes and the temperatures come down to just about the right temperature for the beta-amylase same quantity we're gonna add 45 milliliters or three teaspoons or one tablespoon and same idea we're going to blend it in and let nature cool the mixture down to the temperature that the yeast will tolerate which is below 100 degrees Fahrenheit stir that in but the natural cooling process is actually what you want because you want about a half hour of duration while this cools to let the amylase do what it's going to do and as you can see after a few minutes with even just the alpha amylase this has become almost watery and it's sweeter you can taste it it's almost as if you added sugar to it but it's the same mixture I haven't done anything to dilute it just love the amylase to do what it was gonna do pretty neat huh alright it's been about 25 more minutes and we've gotten the temperature down to about a hundred degrees and it's safe now to add the yeast to things I add a yeast nutrient to these fermentations basically it's purified urea which includes both phosphorus and nitrogen and it helps to add some additional nutrient mix to get the yeast started and get it growing very quickly because the whole idea here is we want to try to enhance the growth of the yeast so that the yeast overwhelms any other kinds of critters that might try to grow in this sweet sticky mixture like bacteria or wild yeasts so by adding a little bit of this as well as working at the optimal temperature we can get the yeast started a kickstarter very quickly and finally the last thing I like to do is I want to describe to you the yeast you can use bread yeast to make any of these types of distillation x' but the problem with the bread yeast is it becomes intoxicated by its own alcohol output at about a 5% alcohol content these yeasts that are made for making fermentations for alcohol I have a much higher survivability in alcohol all the yeast I like to use is called a champagne yeast it's sort of a category of yeast and it will survive and thrive all the way up to about a 20 percent alcohol content yet there are a variety of different types of yeasts yeasts do affect the flavor of the final beverage but this particular yeast I've been very happy with over over the years and the amount of yeast you add is really not that significant you want to add enough general I use the same as I use for the amylases so once again 45 milliliters or 3 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon you can go through the process of activating this yeasts instance and some water and sugar to kind of get it kick-started before you add it to the mix I don't really find that that's made really any difference and it's just it seems to add more complexity to the process so just put this in and then you want to stir it thoroughly we want to get make sure that it's not clumped so each of the yeast particles get exposed to the good ingredients inside and after about four days you can do a specific gravity measurement but practically speaking you'll notice it's done when the carbon dioxide stops being produced when the foam stops being produced and you'll notice that there the bubbles that are forming over the next couple of days just cease their production in addition you don't really need to use these complicated vapor logs carbon dioxide is heavier than air and the reason I do this in such a large vessel is I don't bother with then transferring this over to a fermentation vessel I just do to the pot again less chance of contamination and less things to wash up and this provides a decent seal when you allow for the fact that the carbon dioxide has been a form sort of a vapor seal above the yeast in this open space put this in someplace where it's not going to be disturbed and in about three or four days check it every so often just to see if the bubbles have stopped and once they have we're going to be ready for the next stage which is to siphon off the clear mixture and we're going to distill it okay it's been about four days and I've taken the container out of the room where we have this fermenting and if you look inside you'll see that the bananas which are very fibrous have produced sort of an oatmeal like film on the top surface and that's one of the reasons why you want to make sure that you have enough room for the expansion and the bubbling that occurs during the fermentation you'll see the staining along the inner wall here shows that at one point the level had actually moved up this high and that's one of the reasons why it's nice to add a fair amount of water and to have a lot of extra Headroom here so you don't make a mess you'll also notice that I've placed an aquarium heater this is a new aquarium heater into the mixture in order to maintain the optimal temperature between about 75 and 85 degrees if you have a nice warm room you don't need this but this is a very convenient way of maintaining the temperature if it runs very cold you run the risk that this could take weeks and potentially wild yeasts or bacterias could grow in here if you run it too hot obviously you could kill the yeast temperature range though is pretty optimal and you'll notice that after about three or four days the bubbling and the churning ceases and that sharp smell of carbon dioxide that comes wafting out through the gap in the lid will disappear and at that point you're done you don't need to go any longer so the first thing we're going to do is we're going to get some of the liquid out of here by using a strainer some cheesecloth in a in a colander and then what we're gonna do is using a siphon tube we're going to remove the rest of the liquid to place it into the still in order to get do the actual distillation this is the still take the strainer start blending this a lot [Applause] now at this point we have pretty much most of the crusts gone so what we're going to do is we're going to use the siphon technique to remove the liquid a little bit more efficiently and the trick with doing that is going to be a little bit easier if you have somebody on the other end of watch the tubing so what we're gonna do is my cameraman is going to help me and we'll see if we can get this done a little bit more quickly okay now that we've gotten most of the debris out of the container what we're going to do is siphon the bulk of it out using this tube and my assistant is going to place the end of the tube below the level of the liquid so that it doesn't break the siphon I'm going to get a little siphon action going here and then we'll filter out the bulk of the material is going to come through this tube but by alx watching the end of the tube we can make sure that he doesn't pick up a lot of extra debris you can get some in the distiller but if