How to Make Moonshine

By Philip Brewer on 25 September 2007 (Updated 8 June 2011) 911 comments

It has been legal to make wine at home since the end of prohibition, and legal to make beer since 1978, but it's still illegal to distill spirits for beverage purposes without going through so much fuss and bother that the government admits flat out that it's "impractical." That's too bad, because homemade moonshine is incredibly frugal. (See also: 21 Great Uses for Beer)

Making moonshine is easy. In one sense, making any alcoholic beverage is easy, because the yeast do all the work. But moonshine is especially easy because running it through a still makes all the delicate balancing of flavors that mark a great beer or wine irrelevant.

I learned most of what I know about moonshine from the classic book Possum living: How to live well without a job and with almost no money by Dolly Freed. (A great book and well worth reading.)

[Updated 2010-01-14 to add:; I've just learned that Tin House books has reissued Possum Living! It's wonderful to see this classic once again available a reasonable price.]

Alcoholic beverages all start with yeast and with sugar for the yeast to eat. The sugar for wine usually comes from grapes (although other fruits are used, especially for homemade wine). The sugar for beer usually comes from malted barley (although other grains are also used). The sugar for commercially produced spirits can come from almost anything — corn for bourbon, barley for scotch, rye for rye, sugar cane for rum, and so on. For moonshine, what you want is the cheapest sugar you can find. Dolly Freed found that the cheapest sugar she could find was white granulated sugar. Nowadays, corn syrup might be cheaper.

Let me take a moment here to praise yeast. I'm a huge fan of yeast. They work tirelessly to make our bread and our booze, then uncomplainingly give up their lives that we may eat and drink. If there were an American Yeast Council, I'd want to be their spokesman.

The main difference between brewer's yeast and baker's yeast is that brewer's yeast has been bred to survive a higher alcohol content. That lets wine makers work with natural fruit juices that have a high concentration of sugar and get a higher concentration of alcohol before the yeast die of alcohol poisoning. If you're going to make your own sugar solution to grow the yeast in, though, you can just make the sugar solution's strength match what the yeast can convert before they die. It all comes out even with no waste.

According to Dolly Freed, it is a happy coincidence that 5 pounds of sugar in 3 gallons of water works out just right for ordinary baker's yeast.

[Updated 2007-12-30 to add:

A lot of people have asked how much yeast to add. I answered that in comment #16 below, but that's an obscure place to look for the answer, so I'm copying what I said up here.

I'd add one packet.

Since the yeast reproduce, it almost doesn't matter how much you add — after 20 minutes you've got twice as much, so if you add half as much it changes your total fermentation time from 10 days to 10 days 20 minutes.

All you need to do is add enough that your yeast overwhelms any wild yeast that happen to get in. (There are wild yeast in the air everywhere, so you really can't avoid them.)]

There are lots of good books on making beer and making wine. Any of them will describe the fermentation process, but very briefly you just:

  1. add sugar to the water
  2. bring to a boil (to kill any wild yeast in it and make it easy to dissolve the sugar)
  3. wait until the temperature comes down to 110°F (so you don't kill your own yeast)
  4. add yeast
  5. wait

The fermenting liquid is called the "must." You want to leave it loosely covered to keep other things from getting into it (wild yeasts, mold spores, etc.), but the yeast produce carbon dioxide as well as alcohol and you want to make sure the carbon dioxide can easily escape. If you seal it up tightly, it could explode.

Give it 10 to 25 days (depending on various things, but mainly how warm it is). You'll know its done when it:

  • quits bubbling
  • begins to turn clear
  • no longer tastes sweet

Now, if you were making beer or wine you'd have several more steps: bottling, aging, etc. Making moonshine, though, all you need to do is distill the stuff. For that, you need a still.

moonshine still

You can buy a still, but you probably don't want to. (They cost money, and the federal government — which scarcely polices this activity at all — probably does keep tabs on people who buy stills from commercial outlets.)

A still, though, is just:

  • a pot with a lid with a hole in it
  • a tube, closely fit to that hole, running to a jar
  • something to cool that tube

You bring the pot to a boil, the alcohol evaporates, the vapor goes out the hole, into the tube, and the condenses back into liquid alcohol.

Conveniently, an old-fashioned pressure cooker is a pot with a hole in the lid. Modern pressure cookers won't work as well, because they have a fancy valve to release the pressure, but with an old-fashioned one you just remove the weight and then fit the tube to the valve.

If you've got some room, you can just make the tube long enough and you don't need to do anything extra to condense the alcohol. Using a tube that coils some can save space. Alternatively, you can run your tube through a sleeve and run cold tap water through the sleeve. (Dolly Freed has a diagram of just such a setup.)

