by Jason Stone on March 10, 2014 Comments (0)
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!