you get a lot it can tend to burn during the distillation process it can make the distiller a little bit more challenging to clean later on now we started out with as I said about two gallons of water about five kilograms of bananas and out of that total amount this is a four gallon still we're gonna end up filling this up with about half probably about two gallons of liquid and out of that I expect based on the starch content of the bananas or the sugar content after the amylase that we should end up getting about two liters of fairly strong spirits at the end and we'll show you how we make that determination and if you have to siphon a lot of times it's not really so bad stuff tastes pretty good all right now let's begin the actual distillation you can see in here there's about a half-full container it still has a little bit of particulate matter in it but not a lot and this shouldn't be a problem in terms of the boiling now we're going to go ahead and we're going to put this up on the burner and then we're going to put the top component or the bell that has some teflon tape wrapped around it to help to prevent leakage I'm gonna line everything up here a little silicone tubing to prevent leakage again this snugged in here nicely there's a thermometer on here that's gonna give us give us a measurement of the vapor temperature and then we also have a condensing device set up to help cool the liquid condense pump on with a radiator [Applause] see now initially you're going to turn this up pretty high because we want to get the temperature is to save time but once we get the temperature often to get a little bit of distillate coming out then we're going to turn this down so that we have a more efficient reflux we don't want to just boil everything out very quickly and have no distribution of temperature in the Bell and the the upper part of the copper kettle now there are different types of stills you can get what are called reflux stills which have a large vertical column with lots of surface area to promote the separation of the different components these are typical of the kinds of stills that were made hundreds of years ago and are still used by a number of distilleries just for traditional purposes they're made out of copper because copper was easier to work with 400 years ago stainless steel works very well copper works very well copper does take a little bit more cleaning when you're done than the stainless steel but they both produce essentially the same result because you're not trying to put copper into your output you're not trying to put stainless steel in your output but the metal container not so relevant what is relevant is because of the relatively low surface area here this is called hot still and it's going to have a lower level of reflux than in a large reflux still and so the separation quality is not going to be as good as it would be with a reflux still one of the issues still to keep in mind is we're not using distillation here just to remove the grain alcohol we want to separate components and all we did was remove the grain alcohol we would end up with a flavorless and very strong spirit the water that is in there it also contains aldehydes and esters and the flavors and the character of what we're trying to distill so what we're going to do is once this begins to produce some output the most volatile component which is the methanol we're going to separate that out when we begin placing the electrons in different containers but then what we're going to do is continually separate the different liquids out and initially we're going to be getting very heavy grain alcohol but then we'll start getting the character coming in in the later stages of the distillation it's important that we try not to throw anything away because the art of making the actual spirit is going to be the eventual mixing of these different components and that's why we want to be able to separate them as broadly as possible to give us the most flexibility in that final mixing all we really need to do here is make sure that when we finish the distillation that we have a rough estimate of what is going to be about 5% of that distillation and that is the amount of methanol probably twice as conservative as you need to be to remove the methanol which is the toxic component comes from the fermentation of the pectin and the cellulose and some of the other fibers that are in the in the bananas so as a result you can see I have a lot of containers here the idea being that we're going to want to throw away the initial methanol we're not going to want to throw away really anything after that so then we don't really have to be very careful about making a lot of separations where the decision about what we're going to use and what we're not going to use is going to be made is at the end and that's where again you want into small containers so that we have that flexibility now this will take a few minutes to heat off but it you can see already that the thermometer on the top is running at about a hundred Oh fifteen degrees Fahrenheit and at about fifty degrees centigrade this will heat up pretty quickly initially but like I said once you start to see a few drops forming in the container we want to turn this way down so that we don't overwhelm the condenser and we also get good separation all right we're starting to get some output here so what we're going to do we're going to begin collecting that this should be the methanol and we have a very small beaker Kotak will fill up a couple of them make sure you label them because you don't want to mess up later on you're eventually gonna take the different cuts it's what they call these elephants of liquid and combine them and also throw away the the initial now don't rush this the slower you go the more effectively you'll separate this and easier it is to do I mean it takes a little bit more time out here but then you're less likely to be running and trying to get beakers under there at the same time you're not going to make this fluid very warm because if this is not able to stay cool enough you're gonna lose some vapor into the atmosphere and this still was originally designed to be used say outdoors of a garden hoe is you know pouring into the top of this thing because I'm using a recirculating type of radiator it doesn't have the same capabilities just adding fresh water but it's neater it's more convenient it forces me to be a little bit slower but at the same time that's probably the best way to do the distillation anyway now you can see the temperature right now is at about eighty degrees centigrade the mixture of the water as it continually concentrates or a higher percentage of water will boil at a higher temperature eventually when we get