Lose the Cloudy Moonshine
Proper moonshine is crystal clear. No matter where you’re from, where you’re going or who you’re voting for, that’s an inarguable fact upon which we can all agree. Any hint of cloudiness is indicative of a flaw somewhere in the distilling process leading to a quality level that even the most modest consumer should not have to tolerate. But there can be several possible explanations for why the finished product isn’t as clear as water. So let’s clarify:
Bring the heat – just not too much
Managing the temperature added to the still can mean the difference between clear and cloudy moonshine. If it’s too high, liquid will boil up into the still’s column and drip down into the collection vessel. This process (sometimes referred to as a still “puking”) leads to the cloudy stuff. And we know what you’re thinking so go ahead and insert your own joke about puking and moonshine here. For a quality product, however, enjoyed responsibly, back off the heat. Just don’t back off too much or your moonshine cook will last longer than a presidential campaign. Some throw out a temperature range that is most appropriate: 172 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Others watch still output closely to know whether to add or take away some heat. If liquid is pouring out of the still, back off the heat. If the still is putting out a drop at a time, turn it up.
What’s in the water?
Minerals found in some tap water can turn your shine cloudier than a Seattle skyline. The obvious work-around here is to use filtered water whenever possible. Additional tips concerning your water: make sure your moonshine and water are at the same temperature when mixing, and always pour the water into the distillate.
Keep out the yeast
When transferring the wash into the still, use an auto-siphon. This helpful device will hold separate the yeast and trub that has sunk to the bottom of the fermenter, which is good because if the yeast makes it into the still, your moonshine will fog up.
Tails of woe
Fusel oils can be another culprit of cloudy moonshine, and these guys appear when you’re not making the proper tail cuts. Keep the hearts and discard the tails or you’ll be producing moonshine that is cloudy right away, or if the fusel oils are in low enough concentration, the cloudiness will appear after your moonshine chills. Fusel oils don’t smell or taste good, so you’ll likely know it when your tail cuts aren’t up to snuff.
A micro-distillery explained (according to yours truly)
One can get fairly philosophical in a hurry when trying to pin down the definition of a micro-distillery. The American Distilling Institute pegs it with production volume, saying a “craft” or “artisan” distiller doesn’t exceed 50,000 proof gallons per year. Assuming some things about alcohol by volume, that can mean production of around 68 9-Liter cases per day. The big guns of the industry can produce in the neighborhood of 46,000 9-Liter cases per day by comparison. But that definition alone only helps Uncle Sam with tax brackets. What about the craftsmanship and gumption of someone seeking perfection? Excuse us if it sounds highfalutin, but a volume count doesn’t capture the gall of someone looking at the distilling business – one with a long history, big reputations, and even bigger marketing budgets – and say, “I can add something different, maybe even better than what’s there.” You’re starting to get at the heart of a micro-distillery when you view the person behind the product. Someone, or as in our case some family, that decides dedicated craftsmanship and attention to detail can lead to something new. Architects, perfectionists, entrepreneurs, innovators, dreamers – all defining titles we won’t squabble over too much as long as they come with the understanding that our work is carefully researched and practiced every day. Certain terms have become synonymous with the micro-distillery movement, chief among them being “small batch” or “single batch.” Again, this speaks to production volume meaning a relatively small quantity of a spirit being distilled at one time as opposed to a large continuous distilling process. Whatever your views on production or volume size may be, we value the production process involved. When your top focus is on your own still design and the quality of production from beginning to end, volume doesn’t matter as much as the process and the people behind it. We’re always glad to share about micro-distilleries, and about the methods in our small (or micro) corner of the spirits industry. We may even get philosophical on you if you stick around long enough.
Check out the latest and greatest from our commercial line, HBS Copper here!
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.
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?
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.
Did you recently buy your very first stainless steel still or a copper pot still? We highly recommend you clean your new still thoroughly before brewing your first batch of moonshine to remove residues from the manufacturing process. As manufacturers of high quality copper pot stills and stainless steel distillers, we always are trying to educate our customers on the best way to perfectly clean your still to ensure a long life of producing the finest quality product with each batch.
When you get the new still be sure to wash all the parts and the outside of the still. One of the advantages of owning a stainless moonshine still is that it is very easy to clean when compared to a copper still. Here are some recommendations how to clean your new still:
Cleaning a Stainless Still
- Use warm water and any dish soap you would use for your own pots and pans
- Make a solution of 1 tablespoon of 3% caustic soda (Sodium Hydroxide) and 2 liters of water (recommended temperature of 180 degrees Fahrenheit) and use that solution to rinse the still.
- Common white vinegar is also a great cleaning agent for your still.
- Do NOT use any bleach.
Cleaning a Copper Still
- Mix 1 tablespoon salt with 1 cup vinegar to make a paste and apply to outside of the copper still to remove any tarnish. Add flour to thicken the paste. Rinse with water after 30 minutes. Repeat the process if necessary
- Combine ketchup, lemon juice and cream of tartar (optional) to make a paste and clean the outside of the still. Rinse with water.
Once you have cleaned up the outside, you should do your first batch run which cleans the inside of the still and removed any flux. A common first run method includes making a solution by mixing equal parts of vinegar and water that is one-fifth capacity of the still and running it through the still. Then follow this by running a cheap alcohol run that strips out the flavor from the previous run. Now your still is ready for making great tasting moonshine and spirits.
Do you have any tips that have worked for you? We would love to hear it in the comment section.