The first thing that comes to everyone’s mind when they hear home distiller or home distillery is a picture of that prohibition era man in his overalls distilling in the woods. This is not the case! Home Distilling is becoming more popular by the day. So what should you do if you want to begin distilling?
1. Check the Law Book
First and foremost, you need to be up to date on the laws in your state and country. Every state is different and requires a different set of forms and permits to get your distillery up and running. We in no way condone the illegal distillation of alcohol at home, but information is not illegal! You may want to use your home distillery for fuel, essential oils or even water!
2. Be Safe
Let’s assume you have checked out all of the laws, filled out all of the forms, and obtained all of the permits. Now you need to be sure you are being safe. Distilling can be dangerous if you aren’t smart about it. The first step you should take is to buy a high quality still for your home distillery.
- Don’t distill in a closed room.
- Don’t use a leaky still
- Keep a tidy workspace
- Always have a fire extinguisher handy.
- Don’t drink on the job – you can partake of your product other times, not while you’re distilling.
- Don’t smoke around the still. Seriously don’t. Just don’t.
3. Have Fun!
Home distilling is really fun! It really isn’t as crazy or dangerous as it has been made out to be. Many of the urban myths you hear are just that, myths brought about by the prohibition era bootleggers. The whole idea that it will make you go blind is a myth from when bootleggers would cut their shine with methanol to save on the bottom line. So, don’t listen to those naysayers and have fun!
If you want to learn more about home distilling head over to stilltalk.com, our online forum for all distilling enthusiasts!
Once your mash and fermentation processes are complete, there’s just one more process before your Fractional distillation is needed to separate the ethanol (alcohol) from the water in the fermented mash, and this is accomplished by using specific levels of heat. When done right, this process will create a spirit that’s high in alcohol content and has a pure, clean kick to it.
magnificent moonshine is ready to ingest.
This type of distillation has been used for hundreds of years to make moonshine, which in turn can be aged in different ways to make many hard liquors.
The Steps to Alcohol Distillation
Here’s how you go from having malt, sugar, and water to making moonshine right at home.
Step 1. Make your mash and ferment it.
We’ve covered this in a previous post, so let’s move on to the next step.
Step 2. Heat the wash in the pot.
The wash from the fermenter is pumped into the pot portion of the still so that the mixture can be heated. Steam is pumped into sleeve around the pot still to slowly heat the wash up to 173° F to separate the ethanol from the water.
Step 3. The ethanol vapor goes through the distillation column.
After being heated, the ethanol/water vapor moves up to a cool copper distillation column. As the vapor condenses, some of it will fall back in the pot while the vapor with the highest alcohol content will continue on all the way to the top of the column.
Step 4. The vapor turns to liquid in the condenser.
After passing through the lyne arm, the vapor enters the condenser. It’s a chamber that has a pipe that the vapor funnels into, which is surrounded by a pipe with cool water. This cools the vapor, which is condensed into liquid ethanol.
Step 5. Collect the moonshine mixture.
The liquid ethanol drips from the condenser into a collection vessel positioned to catch it. It’s important to note that what comes out of the condenser has some variation.
- The first little bit, called the foreshots, contains a high level of harsh chemicals like acetone.
- The ethanol liquid that comes next, the hearts, is the high-content alcohol that’s used to make the base of moonshine and hard liquor.
- The last bit is a lower-content alcohol called the tails.
Step 6. Mix up the moonshine.
Many moonshiners will mix a very small amount of the foreshots with the hearts to make their white lightening. This will give it just the right amount of kick without being too abrasive.
Now it’s time for the best step of all – enjoying your moonshine! If you prefer a little something different, you can age the mixture in barrels to create whiskey or bourbon. You can also make gin by putting a botanical mixture in the pot and redistilling the moonshine.
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.