The things to be sure of here are that your entire set-up needs to be of food-quality materials: copper, aluminum, stainless steel are all fine. Plastics are iffy as some may leach stuff into the alcohol. Lead is right out, as is putting the pieces together with solder that includes lead.

Make sure the hole can't get plugged up, which could lead to your still exploding.

Set up your still and bring it to a light boil. Pretty soon you'll have almost pure alcohol dripping into your jar. The water content of the distillate will gradually increase. At some point a sample taken from the tube will no longer taste of alcohol, and you're done.

As I said, it's too bad it's illegal. Otherwise you could make some pretty good booze (well, let's say barely drinkable booze) for the price of a few pounds of sugar.

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Guest's picture
Zorcy

If you are still waiting 5 days, pull it off the yeast that has settled. The collection at the bottum. Put it in another container with the air lock for the next 5 days. It will clear some more and there will be less taste carry over to the distillant.

Guest's picture
metalfuror

i was a cook on a ship in the army. 85ish. i dont really remember but one cook took a 15 gallon pot and filled with water.sliced apples.sugar and yeast. was forgotten about. few days later was inspection. the stinch gave it away dumbass officers didnt know what it was. POOR THAT **** OUT. IT STINKS. all i remember is 15 gall pot. what would be measurements of 4 ingredients?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Sounds like a quick version of apple jack. Slicing the apples would not give all the flavour it could, but you could taste it in there. I would use the earlier recipe for it. post 211

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Tis the season! Here is a challenge. If you have a large supply of apples, make some very strong Apple Jack. Distill it. Take some apple juice and reduce it to apple syrup. Mix the 2 and let it age a bit. Should be nice warmed up with a cinnamon stick!

Guest's picture
Big Jack

I have enjoyed checking back here from time to time to check on the quality of the questions. that said, Most of the questions have nothing to do with the original post and those questions don't qualify for a response....... My .02

Thanks and it works well with some cornmeal added to kick it up a notch.

Cheers,
Big Jack

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Yes, you are correct. Most of these posts have veered away from moonshine. Since most of us can Google, read, or ask questions about the subject, we can get a very clinical technique on making moonshine. What would be really helpful is an honest to goodness moon shiner to come on and tell us how to make the stuff. Not someone that adds sugar or uses thermometers. A real artist. One that can tell from the smell or taste if it’s ready. That preps the corn himself. Can tell the little tid-bits from years of experience. The best most of us can do, is help with the equipment and skills that are needed to do the basics. We give what we can from what ever experience we may have learned.

A challenge to you all. If you know someone with real skills and ability to make some very good moonshine, interview them. Please use a recorder. Transcribe it and post it on the net. This is a dying art and we are loosing those that can still do it. Preserve what we can; we will make do with the rest.

Cheers,
Zorcy

Guest's picture
Guest

After a week or so I checked on my pints of finished product, there is something floating in the middle of the pint. Looks funny and is just sitting there like mold in a cloud. But not cloudy. Tossed that one out. What is this in the pint??? Any answers???

Guest's picture
Zorcy

If it is a finished product, nothing will 'grow' there. Heck, nothing can live there. It can be used as a disinfectant. It could have been something in the jar already, something got in before sealing or your product had a very low % level and was not any good to start with. Did you do a flame test? Just to be sure it was over 80 proof? What did you store it in? Glass is best; some plastics will dissolve in the high alcohol levels! That is bad to drink.

Guest's picture
Guest

The jar is a glass canning jar. nothing in that I know of. Not sure on what a flame test is. This product is from only running one time. Tastes like vodka or something. First batch was just sugar, water and bakers yeast. Ferminted for three weeks and then steamed off with a stock pot and coils to cool with a frozen water bottle inside and a fan behind. second batch was sugar, water, white corn mweal and bakers yeast. Ferminted for three weeks and stilled the same way. Second batch tasted a little different because of the corn meal but, is still stromg. AN I MISSING SOMETHING HERE??? If I pour it in a camp fire it turns the fire blue. Any advise??

Guest's picture
Guest

could have been somthing in the tubing, that was not cleaned out...then sloffed off into the jar.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Sounds right. The only thing I can think of is the corn has more oils coming off then the sugar. Did you pull off the heads and tails? Fusel oils are not good tasting, and could be a hangover waiting to happen.

Flame test, take a teaspoon of it, and light it. If it failed to ferment, there will be no flame.

PS
Keep it away from the jar, just in case it is flamable:)

Guest's picture
Zorcy

In general terms, the difference between bourbon and whiskey is a matter of law. According to the bureau of ATF, bourbon is whiskey that is distilled at no more than 160 proof, made of at least 51% corn, barreled at no more than 125 proof in charred new American white oak barrels, and bottled at no less than 80 proof with nothing but water added to adjust proof.

great brand by the way.

now you know what is needed for the basics.

