Whiskey Still Co. Blog

The Distillation of Alcohol – A Brief History

The Distillation of Alcohol – A Brief History

If you like good alcoholic drinks (such as whiskey), you probably asked yourself more than once where and how everything started. And, if you are one of the people so fascinated with good spirits, you probably also have a moonshine still somewhere, in your home. Hence, even more reasons to find out about the history of alcohol distillation.

Give a Thank You to the Arabs

You may be surprised, but the beginnings of distillation are actually attributed to the Arabs, as they came up with the idea of pure distillation, somewhere around the 8th - 9th centuries. Surprisingly for these people who are not allowed to drink, they took their passion quite seriously and found pleasure in distilling alcohol and making only pure, great alcoholic beverages. Distillation existed in the area since 500 B.C., but you can thank chemistry, especially that performed by Persian and Arabs, for what distillation is today.

The word itself, however, comes from the Latin “de-stillare”, which basically meant the process of separating the liquid by vaporization and condensation; Aristotle was, actually, one of the first people who suggested the idea of distilling spirits (thou, the world had to wait for the Arabs to implement it).

Now, if you are also curious about the word “alcohol”, then you will be happy to know it was used in the English vocabulary since the 16th century. The term, however, traces its roots back to the Arabic “al-kohl”, with “al” meaning “the” and “kohl” representing that powder used as eyeliner by ladies (a term still in use today). “Al-kohl” (or “alcohol”, as we use it today), would, hence, start as a medical solution to ail the eyes. It became more of what is known of it today - meaning a liquor - only somewhere in the 18th century.

And, because you cannot have the distillation of alcohol without the vase in which you do it, the alembic was invented. Apparently, its roots are somewhat still dubious, as some people trace its history back to the years 200-300 A.C., in Egypt (where, you might be surprised, but it was created by two sisters), while others believe it appeared in the same time with the distillation process, in the 9th century, on the Arab soils. The word, however, comes from the Greek “ambix”, meaning a pot with a small mouth, which was changed by the Arabs into “ambic”, which, in combination with the “al” mentioned above, lead to the name of “Al Ambic”, later Europeanized as Alembic.

Distillation around the World

But distilled alcoholic drinks were not found only on the Arab territories, but also in Japan, where Shochu was distilled from sake, in India, were they made Arrack from molasses and rice, as well as in what is now known as Georgia, where Skhou was made from mare’s milk. Hence, distillation was of big importance on the Asian continent.

On European soil, the romans are considered the first to distill alcohol, mainly wine, while, later on, states like Spain, Portugal or France started the heavy process of distilling spirits only after the contact with the Arab world.

Real distillation, more or less as we know it today, entered profoundly in Europe, during the Middle Ages, with the first distillation of alcohol being noticed in the 12th century, in Salerno, Italy. Brandy will appear in the first half of the 1400, and all distiller spirits were becoming more and more popular every day, as they were considered medical remedies for the Black Death.

How About Today?

The process of distillation has not suffered major changes since it has appeared, with the classical, typical alembic copper stills being widely spread not only on the European continent, but also in America. The traditional methods are still employed, being considered way better than modern techniques, especially by those who make a passion out of distilling alcohol and creating moonshine, for example.

The 10 Most Common Distilling Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs

Making mistakes during the distilling process is going to happen. This is how you learn to make the perfect whiskey; however, there are a few common mistakes that would be helpful if you could just avoid altogether.

Top 10 Distilling Mistakes

1. Simple Math Mistakes

You don’t have to be a math professor to make it through the distilling process but it is important to double check your math otherwise, you could end up with too much sugar during the fermentation process or a host of other issues.

2. Not Testing Your Setup

If you are making your own still then you need to vigorously test it. There have been too many incidences of explosions and fires (when working with gas) because someone didn’t test out their homemade setup.

3. Leaving the Distiller Unattended

As you become more confident with your distilling skills, you may become careless. Leaving for a second or two while you are running your mash through the still may okay but this is typically when accidents happen. Be vigilant and always watch what you are doing.

4. Forgetting to Close the Tap

This is pretty common and not necessarily as deadly as a few of the other mistakes but it will make a mess. Always make sure your taps are closed before pouring your water and sugar into the fermenter.

5. Not Labeling Your Containers

If you keep more than one type of whiskey on hand then it is best to store them in color-coded bottles. It won’t kill you to mix a 100% wheat variety with a UJSM style but it may not turn out as well as you would like. This rule applies for all of your ingredients, always label your containers. 

6. Not Covering Your Outdoor Still

If you keep your still outside then make sure to cover it up. Wasps, hornets and other insects love making nests in your condenser or outtake line.

7. Using Too Much Flour Paste

Yes, flour paste makes for a great seal, however, more does not mean better in this case. If it is too thick, it may not cook completely before you reach your ideal temperature.

8. Using Plastic in Homemade Stills

It is the golden rule when building your own still. Never use plastic, period. It just can’t handle the heat and will usually give your final product a terrible plastic taste.

9. Rushing The Process

It really doesn’t pay to hurry so don’t try to crank the heat in an effort to speed the initial heat up. Take your time and enjoy your hobby. Accidents tend to happen when people are in a rush.

10. Not Cleaning After Every Run

ALWAYS clean and sanitize your still after every run. The taste and smell of the tails will stay in your condenser and impact your next run.
 
We all make mistakes so if you have any you would like to share, please leave a comment below.

The History of Moonshine

Making moonshine is one of the activities which goes way back in American history and has survived impressive obstacles, from high taxes and illegality, to diminished quality and the threat of large commercial producers.

People started making their own moonshine right after the American Revolution in the 1770s. As the state was weak and struggling to pay its war debts, a federal tax on liquors and spirits was placed. But people were already having a hard time simply getting by, not to mention paying their now oppressive taxes to the state, so they began to make their own alcohol.

The interesting thing is this didn’t start off as a hobby or for personal consumption purposes. For a large majority, this was actually their way to survive. Farmers could turn their corn into profitable whiskey, and the extra income helped them feed their families and keep their assets, as the taxes were so high they barely got by. Federal agents, called Revenuers, were attacked when they came around to collect the tax; there are even famous stories which talk about some having been tarred and feathered. There were rebellions and constant clashes between moonshiners and authorities, with some of the most famous gun fights having taken place in those times. As these conflicts escalated in the 1860s, together with the state trying to fund the Civil War from excise taxes, the Temperance Movement, which sought to ban alcohol altogether, became more and more popular.

The greatest ‘blessing’ for moonshiners came in 1920 when nationwide Prohibition went into effect, the law that banned alcohol sale, manufacture, transportation (bootlegging) and consumption. Suddenly, with no legal alcohol available, moonshine was in such great demand that moonshiners could barely keep up with orders. This resulted into the production of poor quality, sugar-based or watered-down moonshine. Organized crime flourished as speakeasies opened in every town – secret saloons with hidden doors, passwords and escape routes in case of federal raids. In many rural towns, small speakeasies and blind pigs were operated by local business owners. The poor quality bootleg liquor sold there was responsible for a shift away from 19th century 'classic' cocktails, which celebrated the raw taste of liquor, to new cocktails aimed at masking the taste of rough moonshine.

When Prohibition ended, in 1933, the market for moonshine collapsed. With commercial distilleries producing on large scales, alcohol became cheaper and making moonshine was not a means to an economic end anymore. However, moonshine continued to be a problem for federal authorities into the 1960s and '70s. Even today, many prefer to make their own moonshine. Whether out of passion for distilling or the simple desire to defy government authority, moonshiners still form an impressive community in the United States.

Other Uses for Your Whiskey Still

 

Thinking Outside of the Box: Other Uses for Your Whiskey Still

It may never have occurred to you that your beloved whiskey still can be used for more than just making great tasting whiskey. Sure, you can make other fine alcoholic beverages but did you know that you could use your still to create distilled water or even an alternative fuel for your vehicle?

Distilled Water

The first question you may have is why would you want to distill your water. Not only is it great for drinking but having pure, uncontaminated water at your disposal is great for cleaning cuts, watering sensitive plants, filling car radiators, etc.

Essentially, you are using the intense heat from your still to separate the chemicals from the water molecules. It is the same principle as creating the finest whiskey known to man but your final product won’t get you drunk.

How to Make Alternative Fuel

During your years of distilling whiskey, you have probably created some batches that were better off as fuel than whiskey, especially if you forgot to add your water.

Creating ethanol fuel is not much different than creating a bourbon or other fine alcoholic beverage. The first step is to create your mash using rotten fruit or corn. Once you add your distillers yeast and sugar, wait about 10 days until the sugars has been consumed.

Now comes the fun part. Run the mash through your reflux still. It is very important to do this immediately after the sugar has been consumed as not doing so could add molecules from the environment that could damage your car.

Once you go through the distillery procures, filter your mixture and you should have some inexpensive fuel for your vehicle.

Those are just two uses for your still. If you have any other ideas, why not share them ?

The Difference Between Pot and Column Stills

If you are just getting started on your whiskey-distilling journey then you will need to know the difference between the pot still and the column still.

The Pot Still

The pot still has changed very little over the last hundred years or so and with good reason. The design is easy to use and it works very well, so why mess with a good thing?

How does the pot still work?

It all starts with the big chamber at the bottom, which is the “pot” that stores your whiskey. Once you apply heat to this large chamber, the contents will begin boiling and the vapor will start moving up the chamber into the large, narrow tube, known as the “Swan’s Neck”. At the end of this narrow tube is a condenser, which cools the vapor using cold water, turning it back into liquid form to be passed to a collection vessel.

As mentioned, this is a fairly easy method to use, which is why it is still around today. 

The Column Still

Although it is a little more complicated than the simple pot still, the column still creates higher alcohol levels in the final product, making it perfect for creating higher-gravity spirits.

How does the column still work?

Picture a large column filled with numerous pot stills on top of each other. The column still creates these chambers using perforated plates.

This still is constantly being heated from the bottom, so when you pour your mash in to the cooler top portion, it instantly begins falling. As the mash hits the steam, it vaporizes and sends the alcohol and other volatile particles back up the still.

Every time the alcohol-carrying vapor hits one of those perforated plates (or chambers) it condenses and drops out the heavier particles. As the vapor continues up the tube, only the alcohol remains and is eventually passed through a condenser at the top, turning it back into liquid form.

Those are the two most poplar stills in the industry and although there are others, they all work in a similar fashion to these two historic distillery methods.

How to Make Honey Moonshine

What To Do With a Gallon of Honey?

The other day, I was chatting with a good customer of mine when he mentioned they were able to get their hands on a gallon of honey from a local beekeeper (believe it or not, it only cost them $30). Naturally, my mind started racing with the idea of creating the perfect honey moonshine.

So, today I present you with a recipe for making the best tasting Honey Moonshine that will ever touch your lips.

Recipe for Honey Moonshine (aka: Honey Whiskey or Honeyshine)

Ingredients:

       1 Gallon of honey

       5 Gallons of water

       Distillers yeast

What To Do:

The first step of this process is heating 2.5 gallons of your water to 120°F before stirring in 1 gallon of honey until it is completely dissolved. Now we can add the second half of our water to the honey mixture. Make sure you keep this portion of your water at room temperature.

Now it is time to grab your immersion chiller and cool the mixture to a balmy 70°F. At this point, you will need to go back to your childhood years and aerate the mash by pouring it back and forth between two buckets. Okay, so maybe we were “aerating” mud back in the day but it is still the same process.

Before we transfer the mash to our glass carboy, add 2 tablespoons of yeast. Now we can transfer it to the carboy and don’t forget to install the air lock. 

This is the hard part. We have to wait 2 weeks while our honey whisky ferments and make sure you keep that temperature at 70°F at all times.

Once the fermentation process is complete, we have to wait for another 5 to 7 days for it to settle out. When this is finished, you are ready to siphon (not pour but siphon) your mash into a 5 or 10 gallon copper moonshine still.

Don’t forget to toss in your foreshots, heads and tails when distilling. If you are planning to drink this un-aged then make sure you cut your heads and tails.

Finish It Off:

Let’s bring the flavor home by aging it for 2 to 3 weeks using lightly toasted, American oak chips and for that extra little flavor, throw in a little bit of honey to the finished product.

That is it, now you are ready to enjoy your honeyshine. Can you think of a better way to use a gallon of honey?

 

 

Making Your Own Malt Easily

Malt is the basic component for a number of home-brewed beers, but luckily the hardest part in making it is getting around to finally doing it. It saves you a little money and gives you way more control over the way you make your homebrew. As with all crafts, though, it’s rather difficult to get things right the first time around. We’ll be focusing on barley-based malting here to keep things short.

Making malt consists of three stages, steeping, germination and kilning. Prior to malting, make sure you get barley that’s clear of pesticides and other nasty stuff that might make you sick. Buy a test pound from a source you like, and if the results are good (i.e., 9/10ths of the barley germinate, the beer tastes good) stick to the seller you like. Get whole barley, i.e. barley with the husks on, as only that can be used later on.

Steeping & Germination

Wash the barley thoroughly, waiting until the chaff floats to the surface. Drain and put the grain in a container with water reaching just two inches over it. After about eight hours have passed, drain and let it stand without water for eight more. During the final soaking of another eight hours there bulges should start appearing in the grain. These are roots beginning to emerge. Note that grain should never be left in water more than 8 hours as they might become infertile due to lack of oxygen.

Place the grain into a pan, over paper towels or absorbent cloth, and seal everything closely in a trash bag that will hold in the moisture and keep out everything else. After about four to six days the barley will have sprouted to about the right size, which is 3/4ths of the original grain size (keep only the main sprout into account, disregarding any ‘hair’). It should weigh roughly 50% more than originally. Now the time is ripe for turning it into real malt.

Kilning

Now you should heat the green malt in a temperature of 100° to 125° F for about 24 hours or until the weight is about 18 ounces for a pound of barley. Either use a household appliance, such as a hot refrigerator, or use the oven with only the light on. Afterwards dry it slowly in a temperature of 140° to 160° F until it reaches its original weight. Turn the malt every 30 minutes and slowly increase the temperature during the malt. You’ll probably need a floating thermometer for this. The final malt should be sweet and crunchy, but you’ll know something went awry if it’s rock-solid--try again if that’s the case.

 

Now put your homemade malt to some good use!

Freezing Distillation

Many varieties of alcohol are created via freezing distillation. Applejack, made by freezing hard cider, is perhaps the best-known of these, but other fun varieties of drink, such as Eisbock and ice beer, are also made through freezing distillation.

Freezing distillation, or better yet, ‘freezing concentration’ is a process in which a drink is frozen and then allowed to melt, removing excess water from it. ‘Distillation’ is a bit of a misnomer, because nothing is heated—one might say it’s rather the opposite.

During this process both the concentration of the drink and the alcohol content are increased. Contrary to regular distillation, freezing distillation is considered legal all over the world.

Why do it?

In addition to increasing the gravity of a drink, freeze distillation brings out the taste of any other drink, because you end up with a concentrate of the stuff you had before.

How to do it?

The easiest method is to pour the drink into a container, such as a plastic jug, and freeze it, either in the freezer or outdoors if you live somewhere cold. This may take up to a few days (still faster than aging) but you can speed it up by freeze distilling in a number of smaller bottles. Once it’s frozen, let it slowly unfreeze and drip into another vessel. Remove once most of what’s left in the jug is ice. Carefully stir and have a sip or two.

It’s hard to estimate the gravity of the final product--it depends on how much water was removed, which in turn depends on the temperature of the freezer, etc. If, however, half of the volume of the drink is lost, a bit less than double of the original alcohol percentage will be retained. Do note that there’s only so much you can do with freeze distillation—the end gravity depends not on the count of times freezing distillation is done, but rather on the end temperature.

Which drinks to freeze?

Go to town! As long as you start with something reasonably good, you can come up with your own varieties of cordial made from Apfelwein, with your own ice beer or perhaps good ole applejack. It’s been said that hopped drinks get too bitter, but maybe that’s just what you’re going for.

Identifying the Best Whiskey Still

If you are looking to make some proper moonshine, then you need to make sure you get the best whiskey still possible. This device is very important in the distillation process, hence choosing the right type and the right material is of high importance.

Generally, there are two primary types of whiskey stills used today: pot and reflux. The first one is used for distillation at smaller quantities, while the second one is used for large-scale distillation. By reading this only you realize that when producing moonshine, in the comfort of your home, the pot still is the one you need to look for.

History of Types of Stills

The process of distilling whiskey is already tradition and in order to do it properly you need to stay faithful to various old recipes. This is good for you, if you want to produce distill whiskey at home, because it means that modern stills are still pretty much the same with what they used to be, employing the same techniques and offering the same quality product in the end.

They are mainly four types of stills you need to know about: blackpot submarine, reflux, steam and turnip.

1) The blackpot submarine still was mostly used to produce moonshine up until the first quarter of the 20th century. The pot was made of lumber panels and metal pieces, of either steel or copper. The advantage of the blackpot submarine was that the moonshiner ran the produced liquid through the still only once. However, the resulting beverage was not of a very good quality.

2) The reflux still is, probably, the best known type of still which is also widely used nowadays. Used for large-scale purification, its mechanism reduces the need for multiple distillations, thus making it more efficient as it produces whiskey faster and better.

3) A steam still was used occasionally and such still was never as famous as the other types of stills. The advantage of such a still was that the water put in the boiler was placed directly under heat, eliminating the need to stir the mash (as it happened with other versions).

4) The turnip still is one of the oldest types of stills and it produced better alcohol than the blackpot submarine. When using this still the distillation process could last from a couple of days to some good weeks. One disadvantage of it was the need to distill one more time, at least, the resulting liquid, thus taking even more time to produce quality whiskey.

What about the Material of the Still?

There are basically two types of materials used to make a whiskey still: copper and steel. Also, if you want to buy a whiskey still with a cadmium or lead-containing solder, then stop immediately, as these two will poison your body; a silver solder is a lot safer. And do not even think about plastic or synthetic boilers; avoid having such materials as part of your boiler.

Stainless steel is really solid and last more years than copper. However, it is a slow conductor of heat and does not influence the dissolution of substances such as esters and sulfuric compounds, which are important if you want your spirit to be of high quality.

Copper, on the other hand, is a lot safer. Dissolution is done at low rate, thus avoiding your exposure to it. Next, copper also preserves better the flavor of your drink, helps in breaking down compounds important to producing high quality alcohol and impedes the production of damaging substances (like ethylcarbamat). And, more than that, copper can improve the quality of your drink when the mash is not organically impeccable.

Add to copper’s qualities the fact that it is a great heat conductor, and you can surely see that even if there are two materials which are viewed as good for whiskey still production, only one is the real thing: copper.

Hence, when you look to buy the best whiskey still, remember to look for a pot still which is made of copper. You can find plenty on our website, so start browsing right away.

Describing the Whiskey Still

If you like whiskey and good drinks and would like to invest into a passion such as a making moonshine in the comfort of your own home, then you need to buy whiskey still, online, as soon as possible. But, before you do that, you need to understand what a whiskey still is and how it works.

Describing the Whiskey Still

A whiskey or moonshine still is an apparatus whose main purpose is to help you produce a mash in your home, which can be called homemade whiskey, thou, most commonly it is known as moonshine (hence the name of the still). The term “moonshine” first appeared in Great Britain, and was used to define any activity done at night, under only the light of the moon.

A classic still is made of a copper container that has a firm seal and a thin cone-shaped vent on top, which facilitates the circulation of vapors through a twisted copper tube into the storage pot. Copper is a traditional material in manufacturing whiskey stills, as it presents multiple beneficial characteristics for the distillation process and the end product, like uniform heating features.

How Do You Use The Whiskey Still?

First, you have to know that a whiskey still does not simply produce alcohol; a whiskey still just concentrates it. Hence, you need to start the distillation process with fermentation; for this, you need to pay attention to the type of grain used in the creation of each mash for the making and fermenting of primary alcohol. You need to crush the corn into meal and to then dip it in hot water in the still; next, add sugar and yeast. If you respected all the indications the fermentation process should start without a problem. The mixture you have in front of you, in this step, is what is called mash and it needs to be stirred and heated in the still for some time. Then, you can properly start the distillation process.

You also need to know that the only way the distilling process is possible is because alcohol has a boiling point inferior to water’s, meaning approximately 172°F (around 77.7°C). Hence, if you boil the liquid from completed grain mash somewhere between the boiling points of alcohol and water’s (meaning 212°F or 100°C), it will cause the alcohol to transform into vapors, leaving all other substances and water. These vapors will go through the spiraled coil into the second vessel, which needs to be constantly cooled, shortened and concerted until the content transforms into alcohol fluid.

Therefore, as you can easily see, a moonshine still is the centerpiece in creating homemade spirits and it helps you get a fun, quite easy and rather cheap passion. Hence, once you document yourself on the process of making moonshine, you can easily look where you can buy whiskey still or moonshine still online in order to indulge into your new found hobby.

How to Make Moonshine – The Basic Blueprint

The first thing anything needs to know before attempting to make moonshine is why such distilled drinks are also home made in the first place. All adds on how to make moonshine will tell you it’s a potentially dangerous process. It’s still worth it, anyway. Few people are aware that this drink represents an important cultural imprint, varying from one country to another. From the Colombian “tapetusa” to the Hungarian “palinca” and the Italian “grappa”, moonshine is an expression of diversity and infinite potential. In other words, it’s like a personal hallmark.

The classical Thin Mash recipe goes like this:

      5 Gallon water

     10 Lb. cane sugar

      2-  T yeast nutrient

      5T  lemon juice

      5 Ea. campden tablets

      1 cup of dry baker’s yeast 

Mix the lemon juice and the sugar in the fermenter, then fill the latter with the 5 gallons of boiled water. Make sure the sugar is properly dissolved and then cover the mixture. After cooling, add the yeast and other ingredients. The fermenter needs to be kept at 79-900 F to the end of the fermentation process. After this, the yeast dregs can be removed and the liquid can be distilled into whisky.

Obviously, the wash can contain other fruit juices, types of sugar or herbs, according to one’s preferences and available ingredients. While one of the most known types of moonshine in Europe will be plum-based, other combinations are equally pleasing and welcome.

As you already know, I'm really interested into the topic, so if you have any recipes you want to share, or even some funny moonshine experiences (don’t we all...), feel free to post here. 

Safety Measures During Distillation

Because safety is the most important thing, I make a point of going back to basic protection measures during distillation, every now and again. No matter how experienced of a distiller you are, safety should always come first, whether it’s the location, the equipment you use or your own behavior in the process of running your copper whiskey still. Alcohol is almost as dangerous as gasoline when it comes to fire and explosion hazards and although your mash isn’t flammable, the vapors from the first and successive run distillates certainly are, so it is essential to take great care every time you fire up your pot still.

So, here are some basic rules that you should stick to:

Don’t use an open flame indoors. In fact, don’t use an open flame at all if you can avoid it. Along these lines, might also help not to (carelessly) smoke next to your whiskey still during distillation.

Always ensure proper ventilation. Alcohol easily diffuses in the air and can explode at the very interaction with a spark or a flame.

Avoid using glass containers. Use metal and plastic only.

Never fill a pot while it is on the stove or near a heat source. A few drops of spilled alcohol could create an explosion if they reach a hot plate.

Place the receiver low on the floor, away from the heat source. Also, it is recommended to use a small-necked receiver so that, if a fire starts, the small-necked opening is easier to extinguish. You can also wrap a damp cloth loosely around the tubing where it enters the receiver, to keep the vapors in.

Never leave your pot still unattended. A hose line could fail, a receiver might overflow and dangerous vapors would get spread around causing trouble.

Avoid storing uncut alcohol around the house. Or, if you need to, make sure you keep it in the refrigerator. Anything warmer than that and you might be sitting next to a ticking bomb. Also, don’t store alcohol higher than 15% in plastic containers as some types of plastic might dissolve in alcohol.

Avoid vapor leaks in your copper still by making sure all the fittings are tight. If you do get a leak, stop the heat source first and then attend to it.

Keep a CO2 fire extinguisher on hand and make sure you know how to use if you need to.

