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!
Alcohol Distillation Happens During the Moonshine Process
The primary chemical process that actually produces alcoholic byproduct during distilling is known as alcohol distillation. In short, it’s the process of separating Ethanol (the drinkable byproduct of brewing certain grains) from your mash, water, and other unwanted by products like methanol. There are many different steps that you need to go through while you’re distilling moonshine in order to get a great batch of moonshine.
Once your mash and fermentation processes are complete, there’s just one more process before fractional distillation is needed to separate the ethanol (alcohol) from the water in the fermented mash. That separation is accomplished by using specific levels of heat. When done properly, this process of alcohol distillation will create a spirit that’s high in alcohol content and has a pure, clean kick to it, leaving you with magnificent moonshine that is ready to ingest.
This type of alcohol distillation technique has been used for hundreds of years to make moonshine and other types of “hooch”, which in turn can be flavored and aged in different ways to make different types of spirits.
The Steps to Alcohol Distillation
Here’s how you take malt, sugar, and water and turn it into moonshine right at home.
Step 1. Make your mash and ferment it
There is a lot to this process. So much that we spent an entire post about it. If you’re not familiar with this aspect of distilling, read the previous post, before moving 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. Once heated the wash generates alcoholic steam and vapor. That steam is pumped into sleeve around the pot still to slowly heat the wash up to 173° F EXACTLY 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 foreshot, contains a high level of harsh chemicals like acetone and methanol. You should dump that down the drain. Consuming the early portion of your distilled alcohol can cause health problems and even make you go blind. Methanol has a lower boiling point than ethanol, so be sure to dump your first 5 – 10%.
- The ethanol liquid that comes next, the heart, 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 mixture a little bit harsher, something called “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 re-distilling the moonshine.
What Exactly Happens When You’re Distilling Alcohol?
To the distilling newbie, the process of alcohol distillation might be a little confusing. How is it different than making beer or wine? What different ingredients might be used?
To be exact, the process for distilling alcohol starts out in much the same way as brewing beer or making wine: You utilize yeast to breakdown sugars and create an alcohol byproduct. But in the first step of the distilling process, your yeast can only consume so much sugar from your mash. At a certain point, the amount of alcohol in the mixture can become toxic to the yeast halting the breakdown process. That line is somewhere around 11 – 18% ABV.
But moonshine and spirits are usually around the 40% ABV level, so how do you get there?
Once you’ve got the byproducts of CO2 and alcohol, you need to start the distillation process to get to the harder stuff. This is where boiling the mash comes in.
The process of distilling alcohol is using a heat source to separate the alcohol from the rest of your mash, condensing it into a tube and then converting it back into a liquid be cooling it down, completely separated from your mash.
Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water so distillers can easily separate the alcohol from the water by maintaining a consistent temperature of 173.1 degree Farenheit. Water has a boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Make Sure You Distilled Alcohol Properly
Safety first. The process of home distilling isn’t a simply one. The best way to ensure that you’re distilling your alcohol properly is to make sure you’ve got the proper equipment, all of which can be found over at Hillbilly Stills.
Things like using a electric heater that keeps your mash at an even temp, and using an appropriate distillation column will help ensure that you’re getting the right alcoholic mixture. There are also a couple tests you can perform to make sure that your mixture doesn’t have too much methanol.
- Smell your run. If it has a smell of ammonia, it’s not safe to drink.
- Methanol tends to burn yellow when lit, so you can gather a sample of your run and see what color flame it produces. NOTE: you should do this in an open environment, far away from the rest of your mixture.
- Test it with sodium dichromate. Not everyone will have the tools to do this, but it’s a surefire way to make sure that you’re not consuming harmful methanol. We got this description on how to test methanol from Science.com. “To do so, mix 8 mL of a sodium dichromate solution with 4 mL of sulfuric acid. Swirl gently to mix, then add 10 drops of the mixed solution to a test tube or other small container containing the alcohol. Swirl this container gently a few times, then waft the air from the mouth of the container towards your nose by fanning the air toward you with a hand, with the container placed roughly 8-12 inches from your face. Take note of the scent: If it is pungent and irritating, methanol is present in the alcohol. If the scent is dominating and fruity, only ethanol is present, and the beverage is safe.”
If you have any more questions about the process of alcohol distillation and how to make sure that you’re getting a great batch of moonshine, get in touch with Hillbilly Stills today!
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.
Moonshine is made from dry distiller’s grains and this is what sets it apart from other distilled beverages. Malted grains are the source of the sugars required for fermentation, and they usually are released through steeping in hot water. Unlike beer, moonshine contains no hops to act as a preservative because it doesn’t need hops. Instead, distilling increases the alcohol level that preserves the moonshine. Moonshine will taste different based on the types of grain used and the method by which it is distilled.
Here are the most common grains you’ll find in the moonshine-making process and how they affect flavor.
Different varieties of corn have different flavors and different levels of sugars available for fermentation. Corn is a popular choice for those looking for a sweet, neutral flavor as it yields more sugar and is cheaper compared to other grains. Thus, corn whiskey has been a popular choice from early on.
Oats make for a smoother flavor in moonshine. Like other grains, the flavor they provide is highly dependent on the malting process, but oats are typically milder than barley or rye. They are good for blending with other grains to even out any undesirable harshness. This mildness is also desirable for bringing out any fruity flavors that come from other parts of the moonshine production process.
