Reflux still

  • requires reflux
  • neutral flavors
  • longer runs
  • higher difficulity









Recipe Overview

The tomato paste wash is one of the most popular tried and true recipes for not only people new to distilling, but anyone who wants an inexpensive neutral spirit. The recipe is very easy for new distillers, requires only a few readily available ingredients and no additional equipment.

I personally believe this should be every new distiller’s first recipe. Trying to make a rum or whiskey requires advanced knowledge of their yeasts, sugar / starch conversions, flavor profiles, using dunder or backset, reusing oils from previous runs, etc. and this is just for the fermenting! With the TPW recipe the ingredients are simple, the process is easy and the end product should be the same every run; a clear, flavorless, odorless neutral spirit. But most important of all, it’s easy to troubleshoot problems like why certain flavors, smells or colors came though, cloudiness, low ABV and in general what you did wrong. And this is above and beyond the most important thing when first learning to distill; you need to learn what you’re doing wrong. Because you will be doing something’s wrong.

With a rum or whiskey the difficulties of troubleshooting increase because there are hundreds of additional factors, and these are only increased by an inexperienced distiller without the proper tools, experience or knowledge. Your first several distilling runs should not be focused on making a drinkable end product (you can drink it, but it’s not very good, you just think it is). The focus should be learning about fermenting, running their still, doing cuts and diagnosing what they did wrong, and how to do it right or overall better the next run. And then get into difficult recipes.


water l g

If water from the tap, aerate or let sit for chemicals to clear.

white sugar kg lbs

Basic white granulated table sugar will do.

tomato paste ml floz

No salt, preservatives, acids or additional chemicals should be listed.

yeast 3.000 g oz

If using a yeast that includes additional components then adjust amount accordingly.

lemon juice ml floz opt

Purely to adjust the PH and lower it. Use only if you don't test your waters PH.

epsom salts 0.010 tsp 0.010 tsp opt

Epsom salts, or magnesium sulphate increases water hardness and helps with yeast cell growth. It is optional but is the cheapest way to increase production.

multivitamin 1.000 pill 1.000 pill opt

Optional but very low cost. Yeast will benefit from the vitamins, specifically B vitamins.


Tools and equipment

First check that you have all the tools and equipment needed before hand. Some tools are optional but will make the process easier.

Sanitation and sterilization

Be sure you're equipment is clean and sterile. Read about how to clean and sterilize your tools if you haven't yet.

Ready the water

If you use city water you will need to aerate your water prior to pitching your yeast. Chlorine, fluoride and other chemicals added to city water is great for humans, but specifically added to kill yeast and bacteria.

The easy solution is to simply expose the water to air for at minimum 15 minutes, but at least 1 hour is best. Aerating the water will decrease the wait time, and is beneficial to the yeast.

I prepare my water the day before, or at the very least prepare my water as my first step in preparing a new wash to give additional time for the water to be ready.

Yeast bomb optional

Preparing your yeast before hand in a small container is a great way to prepare it before pitching.

Yeast bomb is simply preparing your yeast prior to pitching. The idea is to get the population up, have them become acclimated to your water, temp, nutrients and sugars. And because of the small space repopulation is high, and food sources and nutrients are high.

You do not want to pitch everything into your yeast bomb. Simply fill a mason jar (or other container) with 1/2 water. Using tomato paste or yeast nutrients and a table spoon of sugar reseal the jar and shake it up. Pitch your yeast for the batch and leave it uncovered (or use cheese cloth like material). Let this sit for a few hours while you prepare the fest of batch. The longer it sits (as long as they have food) the better it will be.

Using tomato paste

Chances are the tomato paste you are using is thick. You (and the yeast) will benefit by mixing the paste in water to diluting it before pitching into your fermenter. Doing this breaks up the solid matter and removes the chances of chunks of paste in your wash. The downside with this is you will have a foggy layer of paste in your fermenter which you should try to not get into your boiler. This requires doing a 2nd racking of the bottom 2 or more inches of the wash to get as much as possible.

My preferred way is using a blender to break down the paste even further. If I am using 1 can of paste I will break it up into 4 parts, and blend each part in a blender full of water. I will have around 1 gallon of tomato paste water so I adjust my starting water for this. Using a strainer I then separate the solids from the liquids. This gives you a much cleaner product without the solids and allows you to extract as much of the nutrients from the paste as possible.

Adding the sugar

If you are not going to invert your sugar then there is little to worry about unless you are trying for a wash higher than 10%-12% ABV. Sugar is toxic to yeast in large quantities so they will benefit from a smaller volume. If you plan higher than 10% you should only add ½ the sugar to start, and the additional sugar half way through the fermenting time.

