Producing one’s own brandies

Spirits of self-distilled brands are popular in these parts. Those who produce good quality spirits from their own or purchased fruit as private persons should stick to the following checklist:

1st step: Mashing the fruit

Quality of raw materials: Good fruit brandies cannot be produced from bad fruit. Rotten, mouldy, or immature fruit influences the quality of alcoholic beverages. Appearance plays a lesser role as long as the maturity of the fruit does not suffer from it.

Cleanliness: Clean fruit belongs in a clean receptacle. Plastic containers are suitable for fermentation. These are available on the market or at commercial distilleries.

Preparing the mash: Fruit with seeds must be cut up; fruit with pits must be gently trampled and the pits removed if necessary. In any case, the pits may not be damaged. Pit removal is primarily an aroma question. Berry stems must be removed and the berries perhaps liquefied. The mash should also contain as little foreign matter as possible (e.g, twigs, earth, or leaves).

Fermentation: Normally nothing further will be added, because most fruits begin to ferment of their own accord. In case of slower fermenting raw materials (e.g., gentian roots or quince), some press or dried yeast is added. The best fermentation occurs in locked vats with a so-called fermentation funnel. This prevents air penetration and hence formation of acetic acid in the mash. At the same time, carbon dioxide emerging during fermentation can escape. In summer the vat should stand in the shade. In late autumn it ought to be placed in a protected area. A fermentation temperature of about 20°C is ideal. The length of fermentation depends on the temperature and type of fruit. At a temperature of about 20°C, one should reckon on two to three weeks. Quince mash, grape remains, and cherries need a bit more time. In case of temperature fluctuation, fermentation requires more time. At the end of fermentation, the locked vat is transported as quickly as possible to the commercial distillery for further processing. The distillation moment plays a crucial role in the quality of the finished product.

2nd step: Searching for a distillery

Distillation must occur in a licensed commercial distillery. After fermentation is complete, the raw material should be registered at the commercial distillery and the distilling time should be agreed upon. The commercial distiller distils an average of 4 litres of pure alcohol from 100 kg of mash or about 10 litres of fruit brandy at 40 % vol.

3rd step: Paying taxes

Whether imported or produced in Switzerland, a tax of CHF 29 per litre of pure alcohol is imposed on spirits. For instance, a tax of CHF 11.60 must be paid for a litre of fruit brandy at 40 % vol. The commercial distillery reports by form to the Alcohol an tobacco division (A AT) for whom and from which raw materials it produces a specified amount of distillates. The A AT then sends the tax bill directly to the producer. The alcohol law foresees a tax benefit for private persons with the reservation that only produce from domestic crops (i.e., one's own raw materials or those self-harvested from domestic wild growth) are processed. The tax is reduced by 30 % on 30 litres of pure alcohol per year and household. Those producing more than 100 litres of pure alcohol spirits a year qualify as commercial producers.