Also, don’t forget to clean your still immediately after each distillation, while the copper is still warm. Rinse it thoroughly with water and wipe it with a clean cloth. Flush out all the tubing with clear water. You may also use a weak detergent solution every now and then, but not perfumed soap as it may leave an odor.

Enjoy your quality distilling time but always keep safe. Believe it or not, there are worse things than a failed recipe... although that’s pretty bad too!

Japanese Whisky

Because most of my friends know my love for my copper whiskey still, my passion for distilling, and whiskey in general, I do get a lot of awesome gifts. When a friend of mine from Japan visited me last week, he brought something quite fancy that I’d only tasted once before, at a whiskey fair: a bottle of Japanese malt. Very few people, including myself, know much about Japanese whisky but although it’s not as well-known as Scotch or Bourbon, it is a fine product with a long history.

The first and most famous Japanese whisky distillery is Yamazaki, owned by Suntory and founded in 1923. It is located outside Japan’s old capital, Kyoto, a great location for making whiskey, with pure waters and high humidity. Today, Suntory Yamazaki is the most popular single malt whisky in Japan, but it also gets exported to over 25 countries worldwide.

Whiskey reached Japan through a case of Scotch, sometime late 1800s. As these things go, they loved it so they started making their own. This is also what made them follow the Scottish recipe and why they spell it as the British: “whisky”. Suntory’s first master distiller actually studied and perfected his skills in Scotland and chose the distillery location in similar landscape and climate. Some years after opening the distillery, they also worked at developing a local taste for whisky and opened Suntory whisky bars throughout the country, making the drink popular with the Japanese people.

Although it does taste very similar to Scotch, there are also unique elements to the Japanese version. Obviously, local climate and water have an impact but what is also relevant is their use of numerous variations, priding themselves on the diversity of ingredients, malting and fermentation processes, various yeasts and peat levels. They use different shapes and sizes copper stills (though they claim their most common are their “giant copper pot stills”) and age their distillate in a wide variety of barrels, from new or used American oak, to sherry and wine casks. Essential to its distinctive flavor is the use of aromatic Japanese oak, which adds a strong incense note. So, although they produce high quality single malts, their blends are also subtle, complex... and quite expensive. The Hibiki blend is said to contain more than 20 different whiskies.

The distillery has come a long way since its launch and Suntory had not only expanded its portfolio but it also created a market for competing newcomers. Their most known products are the Hibiki - a 12 year-old blend, the Hakushu – a 12 year-old malt, and Yamazaki – a 12 or 18 year-old single malt. The latter is the most expensive, at about $140 a bottle. Although I’ve only seen them at whiskey fairs and tasting events, I read that you can now find all of them in the States too.

 

 

 

 

Alcohol Yield

This is one of the questions we often get from our Whiskey Still customers: how much alcohol can I expect my copper whiskey still to yield? It is, of course, very difficult to offer an exact answer. Quantity depends on a number of factors: ingredients, amount of sugar, type of yeast or final proof. A generic rule is that you will get about 10-20% of a still’s capacity: a 5 gallon whiskey still could potentially yield 1 gallon of moonshine, while a 10 gallon copper still, 2 gallons of alcohol.

Before hitting the copper whiskey still, the amount of alcohol present in your starting wash can impact the final yield, as you can obtain more from a stronger wash. This is influenced by two main factors: the amount of sugar present in the mash and the type of yeast you choose to use. You will generally add different amounts of sugar, depending on recipe and personal preference, but what is important is that there is enough sugar for yeast to turn into alcohol. Whether you obtain it through fermentation or add it yourself, sugar is essential for a strong starting alcohol, which, as I already said, is important for a good yield. This doesn’t mean you should overdo it on the sugar, just that correctly following a good recipe is always a good idea. For 10 lb of sugar, you should be able to get somewhere between 1.5 - 2 gallons of pure ethanol.

The type of yeast you choose is also very important. Bakers yeast can produce around 10% alcohol, while stronger distillers yeast or “turbos” can take it up to about 20%. But choose your yeast carefully, also considering other factors, such as your fermenting conditions, ingredients or distillate you want to obtain. Good yeast will help you get a higher final yield thanks to having generated a higher starting alcohol.

I also mentioned final proof among the relevant factors on which alcohol yield is dependant because strength is directly related to quantity. Only about half of the final spirit leaving your copper whiskey still will be pure alcohol though so your yield is actually double than the ethanol you calculate depending on your sugar input.

And, of course, cutting might play a part as only experienced distillers will make the most of their distillate and collect just the right amount of tasty shine, not too much to have an off taste but not too little to waste any of the good stuff either.

Make your own Mead

I thought I’d stay in the sweet area for a little longer and move from discussing sugar to more natural ingredients, like honey. And what’s honey great for? Mead of course. Also known as Honey Wine, mead is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey and one of the oldest alcoholic drinks known to man. This is due to the easy making process but also availability of ingredients and great taste. If you want to give your copper pot still a break, all you need to brew some tasty mead of your own is honey, water and yeast.

Honey fermentation is a really easy process, even for beginner brewers so it’s worth trying out. If you don’t have access to large quantities of honey, buying some good, natural stuff can be expensive, which is why I recommend you start off with a smaller quantity, until you get the hang of it and perfect your own recipe.

The first step is getting your honey. It’s very important that you get some clean, natural honey and not the processed type you find in supermarkets, although the latter is usually cheaper. Try beekeepers directly, a farmer’s market or an organic shop for the real stuff, otherwise you might have trouble with it fermenting badly or having a poor taste. Depending on the predominant flower source around the hives, honey comes in different flavors. They’re all great for mead but some might taste better than others in combination with additional flavorings, such as fruit and spices, if you choose to add any.

Once you’ve got your honey, mix it with clean or distilled water. Quantities will vary depending on recipe but a good generalization is part honey to 3.5 - 4 parts water (although there are also European recipes which use only two units of water for one of honey). For mead, there is no need to heat the mix, this can alter the nutrients and flavor, and is unnecessary if you’ve used clean water, as honey is naturally anti-bacterial. Place your mix in a fermenter and then add yeast. As with most homemade drinks, the yeast you choose can influence the fermentation process and the taste of your final product. Bread yeast and white wine yeast work well. Place an airlock and let it ferment.

Fermentation can take somewhere between 2-8 weeks, depending on the honey, the yeast and the general environmental conditions. As the yeast eats the sugars, alcohol is produced. You can decide to end fermentation depending on how sweet or strong you want the mead to be. For this, use a hydrometer to measure the gravity and how much sugar is left. If you think it’s reached the strength you wanted, you can add preservatives to stop further fermentation, such as potassium sorbate. When the mead is clear and there are no more gas bubbles, fermentation is done.

Next step is transferring the mead into a second container to separate it from the yeast. You can use a siphon hose for this to make sure you leave as much sediment as possible in the fermenter. If you want to flavor your mead, this is the time to add additional ingredients. There are plenty of recipes with hops, fruit: berries usually work great or spices: cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg are common, especially for making mulled mead in wintertime. If you want to add flavorings, you need to let your mead absorb them for a while, weeks up to a few months.

Opinions on ageing are very different when it comes to mead. Most home-brewers I know don’t have the patience to wait for it to age. But there are some who say it’s worth waiting at least a few months before bottling, as this makes it a lot better.

The alcoholic content of mead can range from 8% to over 20% abv. You can also find it in a wide variety: still, sparkling, dry, semi-sweet or sweet. Because it’s had centuries of evolution, there are hundreds of mead recipes from America, Europe, Africa and Asia, each with its unique fermentation process and additional ingredients. But the great thing about it is that it kept its simplicity and more or less the same making process as hundreds of years ago.

Sugar and Moonshine

Even if you’re new to the ‘shiners club, you might have already figured out just how essential sugar is for making moonshine and all other distilled spirits. Basically, all you need, aside from your trusted copper pot still, is water, sugar and yeast as alcohol is obtained through the fermentation of natural sugars, with the help of yeast.

In fact, sugar is so indispensable that you can either obtain it through fermentation from fruit or cereal mashes or you can just use it as a sole ingredient, in what is called a sugar wash. Sugar washes are easy for learning to make your own moonshine as they’re fairly easy to prepare but can still yield a nice amount of clear, neutral moonshine, perfect for mixing and flavoring.

Types of sugar

Knowing the different types of fermentable sugars will help you distinguish variations in your final distillate. There are simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, and compound sugars, such as sucrose and maltose. Glucose is usually found in fruit and plant juice; fructose is the sweetest of sugars and can also be found in fruit, vegetables, sugar cane and honey. Sucrose is actually formed through the combination of a molecule of glucose with a molecule of fructose and is found in sugar cane stems or sugar beet roots, while maltose is the least sweet of sugars and is formed through the germination of grains, the most important being barley, which is converted into malt (For more information on malting read: http://www.whiskeystill.net/blogs/whiskey-still-co-blog/12638473-malt-whiskey)

You can either base your moonshine on a fruit or grain mash, from which natural sugars will be extracted through fermentation, or you can use already processed commercial sugar. The main forms you can find this in are white sugar, brown and raw sugar. Among these, raw and white sugars are used most for home distillation: they ferment easily and are affordable. Molasses, a sugar byproduct, is also used in distillation, most often in the process of making rum (http://www.whiskeystill.net/blogs/whiskey-still-co-blog/12175097-how-to-make-homemade-rum). 

White sugar is a processed sugar obtained generally from sugar cane. It comes in many different forms and levels of crystallizing, from the standard granulated sugar, to coarse and sanding larger crystal sugars, to superfine and powdered sugar.  

Brown sugar is a sucrose sugar with a distinctive brown color due to the presence of molasses, which is between 3.5%, for light brown sugar, to 6.5% for dark brown sugar. Natural brown sugar, or raw sugar, is obtained from the first crystallization of sugar cane and can be found as unrefined or partially refined. Unrefined brown sugar contains molasses syrup, which is higher in mineral content. Turbinado and demerara are partially processed sugars, obtained through crystallizing raw sugar cane, then removing water and impurities through the use of a centrifuge. Demerara has less molasses than light brown sugar, while turbinado has a golden color and a mild brown sugar flavor. Muscovado is an unrefined, dark brown sugar with a stronger molasses flavor and a sticky texture.

Sugar wash

A sugar wash is easily obtained through mixing your chosen type of sugar with water and yeast. First add the sugar to some hot water and mix, then once it’s dissolved, add colder water. You can decide proportions depending on recipe, ingredients or the equipment you have but as a general rule, you can use about 3 liters of water for 1kg of sugar. Add your yeast and let it ferment for 4-8 days. Once that’s done fire up your moonshine still and get to the next stage: distillation.

A typical yield from sugar wash is somewhere between 40-50%, meaning you should get about 550 ml of pure ethanol per kg of sugar. So, for 5kg of sugar, you should get some 2.75 liters of alcohol. If you run your pot still at 40%, you can get up to 7 liters of distillate from 5 kg of sugar.

So, whatever you decide to make your homemade moonshine from, sugar is your best friend. Although it might not come out as rich and tasty as a distillate obtained from malt or fruit mashes, a sugar wash is easy and cheap to make.

 

Home Distillation of Hydrosols and Essential Oils

Although I own my own copper still, I am not particularly experienced in the distillation of hydrosols and essential oils as I have so far used my copper pot still exclusively for distilling moonshine and other spirits. I do however know of customers who have used our smaller 1 gallon alembic still for making their own essential oils and hydrosols. So, I’ve also started to look into the process and have assembled some useful information on the topic, in the hope that I’ll get the time to try it myself.

Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids containing volatile aroma compounds extracted from aromatic plants. They carry the distinctive aroma or “essence” of the botanicals they are made of, which explains the name. They have been used for centuries for therapeutic, medicinal, culinary or cosmetic purposes and have especially contributed to a rise in the popularity of aromatherapy in the past few years. There are hundreds of plants that contain useful essential oils which can be extracted from their oil glands, roots, flowers, peel, veins and resin. And while some oils or hydrosols are very expensive to buy, they could be rather cheap to make at home, in your own copper pot still.

There are three main methods for making your own essential oils: distillation, expression and solvent extraction; out of which, distillation (and especially steam distillation) is the most common. Expression refers to mechanically extract the oils from a plant, such as the cold-pressing method known for extracting olive oil. For flowers or plants too delicate to withstand expression or the high temperatures of distillation, certain solvents can be used instead for extraction. Most essential oils today are obtained through distillation. Copper alembic stills are great for the process, especially since most only need a single process for extraction, but also thanks to copper’s antibacterial properties.

The first step is getting your botanicals. The quantity of oils in a plant varies depending on season, the origin of the plant and the method of harvesting. So, it’s important to read up on the specific plant you decide on before you start, so that you know when it’s best to harvest it, what part of the plant will yield the best results and when to begin and end distillation. Plants are usually very sensitive and need to be carefully handled in order to not waste any of their essential oils. It’s recommended to go for whole plants, not crushed, dried or powder, and, if possible, to pick them yourself. While distillation, especially in copper, removes impurities, it is best to use your own botanicals or organically grown ones, to make sure they were not contaminated by pesticides or other chemicals. After harvesting, some producers recommend drying the plants in order to increase the amount you can use in your batch. But make sure they are dried slowly, not in direct sunlight and not for too long.

Place your dried plants in the still over clean, either filtered or distilled, water. Once water reaches boiling point, the steam will pass through the plants, vaporizing the volatile compounds. The usual distillation process follows: vapors flow through the coil where they condense back to liquid and then reach the receiving vessel. The obtained recondensed steam is your hydrosol. You can make use of a separating funnel or an essential oil separator to separate the essential oil from the hydrosol. Hydrosols can be used on their own, such as rose water, lavender or pine hydrosol, lemon balm or orange blossom water, or re-used in distilling your next batch.

Result may vary in concentration from plant to plant. You should decide on whether you need an essential oil or a hydrosol would be more useful, and keep in mind that you need a large quantity of botanicals for a small amount of oil. The good news is, although essential oils keep for two years or even more, you most probably do not need large quantities for personal use, as they are extremely concentrated. This is also why it is advisable to dilute the result with other carrier oils or substances, depending on the final use. Almond or grape seed oils are usually preferred for this purpose. Store the oils or the hydrosols in clean colored glass or stainless steel containers, away from direct sunlight.

A very important thing that needs mentioning is that if you do choose to use a copper pot still for making both alcohol and hydrosols or essential oils, it is recommended that, for safety reasons, you use separate equipment. Cleaning the still may not be enough to make the distillation of alcohol safe if the still was previously used for the extraction of essential oils.

The Angel’s Share

Although very much about the loss of whiskey into thin air, there’s actually more to the Angel’s share concept than that. The term refers to the process of ethanol evaporation which occurs while the whiskey is stored in barrels, for ageing. The loss is called the Angel’s share because of the popular belief that guardian angels watch over the drink, as it matures. Angel’s share also occurs during wine or ale storage.

Barrels have been used for centuries for the storage and transportation of liquids, from water and olive oil to beer, wine and distilled spirits. But, aside from the technical advantages, that they were more resistant than clay pots and more easily carried over longer distances, quality benefits also came into play. It became obvious that the different types of wood improved the taste for many of the alcoholic drinks, such as beer, wine and spirits. The same story goes for the beginnings of using oak barrels for transporting moonshine. The distillate became mellower, rounder, richer in flavor and more complex after a longer contact with the wood. We now know that there are reasons behind every type of wood used for whiskey barrels: the new oak lets the moonshine soak up different aromas of vanilla, tobacco, spicy and nutty hints, while the charring generates sweetness, through a layer of caramelized sugars. The method used in making the barrel is also relevant to the flavoring and maturing process, whether it was sawn, hand-split, whether the staves were kiln or air-dried and bent through the use of steam, natural gas or wood fire.

Regardless of the type of wood or method used in putting it together, all barrels are porous. Oxidation is essential for the whiskey’s flavor, its acquired color and its final complex character. The angels take their share thanks to the nature of the material that lets the barrel breathe.

Barrels of whiskey get stacked in commercial warehouses for several years. Conditions also affect the produced distillate and the quantity of the angel’s share as storage is usually done at 60% humidity or higher. If it is a low-humidity area, more water will evaporate, making the liquor stronger. If the area has a higher-humidity level, then more alcohol will evaporate, lowering the proof. So, the process is not just about loss: as proof lowers, the whiskey can mellow and leave the barrel at a more enjoyable alcohol level, after having also allowed the more subtle sweet, spicy or nutty flavors of the wood to emerge.

The exact amount that is lost depends very much on conditions, as well as materials and methods used for making the barrels. This is why the process develops differently also depending on region: in America, especially in the South, where temperatures are higher but humidity lower, compared to Scotland or Ireland, where it’s colder but humidity higher. Producers estimate the angel’s share around an annual 2% loss per barrel. This means that a distilled whiskey which is maturing in a new charred oak barrel for 5 years, can lose up to 10% of its alcohol content to the angels.

In humid climates, the loss of ethanol is also what causes the growth of the dark fungus which can be easily noticed in areas where whiskey is distilled and stored. Especially around distilleries which have been around for a long time, the exterior of houses, trees, vegetation and anything located in the neighborhood are all visibly covered in the dark mold, also called Whiskey Fungus or Angel’s Share Fungus. During the Tennessee Whiskey Trail we were also told that this was a good way for revenuers to find illegal moonshiners during Prohibition, as the mold would give away areas in which whiskey and moonshine had been distilled and stored.

The market has referenced the Angel’s share theme in a series of products. Jim Beam launched a Bourbon called Devil’s Cut a couple of years back. They said it reclaimed the whiskey that had been soaked up by the wood in the barrels and then blend this pulled out whiskey with a 6 year aged bourbon. There’s also the Angel’s Envy Kentucky Bourbon, while Lost Abbey produces a strong ale called Angel’s Share which spends a year in freshly emptied bourbon and brandy barrels after having been brewed.

A recent Scottish movie also called Angel’s Share has been quite popular in Europe; it follows a young delinquent in his discovery of Scotch and the Angel’s share, which is about to change his life from hopeless to rich and refined.

 

 

 

Your Basic Moonshining Gear

Every now and again, I like to go back to the basics and not just write about ingredients and recipes for moonshine or other spirits, but also the equipment and utensils you need to make delicious moonshine.

So, to start from the beginning: you’ll need a fermenting vessel. This can be made from a wide variety of materials, as long as it can handle heat and temperature variations. Glass demijohns are a good choice but I would also recommend plastic food grade barrels or 5 gallon buckets, as they’re easier to move around and very resistant. Just make sure they are made from the special hard plastic or polythene (marked as type 4 plastic).

After you’ve decided on a moonshine recipe and made your mash, I would recommend getting an airlock in place. The airlock is a plastic device, with a water trap, which lets the carbon dioxide produced during fermentation out. Its role is to make sure this escapes without letting any air into your vessel, to protect the mash from oxidation and contamination. Make sure you fit it tightly onto the plastic lid, cap or cork to efficiently seal the container.

I guess the next one is pretty obvious: for distilling you will need… a moonshine still! I can’t help but be a little subjective here and recommend a copper moonshine still which is great for home distillation made in batches. Pot stills give an incomplete separation of water from alcohol, which is desirable if you want to retain the flavors of the mash. This is preferable if you’re making moonshine, whiskey or brandy at home, as pot stills make thick-textured and really tasty spirits. Reflux stills are more efficient for the commercial distilling of higher proof, clear and neutral flavored spirits.

Your moonshine will also benefit from a copper still thanks to the material’s well known properties: it removes sulfur compounds, it distributes heat evenly, it is resilient but also resistant to corrosion, has proven antimicrobial effects and improves the overall quality of your final product.

The choice of heat source depends on your preference and distilling conditions, as long as it’s efficient. Both gas and electricity are suitable, but electricity is probably safer than open flame. Distilling your moonshine indoors? An electric stove or a portable hot-plate are both excellent options, especially for moonshine stills of ten gallons or less. Avoid using natural gas or oil stoves indoors. Prefer distilling outdoors? A propane burner could do the trick. There are portable burners for backyard parties, tailgating and camping. Cookers need to be specially designed for safety, function and strength. It is advisable for the burner to have a 10 PSI regulator which could reach 55,000 BTUs.

Another useful tool for your moonshining is a thermometer. Especially for the novice distiller, the thermometer helps monitor the evolution of the process and indicates when you’ve reached the boiling point and when the right cutting time is. It should also allow you to maintain the top of the onion head at the right temperature. Our copper pot stills come with one affixed to the onion head but, if you’re using a different moonshine still or you chose to make your own, you can find one at any local hardware store.

Cutting times are best identified by using both a thermometer and a hydrometer. The two instruments can help you determine what type of alcohol is being produced at a certain time and when it is time to cut your heads and tails. The hydrometer measures the gravity, potential alcohol and sugar content of your distillate. It's a little float that sinks or floats according to the density of the liquid it's floating in. The further it sinks the higher proof alcohol in your moonshine still. Hydrometers can also determine when the fermentation has ceased activity. Experienced distillers can also identify cut off points by monitoring the taste, smell and cloudiness of the distillate.

Depending on what you plan to do with your moonshine after distillation, you can either get some mason jars for storing or, if you want to turn it into a homemade whiskey, get yourself a new charred oak barrel. If you can’t wait that long, just get yourself a glass and enjoy your fresh homemade moonshine!

Malt Whiskey

Malt whiskey, and especially single malt, might sound a little sophisticated to some but actually, it is just as easy to make if you know what you’re doing. I’m sure many copper pot still owners out there know what I’m talking about but, if you’re new and are thinking about giving it a try, I’ll try to offer some more information on the malting process and the characteristics of malt whiskey below.

In America, regulated malt whiskey needs to be made from a fermented mash of no less than 51% malted barley and aged in new charred oak barrels at less than 125 proof. Malt whiskey can also me made from the same amount of rye but then will be called rye malt whiskey. If it’s been aged for at least two years, with no added coloring or flavoring and has not been blended with any other spirits or type of whiskey, it can also be called straight.

The malting process is basically creating the necessary conditions for grains to sprout, and then germination needs to be stopped by applying heat. Germination is produced through repeatedly soaking the grains in water which is followed by drying them with hot air, or in a hot environment. The malting process is used in order to develop the necessary enzymes to transform the starch into sugars. Malting also helps develop other enzymes, such as proteases, which give the grain a form that can be used by yeast.

Commercial breweries or distilleries perform the process in designated spaces which they call malthouse or malting floors. The specific flavor of different distilleries is obtained through the type and quality of the grains, but also the water they use for soaking and even the type of wood or fuel they use in the drying process. When the grain reached a moisture level of about 45%, it gets transferred to the malting floor, were it is constantly turned for about 5 days while it’s air-dried. The sprouted barley gets dried in a kiln to specific colors, from pale to crystal, amber, chocolate or black malts. Large industrial fans are now also used to blow hot air through the germinating air beds.

But to malt your own grains at home, all you need is some improvised equipment, which can hold your grains for sprouting and germination, and an oven or a kiln for drying and roasting. You can also try malting other grains, such as rye or wheat, then go on to brewing your own beer or making your homemade whiskey, by following the entire whiskey making process from choosing your mash bill, fermenting and distilling in your copper pot still.

Malting barley

Place about 3-4 pounds of raw barley grain (feed barley works well) in a bucket or a pot and fill it up with water until covered completely. Let it sit for about 6h – some prefer 4h, some 8h so just see what works for you, then drain it. Let it rest for another 6-8h, then fill it back and repeat over 48h.

After this you’ll want to keep your grains moist, at a warm temperature but stir often, about 3 times a day, to avoid mold from forming. You can have them laid on a tray (or a large terracotta pot as some think it absorbs excess water) and covered for about 3-5 days in order for the grains to air-dry at room temperature. You can also use a malt roller with a self-turning timer for this, which you can easily build yourself following some online videos; this can make the process faster and have your grains ready in about 2-3 days.

You’ll know it’s ready for the next step once the main shoot, the growing acrospires or plant embryo, has grown to approximately 75-100% the length of the grain – so make sure you cut open a few grains to double check that this is the case with the majority of them. At this stage, the grain is called green malt.

