Times are tough. If you're like me, you know what it's like to be standing there in the store, staring longingly at that $50 bottle of Maker's Mark while holding a $15 bottle of rotgut Potter's. But like my Grandma Gert used to say, "Oh, shit!"* Most grandmas teach you how to bake bread, play Yahtzee, or sew a button. Mine taught us how to turn nasty cheap schwill vodka into delicious Kentucky-style whiskey—very simply—no stills or fancy equipment required. See, vodka is essentially just straight ethanol with varying degrees of purity. Who's stopping you from filtering it again, then aging it with some oak to turn it into whiskey? The whole process is simple—all you need are wood chips, coffee filters, copper wire, a jug, and some frickin' patience.
*Also sometimes: "Cheese and rice!" and/or "Fuck it!"
Grandma Gert's Whiskey Recipe:
First, buy the vodka. The cheaper the better. Most vodka is straight ethanol, anyway. Whiskey, on the other hand, takes on its distinctive flavor from the aging process. It's mostly just ethanol aged in oak barrels. The type of barrel and the length of time determine the flavor of each whiskey. You can make your own distinctive whiskey from cheap vodka.
• One-gallon glass jug or bottle (no plastic, please)
• Unbleached coffee filters
• Plastic funnel
• Copper (screen, netting, copper scrubby thing [make sure it does not have any soap, cleaning product, or nonedible chemical]). Pure straight copper will help remove impurities from your cheapo vodka.
• Two half-gallons of cheap shitty vodka. Hopefully only $10 to $14 per half gallon.
• One bag of Jack Daniel's wood chips (made from used, charred whiskey barrels). They are sold for smoking or grilling meat on the old barby-grill. Most sporting-good stores have 'em. (It doesn't have to be Jack Daniel's, but make sure it's oak.)
Add a good-size handful of wood chips to the bottle. Then filter your vodka into the bottle: Line the funnel with a couple coffee filters and clean copper, then pour the vodka through the funnel. The key is to have the vodka and wood chips hanging out with each other for a month. Or longer.
Often, all of the vodka will not fit because of the space taken up by the wood chips. Use the excess vodka to make a pitcher of Bloody Marys to steady your nerves.
You will notice that in hours your hooch is starting to look tea-colored. Your whiskey is hatching out. This process takes weeks. Shake it frequently. Some people put it in and out of their freezer several times to speed up the process. I take it from the freezer to a sunny window every other week.
Your whiskey is done when you like it. Keep tasting it once in a while. The flavor will grow and change. There is no magic time period. Experiment with flavoring, remembering to add only add SMALL amounts. You can ruin the whole batch by using too much, too fast. Add a little, wait a few days, then try it. Here are some good ones:
• 8–10 raisins or dried cranberries (crushed) bull; pinch of orange or lemon zest
• 6 or so whole peppercorns
• shot or two dry sherry
Have fun and drink your mistakes.