to a boiling point of around 100 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit or a hundred degrees centigrade most of the alcohol is going to be gone and that at that point will probably stop the distillation don't worry that you're going to lose anything because whenever we do decide to stop that whatever is left at the container is still very valid fermentation product and we can add that to a subsequent distillation without any loss to EFT to continue to get whatever was in the original distillation in two subsequent distillation x' in other words we don't throw it out we just add it to the next and add it to the next so don't be too concerned about wasting anything if we if we stop a little bit shy now when we get enough of the liquid in the main cut here what I'm gonna do is use this the grounder that I showed you before and basically we're going to float it inside this graduated cylinder to determine what kind of poop or percentage we have of alcohol but proof as you might know you may know is essentially two times the percentage so a 200 proof would be pure grain alcohol a 100 proof would be 50% grain alcohol the liquid that comes out of here tends to be pretty strong and generally speaking you're going to probably want to cut that with some water just to lower the concentration so that you've got something that's drinkable [Applause] [Applause] alcohol until the percentage of alcohol in the water is still pretty much the same as when we started I anticipate that with about 5 kilograms of law bananas that you're going to end up about forty to fifty percent of that converted into sugars that are fermented and you get about eighty-five percent of the weight of the sugar in weight of alcohol you lose some of the carbons in the carbon dioxide that's why it's not one-to-one and so with essentially two liters of anticipated alcohol we're gonna probably end up throwing away about the first five percent one-twentieth a hundred CCS and we should end up like I said with about two liters of final product plus whatever we take out in the form of water that contains the aldehydes and the esters in the flavours now what I'm going to do is an ad where I had in this large beaker for this small smaller beaker allow the process to continue to go on and here and now I should have enough liquid to test the specific gravity so go ahead and fill this up and see what floats mmm okay so that's 80 proof okay so it's still not floating at 138 proof ere we go so we have about 148 proof in this liquid right here that's pretty strong now a reflux still would probably at this point have something close to about 180 proof but if we wanted a higher concentration we could certainly take what we end up with here and throw it back in for a second cycle if we wanted something more concentrated but I don't and so there's no need to do that man that smells good it smells like banana bread cooking but not as strong it's a very pleasant aroma now in Scotch whisky and different types of spirits where the intention is to blend them it's one of the things that made these single malt scotches a lot less popular very early on and what really caused the explosion and the popularity of blended scotches was that sometimes they're really potent using a pot still with heat infused malted barley you end up with a really strong spirit and you had to have a taste for it but when they began blending the scotches that have less and more character flavor strength smokiness they were able to essentially blend or produce a more palatable or generally universally attractive spirit same idea with you know blending different types of coffee beans the art was then in the mixing of the different or the blending of the different distillates to produce something that would be more marketable you could certainly do that with these Brandy's you could mix bananas with different types of fruits if you wanted to after the fact that gives you the flexibility of adding things you want to add to them but to this I would generally add nothing you can certainly use use this as it is you can denature it you can power your tractor with it you can do whatever you like with it but I would generally start with a pure spirit and then decide what you're going to do with it yeah also notice that still has reached [Applause] that's probably either a little bit of error in the thermometer but also a little bit of residual sugar that may exist in the pre distillate and so as a result that's that might affect the boiling point until death but nevertheless the specific gravity is the real determinant of what's going to happen here so we'll get this to about 100 CC's and measure it and we'll see if we should stop here if we should maybe go a little bit further alright so now what I'm going to do is this is number seven and we'll get a specific gravity measurement on that a sort of a middle cut and if you look carefully right now we've come down a little bit but about 145 groups there so and then what we're going to do is to take a look at something that is further on substantially lower so now we're at you see that that's 40 50 60 70 and it's bouncing around about 70 or so proof so 11 is going to be a little bit lower than that 12 is going to be lower yet and 13 is probably going to be around 42 percent so when we fill this up we'll consider that the distillation of this batch is complete and then we'll do a total we've got about 500 500 that's 1200 1280 13 60 14 2015 16 50 plus 160 I've got back here so got about seven hundred seventeen twenty so the one percent of that is basically seventeen CCS so we're gonna throw away the first eighty five CCS of that of this material so number one which is forty and number two which is another forty these go in the trash we don't want these other methanol the rest of this is potable as I said the real heart is going to be blending these these later cuts to have a lot more aroma much stronger flavor but much less alcohol into the stronger higher concentration of alcohol spirit now you can do this alone but I would advise doing this with at least one or two other people that help you and if you get a lot of people to help you you may not have very much left over to blend but that's not a problem and just next time you use more bananas this process obviously takes a little bit of time but it's very pleasant and it does show that distillation isn't just a laboratory exercise it can be something that you can use for practical purposes so hopefully this was useful kind of interesting a little bit different than what we've done before and like I usually say this was a lot of fun so thanks a lot for watching and please subscribe because like I said before it really helps us out you have a wonderful afternoon