Next thing to do is dry the grains to stop germination and lock in the enzymes that convert the starch into sugars. This is usually done in a kiln or an oven, although I’ve also heard of people just leaving the grains in the sun during summer. Set the oven at about 100-125F for 24h. Try a grain and if it’s crunchy, it’s dry. Next, turn up the heat to about 210-215F and roast the grains for 2-3h to get your final product. You can then also run them through a sieve to get rid of the roots.

How to Make Homemade Gin

I have to say, gin is not a spirit that I’ve always been a fan of. In fact, I used to see it as more of cocktail spirit and not so much about flavor. But maybe I’d simply had the wrong gin. It was in Europe when I started enjoying it more. I then read up more on it and, finally, decided to try making my own. I started with compound gin and after, once I found a flavor I liked, I also distilled my own in my copper pot still.

What makes gin special is its predominant flavor of juniper berries. It’s been around since the Middle Ages, when it was used as herbal medicine and then evolved towards one the most popular spirits worldwide. The spirit has its origins in Dutch and Flemish distilleries in the 17th century and spread to England later on as a cheap and easy to produce spirit, especially after taxes on all imported spirits were raised. English gin history is actually very exciting, as gin became so popular with all social classes that it was thought to have highly contributed to various social problems of the time, such as high death rates and population growth. The state tried to limit the distilling of gin and impose stricter regulations throughout the 18th century, attempts which lead to a series of street riots. In 18th century London, there were thought to have been around 1,500 residential stills, producing legal gin in Londoners’ homes.

Gin became popular in the US during Prohibition, in the 1920s. That’s when the term Bathtub gin also appeared and referred to the poor quality homemade gin of the time. It was called that because it usually came in tall bottles, too tall to be topped up with water from a sink, so the bathtub tap was used. Some stories also talk of fermentation and distillation having taken place in bathtubs. It was predominant in cocktails as other ingredients could mask the awful taste of the poorly produced drink. In America, gin is currently defined as an alcoholic beverage of a minimum of 80 proof with the characteristic flavor of juniper berries.

There are two main types of gin: compound and distilled gin. As I was saying, I started off with compound gin as it is much easier to make. It is basically made through infusing neutral spirits with essences or natural flavorings, without redistillation. Although the predominant flavor for the infusion needs to be juniper, you are free to make a very wide variety of combinations from ingredients such as:coriander seeds, angelica root, orris root, sweet orange peel, lemon, lime, licorice powder (root), cloves, cinnamon sticks, anise, fennel, rosemary, cardamom seeds, cassia or others. You can even add the chosen mix of botanicals to spirits you’ve made in your own copper pot still, such as vodka or moonshine.

Distilled gin involves the distillation of a grain mash and then redistilling it with the same type of botanicals, juniper in particular, to obtain the aroma and necessary flavor. The earliest type of known gin was produces in pot stills, through the fermentation of a grain mash, of wheat, rye, barley or other grains, then redistilling it with the natural flavorings. A double gin can be produced by redistilling the first again and adding fresh botanicals. Alcohol content is not high, around 135 proof after the first distillation and 150 proof for a double gin, but the use of pot stills gives it a stronger flavor.

But even for distilled gin, there are several different methods in use, from the ingredients you choose to use, to how you add them to the recipe and different ways of distilling. It is believed that you get the strongest juniper flavor through soaking the botanicals in the mash first, as well as afterwards inside your pot still, during the distillation process. A different method is soaking the botanicals for up to 24h in the base spirit, filtering them out and then redistilling. Commercial distillers such as Gordon’s, Beefeater and Plymouth use his method, soaking their flavorings for 24h or less. A lighter type of gin can be produced by using the “gin head “ still, which involves the suspension of a gin basket in the head of the still, making the vapors go through the spices and plants for a lighter, softer taste. Bombay Sapphire Gin is obtained through this method in column stills.

For a homemade distilled gin, I would personally go for variations on traditional Dutch gin (genever) recipes. Starting with a mash from wheat, rye and malted barley and distilling it in your copper pot still. Add juniper berries for your second distillation and then add a more varied mix of spices, alongside fresh juniper, for the 3rd run. A 4th run can also be done, for a stronger flavor and higher proof. You can add the botanicals loose in the pot still or place them in a cotton sack.

As a basic rule, you can add about 1oz of botanical mix per liter of alcohol. Typically, a fine gin contains between 6-10 botanicals but the combination depends very much on taste and quantities, as long as you make sure that juniper is predominant.

Gin is a great drink with a very particular aroma. You can experiment with different combinations of ingredients and try them out through a simple infusion process but also put your copper pot still to good use in a redistilling method, once you’ve found a flavor you like. I also highly recommend you read up on gin history, it is truly fascinating how the drink was invented as herbal medicine, then became popular as a spirit and tailored its flavor and production processes to the different regions it travelled to.

The Sour Mash Process

You may have heard the term Sour mash being used many times when talking about making whiskey and have also probably seen it on many whiskey, and particularly bourbon bottles. But, if you’re a novice distiller who is looking into making his own homemade sour mash whiskey, you might still be trying to figure out what it is and how it works.

First of all, you need to know that Sour mash has nothing to do with it being sour. It gets its name from the process of making sourdough bread as it uses the same technique: it reuses material left over from the previous run in the process of fermenting a new batch. Secondly, to avoid confusion, remember that sour mash also goes by the names of stillage, spent mash, spent grain, backset, spent beer and some others, probably depending on the area you’re in.

Before hitting your copper pot still for distillation, you need to go through the process of fermentation. Your mixture of grains, water and yeast is what the mash consists of. Yeast is your essential micro-organism that lives in water, eats sugar from grains or starch, and produces carbon dioxide and alcohol as waste. In the sour mash process, your mash will also benefit from additional spent mash – a part of the old mash from your previous distillation (could be about 1/3 or a ¼ of it), which still contains live yeast. This spent mash is added for a number of reasons. First of all, it is used to control the growth of bacteria which could impact the whiskey’s taste and create a pH balance for the yeast by controlling acidity levels. Another reason is that using the established or known fermented active live yeast, it is easier to control flavor consistency and continuity between batches. This is a key aspect for commercial producers who want to keep their liquor just as tasty with every new batch they make, but it can also help you once you’ve found a recipe you enjoy.

Sour mash is a traditional and widespread process in bourbon making and a legal requirement for Tennessee Whiskey. Traditional sour mash bourbon is also double distilled in pot stills.

Sour mashing is also a process which can be used in brewing. Brewers use it to enhance the quick production of lactic acid, which gives beer its sourness. Some beers that use the sour mash process will be fermented together with brewing yeast but no boil, while other sour mashed beers will be boiled and then fermented with brewing yeast.

Sour mash is presently a very common process in the commercial distillation of whiskey but home distilling can also use the spent mash benefits, especially in the creation of a healthier, more efficient fermentation, together with consistency in flavor.

How to Make Homemade Rum

As you might have seen on our Facebook page, this past weekend we packed up our shiny copper pot stills and took them to Vegas. They sat pretty on display at the Golden Nuggets Whiskey Fest, while we kept busy doing distilling demonstrations for those interested in the process and our copper stills. I even had the opportunity to try out some homemade rum made in one of our very own copper pot stills by a customer, which was absolutely delicious. So I thought that’s something I haven’t made in a very long time and should definitely go back to distilling: rum.

Rum is usually made from sugarcane byproducts, such as molasses or directly from sugarcane juice or brown sugar. The distillate is then aged in oak barrels for color and flavor. The liquor originates from the Caribbean and Latin America, where the majority of rum is still being produced today as the area is rich in sugarcane and sugar beets. Molasses is the dark, sweet, syrup-like byproduct obtained through the extraction of sugar from sugarcane and sugar beets. Molasses varies by amount of sugar and method of extraction, and age of plant.

I’ll only go through the process, steps and ingredients but you can decide on quantities depending on personal preferences. So, what you need for your own homemade rum are the following: molasses, brown sugar, yeast, water, your trusted copper still and a barrel of your choosing for the ageing process. To start off, dissolve your sugar and molasses into boiling water. Cool off the mix by adding colder water until it reaches approx. 80F, and then add yeast to your base ingredients to kick off fermentation. Distillers prefer faster-working yeast for lighter rums and a slower-working one for dark rum, as the latter causes more esters to accumulate during fermentation which results in a fuller taste. Install airlock and let it ferment. Fermentation is complete once bubbles stop passing through the airlock. After that, wait for 3-7 days until the mix is ready for distilling.

Distillation in a pot still is preferred because this gives the rum a richer flavor. Rum is usually distilled somewhere between 85-96% ABV. Fill the boiler up and follow the standard distilling procedure. After you’ve obtained your distillate, you can move on to the ageing process. Ageing is not necessary but does mellow the rum and give it its color and more flavor.

Many countries require for rum to be aged for a minimum of one year but the process can also take up to 12 years… though you’re probably not going to be waiting this long to enjoy your homemade product. Ageing is usually done in bourbon casks but other types of wooden barrels can also be used; stainless steel tanks are also an option. As with whiskey, the liquor takes its color and flavor from the wood: new casks contribute to a lighter flavor, while heavily charred ones to richer flavors. When aged in oak casks, the rum becomes darker, while the one aged in stainless steel usually remains colorless. Due to the warm climate rum is usually produced in, it matures at a much higher rate than whiskey or cognac, the angel’s share going up to 10% each year, compared to products aged at lower temperatures, which only reach 2% per year. After ageing, rum is usually blended. Light rums might undergo filtering to remove any color gained though ageing, while caramel might be added to darker rums for color adjustment. You can easily caramelize your own sugar and add it to the distillate.

After your copper still has done its job, you can also make your own spiced rum, by ageing the distillate together with your choice of spices, such as vanilla, peppercorns, cinnamon, star anise etc.

Rum is a delicious, cheap and easy to make drink which is preferably made in copper pot stills. You can adjust the recipe to your own preferences – you can only use molasses, for example, or decide between different types of yeast; as well as choose what type of cask to age it in, if you choose to age the rum at all.

 

 

 

 

Make Your Own Homemade Vodka

Vodka is a neutral, colorless and mostly flavorless spirit with a worldwide reach, both in terms of production and consumption. US regulations require that vodka produced in the US be "neutral" and be sold "without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color". Although it can very much be enjoyed neat, it’s also perfect for infusions and combined in cocktails. Vodka originates from Eastern Europe, although pinpointing a specific country and an accurate starting point seem to very controversial topics. So, let’s not get into that. The fact that it does not need ageing and that it can be made from a variety of common ingredients makes vodka easy and cheap to produce, in a relatively short amount of time. So, why not put your pretty copper pot still to good use and make some homemade vodka of your own?

Starting with the ingredients: what to make it out of? Most vodka today is made from grains such as wheat, rye, barley or corn – rye and wheat vodka is generally considered superior. But grains are not mandatory, as you can also make your vodka from potatoes, molasses, grapes, rice or sugar beets. The important thing is that the base ingredients are rich in starch and sugars. There are, of course, many possible mash recipes and, depending on the source you choose, different techniques might apply. So prepare your mash, strain it and let it ferment. Add your yeast of choice and make sure you keep the mash at the right temperature, about 80-85F for a good, efficient fermentation. If you’re not so lucky with natural temperature, you can always use a heating belt.

Next step: distillation. Transfer your fermented alcoholic wash into your copper pot still and fire it up. After the wash heats up, alcohol and other substances vaporize and condense in the water-cooled area of the still. Remove the heads – maybe discard around 2oz of liquid to 5 gallons of wash. After that, your pot still will contain ethanol, water and some other compounds. Watch your copper still closely through the rest of the distillation process and don’t forget to also remove the tails towards the end. Vodka gets its clarity and purity through its many distillation stages. That’s why it’s necessary to run it through your copper pot still at least three or four times. This leads to a high purity distillate with high alcohol content. Heads and tails need to be removed each time you redistill.

Something which sets the process of vodka production apart from other spirits is the extensive use of filtration, which takes away the roughness, making it smoother. Filtering can be done in the pot still, during distillation, as well as afterwards, when the distilled vodka is filtered through a carbon filter to absorb certain unwanted volatile substances and flavors. For the home distiller, this can easily be done through a funnel, with a cotton ball at the bottom. Add some activated carbon and pour the distillate into a bottle. You can repeat this as many times as you see fit. Traditional Eastern European producers prefer to use very accurate distillation and minimal filtering, as they aim to preserve the flavors and characteristics of the initial product.

The next step is diluting your vodka. Because of the high alcohol percentage obtained through repeated distillation, vodka is one drink which needs diluting in order to be safely enjoyed. You can add purified water to the distillate to reach a desired strength. An alcoholmeter is necessary to help you measure the alcohol percentage. Commercial vodka is usually bottled at a minimum of 30% ABV in the US and 37.5% ABV in the EU.

That’s it, your vodka is ready to drink neat or flavored. Vodka puts your copper pot still to good use, it’s fast and relatively easy to make, but most importantly, cheap. You can choose from a wide range of ingredients and then mix the final product with anything you like, either by infusing it with flavorings or simply being creative with some cocktails.

Rye Whiskey

It seems I’ve dedicated quite a few posts to bourbons on this blog but have left out another great American classic: rye whiskey. Different in taste, less smooth but with a strong spicy character of its own, rye whiskey has just as impressive a history as bourbon.

In the United States, rye whiskey is, by law, required to contain a minimum of 51% rye in its mash. It is distilled to no more than 160 proof and aged in the same charred, new oak barrels I’ve already mentioned numerous times. As it leaves the whiskey still, it must enter the barrel at no more than 125 proof. It is bottled at no less than 80 proof. The labeling rules are the same as for bourbon: it is considered “straight rye” if it’s been aged for at least two years, if aged for less than four years, the label must state the age. If the exact age is not stated, that means the whiskey has been aged for a minimum of four years. If it’s a blended whiskey, then it needs to state the age of the youngest whiskey in the blend. It should contain no added colorings, flavorings or additional sprits.

Although many refer to Canadian whisky as “rye whiskey”, there’s no justified reason for that. It’s true that historically Canadian whisky contained more rye than the American, but it wasn’t necessarily made from a majority of rye. Canadian Food and Drug regulations actually state there is no requirement for rye to be used to make whiskies with the legally-identical labels "Canadian Whisky", "Canadian Rye Whisky" or "Rye Whisky" in Canada, provided they "possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky". Today, most Canadian whiskies are blended to achieve that character, adding a flavoring whisky made from a rye mash (and distilled at a lower proof) to a high-proof base usually made from corn or wheat. In fact, Canadian whiskies with most or all of their mash consisting of rye are an exception. Unlike US "straight rye whiskey", a minimum of 3 years aging in 180 gallon wooden barrels is required for a “straight Canadian rye”; barrels don’t have to be new oak though, nor charred.

Compared to bourbon, rye is noticeably spicier, fruitier and drier. As bourbon gets its sweetness from corn, this also impacts the rye taste, depending on what grains the rest of the 49% is made up of and how much of that is corn. Usually, those grains include corn, wheat, malted rye, and malted barley, in any combination. The proportions used by large commercial producers are usually 51% rye, 39% corn and 10% malted barley. Large Kentucky distilleries generally use this formula, but since rye has regained its popularity in the last few years, craft distilleries are also producing more rye, as well as experimenting with different grain options and even 100% rye mashes.

Rye whiskey was very popular, especially in the North-East, in states like Pennsylvania and Maryland but was produced in other areas too, each region adding a distinctly unique character to the liquor. Pittsburgh was the main rye production spot in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In the beginning, the rye made in Pennsylvania was actually 100%, with some malted rye in the blend but no corn or barley; this was known as Monongahela-style. Rye largely disappeared after Prohibition and since Kentucky remained the main place where it kept being produced, many of the other regional styles died out.

George Washington was famous for his distilling and his rye recipe. The distillery on his estate, opened in 1797, was one of the most successful business enterprises at Mount Vernon and the largest in America by 1799.  Five copper pot stills produced whiskey using Washington’s original mash bill: 60% rye, 35% corn and 5% malted barley.  When George Washington died, an inventory listed peach, apple and persimmon brandy, plain whiskey, and cinnamon whiskey stored in the mansion’s basement.  It is thought that all these items were made at Washington’s distillery and served to guests.

Anchor Distilling in San Francisco were the first to dust off historic recipes in 2003 and make rye in the style of George Washington: with small copper pot stills and little aging, which is generally what mellows the spirit. Anchor takes pride in their small batches of rye and their use of beautiful custom-made copper pot stills (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/25/travel/rye-whiskey-is-back-with-flavors-of-american-history.html?_r=0&pagewanted=1 ).

Mount Vernon Distillery  has set out to recreate the original recipe in the slightest details, including the same place, and was asking, earlier this year, for $95 per bottle of the most authentic Washington rye available today (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/26/george-washington-whiskey_n_2955062.html).

Ageing and Flavoring

Although it’s proverbially wine that’s known for getting better with age, we all know it is the same with whiskey. Even more so, whiskey doesn’t even turn into whiskey without the ageing and flavoring processes, which simultaneously happen inside the “magic”barrels. I’ve touched upon the subject quite a few times before, especially when talking about Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky Bourbon, but I find it a very complex topic which I could write many posts about.

After leaving the whiskey still, the raw liquor, moonshine at this stage, enters barrels for ageing. The wood is where the whiskey gets about 40-70% of its distinctive aroma and color. Maturing is the ultimate goal, not a specific age but, it’s a general rule that the older the whiskey, the stronger the flavor. Wood to whiskey ratio is also very important, as the bigger the contact surface, the stronger, or quicker to obtain, the flavor. What is interesting to observe during visits to distilleries is that, no matter how many revolutionary, accurate, modern equipment has come out in the past decades (gas chromatographs, mass spectrometers and computersthat can break down chemical components to the very last cell), it is still a man-mastered art, completely dependent on a skilled master distiller and his senses.

For American whiskeys, the standard whiskey barrels of 53 gallons are made from new white oak. American white oak's durability, as well as its ability to hold water and oxygenate it, make it favorable for whiskey barrels; the wood is denser and harder than French oak, making barrels less prone to leakage. French oak also has a different flavor profile, it’s spicier; the wood is also lighter, allowing oxygen to interact differently with the spirit. In United States, the barrels have to be new so that as much of the flavor as possible gets soaked out of the wood by the whiskey and many commercial distilleries now re-barrel their whiskey in new charred oak barrels to reinforce the wood notes.

For drying the new oak staves, before turning them into barrels, some choose to use a kiln, which is obviously faster, but many distilleries still use the traditional, natural option of air-drying. They usually leave the wood outside for 9-12 months as they believe exposure to the elements prepares it much better for its next task: flavoring. The exposure is believed to reduce the level of certain chemicals which are unfavorable to the whiskey aroma. This is not a general rule though, as some distilleries also air-dry their wood indoors.

Back in the day, the wood was held over fire to make it easier for it to bend and turn into barrels. In time, the fire was replaced with steam. Although steam was much more efficient for softening the wood, whiskey makers discovered they were missing some of the flavors that originated from the fire. That’s why, today, barrels are toasted on the inside: the process modifies the wood’s chemical components, turning some into sugars. The sugars caramelize in the heat and give the whiskey its caramel-vanilla sweetness and its amber color. It’s also where the smoky flavor comes from. The charring process, which we’ve seen before with bourbon, is different from the toasting. It’s an additional quick burning of the inside of the barrel, which produces more caramel and creates a thin charcoal layer which filters the liquor during its maturation.

Once the moonshine’s out of the copper whiskey still and moved into barrels, the maturing process begins. Many distilleries have observed that storing their freshly-filled whiskey barrels at the top of the warehouse for the first 2-3 years, helps exert more pressure onto them. In this way, the spirit is pushed deep inside the whiskey, bringing out more intense flavors. They then move the barrels in the lower half of the warehouse, where the temperature variations throughout the year are more moderate, compared to the hot top half. Other distilleries simply leave their barrels in place for the length of the maturation, then make a selection of barrels from the top and lower areas and blend them together. And for some, aging has even gone beyond stationary warehouses: such as Jefferson's Reserve with their Ocean-Aged Bourbon, which was left to mature on a ship for nearly four years. The founder of the distillery said the Panama Canal's extreme heat pushed the whiskey deeper inside the wood, causing the wood sugars to caramelize and add a rum-like black hue. He said the bourbon also breathed differently at sea, and the salt air added a unique briny taste to the whiskey.

Many distilleries have tried to come up with new, tastier or more interesting products. As seen with experiments like the one above, most distillers choose to alter the wood or the aging process. The Woodford Reserve Distillery put standard 6-7 year-old Woodford Reserve in a maple wood barrel as well as former sweet wine casks to lend more chocolate, nutty and dark cherry flavors not usually found in bourbon. The former fortified wine barrels had wine soaked into the wood and the fruity flavors that remained from the barrel's former alcohol enriched the flavor of the bourbon.

In an effort to create a spicier-finishing whiskey, Maker's Mark added toasted French white oak staves to its existing bourbon barrel for its 2010 Maker's 46 . When the bourbon hit the barrel and mingled with the French and American oak, it took on both woods’ profile characteristics and became a combination of French spice and American sweetness.

The owner of an upstart distillery from Ohio called Cleveland Whiskey decided the conventional method of producing whiskey simply wasn't fast enough to meet that demand. But rather than water down an existing recipe, he also started experimenting with wood. His new method: he ages the whiskey in a new oak barrel for the first six months, and then deposits it in stainless steel tanks. He cuts up the used barrel, processes the wood and adds it into the tank. In the tank, the spirit is agitated and undergoes a series of differences in pressure to squeeze in and out of the wood pores. After a week in the tubs, the hyper-aged whiskey is ready for bottling. Cleveland Whiskey hopes to produce 20,000 cases of the whiskey in 2014.

But the Buffalo Trace Distillery  is said to hold the record for whiskey experimentation. Since 1987 the company has conducted more than 1,500 barrel experiments for its Experimental Whiskey collection. The tests included studying sections of the tree to determine which heartwood should go into which stave and making a French oak barrel three times the size of a standard barrel. In the latest experiment the distillery charred a regular bourbon barrel for 3.5 minutes instead of the standard 55 seconds. 

The wood and the ageing are the points where the most important differences between American whiskey and Scotch whisky come up. Very few Scottish distilleries use new oak casks and most Scottish distillers don't even want new barrels since they claim the flavors from the wood would overpower the character of their distillate. Traditionally, 132 gallons sherry casks called butts have been used. But these became scarce during the Spanish civil war of the 1930s and that’s when many Scotch distilleries turned to used bourbon barrels as an alternative. Sometimes, other cask types like port, rum or wine are used as well.  The process of re-filling whisky into a fresh cask for the final months of the maturation is called finishing. Most whisky casks are re-used several times by Scottish distilleries. During maturation, the spirit extracts flavoring and coloring both from the wood and the remains of the previous cask filling, which makes the flavor palette much wider. The longer it stays in the cask, the darker the whisky gets. But every cask is different: there are 5 year old whiskies that are dark brown, and there are 30 year old whiskies that are only slightly yellow.

Maturation, too, differs between American whiskey and Scottish whisky. Although Scotch can legally be sold once it is three years old, it’s usually decades that create distinction. But that is mostly to do with the climate. As an experiment, Maker's Mark swapped barrels with a Scottish distiller to see how much the environments of the two places affected the whisky's maturation. The experiment's outcome was that one year in Kentucky, with its hot summers and cold winters, was roughly equal to four in Scotland, with its much more constant and humid climate.

The list of experiments can go on for many more pages, but the essential process has been the same for centuries: fermentation, distillation, most often in a copper whiskey still, ageing and flavoring in new or “second-hand” wood barrels. And although the first two are key foundations for the final product, it’s the last two that give the spirit its unique flavor and distinctive notes.

 

Sources:

www.scientificamerican.com

www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2013/05/29/cleveland-whiskey-ages-bourbon-in-one-week/

www.economist.com/node/457125

 

 

 

Tasting Whiskey

As the end of 2013 is getting close, I have to say it’s been a pretty good year. I’ve enjoyed my family, had awesome adventures with my friends and, of course, managed to spend some quality time with my beautiful copper whiskey still. I’ve succeeded some incredibly tasty moonshine recipes… and failed a few too. But hopefully I also learned a thing or two in the process.

