Sour Mash vs. Corn Mash: What is Better for Distilling?

Sour Mash vs. Corn Mash: What is Better for Distilling?

Aficionado or connoisseur, devotee or fan, those who understand the difference between bourbon and whiskey are already familiar with which is better for distilling.

Distilling whiskey involves the use of starchy grains, which are ground into a mixture, hence the term “mash.” The mash is then fermented before it is distilled, blended, and then finally aged. This is the point at which we can distinguish what separates bourbon from whiskey, despite the fact that most people assume they are one and the same.

While bourbon falls into the whiskey classification, not all whiskeys are bourbons. To be classified as bourbon, the grain mash used in distilling the whiskey must contain at least 51 percent corn and be aged a minimum of two years inside a new, oak barrel. Bourbon distillers typically have all the necessary materials to make new casks.

Another misconception is in thinking the term sour mash refers to the bourbon’s flavor, although it does have to do with producing a consistent taste.

Sour mash is a process. Sour mash distilling is akin to the process of making sourdough bread using a starter to achieve a consistent taste from one loaf to the next. By adding some of the spent mash, which is the previously fermented mash that contains live yeast, the home distiller is better able to control the yeast growth, thus producing a consistent spirit from one bottle to the next.

Both bourbon and sour mash whiskeys are descended from the moonshine that was originally produced in Kentucky and Tennessee. While connoisseurs may continue to debate over which is the superior brew, all would concur that they both comprise the distinctive American distiller’s craft. There are even societies devoted to the study of these uniquely American spirits.

Bourbon Whiskey is Made in the United States

Named for the French-Bourbon dynasty at the time, bourbon whiskey first began in territorial Kentucky. Blue Ridge Mountain distillers in both Kentucky and Tennessee managed to hide from revenue agents during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791, which had everything to do with allowing the moonshiners to thrive in an unregulated industry. The successful production of these mountain distilleries eventually evolved into the refined bourbon and sour mash that famously hail from these parts today.

It was not until 1964 that the U.S. Congress ruled that bourbon whiskey is a “distinctive product of the United States,” and Federal regulation defines bourbon whiskey to include only bourbon that is produced in the U.S. Bourbon-makers do exist in other counties, however, only the bourbon produced in Kentucky is permitted the use of the name of the state on its labels.

The labels hold useful information to help you identify the whiskey. For example, by law, to be labeled Sour Mash Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, this bourbon has not been blended with other whiskeys, has been produced using some of the mash from a previous batch, which is the “sour mash,” and the entire product was made in the state of Kentucky.

While Tennessee whiskeys are produced using corn mash distilling, makers may only specify “sour mash” on the label if that process is used. These spirits may use the same bourbon recipe, but they are filtered through maple charcoal to achieve a different overtone. The strongest influences on the taste of bourbon are the grain, the yeast strains and the new, oak barrels. As well, even the type of wood used will contribute to the taste.

Both Kentucky and Tennessee are located where large limestone layers filter the water to a superb clarity for whiskey production and is considered by Kentucky bourbon distillers to be a signature element in their sour mash process. The predominant grain used to make all bourbon is corn, at least 51 percent. It is preferred for the sweeter, robust vanilla and maple syrup flavors that come from the sugars. Unlike the single malts made entirely from barley that come from Scotland and Ireland, rye, barley and wheat tend to be added to make up the balance of grain contained in the mash.

It All Starts with Corn Mash Distilling

Small Yeast Bubbles of Yellow Bourbon Mash with selective focus

It is generally thought distilling began in Kentucky in the late 1700s introduced by the Scots, Scots-Irish from the province of Ulster and others including the English, French, Germans, Irish and Welshmen. The possibility of identifying a single inventor of either whiskey or bourbon is unlikely.

Charring barrels for enhanced flavor when aging whiskey is a centuries-old practice in Europe. It was inevitable that this practice would migrate with the settlers.

Numerous counties were founded in the vast regions west of the Allegheny Mountains proceeding the American Revolution. Despite the region’s burgeoning growth, most people continued to refer to this area as Old Bourbon. As it happened, the main port in Old Bourbon where the whiskey was shipped was located on the Ohio River in Kentucky.

To indicate their port of origin, “Old Bourbon” was stenciled on the barrels. Like it or not, this strongly associated any corn-based bourbon whiskey with the name Old Bourbon. Most often, this was the first taste of corn whiskey most people ever had. In Tennessee, they prefer to call their bourbon “Tennessee whiskey” instead. The production process for both Kentucky Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey are the same except that Tennessee whiskey is charcoal-filtered before going into the barrels.