With your sugar added take a gravity reading with your hydrometer. If you are not at the desired level increase the amount of sugar gradually until you reach the desired gravity, also known as the starting gravity (SG). An SG of 1.060 to 1.090 is average. Use our chart to determine what SG and expected alcohol content you want. If you do not yet have a hydrometer you are stuck with the amounts calculated here. Make sure you mix your sugar and it is not clumped on the bottom.

Lemon juice (acid blend) optional

Using lemon juice or acid blend is optional. Using acid lowers the PH level of the water. Yeast benefit from a lower PH overall especially if your home or area have high PH levels.

Using tomato paste will add some acidity to your wash, but the use of some juice will be overall beneficial. If you do not have a PH tester or do not know the PH of your water it is advisable to use the amount of lemon juice suggested.

Start the fermenting

You are now ready to start getting ready for fermenting. Your water has sat long enough for chlorine to be released and the temperature should be at near operating temp. The sugar and tomato paste should be added and mixed well. The lemon juice should be added and any PH test or hydrometer readings should have been taken.

The final steps are to add your Epsom salts and multi-vitamins optionally. If you’re yeast are ready to pitch then pour them in making sure you get as much yeast as you can out of the container.

Your wash is now ready. Place your container lid and airlock on and keep the wash in a place where the temperature will stay consistent and near the yeast optimal operating temperature


Once your wash is setup you should start to see activity within a few hours to 24 hours. This will depend on the amount of yeast used, if you did a yeast starter and the head space in your fermenter.

The amount of time will totally depend on how much yeast was used, temperatures and how much sugar was used. As long as you used the suggested amount of yeast, and temperatures stay consistent and near optimal you will be looking at a great fermenting time. The amount of time though will depend on the percent of sugar used. A 10% ABV wash should take about 5 – 10 days. While a 15% ABV wash can take 14 – 20 days.

The fermentation is done once your hydrometer reads between 1.000 and 0.990. If you do not have a hydrometer (you really should) you can tell by the activity of your air lock. This is not an accurate measurement since it is the release of CO2 produced by the yeast and CO2 will be suspended in your wash long after your yeast stop generating it. Tasting the wash is another test. If it is sweet then chances are all the sugars have not been consumed.

If your yeast activity has stopped or slowed considerably early on or if your wash still takes heavily of sugar, then chances are good something went wrong. You can read diagnosing and solutions section or ask your questions on the /r/firewater sub on

Additional information

When transferring to your boiler it is beneficial to use a siphon. Boiling the yeast and the solid material from the tomato paste can add unwanted flavoring to your final product. When siphoning a tomato paste wash also remember the tomato paste acts like a fog and will be in the last two or so inches of your wash.

For an optimal run it will be beneficial to siphon down to the last 3 or 4 inches. Rack this last two inches into a secondary container. Using a small 1 gallon container works well as you can place this in the fridge to help separate the yeast. Wait several hours or use this in your next run after siphoning the usable wash.

The tomato paste wash also known as Birdwatchers was originally written by Tater and can be found here

Recipe costs

The costs for the tomato paste wash is one of the least expensive recipes you can use. Basic sugars, tap water, inexpensive yeast and tomato paste without preservatives will be all you need to make a great spirit. No need for flavoring products or aging and no specialized equipment is needed besides a still that can create reflux for a clear and clean neutral.

One cost that is optional is the cost of using carbon to refine the neutral spirits. Poor quality runs will benefit more than properly distilled product, and many believe using activated carbon as “cheating”. I don’t agree with this opinion and find it silly as anything that makes a better spirit is better. The cost will depend on the quantity you buy and how well you maintain it. Activated carbon can be used over several uses and when bought in bulk is a minor expense when compared to the benefits of using it.

Recipe difficulty

This recipe is really as easy as it gets. The only thing easier is simply dumping yeast and sugar into a bucket and expecting something to happen, except the overall quality will be much better.

With the simplicity of this recipe it is a great wash to do testing with. Learning how your yeast function, to testing out your yeast fermenting capabilities, or understanding PH to using nutrients and other components to promote a higher quality wash.


All spirits will benefit from a few weeks of aging in glass or stainless with some headspace for air.

The end product can be drank right after distilling and will taste great, though you will still get a burn. After a week or three of settling the neutral spirit will be even better as the harshness decreases.

Like any neutral using carbon will help clear out any additional volatiles, esters or oils that may have make it to the end, but should not be necessary if you did proper cuts and fermented to a reasonable ABV.

Overall quality

The only reason for the low rating in quality is simply because it is a neutral spirit, and this recipe is simply that, the most non-flavored spirit you can make, which it does very well. But when compared to flavored spirits or aged spirits it is hard to compare. It is the best product for the price, and for the simplicity of the recipe, but that is exactly what it is. A great simple neutral spirit.