I think you’ll agree that discovering and learning new things is one of the most important things in life. So I thought I’ll share with you an essential set of tips which every whiskey still owner and whiskey passionate should know: how to taste whiskey. I got most of my information from the tastings and visits to distilleries that I’ve made in the past, but also from chats both with fellow moonshiners and master distillers. Although certain details differ between different countries, areas and even distillers, some things they all agree on.

The trick to get you to spot certain characteristics is to build up experiences of tasting different things, even unrelated to whiskey, and taking 'taste snapshots' of the characteristics of the flavors. The more you do this, the more precise your whiskey tasting becomes. What I think is most important is that whiskey shouldn’t be gulped down in shots. It’s a fine drink that needs to be sipped and savored so that all the flavors have time to reach your taste buds. It’s also important to remember that tasting is a very personal and subjective thing. There’s no right or wrong answers and there’s certainly very few chances you’ll pick up the same aromas as your friends, especially if you’re not experts. 

The first thing to do is choose the right glass for nosing and tasting. The so-called ‘snifter’, a tulip-shaped sherry or brandy glass, is ideal for this or something similar; even a wine glass will do. Some come with an additional glass plate which, placed over the top of the glass, helps trap the aromas inside. The essential thing is that it has a stem and is narrower towards the top, so that it forces the bouquet towards your nostrils and lets you capture the whole aroma. The shape also helps you swirl the drink and still keep it in the glass, without wasting any of it. Make sure the glass is at room-temperature and that you only hold it by the low end of the stem, as it’s important that you don’t transfer body heat to the drink.

Pour about an ounce of whiskey, which should be enough for a tasting. Take note of the color while you are waiting during this short time - holding it against a white background is a good tip.  Swirl it around for a bit, so as to allow oxygen to get to the liquid and evaporation to begin. This is important as the whiskey has been taken out of a whiskey still and trapped in a cask or a bottle for all of its life until this point and needs a little time to express itself and start to show its true characteristics. Once you have swirled, allow the spirit to settle so that your first sensations will not be full of alcohol. 

Then on to the ‘sniffing’. Some distillers actually say this is the essential step and that the actual tasting will only confirm what your nose has already told you. But you need a pretty well-trained nose for that… I guess the most important thing is to do it right, slowly and carefully, and pay attention to every single note. Firstly, stick your whole nose into the glass and gently sniff it. The alcohol vapors will be the first thing you encounter so that’s why you need to pull back, swirl it in the glass for a bit, wait a few seconds, then go back to it. Go back a third time, bury your nose into the lip of the glass, and roll the glass from one nostril to the other. Even if you don’t recognize all the aromas, some distillers encourage you to try and associate the scents with memories, which might lead you to remember a certain room (a desk, wood, leather, age), a memory related to home (Christmas cake, dried fruit, spices), summer holidays (grass, smoke, salt) and so on. From this, try to predict what the taste of the whiskey will be like.

The next step is adding a bit of water to bring the whiskey down to somewhere between 20-35% abv – this depends on personal preference. Adding the water opens it up, gives you more information on the drink and makes it easier to identify the palate. Distillers say that especially for whiskeys 12 years or younger, water is always advisable. For whiskeys 15 years and up, don't add water before you first taste it. But no matter what the age of the whiskey is, if it still bites when you take a sip, that means it's too strong and you should add water a little bit at a time, otherwise it will just numb your nose and your taste buds. Don't use sparkling water. Any good still water will do, but distilled water is best. Don't use ice, it will only mask the flavors. Some distillers actually recommend you don’t add water at all and just try it as it is first, to then decide for yourself how much water would help you discover the remaining flavors after the first sip.

Finally, taste it! Take a small sip into your mouth and move it around. Start by putting the whisky in the middle of the tongue, then under the tongue, then back in the middle of the tongue. Keep it there a few seconds and assess the flavors, then let it go down. As it goes down, the tongue will reveal more interesting flavors. Let the flavors linger for at least 20-30 seconds. Always take a second taste, which usually reveals different layers of flavor than the first. After two-three slow tastes, tip the rest back for a good finish. The finish is the after taste that comes once you have swallowed the whiskey. Some people say the complexity of the finish in whiskey is what differentiates it from all other spirits. Also, ask yourself whether the flavors remain for a short, medium or long time. This is called the length of the finish.

If you want to compare different types of whiskey, there are two types of processes you can try: the vertical or the horizontal tasting. Vertical tasting refers to comparing two (or more) whiskeys belonging to the same distillery, while for a horizontal tasting you can choose whiskeys from different distilleries or areas, but which still have some common elements – either try two different Kentucky Bourbons or try an American and a Scottish rye whiskey, of more or less the same age.

Although this is a topic you can never know enough about, I hope this adds a small point to your list of ‘interesting things I learned in 2013’. I also hope you have an amazing new year and that we can learn more new things together.

Thank you for your love of copper whiskey stills and for being part of The Whiskey Still Company community! Wishing you all lovely holidays and a ‘shining 2014!

Kentucky Bourbon

Kentucky Bourbon is probably just as famous as Tennessee Whiskey worldwide but, unlike it, it isn’t an official brand but more of a generally-agreed proof of quality as, although it can officially be made anywhere in the US, it’s usually associated with the South and, especially with Kentucky. The main reason for that is history but also the fact that even today, most bourbon distilleries are still in the state of Kentucky. According to USA Today, as of this year, approximately 95% of all bourbon is produced in Kentucky, and the state has 4.9 million barrels of bourbon that are currently aging – a figure that exceeds the state population. 

The history of bourbon probably has just as many versions as distilleries. It’s generally thought that it began in the 1700s with the first European settlers in the area. Since, essentially, any type of grain can be used to make whiskey, and the practice of aging whiskey, and even charring the barrels for better flavor, had also been known in Europe for centuries, the use of the local American corn for the mash and oak for the barrels was simply a logical combination of the materials at hand for the settlers. Like most farmers in that time, they discovered that turning their corn and grains into whiskey made it a lot easier for them to make a profit, than having to struggle with transporting their crops to the market, because of the rough landscape. Back when Kentucky was still part of Virginia, in the late 18th century, some of its original counties formed Bourbon County, named to honor the French Royal Family. Farmers made liquor in copper stills, then stamped their oak barrels with “Bourbon County” and shipped their whiskey down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. The long trip, allegedly, aged the whiskey and the oak gave it its distinct mellow flavor and amber color. As the whiskey from the region became more and more popular, it was already known as Bourbon whiskey. An alternative origin for the name was offered by a historian who suggested it actually came from Bourbon Street, in New Orleans, where the Tarascon brothers' shipments of Kentucky whiskey sold well as a cheaper alternative to French cognac. In 1964, the 88th Congress of the United States declared Bourbon Whiskey ‘a distinctive product of the United States’.

The Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits is the regulator which states that to be labeled as bourbon, a whiskey must be made in the US, from a mixture of at least 51% corn. Different distilleries use different recipes, some use more corn, some add rye, barley, wheat and other grains, but the minimum 51% corn is non-negotiable. When bourbon leaves the whiskey still, it cannot exceed 160 proof and it needs to be no more than 125 proof when it’s put inside the barrel. It’s also general practice that if it’s a higher proof, when coming out of the whiskey copper still, to be cut with water until it reaches 125 proof. But the watering down has to be done carefully and professionally, as Maker's Mark found out the hard way earlier this year, when it tried to ‘stretch supplies’ of its flagship spirit by lowering alcohol content and adding extra water. Their announcement was followed by a wave of complaints and so, within a few days, they came out with a statement cancelling the plan.

When bottled, all bourbons must be at least 80 proof although, some distillers we met on the trail said many exceed this requirement and it’s common to find bourbon whiskeys anywhere between 90-127 proof. It must be aged in new, charred oak barrels and cannot have any artificial colorings or additives. This also includes natural coloring agents like caramel, which can be used in other types of whiskey.

Kentucky distillers say it’s the sweet, iron-free water that has been filtered through the high concentrations of limestone, unique to the area, which give Kentucky bourbon its unique flavor.

As distillers agree that 40-70% of the flavor comes from the wood, the barrel is a central point for the taste and quality of the product. After leaving the whiskey still, the spirit gets its color and distinct flavor from the caramelized sugar in the charred oak. Bourbons gain more color and flavor the longer they mature. Maturity, not a particular age, is the goal. Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period so you can find products aged for as little as three months that are sold as bourbon. Bourbon that has been aged for a minimum of two years qualifies as straight, but if it’s less than four years, the duration of aging must be stated on the label. Blended  bourbon has to be at least 51% straight bourbon.

A refinement which came with time was the sour mash process, by which each new fermentation process was conditioned with some amount of spent mash (the wet solids strained from a previous batch of fermented mash, which still contain live yeast). As of 2005, all straight bourbons use a sour mash process.

As with every whiskey, although there are strict regulations producers need to follow to meet the requirements, each distiller needs to add that extra something to make their bourbon different. Many make the difference in the mash, as the grain combination added on top of the corn adds to the flavor palette: barley can add a bit of a nutty tinge, rye makes it spicier and wheat adds softer, caramel and vanilla aromas. Four Roses claims to be the only Bourbon Distillery that combines 5 proprietary yeast strains with two separate mashbills to produce 10 distinct bourbon recipes. Woodford Reserve produce twice-barreled bourbon, matured in separate, charred oak barrels - the second barrel deeply toasted before a light charring – to ‘extract additional amounts of soft, sweet oak character’. It’s also Woodford Reserve who uses the only copper pot still and triple distillation process used to handcraft Bourbon. Maker’s Mark claim they are the only distillery in the world to hand rotate barrels in their warehouses to ensure flavor consistency, while Wild Turkey distil at a lower proof – which is meant to seal in the taste, and makes it possible to add very little water when the bourbon comes out of the warehouse.

Most Kentucky bourbon distilleries take pride in still being family businesses, some of them, like Jim Beam with an impressive history of generations of distillers. They also try to set themselves apart by using high quality ingredients, longer ageing periods, special yeast strains and a wider offer.

And, as I said before, trying all the different types made me realize that, even within fairly tight restrictions, you can easily get different flavors, strengths and degrees of refinement. I’ve collected a few interesting recipes on the trail and I can’t wait to try them in my very own handcrafted copper whiskey still.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Today I want to resume my post about the whiskey and bourbon trails and also tell you about the Kentucky part of my trip, dedicated to the Bourbon Trail.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour has been around for longer than the Tennessee Whiskey Trail: it was established in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and is, today, one of their registered trademarks. Although the official website suggests that 3 days are enough to see all of the 8 distilleries on the tour, I would recommend taking up to a week if you want to thoroughly enjoy the tours as well as the scenery, and not feel like you’re running a marathon. Unlike the TN Whiskey Trail, distilleries have to be members of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association in order to participate in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail so not all Bourbon distilleries in the state are part of the official tour.

        

It goes without saying that I also loved the Bourbon Trail and all the different beautiful copper whiskey stills I saw! Although I did know a thing or two about bourbon from before, it’s a lot more special to see the places and hear their history while actually being in Kentucky. Just like on the whiskey trail, the distilleries on the tour were very diverse: from the old and famous Jim Beam American Stillhouse to the very new Evan Williams Bourbon Experience to family owned and operated craft distilleries such as Limestone Branch.

Only just opened this month, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience was described as a ‘multi-million dollar artisanal distillery’ which celebrates the legacy of Evan Williams, considered Kentucky’s First Commercial Distiller. It’s located in Louisville’s historic “Whiskey Row” and across the street from the riverfront location where Evan Williams’ distillery stood in the late 18th century. I especially enjoyed the place because I got the opportunity to learn more about the famous Evan Williams and his jack-of-all-trades character: as politician, farmer, building contractor, harbormaster, businessman, inventor and distiller.

Once in the area, I took the tour guide’s advice and spent the night at The Louisville Marriott East – Kentucky’s bourbon themed hotel, where I got to meet a lot of interesting folks and spent the night enjoying good bourbon and talking about handcrafted copper whiskey stills and homemade moonshines and whiskeys.

The Jim Beam American Stillhouse is rightfully considered an Official Trailhead of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The sight is truly picturesque: the building itself is a replica of a 1940s stillhouse which actually contains the original staircase of the historic stillhouse, followed by the rack houses, limestone water wells, whiskey stills, bottling lines and bourbon tasting rooms. Their ‘stillevator’ is definitely a must-see! Aside from the great Beam taste, I love the fact that, although now a big commercial distillery, Jim Beam is still a family-run business, with several generations of members already having left their mark on the bourbon, in over 200 years of tradition.

Also with a rich history and tradition was the next stop on my trail: Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, where I went for the Behind the Scenes Tour which ended with a tasting in their awesome barrel-shaped tasting room. Then followed Maker’s Mark Distillery , where the highlight was getting to dip your own souvenir bottle in their signature red wax. Also, their copper stills are indeed as impressive as they look in their photos!

The Limestone Branch Distillery was actually one of my favorite stops. It’s a beautiful family owned and operated craft distillery. They use a 150-gallon hand-hammered copper whiskey pot still to produce small, one-barrel batches of a truly fine product. I also got try some of their homemade ‘Sugarshine’ which was so nice I’m thinking of trying to make some in my own copper whiskey still.

On my next stop, I found out that the Four Roses Distillery was named the “American Distillery of the Year” by Whisky Magazine four years in a row. Aside from the cheesy love story legend behind the name, the place is really beautiful: the distillery is actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, dates from 1910 and is said to feature a unique Spanish Mission-Style architecture rarely seen in Kentucky. And there are indeed a lot of roses.

Last stops on the trail were Wild Turkey Distillery , where I unfortunately didn’t get to meet their famous Master Distiller Jimmy Russell;  the historic Woodford Reserve Distillery and the  Town Branch Bourbon Distillery . The Woodford Reserve Distillery is the oldest and smallest working bourbon distillery and a National Historic Landmark, unlike the Town Branch Bourbon Distillery which is a brand new distillery and most recent addition to the tour.

Given another chance, it would be hard to choose either the Whiskey Trail or the Bourbon one. They’re both great experiences in beautiful settings. I guess, all it comes down to, in the end, is whether you’d like to sample more Tennessee whiskey or more Kentucky bourbon. One thing I’m sure of now: I’ll definitely use my copper whiskey still for some new homemade recipes I got during the tour, but also for more bourbon, whose spiced smooth and mellow taste definitely grew on me during this trip.

Tennessee Whiskey

After so much ‘talking’ and tasting, I decided to write a detailed description of what qualifies as Tennessee whiskey. According to American and international trade agreements, Tennessee whiskey is ‘a straight Bourbon Whiskey authorized to be produced only in the State of Tennessee’. The funny thing is that distillers in the region always try to separate themselves from the notion of ‘bourbon’, which is why producers never label their liquor as one. Tennessee whiskey is just Tennessee whiskey. What makes it so special? An extra step they take in its production process.

Tennessee law has not been easy on distilleries over the years and even following the end of prohibition, TN was a state which took longer to allow distilling of spirits. In 2009, the Tennessee General Assembly amended the statute that had limited the distillation of ‘drinkable spirits’ and the revised law allowed distilleries to be established in 41 additional counties. The change was, of course, favorable to the firing up of a number of whiskey stills just ready to produce Tennessee whiskey. It was only earlier this year that a bill was signed requiring products distilled in the state and labeled ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ to use the Lincoln County Process (which I’ll explain below).

So, as I said, Tennessee whiskey is a bourbon: it is made in the US, from a minimum of 51% corn, with a supplement of ryebarley, or barley malt, it’s distilled most often in copper pot stills at 160 proof or less, enters the barrel at no more than 125 proof, it’s bottled at no less than 80 proof, contains no additional coloring or flavorings and is matured in new charred oak barrels. The added element? Once out of the whiskey still, Tennessee whiskey is mellowed through thick layers of maple charcoal, before entering the barrels for ageing. This process of filtering is what constitutes the Lincoln County Process. It got its name from the state’s Lincoln County, where the Jack Daniel’s distillery was located originally. But, in the late 19th century, the boundaries of the county were changed and the distillery became part of the new Moore County. Funny enough, as I found out on the Whiskey Trail, the only whiskey produced in Lincoln County today is the one made by Pritchard’s Distillery which in fact does not use the Lincoln County Process as it managed to get an exception from the bill, blaming its introduction on its ‘famous neighbor up the road’. So, even if Pritchard’s isn’t a charcoal mellowed whiskey, it’s still officially considered a Tennessee whiskey. Jack Daniel’sGeorge Dickel and Collier & McKeel all use the maple charcoal filtering for their Tennessee whiskey.

As flavorings and colorings are not allowed, the liquor gets its distinct flavor from the barrel, which is why they need to be new, in order for the whiskey to absorb as much of the aroma as possible. Jack Daniel’s, for example, take pride in making their own barrels and Pritchard’s even take their whiskey from 120 to 95 proof and re-barrel it in a second round of charred oak barrels to reinforce the barrel notes. Also, the smaller the barrel or the greater surface area to liquid there is, the stronger the flavor.

Each Tennessee distillery has its own story, recipe and methods though. Some distill the alcohol at a lower proof, for more flavor. Others make their mash from white corn, rather than yellow, as they claim it contains a higher percentage of sugar.  Even more, the George Dickel Distillery, uses a personalized mellowing process called the chill mellowing, by chilling the whiskey once it’s out of the whiskey still and before the filtration process. They explain their choice by the fact that the founder, George Dickel, discovered that the batches of whiskey he tasted during the winter were noticeably smoother than those he tasted during warmer weather.

Another thing that’s’ worth mentioning after having taken the trail: not all whiskey that comes out of a Tennessee copper whiskey stills is ‘Tennessee whiskey’. Many are still in the ageing process to earn that name and some just remain moonshine: Ole Smoky or Popcorn Sutton Distillery produce liquor which is labeled as Tennessee moonshine or corn whiskey. Goes without saying that rye whiskeys the distilleries in the state make are also just labeled as Tennessee Rye or rye whiskey.

 

 

 

The Tennessee Whiskey Trail

These past weeks I’ve finally taken some time off and managed to do one of the most interesting things I’d been planning for a long time: taking the Kentucky and Tennessee Bourbon and Whiskey trails I’d been hearing so much about. It took quite some time to go through the distilleries on the maps but, trust me, it was worth it! Aside from the truly unique experience of visiting the distilleries and getting to admire their beautiful whiskey stills, I was happy to meet many others who also owned their own copper whiskey still and were just as passionate about home distilling as I was. So, I’ve decided to write a post about each of the trails, which will hopefully help you decide to go if you ever get the chance.

The Tennessee Whiskey Trail has been around since the winter of 2012. It came as the answer to home distillers and whiskey lovers who wanted to know about the active distilleries in the state, especially at a time when the micro-distillery culture was flourishing again. The trail now has 11 stops, but it’s constantly growing as new distilleries keep ‘firing their whiskey still’ and joining. It offers updated information on the existing distilleries, their location, products and history.

One of the things I really loved about the trail is that it takes you through a wide variety of places, from big commercial distilleries like Jack Daniel’s to small, family-run businesses and handcrafted whiskeys and moonshine distilleries. The funny thing about it is I loved seeing each of them just as much. As a copper whiskey still owner and moonshiner myself, I thought I’d really enjoy the micro-distilleries much more, but to my surprise, every place had its own sweet and spicy scents, smooth taste and production secrets. Also, the scenery was absolutely beautiful everywhere I went.

It was great to hear the stories behind the distilleries and realize that some of them had started off with just one copper whiskey still and naturally grew from there through their passion for distilling. Collier and McKeel, for example, is a Handcrafted Tennessee Whiskey distillery with a great story: the owner got into distilling at 16 through a science project for chemistry class. He only got to open the distillery after he turned 50, when the entire family got together and helped out with the production, bottling, labeling and distribution process. The Corsair Distillery was founded by two friends who also started out as home brewers, Ole Smokey was the state’s first legal moonshine distillery which now makes a wide range of flavored ‘shine and I’m not even going to go into how awesome it felt to see the Popcorn Sutton Distillery – for this one you have to request a tour beforehand though. 

The Jack Daniel’s tour was a complete experience which, aside from showing you a good time, also teaches you some pretty cool things about the business and the place. They’ve managed to integrate the entire Lynchburg experience into the tour and strongly recommend town visits to local attractions. It’s busy but worth it! You can tell they’ve not only been around making and perfecting their whiskey for so long, but also their marketing.

 The most interesting thing I learned about on  the trail has to be the Whiskey Fungus – a  black mold which grows when ethanol is  released into the atmosphere. As distilleries  release ethanol in their process of distilling and  ageing the liquor, the fungus would cover  anything in range. The tours have great stories  about how, during Prohibition, this was a smart  way for revenuers to find illegal distilleries. As  many of them were hidden in the woods, once the whiskey black mold popped up on an area of trees, they automatically assumed moonshine had been produced there the previous summer and added the location to their black list.

As you can see, I had a great time and I really think you should go see as many of the distilleries on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail as you can. I promise you’ll get to meet some great people, see some beautiful copper stills, find out a bunch of really cool things about distilling, and try some of the tastiest handcrafted moonshine and whiskey in the whole of the US.

The Basics of Making Your Own Moonshine

As you might have seen on our Facebook page, I was very happy to showcase our whiskey stills at the inaugural American Craft Whiskey Festival which took place at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City this past weekend. I was surprised at how many people there were interested in small-batch, artisanal whiskeys and bourbons and, even with a lot of big, commercial distillers present, the art of homemade spirits was still very appealing to everyone. And from my experience, you’ll always prefer your own spirits. Because of all the time and effort you put into the process, it’s not just a spirit you drink, it’s the result of your own work, which makes it so much more satisfying to enjoy.

 While we were at the festival, we not only  showcased our products, but also gave  participants the opportunity to learn how to distill  their own moonshine in one of our old-fashioned  style copper whiskey stills. It was an amazing  experience to go through the process with so  many different people, especially since some of  them were already passionate and experienced  distillers, while others completely novice ‘shiners  who were just getting into the art of making their own moonshine and whiskey. 

So, I decided to write about the recipe we used in the demonstration (a detailed version of which you can also find in our Guide to making your own moonshine) and take you through the whole process.

The fundamentals of making alcohol from are based on the established principles of fermentation and distillation, which you need to be familiar with, either before following a basic recipe or experimenting with ingredients and quantities to make your own recipes.

The principal of fermentation: 

Whether you’re making beer, wine, or moonshine, there are only three ingredients you need: water, sugar, and yeast. Yeast is that ‘magical’ microorganism that, in the absence of oxygen, converts sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide and other compounds that influence the taste of fermented foods and beverages.

The principal of distillation:

Once you have a solution of water and alcohol, you need to separate them. Distillation accomplishes this by taking advantage of the different boiling points of water (212°F) and alcohol (173°F). In theory, if the temperature of a water-alcohol mixture is raised to 174°F, the alcohol would begin to boil off, but the water should still be too cool to boil.  You can then capture the alcohol vapor, cool it down, and you are left with liquid alcohol. 

You can apply these principles on a 10 gallon moonshine recipe. Trial and error is the best way of learning.

The mash and the fermentation process:

Every recipe starts off with a mash which will take about 1-2 weeks until it begins to ferment, just before moving on to the distilling phase.

Make your mash out of approximately 2.5lbs of potatoes. Fill up your fermentation containers – a couple of 5 gallon buckets will do just fine – half way with hot water mixed with 20lbs of sugar. Then add the potato mash and stir until the sugar has dissolved. You can also add 12oz tomato paste in, as well as the juice from a large lemon, while stirring.

Top up to 9 gallons with water – alternate between hot and cold to reach a temperature of about 80°F. Once at target temperature, add 1oz (2 tablespoons) of yeast and stir until completely dissolved.

Place lid loosely on the fermenter to allow carbon dioxide gas to easily escape, set out of direct sunlight and maintain temperature between 70-80°F.