Your Choice of Grains Influence the Flavor

Whether starting as whiskey or intended to be made into bourbon, it all starts with a mash bill that requires the minimum 51 percent corn with any cereal grain making up the remainder. Wheated bourbon is the result of using wheat in the mash bill instead of rye making it milder and smoother on the tongue. A higher rye content produces a dryer, spicy whiskey. The corn sugars produce a rich and syrupy quality and lends to a leathery finish as the spirit is aged. Craft whiskey distillers experiment with many different grains as accents to the corn.

Corn whiskey may either be unaged or aged in previously used barrels. You can really taste the corn influence in these whiskeys as there are little to no barrel flavors influencing the batch. If mash from a previous distillation is added to the corn mash to ensure consistency, then you have a sour mash. Most bourbons today are run off a column still that is then redistilled in a thumper. The clear spirit produced from this process is called “white dog,” which is placed in the charred new oak casks for the aging.

Sour Mash Distilling is Essentially Yeast Management

The yeast strains possessed by Kentucky and Tennessee distilleries have survived since prohibition with patents filed for their isolated yeasts. The primary purpose of the sour mash is the control of yeast reproduction with the pH balance being key to this process. Even the object used in this process are autoclaved to ensure no foreign element contaminate the desired yeast strain. The consistency of the batch depends upon this careful handling.

The sour mash process is much-praised for its ability to create an acidic environment for the yeasts. When prepared with fresh spring water as it is in Kentucky and Tennessee, its chemically neutral condition is neither acidic nor alkaline. With a pH of about 7, the yeasts cannot work correctly. It is the addition of the sour stillage, or mash, with a lower pH of between 5.0 and 5.4 that leads to the acidification of the entire mash. This brings the pH up to between 5.4 and 5.8, which is ideal for the yeasts to work properly.

Clearly, you can see the advantage to using sour mash when your goal is to achieve consistency in your white dog or if you intend to market your product as straight bourbon. The decision is ultimately yours, but at least now you have some knowledge as to the laws and regulations that come to bear upon how you identify your distillations.

How Do You Make Moonshine?

How Do You Make Moonshine?

While it may have a dubious history, moonshining, or “shinin’” has developed into something of an art form. At its essence, moonshine is just unaged and or flavored alcohol fermented from a wide variety of sources. Moonshine is traditionally fermented from corn, but you’ll also find moonshine fermented from other sources, like grain.

There are many different ways to create moonshine and add a personal touch to the end result, however, the traditional method always revolves around three basic steps: fermentation, distillation and collecting the distillate.

The Basics of Making Alcohol

It’s possible to make alcohol out of any grain, fruit or vegetable that goes through fermentation. This process is essentially the chemical reaction that occurs between two basic ingredients – a yeast breaks down sugar.

For moonshiners, the base ingredient of choice is a corn mixture called a “mash.” A 5-gallon mash-yeast mixture will typically take two weeks to ferment.

After the corn mash is fermented, the alcohol must be distilled.

Distillation involves heating the alcohol turning it into steam. This separates the actual alcohol content from the mash. This requires having a still furnace to boil the mash mixture and a still cap with a distilling flute that allows the vapors to filter into a new holding tank. From there, some moonshiners will prime their distillation with more alcohol or cool down the alcohol into a condensed liquid form. The distillation process is based on the fact that alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water.

Before you can collect the distillate, the alcohol must run through a condenser that is cooled by water or ice. Bootleggers would often set up their stills along a river or creek and run the distillate through pipes submerged in water to cool the alcohol down. Today, most distillers have a 3rd chamber that has cooled copper tubing running throughout.

Once cooled, the filtered moonshine will then drain out of a spout at the end of the condenser.

Remember, the first 5 percent of your production should be thrown out. This is extra-strong methanol that is dangerous to consume. The trick to making good moonshine is finding the best portion of distillate. Therefore, you should expect a bit of trial and error for your first batch.

What You Need to Make Moonshine

While the basic ingredients and process of making of moonshine are simple, it’s important to have the appropriate equipment available so you can distill effectively and safely.

Typical Distilling Ingredients

To add extra kick or flavor, some moonshiners incorporate certain fruits, yeast nutrients or even more alcohol into the process, called a “thump.”

To successfully do a run of moonshine you’ll need the following equipment:

  • Mash pot – used to mix the mash and heat the mixture to generate the alcohol steam
  • Heating source – this can be an electric or gas burner underneath the mash pot
  • Distilling Column – this is where the the alcohol vapor rises and moves through the cool vertical copper column
  • Condenser, or Lyne Arm – once the highest percentage alcohol steam travels through the distilling column it condenses into another cooler metal pipe where the mixture cools down and turns back into a liquid
  • Barrel or Aging – the clear ethanol typically needs to go through some sort of flavoring or aging process, so most distilling setups have a post run flavoring/storage component like oak barrels

If you’re interested in getting into moonshine and home distilling, you can get all the essential ingredient and supplies over at Hillbilly Stills.