27 thoughts on “Banana Brandy – Making Ugandan Waragi (Moonshine)

  • You have inspired me to be a mad scientists. Thank you that was informative, creative, and never forget fun.

  • I think ur trying to copy how we do locally in the village and ur trying to modernise it but what I know we do much more better than how ur doing it lol

  • So you know when you make banana wine, which is a real thing, you chop the bananas but leave the skin on for exactly the reason you stated. It breaks down the starches and there is also a great deal of aromatics in the skin which increases the banana flavor. No need to discard the skins, it’s just a waste.

  • For those that don't want to convert, 160F is ~71C, and 140F is 60C. Also, 4.95kg ~10.9LBs.
    A high reflux still is what is used when you see "triple distilled" on the label, because it's nearly the same result as triple bell distilled. It's still distilled once, but in high quality and efficiency mode – takes a little longer, but well worth it.

  • Waragi is not Brandy, it is Gin. It's even in the name: Waragi is a slurred version of "war gin", which was destilled during war time. And it is not made from bananas, but from sorghum/millet. The Uganda Waragi available tioday is quiet tasty, if you like gin. You might have confused it with Kasese, which has a base of banana. Yes, I have been in East Africa a lot and bought it and drank it and asked several people about it.

  • This is probably the most informative video I've ever watched on YouTube. You obviously know what you're talking about. It's honestly incredible the amount of detail that you get into.

  • Both the A and B amylase can be added together. Slowly warm your batch to 140 and hold it there 20-30 minutes, then slowly heat to 160 and hold @ 10 minutes. No need to do it backwards with 2 additions to the mix.

  • Thank you. That was a great comprehensive video. I just started brewing, and this helps greatly. What I wanted to ask is, where I am at, stuffs like amylase are not available. I had to import all my yeasts and hops from all over. I know of a technic that is used to brew rice beer and was wondering if that technic can be implemented on this banana brandy. And that is, using the banana skin amylase to break down the starch. Meaning to say adding the banana skin inside the pot with the yeast. I know that using saliva which contains amylase does the job too, but it would be kinda gross to do that. What's your views on that?

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