The mash should begin to fizz or bubble within the first 24-48 hours. Check daily until either all activity in the mash stops or the mash has been fermenting for two full weeks. You’ll then need to distill promptly, within 3 days.

The distillation:

After you’ve properly cleaned your new whiskey still and had a vinegar run through it, you will need to set it up for the next step: distilling.

Once the still is correctly set up, start applying heat until you can hear the mash boiling. Once you reach this point cut the heat to half.

Once liquid starts to come out of the condenser, you want to turn down the heat so that it is not a constant stream. You can monitor the temperature either by carefully watching the condenser or by using the thermometer, which should allow you to maintain the temperature at the top of the onion head between 174°-190°F.

As a precaution against methanol poisoning, you need to throw away the first ounce per 5 gallons of mash.

Frequently inspect the seam between the onion-top and the pot for escaping vapor. If any are found, simply plug with some flour-water mix.

Frequently monitor the condenser water temperature. Cold or cool water is great, lukewarm water is a warning that it needs to be cooler.

Once you get your heat set correctly it needs very little manipulation. This is one way to tell when you are done distilling. When you reach the end of the run you will notice that the onion top temperature will suddenly drop along with the moonshine coming out of the condenser. This will happen without any change in heat supply.  Whenever you experience significant changes in this manner, you can conclude that the run is over, so turn off the heat and allow the still to cool completely before cleaning.

Once you have your moonshine, there are an infinite number of things you can do with it, from re-distilling, flavoring or ageing, if you want to turn your moonshine into a basic type of whiskey.

I found this recipe to be an easy start for me and many of my friends and the festival confirmed that it was a good way for a beginner to get the hang of the basics. Once you feel confident about your ‘shiner skills, you can try some of the recipes in my older posts and let me know which ones you liked.

 

 

 

Why Alembic Whiskey Still?

I have to admit, I can never get enough of watching the manufacturing process of an alembic copper still. It is a beautiful transformation which involves so much attention and skill that I always find fascinating So, since I’ve recently written a bit about why we use copper in making our whiskey still, today I’d like to also tell you why we chose the alembic shape.

The alembic is the oldest and most recognized still design. However, its history is as controversial and contradictory as they come. It is believed that the alembic takes its name from the Arabic al-anbiq, meaning still, and from the Greek ambix, which means cup or pot. It is also thought that the Egyptians were the first to ever build stills. In fact, journalist Fred Minnick, in his book: ‘Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey’, actually claims that an Egyptian woman was the first inventor of the alembic still. However, other sources claim that it was the Saracena alchemists who conducted the first scientific studies on distillation and they attribute the invention of the alembic still to Muslim alchemists in the Middle Ages, such as Jabir ibn Hayyan. The spreading of distillation and of the alembic still is also thought to have been done by the Arabs. Some believe that grappa, the Italian spirit obtained from grape pomace, was produced for the first time in Sicily when Arabs introduced the alembic and from there it spread all over Italy. Alembic stills then went on to be developed even further on the Italian territory.

Regardless of who it really was that invented and first used it, the alembic is still very much used in the present day, through models which try to stay true to its original shape but also through modern day pot stills, which are considered descendants of the alembic. The reason for that, which is also the main reason we use it, is exactly its long lasting history, its tradition and the impressive period over which it has been developed and perfected.

Thanks to its beautiful, sensual curves, the alembic copper still can simply be displayed, or pass for, a unique decoration – especially if we look at the smaller 1 gallon copper whiskey still. However, it is also perfectly functional as a moonshine still or for a wide range of spirits, including: Whiskey, Rum, Scotch, Bourbon, Cognac, Vodka, Tequila and Schnapps, as well as essential oils.

The alembic resembles a huge onion shape, which enables an easy release of the alcohol from the mixture. It is made up of 3 parts: the alembic pot, the swan neck lid and the condensing unit. The liquid in the pot is heated or boiled, the vapors rise and pass through the narrow ‘swan neck’ pipe and then through a serpentine coil, a cold-water bath condenses the vapors in the coils, converting them back to liquid form.

Due to its distinctive onion shape, the alembic copper whiskey still we offer can only be handmade and is skillfully built by master craftsmen, from plain sheets of cooper to a complex work of art. So, if you are looking to buy a copper still online, you are not just acquiring a functional object but a true piece of craftsmanship with a unique and impressive history.

 

 

 

Know Your Spirits

Quite a while back, when I first got into distilling, I had trouble telling the difference between many popular spirits. The more I looked into it, the more interesting details about their different ingredients, areas and types of production I found. So I started to keep a record of this information for each drink I was researching, which came in really handy whenever I wanted to try something new. I recently came across the notes and thought it would make a good post, especially for those of you who are considering using your whiskey still to make a different spirit or use a new recipe.

Whiskey

Whiskey or whisky is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Whiskey is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide and comes in different types, depending where in the world it’s produced. The typical common characteristics of are the fermentation of grains, distillation and aging in wooden barrels. American whiskeys are made from cereal grain and, depending on the main grain the initial mash contains (over 51% of corn, rye, malted barley or wheat), there is a diversity of subcategories. Adding coloring or flavoring is not allowed. They are aged in new charred-oak containers, except for corn whiskey which is usually not aged. Whiskey which is aged for a minimum of two years is also called straight.

Blended whiskey is a mixture that contains straight whiskey or a blend of straight whiskeys and, separately or in combination, whiskey or neutral spirits, and may also contain flavorings and colorings

Bourbon

Bourbon is also a subcategory of American whiskey. It is a distilled spirit which is strongly associated with the state of Kentucky. The typical mash for bourbon is a minimum of 51% corn, with the rest made up of wheat, rye and/or malted barley. It is aged in new, charred-oak barrels and distilled to no more than 80% abv. It enters the barrel for aging at a maximum of 62.5% abv and is bottled at 40% abv or more. Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period but if it is aged for at least two years and has no added colorings or flavorings, it may be called straight bourbon. Blended bourbon must contain at least 51% straight bourbon.

Scotch

Scotch is a carefully regulated type of whisky, which needs to follow very strict standards. First of all, it needs to be distilled in Scotland from malted barley at a level of less than 94.8% and wholly matured in oak casks of a capacity of maximum 185 gallons, for at least three years. No added substances are allowed, except for water and plain caramel coloring. Single malt Scotch whisky is produced from only water and malted barley at a single distillery by batch distillation in pot stills. Scotch has a minimum strength of 40% abv.

Gin

Gin is a spirit that gets its distinct flavor from juniper berries, which are actually seed cones produced by different types of junipers. There are two types of gin: compound gin, which is simply obtained by adding natural flavorings, predominantly juniper, to a neutral spirit of agricultural origin and distilled gin. Distilled gin, out of which London Dry Gin is one of the most popular, is obtained through either distilling or re-distilling, together with the same signature botanics, which give it its unique taste.

There is also a difference between American and English gin. English gin is distilled at a slightly lower proof than the American, so it retains more of the character of the grains used. The minimum bottled alcoholic strength for distilled gin is 37.5% abv in Europe and 40% abv in the States.

Vodka

Vodka is one of the most common spirits worldwide, produced and distilled from a wide variety of ingredients, including grains such as sorghum, corn, rye or wheat (the last two being considered superior), but also potatoes. A common property of the vodkas produced in the United States and Europe is the extensive use of filtration prior to any additional processing including the addition of flavorings. However, this is not the case in the traditional vodka-producing nations, where distillers prefer to use very accurate distillation but minimal filtering, to preserve the unique flavor and characteristics of their product. Repeated distillation makes its ethanol level very high – final filtered and distilled vodka may have as much as 95–96% ethanol, which is why most vodka is diluted with water prior to bottling.

The standard for European vodka is 40% abv, while the American one is at least 30% abv.

Tequila

Tequila is a very distinct distilled beverage made entirely from the blue agave plant and produced exclusively in certain parts of Mexico. The plants, which are very rich in sugars, are slowly baked to break down into simple sugars, then shredded or mashed to obtain the agave juice which is used for tequila. The juice is left to ferment and then distilled. It takes a second distillation to obtain the silver tequila which can be bottled or aged in wooden barrels, usually oak, to obtain other types of tequila such as reposado (2-12 months), añejo (1-3 years)or extra añejo (over 3 years).

Tequila is somewhere between 31-55% abv.

Rum

Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made fro sugarcane byproducts, such as molasses, or directly from sugarcane juice and is mostly produced in Latin America and the Caribbean, where it developed, although a large number of countries now produce it, including the US. After the fermentation of molasses or juice, followed by the distillation process, most rum is aged for at least one year in wooden casks or stainless steel tanks – which determines the different types and colors. For dark and spiced rums, caramel and other spices may be added to adjust the color of the final product.

Rum is not a very standardized drink so its minimum alcohol content varies between 40-50% abv.

Brandy

There are three main types of brandy and a very wide variety of subcategories of these, from different areas. The general term of brandy refers to grape brandy, which is produced by the distillation of fermented grapes and generally contains 35-60% abv. Some brandies are aged in wooden casks, some are simply colored with caramel, while some brandies use a combination of both aging and coloring. Depending on the area, it could be single or double distilled and aged for different periods of time.

Fruit brandies are distilled from fruit other than grapes. Apples, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, elderberries, raspberries and blackberries are the most commonly used. Fruit brandy usually contains 40% to 45%, is often colorless and does not require aging. Some of the most popular examples are German schnaps, Eastern European palinka or rakia.

A third type of brandy is pomace brandy (or marc), which is produced by fermentation and distillation of the grape skins, seeds, and stems that remain after grapes have been pressed to extract their juice for making wine. Most pomace brandies are neither aged nor colored. Greek tsipouro and Italian grappa are popular examples of this type of brandy.

Cognac

Cognac is a variety of brandy, produced only in the Cognac region of France. For a distilled brandy to be allowed the name cognac, it needs to meet certain legal requirements. First of all, if must be made from at least 90% Ugni blanc grapes  (for the true crues), twice distilled in copper pot stills and aged for at least two years in French Limousin oak barrels. Cognacs which are not cru can also use different grape varieties from the region. Most cognacs are aged considerably longer than the minimum legal requirement, to increase their taste and value.

 The final produce averages at about 40% abv.

As you can see, each type of distilled alcohol is unique and usually requires different ingredients, but also different distilling and aging processes. I have not gone into the specifics of their distilling but if you’d like to know more or want to experiment with new recipes, let me know and I’ll treat them separately in more detail.

Why Copper Whiskey Still?

I have been asked by some of our customers why we only manufacture copper stills. Of course, most ‘shiners have heard of the advantages of copper but it seems not all of its properties are as well-known. So I thought I’ll research this in detail so you’ll understand why I personally prefer using a copper whiskey still.

Stills can be made from a wide variety of materials, including aluminum, brass, iron, glass, steel or clay. However, the majority of alcohol stills today is made out of either stainless steel or copper. Although more expensive, copper is still preferred over steel, not only to keep the tradition but also because of its unique characteristics. Copper has been used for centuries. Old time moonshiners in the Appalachian hills used copper and modern commercial distilleries use it too. Here are some of its main properties, which explain how copper helps turn your mash into tasty moonshine.

The distinctive and most important property of copper is the fact that it reacts with alcohol on a molecular level. It produces a chemical reaction which removes the sulfur compounds that result naturally from yeast while fermenting. As you probably know, sulfur is quite a foul tasting element and having it develop in your distilled spirit or essential oil can give it quite an off taste and smell.

Copper has a very high thermal and electrical conductivity which helps distribute the heat evenly and cool the vapors.

Copper is a resilient but malleable material, it can last you a very long time but is also easily cut, pounded and stretched into the desired shape, which comes in handy especially in the case of the distinctive ‘onion’ shaped alembic.

Copper is very resistant to corrosion, especially under extreme temperatures and humidity. This explains why copper artifacts in great condition have been found in various archaeological sites, some dating back to ancient Egypt and Rome.

Another impressive property of copper is its scientifically proven antimicrobial effects. Copper destroys a wide range of bacteria and viruses. Copper doorknobs are used by hospitals to reduce the transfer of disease. Also bacteria are kept away from our drinking water through copper tubing in plumbing systems - the Romans were the first to discover this and used copper to improve public health. Copper also prevents the production of ethyl carbonate, which is a toxic substance formed from cyanides.

And finally, copper improves the quality of the final product when the mash is not biologically perfect, as well as its aroma, making your moonshine sweeter.

So even though stills made out of stainless steel may be cheaper and more durable, the advantages of using a copper still for your moonshine can’t be overlooked. And, to be honest, I wouldn't give that bright red-orange shine for any silver glow!

The History of Moonshine


Making moonshine is one of the activities which goes way back in American history and has survived impressive obstacles, from high taxes and illegality, to diminished quality and the threat of large commercial producers.

People started making their own moonshine right after the American Revolution in the 1770s. As the state was weak and struggling to pay its war debts, a federal tax on liquors and spirits was placed. But people were already having a hard time simply getting by, not to mention paying their now oppressive taxes to the state, so they began to make their own alcohol.

The interesting thing is this didn’t start off as a hobby or for personal consumption purposes. For a large majority, this was actually their way to survive. Farmers could turn their corn into profitable whiskey, and the extra income helped them feed their families and keep their assets, as the taxes were so high they barely got by. Federal agents, called Revenuers, were attacked when they came around to collect the tax; there are even famous stories which talk about some having been tarred and feathered. There were rebellions and constant clashes between moonshiners and authorities, with some of the most famous gun fights having taken place in those times. As these conflicts escalated in the 1860s, together with the state trying to fund the Civil War from excise taxes, the Temperance Movement, which sought to ban alcohol altogether, became more and more popular.

The greatest ‘blessing’ for moonshiners came in 1920 when nationwide Prohibition went into effect, the law that banned alcohol sale, manufacture, transportation (bootlegging) and consumption. Suddenly, with no legal alcohol available, moonshine was in such great demand that moonshiners could barely keep up with orders. This resulted into the production of poor quality, sugar-based or watered-down moonshine. Organized crime flourished as speakeasies opened in every town – secret saloons with hidden doors, passwords and escape routes in case of federal raids. In many rural towns, small speakeasies and blind pigs were operated by local business owners. The poor quality bootleg liquor sold there was responsible for a shift away from 19th century 'classic' cocktails, which celebrated the raw taste of liquor, to new cocktails aimed at masking the taste of rough moonshine.

When Prohibition ended, in 1933, the market for moonshine collapsed. With commercial distilleries producing on large scales, alcohol became cheaper and making moonshine was not a means to an economic end anymore. However, moonshine continued to be a problem for federal authorities into the 1960s and '70s. Even today, many prefer to make their own moonshine. Whether out of passion for distilling or the simple desire to defy government authority, moonshiners still form an impressive community in the United States.

 

source: www.old-picture.com
The photograph illustrates Lt. O.T. Davis, Sergt. J.D. McQuade, George Fowler of Internal Revenue Service and H.G. Bauer with the largest still ever taken in the national capitol and bottles of liquor.

Moonshine Around the World - My new Greek friend: Ouzo

Last week, at a barbecue at one of my friend’s place, I met a funny Greek guy named Panos who had recently moved to the States. He also brought a bottle of ouzo, which had been homemade by his father back home, in the North of Greece. As I told him that I use a copper still for my homemade moonshine, he was quite happy to tell me about the way they distill their own alcohol back home.

Panos said Greeks also share a great passion for home distilling, which they mostly do in copper stills they call ‘kazani’. For ouzo, they use high percentage ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin (96%). The distinct liquorish-like taste comes from a mixture of spices they add while distilling the alcohol: aniseed, star anise, coriander, angelica root, cloves, fennel, cinnamon or other spices, depending on the region it’s made in. It’s important that the spices are dry, as they give out a stronger aroma, and depending on what mix of spices you use, you have to weigh them carefully in order to get a good balance. The water dilution is next, before which the Greeks in the South also add sugar. The final ABV is usually between 40 and 50 percent. It’s usually drunk as an aperitif, alongside a plate of appetizers.  The drink can be served very cold, in order to form crystals when it’s served in small shot glasses or, like we had it, with water, which makes it turn milky white. Panos explained that this happens because of the anethole, the essential oil found in anise and fennel, which is soluble in alcohol but not in water. He promised next time he’ll also bring a bottle of homemade Tsipouro, a Greek drink made from the residue left over from the wine press, which is produced differently than ouzo as it also includes fermentation and multiple distillations.

As I got home, I was curious to learn more about ouzo so I looked it up. I found out that it actually started off as an anise flavored version of tsipouro, made by a group of 14th century monks in a monastery on Mount Athos. Modern ouzo distillation took off at the beginning of the 19th century following Greek independence. The Island of Lesbos claims to have been the originator of the drink and it’s still one of the major producers. The now standard method of production using copper stills was only adopted in the early 1930s.

I also found out that Greeks use it as traditional medicine. It’s considered to be a very good antiseptic, given its alcohol levels, but also as treatment for a headache or flu, if you have a warm glass before going to bed. Panos even mentioned that his grandmother used cloths dipped in ouzo for tight muscles or joint pains, but that other also claimed it’s good to relief stomach cramps or asthma, if you place the cloth on your chest.

I really enjoyed the homemade drink so I’m now considering trying a homemade ouzo recipe of my own. I’ll try to find a good mix of spices and give it a go as Panos said the best distillation time for it is in November. I’ll keep you posted on the results but feel free to let me know of any good ouzo recipes you’ve tried!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin moonshine infusion – the Halloween Special

You know how I always say that one of the joys of owning my own whiskey still is being able to experiment with mixed drinks and have fun with making something new for every occasion? Well Halloween has to be one my favorite holidays, it’s wacky, colorful and most of the time involves a good party with my friends so I definitely need to come up with an exciting party drink for this one! And, since I've promised to host the fun this year, I want to make sure I've got some nice drinks that I can use my homemade moonshine with.

I remembered an old pumpkin pie infusion recipe I got online which I once tried out with vodka and came out really nice so this time I thought I’d try it with my homemade moonshine and see if it’s just as delicious. If it’s one thing we've got plenty of, this season, it’s pumpkins!

Basically, what I did was roast 1lb of pumpkin peel, together with some honey, for about 45 min. I then took the peels out of the oven and covered them with water in a saucepan, let them boil and simmer for almost an hour. I blended the result with a Mason jar of moonshine, and then strained it through a cloth to remove the pulp. I let it cool off and then used it to make some funky, colorful cocktails, which came out absolutely delicious.

This one’s definitely going on the Halloween menu!

Moonshine Around the World - Making a Traditional European Fruit Brandy

You already know by now that having a whiskey still is not just a trifle for me; it’s both a passion and a necessity. For me, my whiskey still is not just a decoration object (thou it makes a pretty good one); it is my trusted friend in creating great recipes. Which is why I am going to talk to you today about palinca, a brandy whose name means simply “distilled spirit”, which I learnt how to make when I was in Transylvania.

Hence, as I was visiting and getting acquainted with what the area has to offer (all the beautiful, medieval fortresses, as well as the Dracula’s Castle), I managed to get a live demo on how palinca is made. The result: I instantly realized the process can be easily replicated back home, too, as long as I have my moonshine still. Actually, what surprised me the most was exactly the simplicity of the process: very few ingredients, fermentation and two rounds of distillation.

And, as I always share my precious whiskey-still-related info with you guys, here is the recipe that I got: plums and water. Yes, that’s all; no sugar involved.

Now, firstly, after you select the plumbs, you need to subject them to a classical fermentation process. Leave as long as necessary, until the fruits have fermented properly. Once the fermentation is complete, you can continue with the first distillation process: put the plumbs in the whiskey still and let them boil at medium heat. This first liquid resulting is next boiled again, following the same distillation steps as for any second distillation. Make sure to discard any product that comes of the still before liquid temperature reaches 174 degree or the first  5-10 % of the total alcohol contain because it could contain methanol. Its extremely unlikely that there would be enough methanol in a 5 or 10 gallon batch to hurt anyone, but it tastes bad. 

I am happy I learned something new and I cannot wait to invite some friends over this autumn and prepare some really good palinca.

Looking forward to hear your opinions after trying the recipe.

Stone

The Process of Whiskey Making

 

As I was having a discussion lately with one of my good friends, about whiskey and aging years, I realized he does not know much about the process of making whiskey, thou he is a true passionate of this drink (I sometimes think he likes it more than me).

And that got me thinking: how many of the people who like this drink know how it is made? Hence, for all those of you who do not know how whiskey is made, or, would also like to make their own whisky in the comfort of their homes (after all, you have a useful whiskey still in your possession, which can be put to good use), I outline here the required, basic steps; and I say this, as every type of whiskey has certain specification about how it is made, which assures its uniqueness. In my case, I took the example of whiskey made of maize corn, in order to prove how the process goes:

1.      Get some maize corn, add water to it and keep it in a bag somewhere where it is both dark and warm. The right temperature should be between 62°- 86°F.

2.      As soon as the sprouts have reached 0.2 inches you can wash the corn, preserving the kernels and getting rid of all roots and sprouts.

3.      Now, you can move on to the mashing, by putting the kernel into a fermenter and mixing it up in order to ensure all kernels are smashed.

4.      The next step is fermentation, which first requires to add boiling water over the broken kernels and to let it cool down. Then you have the third most important ingredient (after corn and water) necessary to obtain whiskey: yeast. Add it, vent your fermenter and then close it very well. Leave the mixture for fermentation for 1 week. My advice for you would be to use a hydrometer to determine if your fermentation is completed; another way of finding out this is to look for the formation of little bubbles.

5.      Distillation comes next, when you separate alcohol from water and all other substances which can affect the whiskey’s purity. You need a pot still, made of copper – which has to also be 100% lead-free, as I told you before. Make sure you do not burn the wash, so heat it quite slow and identify the right moment to start the condenser.

6.      Now, whiskey would not be whiskey without a proper aging and maturation. Generally, the best ways to age it is by placing it in oak barrels, such as white oak ones. But, remember that all aging needs to be done before putting the beverage in bottle, as once in bottle the whiskey it will no longer age, as it happens with wine. 

7.      Finally, when the whiskey is mature enough, you can place it in bottles. From then on, you can drink it whenever you want. 

These are just the simple steps in making whiskey. The process is profound and requires time to complete, especially when you produce whiskey at a distillery. But, for home, making just a small quantity by following a simple guideline should be just fine. 

Copper Sulfate, an Important Item in Moonshining

 

Recently, I invited a friend over to have some drinks and chat. But, because he arrived early, I asked him to wait for some minutes, while I was still doing my cleaning. And guess what I was cleaning? My whiskey still, of course! While my friend laughed that I give “this old still” (as he called it) such attention, he was really amazed to see how clean my still is. His still never looks like this, he told me. So, we started talking about stills, what are they made of, why it is good to have a 100% copper and lead-free still, how to polish it and plenty more other similar topics. Then, as we were talking I mentioned something about copper sulfate, which made my friends’ eyebrows rise. And, as I was explaining to him what that is and what is it useful for, I realized that maybe, there are plenty more people out there who don’t know much about copper sulfate and why is it important in moonshining. Hence, I decided to tell you all about it. 


What you need to know, first of all, is that copper sulfate is a mineral composite, which chains sulfur with copper. And what is its connection with a whiskey still? Well, copper sulfate is as important for moonshine making as having a still made 100% out of copper and lead free:

• copper sulfate appears during the distillation process, when copper and sulfur interact

• this process proves to be extremely helpful, as it prevents the contamination of the moonshine, thus ensuring the quality, taste and looks of it (and, as moonshine lovers, you all understand the importance of this development, as you know that sulfates in moonshine can change the taste and make it really bad, thus ruining your entire moonshine making process) 

• moreover, copper sulfate can destroy bacteria, fungi, roots, snails, algae and plants; thou you will probably not find all of them in your whiskey still, there is an increased risk of developing bacteria, something which the copper sulfate will easily take care of, thus protecting your health

• also, as copper sulfate sticks to the still’s walls, you are more inclined to clean it really fast and good; this cleaning (which will also include scrubbing) will remove any unpleasant look of the copper still, as well as unwanted smells (such as that of rotten eggs - for which you can blame hydrogen sulfide), restoring the copper to its glory. 