Rye imparts what many consider a spicy or fruity flavor. It is less sweet than corn but more complex. The flavor is also usually drier than when corn is used. Rye is usually blended with other grains, but to be a true rye moonshine, it must use at least 51% rye.
The different types of barley are indicated by “row.” Six-row barley and 2-row barley are common varieties with 2-row having a higher extract level and lower enzyme activity than 6-row barley. Using 6-row barley with higher enzyme activity is useful for moonshines including other grains, but in a single malt moonshine, 2-row barley with higher starch content is often preferred since other grains are not used, making the enzyme activity less important. These options give you greater latitude in mixing and matching grains and malts to create different flavor profiles. Sometimes barley is used unmalted as well.
What Is This Malt Stuff, Exactly?
“Malt” refers to a grain like barley or rye that has been softened by steeping it in water and allowing it to germinate and then dry. This produces an enzyme called diastase, which helps starch in the grains turn first into sugar and then into alcohol. The particulars of the drying process are what really allow malt to give moonshine a unique flavor–it can give it a smoky, earthy, nutty, or even floral taste.
In some recipes for making moonshine, different types of grains are combined to create a unique taste. For example, Hillbilly Stills’ Sweet Feed Mix contains rolled corn, oats and cane molasses. How do you prefer your moonshine: smooth and sweet, nutty and dry or something unusual? What are your favorite moonshine grain combinations?
At Hillbilly Stills, we encourage all levels of experience to try their hand at distilling. To that end we have put together moonshine still kits perfect for distillers at every level. If you are thinking about making moonshine at home and don’t want to spend a lot of money on this experiment, our starter level kits are ideal for learning how to distill. And for those who have more knowledge and looking to seriously make moonshine at home for a hobby, our advanced kits are just right for you.
Hillbilly Stills offers alcohol distilling starter kits that are great for those who are new to home distilling. Our 8 gallon copper moonshine still kit with burner is a great way to save money while distilling at home. This copper still is one of our most popular moonshine stills. Included in this kit are an 8 gallon mash pot with a domed lid, a 2 inch copper pot still head, a Bayou classic burner, 2 bags of Hillbilly Stills turbo yeast, a hose kit and, last but not least – instructions! This kit is easy to set up and easy to use and great starter kit of first time users. At little over $500, this copper moonshine kit is an incredible deal for home distilling. If you already have a heat source you can save some money and get the 8 gallon copper moonshine still kit without the burner.
We recommend this kit to our beginner distillers because purchasing pre-made kits from knowledgeable companies is the best home distilling money saving tip that there is. If you were to purchase each individual item separately, the total price would be dramatically higher. Not only are you saving time and hassle by buying everything together at the same time, but it is a great money saver as well.
For advanced users who are ready to move to bigger things, we recommend our 13 gallon moonshine still with the Hillbilly Flute. This kit comes with our popular Hillbilly Flute distilling column, designed using the same principles as commercial distilling columns but made to fit home distilling equipment. The kit also includes a 13 gallon mash pot, HS5500 phase angle heat controller, 5500W element kit with installation plate, tri-clamp and sight glass tools. It also includes a special DVD with instructions on how to operate the Hillbilly Flute. Popular among micro-distilleries, this copper still kit is known to make the best moonshine. You can also make whiskey, rum or vodka if you have the necessary permits. Thought not cheap, the popularity of this kit speaks for itself.
We believe that home distilling is a craft that requires passion and skill, and it is a fun way to pass the time. There are many ways that home distilling can break the bank, but these kits available at Hillbilly Stills allow you to perfect your craft and distill at home on the cheap. The outcome will be exceptional and the experience is one that you will want to recreate in the future. Hillbilly Stills distilling kits are the way to go, offering the best in pricing, quality and selection.
Yeast is extremely important in the alcohol distillation process. Whether you are making vodka, rum, or whiskey it is extremely important that you use the proper yeast to minimize the production of undesirable fusel alcohols, aldehydes, and other byproducts and impart the proper flavor to the alcohol.
The fermentation process uses yeast to convert fermentable sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide by breaking down sugar’s molecular structure of into simpler compounds. The type of yeast used greatly affects fermentation rate and overall flavor of the finished product – if you use the wrong yeast, you could ruin your batch.
Typical yeasts used in brewing and distillation are members of the genus Saccharomyces, and they have been cultivated to thrive in the fermentation industry. Yeast strains have dramatically differing nutritional requirements for strong and rapid fermentation, so proper yeast is absolutely essential.
Fermentation takes place in different phases – the first being primary fermentation. In the primary phase, yeast uses oxygen and other nutrients to rapidly grow and reproduce. After the initial growth, they kick into gear and start breaking sugars down in order to use the oxygen molecules.
Contrary to popular belief, yeast doesn’t just feed on sugar – it needs other nutrients like nitrogen and uses sugar for oxygen. After the sugar is broken down, the main byproducts created by the yeast are CO2 and alcohol. They aren’t trying to create alcohol; they are doing their best to survive in a hostile anaerobic environment.
Fun fact: Yeast is fastest organism on the planet that can mutate and adapt to survive in a hostile and changing environment.
As the nutrients start to run out, the fermentation process slows down and the yeast converts sugars to alcohol at a much slower rate. The CO2 bubbling will start to settle down and the dead yeast will settle at the bottom of the fermentation tank.
The wash that is left is a mixture of alcohols, unfermented sugars, and other molecular compounds that are let behind after the fermentation. Now, it is time to move on to the distillation phase.