Moonshine Recipes For Run In The Sun

Moonshine Recipes For Run In The Sun

Mojito – Mixing Instructions:

  • Muddle 3-4 mint leaves in the bottom of a glass.
  • Juice your limes,  or substitute with a 1/4 a cup of lime juice.
  • Mix in agave or syrup, with alcohol.
  • Pour over ice and enjoy!

Bahama Mama – Mixing Instructions:

  • Bring coconut water, pineapple juice, and brown sugar to a boil in a saucepan.
  • Let it cool.
  • Mix with alcohol and let sit for a few days before drinking for maximum flavors.

Salty Apple – Mixing Instructions:

  • Mix with grapefruit juice and salt with apple pie moonshine.
  • Let it cool.
  • Mix it with alcohol and serve over ice!
  • Enjoy!

Lemon Drop – Mixing Instructions:

  • Bring sugar, water, and lemon juice to a boil in a saucepan.
  • Let it cool.
  • Mix it with alcohol
  • Let it sit for a few days before drinking for the best flavor.

Strawberry Moonshine – Mixing Instructions:

  • Mash and strain the berries to a pulp. (Overripe berries work best!)
  • Simmer berries, sugar, and water in a saucepan.
  • Let it cool.
  • Mix with moonshine, and let it sit for a few days before drinking for the flavors to intensify!

Peach Cobbler – Mixing Instructions:

  • Cut and peel peaches.
  • For a stronger flavor let peaches ripen and mash them.
  • Bring peaches, brown sugar, and water to a boil.
  • Let it cool.
  • Mix with moonshine and let it sit for a few days before drinking for the flavors to intensify!
How To Make Moonshine: Fall Edition

How To Make Moonshine: Fall Edition

Pumpkin Pie Moonshine:

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 1 can (29 oz.) pumpkin puree
  • 2½ cups dark brown sugar, packed
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 cups 190 proof grain alcohol
  • 2 cups whipped cream vodka

Instructions:

  1. In a large pot, combine all of the ingredients.
  2. Stir thoroughly.
  3. Evenly distribute moonshine into clean mason jars with a ½ inch of space under the brim
  4. Place lids on jars and allow to sit in refrigerator for 1 month before enjoying.
  5. Please enjoy responsibly.

Pineapple Coconut Moonshine:

Ingredients:

  • 750 ml of Moonshine (or Everclear)
  • 1 qt of pineapple juice
  • 16 oz can of coconut water
  • 6 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 tbl of brown sugar
  • two 1 qt mason jars

Instructions:

  1. Put pineapple juice, coconut water, brown sugar, and cinnamon sticks in a pan bring to a boil.
  2. Take it off the element once it boils and let it cool.
  3. Split the bottle of moonshine (or Everclear) into the two mason jars and add the juice from the pan as well as a cinnamon stick to each jar.
  4. Wait at least a couple weeks for the flavors to blend, then enjoy!

 

Caramel Apple Moonshine:

Ingredients

  • 2 qts apple juice
  • 2 qts apple cider
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 10 caramel candies (unwrapped)
  • 500 ml Junior Johnson Moonshine
  • 250 ml Caramel Vodka

Instructions

  1. Combine the apple juice, apple cider, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, light brown sugar, white sugar and caramel candies in a large pot.
  2. Bring up to a gentle boil, then reduce to simmer and cover. Simmer for at least 1 hour, longer is okay.
  3. Remove from the heat and let it cool to room temperature.
  4. Strain out the cinnamon sticks and cloves.
  5. Add in the moonshine and caramel vodka, stir to combine.
  6. Bottle it up in some mason jars and either chill in the refrigerator or store in a cool place.
  7. Enjoy!!!
Coconut Sunrise Moonshine Recipe

Coconut Sunrise Moonshine Recipe

Sweet summertime calls for a sweet treat like this Coconut Moonshine Recipe!

Looking for a nice, sweet summertime treat? Try this sweet coconut sunrise recipe while relaxing by the pool this summer. We get a lot of people that ask us how to make moonshine and for recipes.  We found a really good coconut moonshine recipe that we wanted to share with you. It’s perfect for those days when you are just relaxing outside or hanging out with a few friends.

What you will need:

  • 3 liters of a coconut flavored moonshine
  • 1 jigger of grenadine
  • 5 cups of orange juice
  • shredded coconut
  • maraschino cherries

Instructions:

  1. Combine the moonshine, grenadine and orange juice. Shake until well mixed
  2. Pour into your favorite mason jar filled with ice
  3. Garnish with coconut and maraschino cherries
  4. Head out to the pool and enjoy!

Let us know what you think of this nice coconut moonshine recipe!  We hope you all are having a great summer!

Cheers!

 

So You Want to be a Home Distiller

So You Want to be a Home Distiller

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 Safehome distilling or the at home distiller

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!