Now you understand better why copper sulfate is quite important in making moonshine. Without it, you face an increased risk of having a bulky number of bacteria, fungi, etc., as well as the danger of destroying the aroma of the moonshine. Also, if the sulfate would not stick to the still, we would probably not be tempted to clean it so good, as it would not look like that; we would probably only realize something’s wrong the moment it starts getting that H2S smell – of rotten eggs (which would not be too good for us and our health). 

Hence, now you know a couple of things about copper sulfate. So, the next time you hear this being mentioned, especially in connection with a whiskey still, you will know why it is of such great importance.

How to Make Moonshine Margarita

 

 How to Make Moonshine Margarita

source: www.mynslc.com

I enjoy very much a good drink and I am always interested in getting the best out of my moonshine still as well as the mixes I make in the comfort of my home. And that is why I am regularly looking for new and interesting recipes that I can put into practice and then enjoy, in the coziness of my house, alone or with some friends which stare the shame passion as me.

And that is precisely what moonshine is for me: a great hobby which provides me the much-needed relaxation I need at the end of a tiresome week. And I like my passion very much; I like my copper whiskey still and how it works. What's more, I also like to always try new recipes, to explore and to make sure that I perfect my methods all the time.
The recipe I tried most recently was one which relies on a classical drink: margarita. I thought about making moonshine margarita one night, as I was browsing on the internet, looking for a simple recipe; and this is exactly what this one is.

First, you will need to following ingredients:

•    lime juice (make sure you squeeze the juice yourself; 1 ounce)

•    orange juice (1/2 ounce)

•    sugar (you need only 1 teaspoon and granulated best)

•    moonshine (1 ounce)

•    ice

•    a single slice of lime (for the glass)

•    salt (sea salt is the best, but you can use any type of salt you want, as this is only for serving)

Now, once you have all the ingredients, you can easily start to make the moonshine margarita. Get a cocktail shaker, as this is the preferred vessel for mixing all the ingredients; but, if you do not have one, you can easily use a blender or bar glass in order to blend everything. Put the two juices with sugar, moonshine and as much as ice as you want to in the shaker. Then, make sure all is well covered and shake it until everything is perfectly mixed. As presentation is a big part of the whole process, when you are happy with the way the drink came out rub the lime slice on the upper part of the glass and then dip it in salt. Next, just pour the drink into it and enjoy it!

I like this recipe as it is not complicated and it also uses few ingredients. Feel free to add a different type of juice, like strawberry, raspberry or even watermelon. I know I am looking to try some red orange juice or some strawberry next time I am making some moonshine margarita. 

How to Make Strawberry Moonshine Julep

I like the period between spring and summer because I get to throw nice barbeques, invite my friends to see my whiskey still – I never get tired of showing them “my baby” - , but also because I can eat some of my favorite fruits: strawberries.

But, as you already noticed by now, I always try to find a way to both upgrade my ideas for the usage of my whiskey still, as well to use the fruits I like in order to create wonderful, memorable tastes.

Hence, I remembered I was browsing a while ago for various strawberries recipes – strawberry margarita is already known and it’s becoming quite old -, when I came across a recipe entitled, simply, strawberry moonshine julep. OK, this is the one for me! It does not only start with the name of my favorite fruits (strawberries), but it also contains the word moonshine in it.

So, I told myself I have to try this one instantly; which, I did. It was great, trust me! Which is why I decided to share it with all of you moonshine lovers like me.

Strawberry Moonshine

First, what you will need (no worries, you do not need to do substantial grocery shopping):

•    strawberries (2, if really big, or 3-4, if smaller; and make sure they are ripe)

•    sugar (2 teaspoons should be enough, thou, if you like it less sugary, you can add 1-1 ½)

•    mint (fresh leaves - around 3 - are better than syrup, so just go ahead and get them right before you start making the recipe)

•    the best part: moonshine! (2 oz. is enough)

•    lemon juice (get it natural, squeeze the lemons yourself, as you only need ½ oz.)

•    some mint (separate from the ones you mix in the drink) to garnish the drink, as we all know a proper drink needs to be garnished

•    jars (the presentation should suit the drink and nothing says moonshine better than jars)

Now, once you get all these ingredients you simply have to mix them, something really easy to do. First, clean the strawberries really good for leaves and co., wash them and cut them into ¼-inch parts. Put them together with the sugar and mint leaves in a blender or cocktail shaker. Stir everything and leave it like this to rest until you notice the strawberries are soaked, but no more than 10 minutes. Now, pour the moonshine and lemon juice and some ice (it is a summer drink, after all). Make sure the shaker is full and then agitate the recipient as hard as you can for a couple of minutes. Then just put the drink thus obtained into jars; you can add some more ice if you want to. And do not forget about the mint garnishment.

Now, all you have to do is wait for your friends to come and proudly show them what you did (which is what I am going to do, now that I have tried the recipe and it was a total success). Enjoy your strawberry moonshine drink; and feel free to replace strawberries with other fruits, if you want to (I, for one, I am looking forward to try this recipe with raspberry, too)!

source: www.mademan.com

An Easy Guideline to Make Your Own Alcohol

If you want to make your own alcohol, then you need to know how to do it properly, without damaging anything or anyone and making sure that you actually get drinkable alcohol.

 Image source: http://www.motherjones.com

 

Why Is It Fun To Make Your Own Alcohol?

Many people like to make alcohol in their own home, not because they cannot afford to buy it, necessarily, but because they take pleasure in doing it. Here are some of the reasons why you should do it too:

•    it is a fun, relaxing, cheap, easy and efficient hobby

•    it takes you back to the time you were a kid and you were watching your grandfather or father doing this and were wondering what is that magical drink and how they actually do it

•    it could remind you of the lab classes you took during school; thou, this time, you will thoroughly enjoy mixing drinks and getting something practical out of it

•    it helps connect people such as you and your friends; if you have a common passion you devote your time to, then you can get together and share your experience, work together on making alcohol, and basically, just communicate and enrich your friendship

•    it helps you get to know new people and socialize, as there is an entire community of people who like this hobby (remember, making your own alcohol is just a hobby) and who communicate with each other on forums, for instance, sharing their experiences, learning from one another and purely having fun in their spare time

How Do You Actually Do It?

Now, if you have finally decided to take on this hobby, you can start by trying to make your first drink. For this, you will need the following items:

•    fruit juice essence (1 can)

•    funnel (the best is a small-sized one)

•    large balloon

•    plastic milk flask (make sure it is very clean before using it)

•    water

•    white sugar (2 cups; you can switch with brown, thou white is better, especially for your first try)

•    yeast (1 packet)

Once you have all these ingredients prepared you can start making your drink. First, put in the bottle the yeast and the juice concentrate, and use the funnel to transfer the sugar without losing part of the quantity. Seal the bottle and shake it to mix the three ingredients. After you are certain they are very well mixed, you can open the bottle and pour the water (you might want to use the funnel again, for a more precise, faster job). Put the lid on and mix everything, once again. Next, remove the seal and, on top of the flask, stretch the balloon as to totally cover the bottle’s mouth. Leave it like this and put in a dry and cool storage for approximately 3 days. You will know your drink is ready when the balloon (which fills with gas all this time, proof that the alcohol is successfully formed) will deflate. Then, you can put the bottle in your fridge and leave it there until you want to use it.

You can also leave the drink in storage for more than 3 days, but, it will become more alcoholic with each extra storage day.

Now that you know how to successfully make your own alcohol, enjoy it with some crushed ice (it is more refreshing, as well as more adapted for hot weather) or combine it with some non-sparkling fruit juice, like oranges, peaches, strawberries or pineapple; the taste will be absolutely wonderful.

 

 

What Components Do Still Kits Generally Contain

I was looking at my whiskey still today and thinking about new recipes and ideas to put in practice. Then, I was thinking of how easy it is to buy a moonshine kit; but, I was also thinking that some people like to build their own whiskey still. And that’s just fine. You can, at times, take more pleasure in building your own still, as you feel you got more involved into this passion of yours. And when you are a beginner in moonshine whiskey - thou you have been deeply passionate about whiskey for a long time - wanting to build your own whiskey still might be one of your first thoughts.

So, let’s say you decided you wanted to have your own, personal, made-by-yourself still. Good, but how do you create one? You can build it by scratch, if you really want to (if you are talented, have the time and instruments to shape every gallon and piece of the whiskey still); or, you can buy a still kit and make your job easier. 

The Still Kit Full Package

Generally, a still kit contains all the parts that make your moonshine still. With them (and the help of some instructions, which can either come with the package or you can find them on the internet – even in video version) you get to build your own still.

To get an idea of what a moonshine still kit might contain, here are some of the stuff that come in the package in general:

•    copper pins
•    fittings
•    pipe
•    the pot(s), which need to be a perfect fit for the size you desire (the size of the assembled moonshine still) and should bepre-prepared for assembly when you receive the kit
•    instructions on how to assembly a moonshine kit (either written ones, perhaps with pictures, or videos which are sent to you via mail once the order for the kit has been placed / the delivery of the package has been made)
•    hammer
•    hose kit
•    pair of pliers
•    (plumbing) solder
•    propane burner (or something similar)
•    thermometer

Now, this does not mean that you will find all of these in every kit. That depends on the person / company / website offering the kit and what they decide to put in the package. Commonly, the last 6 items I mentioned above are considered “optional objects”, meaning they are viewed as part of any household or you need to buy them on your own, separate from the grand kit.

Take a look at some of the kits you find out there and check out what items each has to offer, as well as if they give discounts or special offers if you buy the optional objects from them, too. And do not forget to check your package the moment it has arrived, to see if everything you need is in there.

Still kits can be quite helpful for beginners in the art of moonshine whiskey, but also for the more advanced moonshiners, as they teach you how to build your own still, thus putting a special print on it and helping you better understand how all the elements of a whiskey still work.

Moonshine Recipes with Watermelon

As I mentioned before, I always like to find new moonshine recipes and I am particularly fascinated by fruit-based ones. Now, apple is a true classic when it comes to baking, cooking or even mixing in your drink (alcoholic or not). But, there are other fruits which you can try, too.

I enjoy very much watermelon, because it has a special taste that lingers in your mouth for a while after you finished eating it. Moreover, I always think of summer, sunny beaches and lots of good drinks (based on whiskey, how else) when I taste it.

So, while I was playing with my whiskey still one day an idea came to me: why you should I not make some moonshine based on watermelon? This led me to search for recipes and I discovered not one, but two great recipes. And, as a bonus, they both combine watermelon with other fruits, meaning elderberry and grape.

For the watermelon and elderberry one you will need the following ingredients:

•    watermelon (32 lb.)
•    elderberries (dried ones, 1 ¼ lb.)
•    water (preferably use a 5 gallon)
•    lemon juice and zest (better buy 10 lemons and squeeze them yourself)
•    sugar (if possible, granulated one; around 36 cups)
•    distiller’s yeast / wine

Now, once you have all these ingredients, start with the melon first and cut it into medium-sized cubes (around 1 inch). Make sure you cleaned all the seeds and then put the fruit and all of its juice in the bowl. Add to that the freshly-bought-and-squeezed lemon zest and juice. Mix the elderberries, too, and add the water on top of everything. Stir the sugar in, until it dissolves. Cover everything with a textile and leave it like this for 12 hours. Then, add some wine or distiller’s yeast. Cover again and then leave it for fermentation for 3 days (but do not forget to stir every day). Then put the juice in a bottle and close well. Leave it for fermentation for a month.

And that’s the first recipe. The second one, with watermelon and grape, is tad similar, but it presents certain differences which you need to pay attention to.

First, the ingredients:

•    watermelon (30 lb., not 32 like in the previous one)
•    grapes (red or green, as you prefer; 7 ½ lb.)
•    water (preferably use a 5 gallon for this one, too )
•    lemon juice and zest (same quantity and rule as in the previous recipe)
•    sugar (granulated one; around 24 cups, which is less than in the above-mentioned recipe!)
•    distiller’s yeast / wine

Follow the same indications for melon and lemons as written above. Next, focus on the grapes: wash them and crush them in a container. Add them and their juice to the watermelon and lemon mixture. Put water and sugar and stir, just like mentioned before. Now, after you cover the vessel with a textile, leave it like this for one full day this time. After the time has passed, add the yeast and leave it for fermentation for 5 days, stirring every day. At the end of those 5 days put everything into a bottle, cover it well and leave it to ferment for 30 days.

As you can see, both recipes are quite easy. However, the watermelon and grape one needs more time to ferment. But, no worries, as long as you follow the indications, you will have no problem in making any of these two top moonshine recipes.

Enjoy and let me know what you think, too!

Why Making Moonshine At Home Is a Great Passion

Recently, I got a question from an old friend of mine that made me realize that I never mentioned why making moonshine at home makes up for a great hobby. My friend asked me why, of all the things I like, I decided to turn making moonshine at home into one of my top passions. I actually thought for a few seconds before answering that one. I mean, I always liked whiskey and I always wanted what is best; when I started with my moonshine still all I wanted was to enjoy myself, to discover new recipes, to come up with new ideas and to simply feel happy. After all, the whole thing about a passion is how happy it makes you.

In the morning, as I was still thinking of his question during breakfast, I realized why I like so much making moonshine. But, more than this, I realized why making moonshine is a great passion, which can be easily taken up by everybody with a thirst for good drinks; so, I decided to share my thoughts with you:

•    making moonshine in your own home is a small hobby; you do not need to invest lots of money, nor would you feel the pressure of taking it to a bigger level at some point. It is your hobby and that’s it

•    you are happy with it because you have something to do when you are at home - something which relaxes you -, as you can always find and implement new ideas or recipes, as well as you can also be creative (like take a recipe and change some of its ingredients, such as putting raspberry instead of watermelon)

•    it doesn’t do harm; unlike other hobbies, it does not put you in the danger of becoming so addicted to it that it would have a disastrous effect on your relationship with family and friends or it would ruin your work performance

•    there is some tradition behind this hobby that gives you the satisfaction that you are taking up a passion which is old and has been shared with generations; basically, you feel connected with your ancestors

•    speaking about sharing and connection, this hobby can also be a family hobby; imagine you seeing your father as he was making his own moonshine or looking, curiously, as your daddy was working his own magic with a pot. Or, perhaps, your grandfather used to take you, during those summer breaks spent with him, back to the place where he put his whiskey still and show you how he made this drink he was so proud of. He would show you something that was of great importance to you and, as a child, this will always leave an imprint on your memory, as a bonding moment between the two of you. But, perhaps, the best is when you manage to create moonshine together with your father and/or grandfather, laughing, exchanging opinions and enjoying the time you spend together. Hence, making moonshine is also a family activity. One which you can also share with your children, just like your parents or grandparents shared with you

•    this can also be a way of bonding with friends; you decide on a night or day during the week when you and your friends get together, prepare food, chat, laugh and make moonshine in the same time. The drink thus made will have a taste like no other, because it was made by all of you, together.

•    you mix ingredients like you did in your physics or chemistry lab back in school and this is both adventurous and fun, and it makes you feel that you are doing something which gives you a good feeling and is useful (as you actually do drink the moonshine)

•    most of us like authenticity, and the best way to be sure of one is by making our own stuff; hence, by taking up this hobby, you do not just craft something, you make something truly authentic

So, I think it’s fair to agree that making moonshine at home is one awesome hobby!

How to Find Out If Your Moonshine Alcohol Is Any Good

Making moonshine alcohol is a fun hobby, it can involve the whole family (or just be a “father and son” or “father, son and grandson” activity) or it can involve some friends. Making your own moonshine alcohol can introduce you to a whole community of people who have the same passion like you, one that does not create damage, is interesting and does not require a big financial investment.

However, if you want to properly enjoy your homemade moonshine, then you need to pay attention to how you prepare it, as well as to the ways to test your moonshine and see if it’s any good.

Hence, before making the moonshine alcohol, you need to be careful to the next safety tips:

•    Always use a pure copper moonshine still. Using copper is not just a traditional way of making moonshine, but it has huge benefits such as absorbing syntheses with sulfur, reducing bacterial contamination, has great heat transfer properties and increases the entire quality of the product.

•    Always use a solder without lead. Lead can cause health problems and, once in your organism, it is very hard to eliminate. Try a silver solder instead, for example.

•    Always use natural ingredients (water, sugar, yeast).

•    Make sure your moonshine still is very well sealed. Clean it with some water before using it, as this way you can also see if there are any leaks to it which might allow the alcohol vapor to escape, thus wasting your time and money. If, however, you notice a leak during the process, try to seal it with flour paste (which is the best sealing material). If, you cannot do that, consider that the leak is still not very well sealed or find other leaks, then stop everything and do not start again until you repair your leak(s).

•    Always use a collection pot made of glass, never of plastic and preferably of small mouth. And remember to place this vessel away from any fire or other form of heat.

•    Always dispose of the first bit of moonshine, in order to avoid contamination with methanol (which has a lower boiling point than ethanol). Contagion with methanol can be noticed by the bad smell and taste of your moonshine and needs to be avoided, since it is toxic.

Now, if you successfully made your moonshine alcohol, here are is how you properly ensure that the process went well and that you, in fact, made good moonshine:

1.    First, smell it. If you notice a weird, chemical odor, do not drink it and proceed to the second step.

2.    The best test is the spoon one. No matter if your moonshine smells or not weird, this test needs to be done: put some moonshine in a spoon and light it on fire. If your alcohol is:

a)    Red: there is lead in it, so do not drink it.

b)    Yellow: you risk getting blind, so not drink it.

c)    Blue: best color to get, as it means you achieved your purpose of making good, safe, moonshine alcohol.

d)    If it has no color: basically, if it does not burn, then your process did not go as scheduled and you obtained some liquidwhich is not proper moonshine. Again, do not drink it.

There are no better ways to create proper moonshine alcohol than to respect the above advices and to always trust the spoon test, which will never fail.


Homemade Wine Recipes – A Small Guide

An acquaintance of mine asked me recently if I know any tips on good homemade wine recipes. Now, I love whiskey, which I consider one a fine drink, highly enjoyable no matter the day or celebration you have in mind. However, my acquaintance’s question made me realise that I am surrounded not only by a lot of people with a passion for whiskey – just like me -, but also by people who like to drink wine once in a while.

Hence, this made me think that wine making in your own home can be quite rewarding, too, as this is an equally good hobby and you get to do something that you like and makes you happy. Furthermore, it is a way of relaxing yourself after a tiresome day at work, a way of making something special that helps you feel good and can be enjoyed with friends and family. I remember how some of my friends used to tell me about their passion for moonshine which started with their fathers or grandfathers working their magic with a whiskey still. Hence, I realized that similar passions can start in similar ways.

So, now I am going to give you a good, quite simple, homemade wine recipe to think about and to fully enjoy in your home. First, you will need to get:

•    a container for storing the juice blend

•    a good jug where to keep the juice for fermentation (preferably glass one)

•    a hand press (or, electrical juicer, if you prefer to do it faster)

•    fruits: 1.5 kg (red or white grapes are preferred, but, you can mix various type of fruits, if you feel like; whatever makes the taste most special to you is acceptable)

•    sugar (the quantity can vary, up to 1.5 kg, depending on how sweet you want the wine to be)

•    yeast: 15 grams (used to transform the sugar into alcohol during the fermentation process)

Once you have all these prepped, you can proceed to making the wine:

1.    First, you need to press the fruits. 

2.    Add the sugar while also bearing in mind that the quantity of sugar used will also determine the alcohol content, not only the sweetness of your drink.

3.    Put yeast.

4.    Put all of these ingredients in the fermentation jug and wait, around 6 months, preferably, for the wine to be produced. You can wait up to a year, too, no problem.

5.    Do not forget to check your juice every day, for the first 15 days, at least, and to stir, easily, with a wooden spoon.

6.    Once you are sure the wine has fermented well, you can store it in a bottle and cork it, for 14 days max (but avoid places where it is too cold).

After you have done all these steps, your wine is good to drink.
This is one of the easiest homemade wine recipes to follow; however, you can modify some of the quantities and ingredients, as long as you know that the recipe will work. My advice to you would be: if you find something which is good and you like the end product, stick with it.


Making Some Easy Moonshine Recipe

I always think what I can do with my still, what new moonshine recipe to put in practice. And, whenever I have such thoughts, I generally start browsing on the internet for new recipes or ask some friends.

So, as I was talking with another whiskey passionate like me, I realized that I do not necessarily need to try a complicated recipes. Sometimes, the simple ones are the best. I mean, I love apple pie moonshine and that is quite easy to make. But I also go for more complicated recipes, as long as they sound good and I like the taste. After all, for me this is all a passion. I can do a recipe if it makes me feel good and I really feel like I want to try that. Playing around with my moonshine still is fun enough for me.

Luckily, I remembered that while browsing on the internet a couple of months ago, I came across a very simple recipe which allows me to customize it as I wish.

The main ingredients are the following

•    sugar (white is recommended, but you can also use brown): 5kg

•    boiling water: 10L

•    fruit juice: 8L

Now, for this recipe you will need a 5 gallon still in order to mix all of these ingredients.

Quite simple, as I said; which is the first reason why I like it. The second is the possibility to put it any juice that I want. I wanted to make things a bit more fun, so I tried some pineapple one once. I realized while I was picking my juice that I do not want to make it too sweet, so I put less sugar (around 4kg instead of 5). Good decision, as the taste was really delicious! And, because the recipe is really easy to make and can be customized (and I was quite proud of my first attempt), I tried two more times. So, I once put some pear juice in it, while keeping the original quantities of every ingredient. Once again, the flavor was as expected, meaning really good. And, the second time I decided to go with some classic apple juice, but, replaced white sugar with brown one; hence, I added only 4.5 kg of sugar, instead of 5. And, once more, the taste was great.

So, trying a rather easy moonshine recipe feels well, especially if you can customize it. And, as far as flavors go, I can tell you that mixing exotic zests from time to time is good. But, although I liked all three flavors, somehow, the one with pear juice was more to my taste.

Top Moonshine Recipes

Apple Pie Moonshine


I always like to look for new flavors, combinations and mixtures to blend in my whiskey still; this is probably one of the reasons I always react instantly and pay attention when I hear people talking about moonshine recipes or when I read something related. What can I say? I always try to perfect my skills and to get the best out of my still and my moonshine, as well.

So, a week ago I discovered one recipe I heard about long time ago, but which I almost forgot: apple pie moonshine. Now, I think we all agree apple is a great fruit: it’s healthy and it tastes good. On top of that, who can say now to apple pie? So, why should a moonshine recipe based on the classic apple pie be any different?

Answer: it is not. On the contrary, the apple pie has a wonderful taste that makes one think about that time when you were a kid and you would pick apples from the orchard or look at your grandmother as she was preparing a good apple pie. Oh, the smell of pie fresh out of the Owen....

But, coming back to reality, apple pie moonshine is one recipe which is easy to make. All your need are the following 5 ingredients:

·         apple cider (1 gallon)

·         apple juice (1 gallon)

·         white sugar (3 cups ; you can replace with brown sugar, if you prefer)

·         cinnamon sticks (around 8 pieces is the best, thou it depends on your tolerance to this spice)

·         190 proof moonshine / grain alcohol (1 liter)

Now, once you have all this ingredients set up in the kitchen, you can take a large pot and put in all the ingredients, except the moonshine. Boil this combination of apple cider and juice, along with the sugar and cinnamon sticks, and then give it enough time to cool down. And now comes the really fun part: mix all the alcohol with the boiled mixture, preferably at room temperature, and stir until all is blended in. Next, I would advise you to put the drink into jars (jars are the best, trust me), with the lid on and just leave it like this for at least a couple of weeks. However, if you are really curious how it tastes (especially if this is the first time you do a moonshine recipe) you can try it straightway; but, from experience, I can tell you that the best taste comes after you let every ingredient sink a while.

If you think the quantity might be a bit too much for you, then, feel free to dose everything in half. As long as you follow the indications you will have no problem and you will enjoy a smooth, wonderful taste.

