Making Moonshine in its simplest form, involves making the mash, fermentation and distillation. In this post, we will be mainly discussing mashing and fermentation. We will be covering distillation in a different post in the future.
A moonshine mash is made using malted grains such as a region’s traditional wheat, corn, barley or rye. A malt is created by letting the grains germinate, and once it has, drying it in a kiln. Roasting is sometimes a part of the mashing and fermentation process, and each step helps create enzymes such as alfa-amylase and meta-amylase to distill starch into sugar within the grain. Depending on the amount of roasting, malt takes on a dark color, and it often influences both color and flavor of moonshine. With alcohol, different materials used have similar effects, determined by the color of the mashed contents.
Malt is then crushed within a malt mill, and this breaks up grain kernels, increases their total surface area and separated into smaller pieces from surrounding husks. Then, the resulting grist is mixed with heated water within a vat labelled a “mash tun”. The process is appropriately labelled “mashing”. Within the process, the malt’s natural enzymes break down a portion of the starch into sugars, and these sugars play important roles within the fermentation process.
Mashing, itself, normally takes between one and two hours, and different temperature rest periods activate various enzymes within differently produced malts, modification levels and the brewer’s desires. These enzymes convert grain starches to dextrines, and they become fermentable sugars, like maltose.
Once the mashing is completed, the mash is directed to a lauter tun. Within the lauter tun, the liquid is strained from grains in a process called “lautering”. The lauter tun normally contains a “false bottom” slot or a collection of manifolds utilized to strain and separate liquid and grain from one another. The resulting liquid is called “wort which is a clear brown liquid. Then, it is boiled so that the temperature is between 25 degree Celsius and 30 degree Celsius. Ensure that the pH of the mash is between 4 and 4.5 before adding the yeast. This boiling process normally serves to as the step for adding the yeast to begin the fermentation process. This is when the sugars produced in the previous step are combined with yeast to product alcohol (or moonshine). In a previous blog, we have discussed the importance of yeast in detail.
During the fermentation process, it is suggested to seal the fermenter tightly and then to pour boiling water into the airlock. The fermenter should be placed in a cool dark place to avoid any changes in temperature. The whole process can take anywhere between 5 and 10 days depending on the type of yeast. Avoid opening the lid of the fermenter and instead use a hydrometer to track the progress of fermentation.
The best way to know when the fermentation process is complete is to measure the specific gravity of mash before and after fermentation using a hydrometer. Usually the pre-fermentation specific gravity of mash will be higher than 1 because of the sugar in the mash. And as the fermentation process occurs, the specific gravity will start dropping. When the gravity remain the same and stop dropping over a period of time, you know that the fermentation process is complete.