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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Before alcohol was outlawed during The Prohibition, native
American Indian tribes have long been producing alcoholic drinks from native
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
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.
Records from the Virginia Colonial Assembly in 1629 details specific rules to curb excess alcohol consumption and its associated “evils.”
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
¼ cup fine salt
¼ cup all purpose flour
a soft rag
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.
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.
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 pleasantaroma at a lower temperature.
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 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.
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 22A, Colombard, 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.
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.
Barley & Malt
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.
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).
You will need hot and cold water to prepare yourmash 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 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
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.