Hope you’ll enjoy this recipe and let me know how did it make you feel (I refuse to believe I am the only one nostalgic about good old times and tastes of true apple pies). In return, I promise to continue my search for good moonshine recipes, which, of course, I will share with you.  

What are the world's top whiskey regions?

There are approximately five to seven regions in the world that are popularly known to distill whiskey in a copper whiskey still. However, this number is not definite as distillers crop up and disappear as demand for whiskey and people’s need for it fluctuates.

The following are popular regions best known by most whiskey enthusiasts

Bourbon County, Kentucky USA

 It is not a strict requirement for Bourbon to be distilled solely in Kentucky. However, the aptly called Bourbon County has first dibs on the name.  Plus,  the region possesses the most pure limestone thereby allowing water to be filtered excellently. It is this same water that is included in the Bourbon mixture and which produces the region’s excellent-tasting drink.

 

Bourbon from this county is sweeter compared to other kinds of whiskies since it comes from locally made corn.


Image source: http://www.visitlex.com/idea/bourbon.php 

 

 Ireland

Irish Whiskey shop in Ireland

Whether it is in Ireland where the very first whiskey was created is highly debatable. The Scots would convince you it is they who are the original creators of whiskey but the Persians would say the same thing when asked.

However, most Irish people believe that it’s their monks who distilled, or more specifically, triple-distilled whiskey using pure malted barley as the selected grain.

Popular Irish whiskey products include Michael Collins, Bushmill’s, Jameson’s, Power’s.

Taste-wise, the Irish claim that their whiskey does not taste smoky since malted barley is dried inside closed ovens and is not subject to smoke.

Image source:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/ivanwalsh/2678844749/

Scotland

Whiskey Warehouse in Bowmore

It is very rare for whiskey to not be called Scotch. The Scots have declared any and all Scotch Whiskey products as exclusively produced and bottled in Scotland. 

 

However, history shows that whiskey was not a product that was officially recognized in Scotland until the Union. Records indicate that Scotland only began to appreciate whiskey due to 1707’s Act of Union when Wales, England and Scotland were combined to the UK. The government of London then taxed any whiskey made in Scotland and cut any taxes placed on the English gin. The move helped increase the number of illegal distillers. Believe it or not, there were approximately 400 illegal stills in Edinburgh back in the day and only 8 licensed stills were in operation.

Compare the year of the Union Act to the time distillation was being done back in Ireland during 1590 when they were already distilling spirits from malt. Similarly, legend claims that it was Irish monks who introduced whiskey to the Scots. The taste of Scotch whiskey is smoky mainly due to the barley dried on peat fire.

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zong_yu/7791257912/

Canada

Canadian Club Mad Men Party

Whiskey made from Canada is distilled many times with the use of malted rye. Back in the 1950’s, the most popular whiskey is “Canadian Club.” It is said to be the sole North American distiller that was given a Royal Warrant. Currently, it is enjoying the fame it is experiencing as Don Draper’s drink of choice in the TV series Mad Men.

 

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rickchung/8073209673/

Tennessee, USA

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey

Currently, there are two brands of whiskey being produced in Tennessee: George Dickel and Jack Daniel’s. Tennessee whiskey goes through a filtering process after being distilled in a copper whiskey still. The technique is referred to as the Lincoln County process wherein whiskey passes through maple charcoal prior to it being placed in charred new oak barrels to be aged. It has been said that this technique helps improve whiskey’s flavor.

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nigelbewley/8256748745/

What are common whiskey myths?

 

Copper Whiskey Stills

Americans say “whiskey,” the Scotch claim it’s “whisky.”  Is there a difference?

Those who buy copper still and produce their own spirits might not know that the word “whisky” comes  from the Scottish Gaelic term `uisge beatha’ which literally means ‘water of life.’  When used by the Scotch, `whisky’ exclusively refers to alcoholic beverages that are Scotland-inspired.  When used by the Americans, “whiskey” could refer to rye, bourbon, Scotch and other beverages that are distilled from grain mash.

In whatever the way the word is spelled, whiskey is a general term to refer to distilled spirits derived from a mash of fermented grains.

Essentially, whether whiskey is written with an e or with no e, the term carries with it myths waiting to be proven as true or debunked – the following are but a few.

 

Myth 1: Dark whiskey is better than pale whiskey

Dark whiskey doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good whiskey the same way that pale-colored whiskey may or may not be equal to it being a lousy drink – despite drinkers in the Asian region thinking this way. Be aware that color is not a reliable indicator of an alcoholic beverage’s quality. Numerous whiskey brands utilize no-flavor caramel in spirits to darken its color and maintain the color consistency of all batches. Pale whiskey could even be more robust than a dark-colored whiskey, e.g. Cutty Sark.

Myth 2: All whiskey should be consumed straight

Who said that whiskey must be drunk straight? Maybe it was a dare concocted up by a group of drunks in a bar to a novice whiskey drinker as their way of initiating newbies in the world of alcohol.

In reality, whiskey must be enjoyed anyway you want whether it is with ice, straight, with soda, green tea or coconut water, etc. Whatever floats your boat, drink it. However, in order to fully appreciate whiskey, don’t put ice on it. Better yet, add a tad of water. Doing so helps open up the whiskey’s aroma and allows you to taste it’s full-bodied goodness.

Myth 3: High-priced whiskies means they are of high quality

This is not a fact. Quality depends on one’s unique personal taste. A drink’s price is not a guarantee it will be liked or appreciated. A whiskey’s high cost only reflects its rarity and how long a certain distillery held the whiskey as well as how it was marketed and packaged. But if you shelled tons of money for a drink, your head could make you believe it was all worth it – even if your palate says otherwise.

Myth 4: A whiskey’s age indicates its quality

Whiskies that are aged older does not always taste better. There is also a restriction to the duration a spirit could age. When a whiskey is aged for an unnecessarily too long a time, its character gets overwhelmed by the flavors from the wood casks they are placed in. However, some believe that a whiskey’s age justifies the price they paid to acquire it. 

Myth 5: All whiskey products tastes the same

This is not a fact specially if you ask experts and enthusiasts. Do not forget that there are a slew of factors that influence a whiskey’s flavor profile. These include grain, geography, source of water, production process and techniques, management of casks as well as maturation.

The best way to fully enjoy the nuances of whiskey, whether you buy copper still to make your own spirit or if you purchase a bottle commercially, is to attend tastings. It is through these that one gets to know the subtle differences, similarities and diversity of this spirit.

 

Frequently Asked Questions about a Moonshine Still Kit

Frequently Asked Questions about a Moonshine Still Kit

Is it easy to distill using a moonshine still kit?

The quick and simple answer to this question is yes. The process of distilling is easy as long as you can follow instructions and have the patience to operate a still and watch it consistently until the run or the distillation process is complete. It is important to never leave a still unguarded.

Is it legal to distill using a moonshine still kit?

Unless you are in New Zealand, distilling is illegal everywhere else. Punishment for illegal distillation range from fines, imprisonment to flogging. Always be aware of the rules and regulations within your locality. Similarly, be aware of the consequences of your actions.


In this documentary called “The Last One,” Popcorn Sutton shows the traditional way of making moonshine.


Can distilling cause blindness?

The pervasive belief that moonshine can cause blindness is mainly due to actual cases where methanol was present in the distillate. Methanol or wood alcohol poisons the optic nerve and could be present in tiny amounts. Fortunately, methanol could be discarded and segregated.

Poisoning only occurs when the fermentation and distillation process was done sloppily. It also occurs when adulterants such as antifreeze and battery acid were placed in the still.

Can distilling cause fires?

It is fact that distilling, specially indoors, is a fire hazard. Thus it is a must that a still be always guarded. Do not forget that alcohol vapor is extremely flammable. The instance a moonshine still has leaks, alcohol vapor could easily escape. Methanol flames are invisible and one realizes its combustive property only when a still explodes or you see items melting. If a moonshine still kit has leaks, it needs to be properly repaired and soldered before use. A fire extinguisher must also be readily accessible nearby.

The below video shows methanol burning in the absence of visible flames.


 

What can a moonshine still do?

A moonshine still can be used to make whiskey, moonshine, vodka, gin or rum. It could also be used to distill water or essential oils.

Is there a type of still that can remove a distillate’s off-taste?

Regardless of the moonshine still kit used, the off-taste present in a distillate could be due to cogeners, fusel oils or impurities. At times, these contaminants have a wet cardboard smell. Usually, they are also present when a pot still is used. It is therefore advisable to use a taller column as well as increase the quantity of reflux. Similarly, it helps if the still is made from copper. It has been seen that copper assists in catalyzing sulphur, organic acids and esters thereby reducing a distillate’s off odor and taste.

Is it easy to make a moonshine still kit?

It is easier to purchase a moonshine still than make one. However, one does not need a moonshine still in order to distill alcohol. Basic kitchen tools and equipments could be used to make an improvised still. Either way, whether a still is bought or made, one must have patience to go through the actual distillation process. 

Who's making moonshine

Gone are the days when the likes of Popcorn Sutton or any bib-overalls wearing moonshiner distilled alcohol up in `dem der hills.’

 

 

 

Currently, 20-year olds and 30-year olds enjoy the process of distillation in the comfort of their own homes. These home distillers buy moonshine still online and enjoy the process for its own sake. A select few distill because they are intent to make high-end quality whiskey.

 

ReFLUX STILL

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/54396803@N05/6348653328/in/photostream/

In an article on the website Chow.com, a 28-year old Culinary school graduate and café manager shares his passion – but not his real name for fear of federal prosecution (today’s version of revenuers) – for home brewing.

Technically, moonshine stills are not illegal as they could be used for general distilling, e,g. essential oils or water.  However, in the absence of an appropriate permit, distilling alcohol is illegal. Yet this fact did not stop suburban dwellers from doing their own distilling. Mostly, these enthusiasts are similarly interested in fine food and a good drink.

The changing mindset and demographic also shows a change in how distillation is done. No longer are car radiators used in the process. Campfires are not anymore considered as a reliable heat source.

The current generation of moonshiners learn distilling through online forums, websites, books and word-of-mouth usually from friends. No recipe is passed down from one generation of moonshiners to the next. Moonshine recipes are simply downloaded online, googled or shared via email. There are those who experiment using absinthe, brandy or anything else that is unconventional yet safe and not lethal.

Distilling conferences held in Cornell University focus on commercial distillers and dedicated moonshiners who are happy to do their distilling privately. These moonshiners also have the freedom to craft their own whiskey, brandy or drink.

For instance, this manufacturing company owner based in Chicago – Carl Pincher – happily makes his own apple brandy using his own homemade 32-quart pot still. He also uses tips he culled from the internet and advice he received from a friend who makes cherry schnapps. Pincher admits he merely dabbles but he looks forward to a time when he could make a seriously delectable and drinkable concoction.

The new breed of home distillers believe that distilling as an illegal activity is simply “stupid.”

Cooking school instructor Ben Andrews distills brandy via a rotary evaporator and believes that his efforts are a “labor of love.” Other hobbyists believe that those who think distilling is risky simply base their information on unsafe practices and old tales of stills that blew up.

However, this possibility does not occur as long as common sense is used. According to Lance Winters, Hangar One’s head distiller based in Emeryville California, the distillation process doesn’t put anyone’s life and limb at risk. Any hazard is due to the heat source used.

Urban home distillers swear by the fact that they are not doing this for the money but simply to further their art and craft. They could only wonder why that would even be considered a crime?

Moonshine Equipment

What you need to know about different kinds of moonshine equipment

In choosing the proper moonshine equipment, always value quality. Other than the common equipments described in this blog, the following are other kinds of alcohol-distillation-related tools you can use to either make moonshine or keep your still consistently functioning.

Propane burner

Propane burner 

 

 

In order to make your moonshine mash boil faster, you need an effective heat source. Specifically, you need a propane burner that could manage 25-gallon stills. As much as possible, choose one that provides reliable cooking when distilling outdoors. There are portable burners which could be used in backyard parties, tailgating and camping. Cookers need to be specially designed for safety, function and strength. It is advisable for the burner to have a 10 PSI regulator which could reach 55,000 BTUs.

Turbo Yeast

Turbo pure yeast 

 

 

Turbo yeasts are able to ferment sugar to a wash that is high in alcohol. Always choose yeast that is designed to perform under various conditions. Turbo consists of a mixture of alcohol tolerant yeast and complex nutrients that ferments grain or pure sugar to alcohol. Turbo yeast allows 50% to 100% more alcohol compared to baker’s yeast. It also produces less volatiles compared to baker’s yeast.

Copper cream

You need copper cream to clean off dirt and residue from your copper still or cookware thus restoring its color and shine. Choose a copper cream that is free from odor and acts fast. Copper cream helps remove any discoloration due to food spills, high heat and natural oxidation. Decent copper creams are easy to apply and could be completely rinsed off.

 

Whiskey Boiler

Whiskey Boilers

Choose a boiler that has a polished mirror both inside and out. As much as possible, opt for one that allows cleaning without at all removing the distillation column. A boiler or a pot is a container where a mash is initially heated or cooked. Be aware that specific boilers are created to be only used with direct heat. There are also boilers which will not work with gas, steam or oil because of insulation.

 

 

Moonshine Still

Moonshine Still 

 

The best moonshine still carries the traditional onion or turnip shape body and has the capacity to distill scotch, whiskey, moonshine, vodka, cognac, tequ or schnapps. The still must also be soldered with the use of brass wire welds and tin-silver. Also, the soldering and welding process must be free from lead.

Take note that old stills were conventionally made using hammered copper sheets that were soldered and riveted together. Metal skills are essential to make caps, boilers and coiled copper condensers.

As much as possible, purchase moonshine stills that have a sixty-day money-back guarantee and a two-year warranty that covers manufacturing defects. When stills are well taken cared of, they could last a lifetime. 

All in all, before you decide to purchase any moonshine equipment, ensure that you choose those that will serve your needs and preferences. The equipments must also be of excellent craftsmanship and allow you to make the best distilled product. 

What is the History of Moonshine Laws?

Before alcohol was outlawed during The Prohibition, native American Indian tribes have long been producing alcoholic drinks from native plants. (2)

Scottish monks, as early as 1100 A.D., were already concocting a high-alcoholic beverage referred to in Latin as aquae vitae or ”breath of life” which later became popularly known on as Scottish Whiskey. (9)

Private alcohol stills has also been in existence prior to the creation of the US Constitution. (10)

Much earlier, specifically at the onset of civilization, fermented alcoholic beverages have been created as an alternative to unsuitable drinking water. (10)


Cultural history reveals that alcoholic drinks and its public consumption served as a means to communicate ideas, news or interact with strangers during an age where the travel of information was slow. Sharing a drink and an informative conversation with people was savored and consuming alcoholic beverages was an integral part of this process.

So how and when was the production of alcohol deemed illicit?

 

The Origin of Moonshining Laws

Moonshining is the process of manufacturing illegal alcohol. As seen from the historical records below, the journey of outlawing the production of alcohol was gradual and took centuries to implement. Even with existing laws to curb its creation, it is impossible to distill the human spirit's need for distilled spirits. 

1600-1700

Records from the Virginia Colonial Assembly in 1629 details specific rules to curb excess alcohol consumption and its associated “evils.” 

"Ministers shall not give themselves to excess in drinkinge, or riott, or spending their tyme idellye day or night,"

In 1637, Massachusetts ordered that no person shall remain in any tavern "longer than necessary occasions"

Plymouth Colony in 1633 prohibited the sale of spirits "more than 2 pence worth to anyone but strangers just arrived" 


The presentation of a permit to sell liquor took effect in 1633 at the Massachusetts Colony.

Drunken behavior were also slapped with fines.

However, these did not lessen the riotous behavior which resulted from alcohol use as indicated by a journal entry from an annoyed traveler named Sarah Kemble Knight. 

I could get no sleep, because of the Clamor of some of the Town Tope-ers in the next room.... I heartily fretted & wish't 'am tongue tyed.... They kept calling for Tother Gill, Wch while they were swallowing, was some Intermission, But presently, like Oyle to fire, encreased the flame 


1700-1800

When it was seen that alcoholic consumption is difficult to control, a John Wesley declared in 1773 that distilling is a sin and so advocated for its Prohibition. (11)

Also, a document dated 1730 details the British Government’s aversion to alcoholic beverage by suggesting the negative ways it affects the human body, society and the economy.

  "that the landed interest suffers greatly by the distilling of spirituous liquors; the malignant effects they (alcoholic beverages)have upon human bodies; and the several disorders and immoralities occasioned by this sort of excess…`all manners of vice increases, such as murders, robberies, and firing of houses’ and alcohol delivers `dreadful consequences to the female sex and their unhappy children’”. 

The same document also describes how farmers cultivated more ingredients for the production of alcohol than for basic food items such as bread. It asserts that the more people drink, the less they will consume food therefore there will be less demand for edible goods resulting to less tax revenue collected by the government from food producers. This viewpoint later gave way to the creation of the 1736 Gin Tax.

The Gin Tax was the British government's way to not necessarily discourage alcoholic drinking but to partake in the increase in sales of gin. However, the Gin Tax did not curb people's consumption of alcohol. It only discouraged the purchase of licenses to sell gin as people opted to buy illegally in the black market where no taxes are involved.


After the United States declared its independence from Britain, the newly formed American government followed the British way of placing federal tax on liquors and spirits in order to pay for the costs of fighting a lengthy war. Displeased with the turn of events, farmers and moonshiners continued on producing whisky completely disregarding the tax they ought to pay. "Revenuers" or federal agents who came to collect were attacked.


In 1794, disgruntled citizens rebelling against the new government battled with George Washington's militiamen in what is termed as the Whisky Rebellion. The moonshiners lost, their mob was dispersed, their leaders were captured but moonshining continued on. 

Even George Washington moonshined in the privacy of his own home. He instructed his farm manager James Anderson:

"I consent to you commencing a distillery, and approve of you purchasing the still, and I shall not object to your converting part of the coopers shop at the mill for this operation"¹.

"The whiskey that Washington produced at that time would be less like today's whiskeys and more like a "moonshine" type of beverage, which was extremely strong. This "white lightning" accounted for approximately 90% of Washington's whiskey sales¹."

Coincidentally, White Lightning is the title of a film Burt Reynolds starred in which features him as an outlawed Moonshiner.


White Lightning never strikes twice because once is enough.



1800-1900

The 1860s saw Moonshiners working with the Ku Klux Klan to fight against the excise tax being collected by the government to fund the Civil War. Efforts of the moonshiners to attack officials of the IRS as well as intimidate locals who are predisposed to give the locations of stills increased.

It was also during the 1800s when the term "Demon Rum" was coined by physician and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush.


The 20th century

The early 20th century was a golden age for moonshiners despite laws which banned the outright sales and consumption of alcohol. Thanks to the Prohibition imposed in the 1920s where no legal alcohol was made available, demand for moonshine soared. 

However, the demand for moonshine decreased in 1933 when the Prohibition was repealed. 


Current Moonshine Laws By State

It is illegal to distill alcohol in homes as federal law demands that one secure a permit prior to distilling alcohol. However, licensed distilleries produce Moonshine and pay the required state and federal taxes upon its production.

Moonshiners still operate to this day. According to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission's chief law enforcement officer Mark Hutchens, moonshine is still being made and the market is made up of "good ol’ fellas who are having fun with it more than anything else.."


Moonshine has been around since man craved for a concoction more powerful than water to quench his thirst. As time has shown, it will never lose its appeal.


"Moonshine to quench the devil’s thirst"

 

Actor Robert Mitchum plays a moonshine runner dodging US Treasury Agents in the movie Thunder Road.



References:

*1 http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/edible-innovations/moonshine4.htm

*2   http://www.soc.umn.edu/~samaha/bill_of_rights/case%20materials/miller/miller_background.pdf.

*3http://www.moonshiner28.com/moonshiner28_history.html

 

*4http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonshine

 

*5 http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=91768&page=1#.UKAp0c073v4

*6 http://www.marketwatch.com/story/moonshine-goes-legit-still-has-whiff-of-danger-2012-08-22

 

*7 http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/28/us-southcarolina-moonshine-idUSTRE76R7ZA20110728

 

*8 http://www.discus.org/heritage/distillery_faq/

*9 http://www.winehouse.co/food-drink/spirits-liquers/making-whisky-in-1100-a-d

*10 http://voices.yahoo.com/alcohol-early-america-its-relationship-the-239717.html?cat=37

*11 http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/studies/nc/nc2a.htm


How to Prepare Mash

AMOUNT

Use this ratio – 2 to 4 grams of dried yeast for every gallon of mash. The foamy, rocky head of yeast called kraeusen, should form during the first four hours of fermentation. It could lag up to 24 hours which should be fine. You have to pitch in some more yeast if it takes longer than a day to form.

The “100 grams of dry yeast per 5 gallons” rule only applies to a pure sugar mash where you aim to turn it into vodka or as a base spirit for liquors. Fermenting a wort with more than 4 grams of yeast per gallon will effect undesirable sulfur flavors that can be difficult to get rid of.

However, take note that over pitching would be preferable than under pitching yeast. Over pitching can get you some off flavors but they can be eliminated with a lot of copper exposure and secondary ferment. While, under pitching results to a long lag time that makes the mash at risk of contamination.

NUTRIENTS

During the fermentation, we want to keep the yeast happy so it can make the most out of our sugar. So we keep them fed and provided with proper nutrition. By saying that, nitrogen must be present! DAP (Diammonium phosphate) is usually used as yeast nutrient. Ammonium salts or ammonia are also great sources of nitrogen. A sugar wash typically needs 2 ml. of ammonia per liter of mash.

Also, do not supply the yeast with excessive nutrients, it won’t push them to work faster anyway. It might even kill them.

pH

 Your yeast requires a slightly acidic environment to survive and multiply, which also helps restrain bacterial contaminants. It is advisable to maintain the mash a pH of about 4.0-4.5 before fermentation. Citric or lactic acids will help you do that. Lemon juice can be a great and cheap alternative! You can always double-check the pH using pH papers.

TEMPERATURE

Temperature is another key to successful alcohol yield. At some point, the temperature the yeast is submitted can degrade the flavor of the final distillate. When using ale yeast to make whiskey, the temperature should be between 60 to 70 F. Lower than this range will hold back the yeast from converting sugar which makes the mash at risk of infection. Higher temperature will effect stress reactions on the yeast that causes higher alcohol formation and ester. The result is an undesirable solvent-like flavor that can sting the taste of the final alcohol.

Regulating the temperature in cooler environments can be quite difficult to do. A few tricks you can do:

  • Using a water bed heating pad, wrap the fermenter around and attach the thermostat to the side of it. Wrap them all up with a blanket.
  • Keep the mash vessel inside a hot water cupboard.
  • Submerged the fermenter in a drum filled with warm water and then secure an immersion heater to keep the water warm.

       

Source: homedistiller.org

 

Making Moonshine - Is It Easy?

As long as you can get past the legal impediments, making Moonshine is actually a breeze.
 
But first, know the safety issues you need to consider:
 
*   There is a possibility of poisoning yourself with lethal oils or contaminants IF these are not discarded during the process of distillation or IF temperature control is not properly maintained.
 
*  Lead contamination is also a likelihood IF metal components, welding metal parts or unsuitable materials such as car radiators are used as these could infiltrate the distillate with lead (fortunately, lead could be easily filtered out from the concoction). 
 
 
Now the ingredients
 
Common ingredients used to make Moonshine include sugar, corn and rye. 
 
For this recipe to be easy, you can use readily available ingredients such as sugar water and yeast.
 
Sugar water could be had by dissolving 3 pounds of sugar in a gallon water. Feel free to change the amount however you see fit. 
 
A packet of 48 Hours Turbo Yeast could be conveniently purchased online.
 
 
Step 1: Ferment
 
Pour the sugar water into a big glass carboy.  Throw in the yeast.  Then, make sure to cap the carboy with a tightly sealed airlock. 
 
Next step is to wait. The idea is to allow the yeast to eat the sugar. This process could take a week or two. Also, the mixture is excreting carbon dioxide and alcohol. Once bubbles stop forming, consider the process done. 
 
 
NOTE:  
 
Make sure all the equipment you use is clean as the tiniest contamination could result to bad Moonshine. 
 
Half-fill the airlock with water to avoid foreign materials from entering. 
 
The fermentation period depends on the quantity of sugar used and air temperature. 
 
 
Step 2: Distill
 
The fermented mixture needs to be distilled via a still. 
 
Pot stills are advisable as impurities could easily enter during the distillation process thus giving the product a more full-bodied flavor. 
 
Fill up the boiler, put it on a heat source and assemble together the still. 
 
Turn on the heat source until it reaches the boiling point of Ethanol (approximately 78C or 173F). 
 
If any liquid enters the still prior to reaching the target temperature, discard it. Doing so removes any Methanol alcohol (which has a boiling temperature of 64C or 148F).
 
 
 
Step 3: Polish
 
Moonshine could be polished using activated carbon. Doing so helps remove organic pollutants, colors, odors, fusil oils and toxic compounds. 
 
Run the moonshine one to three times through the filtering tower.
 
Then, bottle it, drink it and enjoy its clear liquid goodness. 
 
NOTE: 
 
If you want to remove hair, grit and impurities from the Moonshine, filter it through charcoal.
 
For an inexpensive, safe and thorough way to make your own Moonshine download this useful Starter Guide.
 
 
 
 
 
The X's usually seen on Moonshine bottles indicate the number of times it was distilled.
 
 
 

How to Polish Your Copper Pot Still

Copper materials naturally tarnish with time and use, you'll notice that their surfaces turn dark russet-brown in color. The tarnishing effect even hastens when copper is exposed to humid and changing temperature conditions. In the case of cookwares, copper pots for instance, subjecting them to open flame or heat accelerates the tarnishing process. Regularly cleaning them prevents discoloration.

Cleaning copper can be done in a number of ways, we found a quick and easy technique that will keep your copper moonshine stills shine. Everything you need is right in your kitchen!

Materials

¼ cup fine salt

¼ cup all purpose flour

white vinegar

mixing bowl

a soft rag 

Instructions

  • Begin by combining salt and flour.
  • Make a paste by gradually adding vinegar and mixing them together.
  • Smear the paste over the tarnished areas of the copper using a cloth or soft rag until it  shines.
  • Rinse with water and dry.

 

 Copper creams are also an excellent tool! They can easily clean and restore the color and shine of your copper still.

What is the process of distilling wine?

For avid hobbyists, the fun doesn't stop after they get wine, some wish to distill it so they would enjoy a higher proof alcohol. Wines, since they're made from grapes, are made as fruit washes to make brandy, cognac and grappa. Here are some information about beverages that are produced from distilling wine.

BRANDY

Typically taken as an after-dinner drink, it's named is derived from Dutch brandewijn  meaning "burnt wine". Brandy usually contains 35–60% alcohol by volume (70–120 proof). Its distinctive nutty brownish color and flavor is achieved by aging in wooden casks (usually oak) while some are simply coloured with caramel colouring to imitate the effect of such aging.

Brandy is best drunk when cooled, it produces a fuller and smoother mouthfeel and less of a "burning" sensation. It also gives more pleasant aroma at a lower temperature.

GRAPPA

The beverage is made by distilling the grape skins, pulp, seeds, and stems (pomace) left over from wine-making. Grappa has an alcohol content between 35%–60% (70 to 120 proof). It can only be called Grappa (as the name is so protected) if it is produced in Italy (where it originated), or in the Italian part of Switzerland, or in San Marino.

The distillation process occurs on solids and is carried out by steam distillation to avoid burning the pomace. The grapes' stems and seeds and a sugar-rich juice are fermented together which may produce a very small amount of methanol. Of course, methanol is carefully removed during distillation.

COGNAC

Cognac is a variety of brandy named after the town Cognac in France where it's largely produced. For a distilled brandy to bear the name Cognac, French legislation has set some production method requirements. It must be made from specific varieties of grapes, must be double distilled in copper alembic stills and aged for at least two years in oak casks.

During the production, the grapes are pressed and the obtained juice is left to ferment with the native's wild yeasts converting the sugar into alcohol. After 2-3 weeks of fermenting, the resulting wine is about 7 to 8% alcohol. This wine can be really undrinkable, it is very dry, acidic, and thin, but is excellent for distillation and aging.

ARMAGNAC 

This is a type of brandy produced in the Armagnic region of southwest France. It's made from distilling wine fermented from different grape varieties including Baco 22AColombard, and Ugni Blanc. The beverage is distilled once in a column still rather than a pot still which is used in making Cognac. A less smooth distillate is achieved after distillation however, the long aging in oak barrels develops more aromatic compounds that contribute to a more improved and complex flavor of the spirit. Aging in wooden casks also gives its caramel-like color.


Source: wikipedia.org, makingwhiskeyathome.wordpress.com

 

What are fruit mashes made of?

The alcohol you sip, you enjoy and can even get you troublesome is apparently made from a very junior mix, that you wouldn’t imagine could punch you to sleep. It all started from a combination of sugar and water plus a toss of yeast, then fermented and distilled.

If you decide to produce your own alcohol, you can joggle through several recipes and ingredients. Your output depends on what ingredients you will use and how you decide to run your moonshine still. What’s most important is your sugar source, here’s a table of typical fruits use to extract alcohol and their potential yield.

 

Sugar 100 % Grape 16-30 % Cassava 25 %
Sugar Cane 9-14% Artichokes 17 % Corn 70 %
Sugar Beet 12-18% Bananas 20-25 % Potatoes 20 %
Molasses 50% Barley & Malt 68 % Raisins 60 %
Honey 80% Carob beans 40%           Apples 24 %     

 

Corn and malt are commonly used to produce whiskey, regular brandies are distilled from grape washes. Fruit mashes are very ideal for flavored spirits, their retain taste gives texture to the alcohol. Potatoes are great ingredients in producing vodka and schnapps while sugar cane juice and molasses can make really good rum.

Note that you always have to keep the ratio of available sugar to water similar to a sugar based wash to keep the yeast happy (about 0.20 - 0.25 kg/L). So, cane juice can be fermented without dilution since it only has 9-14% sugar content. Raw sugar from juice and corn would best require dilution.

If you’re thinking of how much alcohol you can expect from a single batch, a typical result is about 10-20%. That being said, a single run of a 5 gallon mash could potentially make 1 gallon of alcohol.

 

Reference: homedistiller.org

 
 

MOONSHINING - What Equipment Do I Need?

I've listed down the most common stuffs you'll need to start your moonshining habit! These are tools you want to have when preparing your mash up to the stage of reading the ABV (alcohol by volume) of your moonshine (or whatever spirit you're after).

FERMENTATION

Fermentation vessel

You will need hot and cold water to prepare your mash so the fermenting vessel could be made of any material as long as it can handle tolerable heat. Glass demijohns (carboys) are what we commonly see as wash storage vessels but you can also use plastic food grade barrels, it is made up of special hard plastic that prevents warping. Any regular polythene containers (plastic with number 4 labels) can be useful.

Airlock

The airlock, made of plastic, has a water trap that permits the escape of carbon dioxide produced as a byproduct of fermentation. The contained water and carbon dioxide altogether prevents air to enter the fermentation bucket. This protects the mash from oxidation and contamination.

Your fermentation lock should be tightly fitted to the plastic lid, cap or cork to completely seal the mash.

DISTILLATION

Distilling Equipment

You can either use a pot or a reflux still, it depends on how you want your final product to be. The pot still has a basic design but can be reasonably efficient. Most DIY stills are created in the same way a pot still functions. It makes an incomplete distillation which positively retains the flavor of the mash. This is what you want if you’re after moonshine, whiskey, brandy or any flavorful drink.

Your distillate when redistilled multiple times in a pot still becomes clearer and neutral. This is what a reflux still does, it performs several distilling processes in one go. It’s particularly efficient when making vodka or rum.

Both types are commonly constructed either with stainless steel or copper although, most distillers prefer the latter for its various advantageous properties.

Heat Source

This one depends on your preference. It’s safer to work with electricity than open flame, although both gas and electricity are suitable heating elements to distill alcohol. When distilling indoors, especially with smaller stills (ten or less gallons), an electric stove or a portable hot-plate is an excellent option. Using natural gas or oil stove should be avoided indoors. Propane burners are very effective as well, but as with any heat source that uses flame, they should always be used outdoors.

Temperature Gauge

A thermometer obviously gauges the temperature of the set up. This is an important equipment especially when working on a reflux still, it determines the temperature at the top of the column during distillation. Although not completely necessary, having one in a pot still guides novice distillers in monitoring the distilling activities inside the boiler. This temperature gauge is usually fitted in a thermowell before it is affixed to the still to protect the sensor from pressure.

Handheld temperature guns may also be used in the same fashion. They’re flexible as they usually come with both Celsius and Fahrenheit gauges, so no conversion is needed with any moonshine recipe. These are available at any local hardware store.

Hydrometer

This instrument can measure the specific gravity, potential alcohol and sugar content of your solution. It's a little float that sinks or floats according to the density of the liquid it's floating in. The further it sinks means the higher proof alcohol you have.

Hydrometers can also determine when the fermentation has ceased activity although most distillers would know from mere senses when the whole fermenting process is completed.  

 

 

Popcorn Sutton's Moonshine Recipe

Discovery Channel's "Moonshiners" broke new ground in the long tales of moonshining in the U.S. The tv series surged in popularity with its portrayal of individuals who produce illicit alcohol, what's known to us as moonshine.  

Among the guys featured in the show, a great Appalachian bootlegger named Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton had the limelight. In 1999 (prior to his life being featured in the show), Mr. Sutton published “Me and My Likker,” an anecdote of his life and moonshining practices. In his book, a couple of times he mentioned a basic moonshine recipe, with a few different variations that he used when he was "putting up a barrel of beer". Here's Popcorn's recipe from his book:


Ingredients: 

25 pounds coarse ground white corn meal, enough to fill half of your barrel/container  
50 pounds of sugar – 1 pound of sugar per gallon of water of total volume  
1 gallon of malt – can be corn, barley, rye or a combination. 

Directions:

  • Boil the water and pour over the cornmeal to cook.  Allow them to cool to the touch. Add sugar and malt and stir in well. Leave it for a day. The following day the mix should be bubbling on top, stir it one last time and then leave it.
  • You see here that we did not mention any addition of yeast, Popcorn said that the malt (any kind or combination of corn, barley, rye) is what makes it work — so he's using it here as alternative to distiller's yeast. Also, he's after the idea that wild yeast will start the fermentation within the mash.  
  • After a couple of days, when all activities in the mash has stopped, it should be ready to be distilled. Use a siphon or a bucket to transfer the wash to the still.

For instructions on how to distill, click here. Here is another moonshine recipe.


Whiskey 101

If you just love whiskey and you can’t wait to get your hands in making one, here are some information you may want to know before you start outright.

Whiskey (also spelled as whisky) is a distilled alcohol made from fermented grain mash, it could be corn, rye, wheat or the more common malted barley. Depending on the ingredients, whiskeys vary with taste and aroma. Copper pot stills are more commonly used to distill whiskey, since its incomplete distillation mechanisms retain the mash’s flavor and give rise to the desired taste of the spirit.

After the alcohol is extracted, the distillate is placed in oak barrels for a period of time to mature. The charred oak cask plays the utmost role in getting a great final product. Aging allows the free chemical interaction between the alcohol and the wood thus giving the caramel color of whiskey, adding the oak flavor and making it finer. Oak chips may also be added and make the whiskey age with it. It is important to note that whiskey never ages in a bottle, only in the oak barrel. Also whiskey only changes its taste within 10 years of aging time, after such period keeping it in the cask will only make a little difference in the taste.

In the US, this liquor can be distilled up to 80% alcohol by volume (ABV) but drinking alcohol at 80% ABV can make a terrible drinker. So whiskeys are diluted to lower the proof and make it tolerable for human consumption.

Some of the American whiskeys are (percentage mentioned as regulated by law):

  • Bourbon whiskey – has at least 51% of corn in the mash, usually made from sour mash (a mix of new batch mash and earlier fermented mash)
  • Corn whiskey – made from 80% corn mash, based on a typical American moonshine; it doesn’t have to be aged – if it will be, aging is usually brief (about 6 months)
  • Malt whiskey – a whiskey produced from at least 51% malted grain (usually barley) mash
  • Rye whiskey – made from at least 51% rye mash

So enough of this! You want to make moonshine or whiskey? Here's one recipe, jump to this page.

 

Pot Still vs Reflux Still - what's the difference?

 

If you want beer or wine, the process is straightforward – toss some yeast into your sugar plus water of course, let it ferment in a container with an airlock, filter the liquid after to remove impurities then add some flavors if you wish and in a snap alcohol is ready to drink. But if you want something tastier and with a blowing kick then all you have to do is distill the wash and you’ll get a strong spirit. You can still do a lot of things with the distillate, you can age it in a barrel or mix some flavors to it. That sounds easy!

Distilling the fermented mash is simply separating the water from alcohol, with the aid of their boiling point differences, to increase the proof of the liquor. In this process a still is your best friend. The still can be made up of copper or stainless steel and is basically classified in two types: a pot and a reflux. Both kinds of still are better for certain tasks. Let’s quickly compare the two.

Pot Still

This type of still is one of the earliest apparatuses developed to distill alcohol, it has been used by early bootleggers in Appalachia to create moonshine. A pot still is a relatively uncomplicated distiller. All that’s needed is to heat the mash in it and once it boils the alcohol will start to evaporate. The vapors will flow naturally into the worm (a coil immersed in cold water) and condenses back to liquid.

Obviously every run makes one condensation process and so distilling is made in batches. Pot stills give an incomplete separation which is desirable if you want to retain the flavors of the mash. This is what’s wanted if you’re making moonshine, whiskey or brandy - pot stills make them thick-textured, flavorful and really tasty.

It could yield an alcohol of 60-80% proof however distilling the liquid repeatedly will increase the proof of the alcohol and improve purity (but lessens the flavor).

Reflux Still

Unlike pot stills, reflux stills are designed to create higher proof with little to no flavor alcohol. Inside the still is a fractioning column that allows the reflux of liquid to help condense the rising vapor and increase the efficiency of distilling, thus increasing purity. The taller the column and the more reflux liquid, the neutral the alcohol will be.

Reflux still is like a lot of pot stills assembled together that's why it can make multiple distillation in a single run. This is how vodka and rum are distilled and then just diluted to proof safe for human consumption.

 

Reference: homedistiller.org 

 

Parts of Alembic Pot Still

Alembic still is the earliest device used to extract alcohol, it’s said to be the ascendant of the modern pot still. It’s not surprising that the use of alembic stills has thrive until the modern distilling era, this is due to it’s effective functional design and craftsmanship.

Traditional alembic stills are made from copper, the metal that remains the best choice of both hobby and commercial distillers. The alembic design perfectly complements the several advantageous properties of copper in distilling alcohol.

The alembic has three basic parts namely, the retort pot, the onion head and swan neck and, the condenser and coil.

Parts of a Pot Still

The lower part of the still, which is the retort pot, is responsible for firing/heating. The pot resembles a cauldron with a flat bottom to stand still on a heating surface (usually an electric stove or a hot plate). This is where the fermented mash is boiled until alcohol, due to its lower boiling point relative to water, vaporizes and moves up the onion top.

As the wash is heated, the steam naturally rises and swirls around the onion-shaped head that sits atop of the pot. The vapors then slowly go through the swan neck pipe (also called the lyne arm), the delivery tube that connects the still to the condenser. The lyne arm angle, diameter and material all have an effect in the final distillate. The angle determines how heavy (or light) the flavor of the whiskey will be while the diameter controls the amount of vapor that can swirl through the pipe. The material, being copper, helps speed up the moving vapors, eliminates undesirable chemicals produced during fermentation and also improves the flavor.

From the lyne arm, the vapors move to the worm or the coil that sits inside the condenser (with a top and a bottom fitting). You simply put the supply hose into the condenser (almost to the bottom) and use the top outlet to prevent overflow. The water-filled condenser cools the alcohol vapors and turns it back into liquid, which then drips off through the bottom nozzle of the condenser. 


Some alembics are riveted (not soldered) and you may notice a "greenish paste" applied to the interior of the seams. This is a paste made from linseed oil and gypsum powder, a traditional way of sealing clearance stills. This will not affect the distillation process and the quality of your spirit.


Why Copper is Used in Stills

 

If you consider purchasing or building a whiskey still be mindful of the materials it is or it will be built out of. Safety is still the top priority, the still should make you an alcohol that is free of toxic contaminants and substances. Then, your still should be able to withstand changes in temperature and perform it’s expected distilling duties with safety.

Stainless steel and copper are the most commonly used materials in distilling spirits although the latter is sworn to be the best choice by most hobby and commercial distillers. Copper has been used to construct stills since the moonshining tradition started in the Appalachian hills and this has thrived up to the modern age of producing alcohol.

There are a good number of reasons why copper is preferably used to construct stills:

  • Copper has been known to have excellent anti-corrosive properties which can defy and hold out harsh and changing weather conditions especially when distilling outdoors.
  • This metal is resilient but exceptionally ductile and malleable making it easy to be shaped and suitable in constructing alembics and customized still designs. 
  • Unlike stainless steel that is relatively a poor conductor, copper is a much effective material in heat transfer. It evenly distributes heat and efficiently cools down the vapor. 
  • Several scientific researches have been recorded to prove the antimicrobial ability of copper. Certain studies have consistently attested to such antimicrobial effects of copper compared to stainless steel.
  • Copper absorbs sulfur compounds and yeast cells produced during fermentation and prevents the production of ethyl carbonate, a toxic chemical formed from cyanides. These stuffs are totally undesirable in the distilled alcohol.
  • Although the fermented mash is not microbiologically perfect, copper will help improve the quality and aroma of the final distillate.

It could be said that copper stills are  the most ideal equipment in distilling spirits. They’re safe, effective and classic beauties, no wonder why a lot of distillers drool over copper stills.


Reference: distillique.co.za

 

 

 

Blindness and Poisoning from Drinking Moonshine, Myth or Fact?

Prohibition, which was supposed to restrict the production, transportation and sale of liquors, ironically led Americans to produce homemade alcohol and rumrunners to smuggle forbidden substances. It was also the lawless decade of the 1920’s when bootlegging trade was in boomed operation.

Illegally produced alcohol was termed Moonshine, or called “hooch” and is said to be the original “Mountain Dew”. It used a still to extract the alcohol. During the Prohibition, reported cases of poisoning and blindness spread among patrons of moonshine.

Methanol ingestion from drinking moonshine is long riddled to cause blindness. In the process of making alcohol, methanol is produced by fermenting grains or fruits high in pectin. When methanol is consumed, it changes into formaldehyde which can cause damages to the eyes and in severe cases blindness. This however could be avoided, the first few ounces that come out of the distiller, which contain the methanol, only need to be discarded. The fears of getting blind from drinking ‘shine are not founded, the false horrors about methanol in moonshine were only deepen because of some bootleggers who intentionally included antifreeze such as methanol to cut the alcohol so to earn more profit.

Cases of poisoning happened due to early moonshiners who were less cautious in their production. Some bootleggers used car radiators that were lead-contaminated as condenser to distill alcohol. This adversely resulted to several incidents of lead poisoning during the 1920s. Fortunately, the modern day whiskey stills are assembled using lead-free solder to avoid potential health hazard.

Mad bootlegger’s tales are things of the past. The Prohibition experiences became the grounds for creating better distilling practices of today. Modern day hobbyists make their own “hooch” following explicit safety guidelines. These set of instructions ensure that moonshine is safe for human consumption. When prepared properly, moonshine is as safe to drink as the spirits you buy in a store.


The ABC's of Moonshining

 
If you ever decide to engage in this home distilling hobby, here's a primer of some points you have to familiarize before you start. Just invest on these information and also do your own research. Before you know it you can be perfecting your very own homemade liquor!

 

Everything starts with the mash! First, you'll need an ingredient to source sugar. You can either use sugar rich fruits like grapes or any edible fruits or starch rich plants like corn or potatoes, then of course water and yeast. So you basically mix the ingredients in their correct amounts.

The mash will be left to ferment. Fermentation happens when yeast breaks down the simple sugars and convert it into ethanol. The mash will yield about 14%-20% of alcohol by volume.

After about 2-3 weeks or when all activities in the mash stops, the distilling process follows. Distillation will separate the alcohol from water. This is where we need the copper still. From the two, alcohol has a lower boiling point so it vaporizes first and moves to the coil or worm then gets condensed back to liquid. Ideally this is how we extract alcohol, however since the two liquids have boiling points close to each other they don't separate completely. Nevertheless, the obtained mixture will still have more alcohol than water.

So what we've just gotten is already the moonshine, that's good to go! But there are still a number of stuffs you can do with it. You can either cut, re-distill, filter, flavor or age the alcohol. These things will help increase the proof of your moonshine, add wonderful tastes to it or turn it into whiskey. Check this link for detailed information.

 

 

Homebrewing vs Home Distilling

Homebrewing beer and wine was forbidden in the US not until 1978 when a law repealled the Federal restrictions on this practice. An adult, in this case 21 years old or older, is now allowed to produce up to 100 gallons of beer or wine each year for personal consumption (selling the alcohol is a different story and requires a permit). On this liberal acceptance, America still kept a blind eye to decriminalize moonshining. Possessing a still and extracting alcohol as fuel is decent if you have a BATF permit however distilling spirits for private use is still illicit.

So what holds back Uncle Sam from embracing this rather similar practice?

Health risks are the primary alibis that the government posed to bow out from this argument, to mention lead poisoning and blindness caused by methanol ingestion from drinking 'shine. These notions were remnants of US prohibition period when some bootleggers used methanol to cut moonshine and increase profit, and used car radiators which are lead contaminated as condensers to distill alcohol. Obviously these things apply in a commercial set up, one who's after personal drinking wouldn't intentionally add wood alcohol to his liquor or use his automobile radiator which he knows is not safe to extract the spirit. Homemade spirits are really safe if properly and carefully prepared.

On a second opinion, the government of course will not simply withdraw the excise tax it imposed on distilled spirits. Per gallon of beer is taxed at 60c and at most $3.30 for wine, which are significantly smaller than $13.50 share for a gallon of spirit - that's enough loss in government revenue if moonshining is legalized don't you think? So perhaps the feds are just really concerned when they claim safety, or maybe not.

This video tells it all, great stuffs you ought to know!

 


" Why when you enjoy something would you wanna talk about it openly when you know that you could possibly be arrested for it! There's no harm, there's no foul...screw the law. " -reason.tv


Homemade Spirits, Are they Legal?

Every novice man in this distilling interest faces this simple however very critical question: Is it legal to distill your own alcohol? Let's be enlightened.


It is only legal in New Zealand and a few European countries, elsewhere it isn't - the punishment ranges from fines to imprisonment. In the United States, home distilling is practically illegal unlike homebrewing and winemaking. While it is fine to own a still, the federal law requires that a permit be secured before anyone can practice distilling alcohol.

Early 1920's when alcohol consumption was made illegal, home distillation rampantly unfolded among the Americans to defy the prohibition. The term "Moonshine" was then coined to refer to illegally distilled spirits. The ban was only lifted in 1933, after the law was amended.

The federal rules enforced by The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) are just remnants of the Prohibition period, although officials still argue it's due to safety issues. Contrary, some states have already reformed their laws to open doors for more interested craft distillers. Class A-1 distiller's license for small producers encouraged more New Yorkers to engage in alcohol distilling since 2002. The license was made five times cheaper than the previous cost. In most states all sales have to occur in liquor stores which hinders small distillers to sell their products. But in 2008, Washington allowed serving spirits samples and direct selling to customers to utmost 2 Liters/day.

However our hands are tied with these restrictions, we see how distiller's guidebooks and stills for sale are widely accessible online. As the laws gradually change, we soon hope for America to appreciate home distilling again.


Sources: legallibations.com, wiki.homedistiller.org

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