Guest's picture
Guest

This reminds me of my great uncle and his friends runnin shine in kentucky, in a big, hot, GTO....good times

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Is your great uncle available for sharing on the blog? Some tid bits of info on styles and techniques would be a boon.

Guest's picture
Shy Newbie

About a year ago I was missing the apple cider from my childhood. Every year we'd go to a pumpkin patch/apple orchard to pick out the Halloween pumpkin & get fresh pressed apple cider that fermented (from wild yeast) as it aged. My parents were very lax about alcohol. I can't remember dinner without wine as a child, and I even remember potty training!

Anyhow, I remembered someone many years ago telling me about "prison" or "jail-house" wine, which had something to do with fruit, water & garbage bags?? No clue how it worked...but I'm also not planning a life of crime! So I poked around the Internet read up on wine-making & decided to try my own.

So....with all the enthusiasm of a newbie, instead of using frozen concentrate, or even frozen fruit, I mashed & juiced a gazillion fresh fruits. (Maybe I exaggerate slightly, it was really only four trillion and five.) Now I have 3 'works in progress'...all started at the same time over a year ago!

1) 5 gallons of concord grape mash w/Merlot yeast & powdered sugar...however, the vapor lock broke, & I resealed, but God only knows what's in there!

2) 5 gallons of my apple mash from a mix of apples Gala, Fugi, Delicious...champagne yeast...a dribble of high fructose corn syrup, a dribble of molasses (because I was preparing all 3 at the same time and.....EEEEK! No sugar except confectioners.... so I tossed some in.)

3) 2 liter bottle of Mandarin Orange mash, bakers yeast & champagne yeast, powdered sugar, honey, vanilla extract & a very crude vapor lock...just a sandwich baggie & the rubber band from my hair...the baggie swells up & I squeeze it once a month

Since ALL 3 are still actively releasing CO2 (maybe because it was powdered sugar) do I need to keep waiting until fully fermented? or can I start distilling now? Let me rephrase, obviously I CAN start distilling now...but should I? is it better to wait? & how do you get the creamy liqueur (like Baily's)...I'm guessing you start by scraping out Vanilla beans?

Thanks!

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Most of the alcohol is created in the first couple days or so. I think you should have pulled your wine off to a secondary a long,,,, long time ago. There may be some odd flavours from sitting on the bed of yeast and pulp for so long. You can distill any time you want now. Since you have taken the time to make nice wines, you may want to consider making brandy. Use some of the wine in the thumper (doubler) for flavour. I just put in a hard wood floor, lots of white American oak sawdust. I wrap it tight in aluminum foil and toast it in the oven. Once you distill your brandy, you add the toasted sawdust to the bottle. Tip it upside down once a day. In a month or so, you will have 10 year old brandy. It does even better if the temps are going up and down daily, like day and night temps.

Guest's picture
Guest

Ok so has anyone used an Aluminum pot for your kettle? Are there really any “bad” effects when using Aluminum? I know a lot of beer brewers that use Aluminum pots from turkey fryers with no problems.

Guest's picture
Guest

very cold where i live would like to try jacking insted of using a still but not shur of how to get rid of the heads and tails.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

When you are jacking, you are only concentrating what you have. Think of it as making Kool-Aid, leaving it out and it dries up. It gets thick; it still has all the sugar, flavour and colour, just in a smaller package of water now. When you jack, you are freezing the water and taking it away. There is nothing deadly in what you made before, so there will be nothing deadly now. It is true; there is some methanol and fusel oils in there, but no more then drinking apple jack to start with. You would have to get really sick from drinking before it would affect you. When you jack, try this, don’t freeze it once and skim it, freeze it and thaw it, then freeze it again before you skim it. If you have ice in your pop and let it melt, it layers, so does jacking. This allows it to separate better.

Aluminum:
Home brew is basically making hoppy tea. That does not hurt you with aluminum. You can boil water all day long. For the most part, you can let fermented beer sit in aluminum with minimal effect to your health (I didn't say any) but when you add a volatile chemical and heat you get a little different effect on aluminum. It will pit the aluminum and dissolve it in whatever you are working with. Guess where it goes? If you simply put aluminum on your skin, it can do odd things, like blacken your shirt on your arm pits. Imagine if you drank it!

Guest's picture
Gene

I was talking to some prohibition era guys and they mentioned they would mix malt, 5 pounds of sugar, and yeast in 5 gallons of water in a tub and just cover it with cheesecloth to keep trash out. In 3 days they'd cut through the solid trash at the top and siphon off the liquid, being careful not to draw from the bottom. They said the alcohol would be between 14-18%. The problem being that since it wasn't cooked that it would spoil in a days time so they'd 'brew' up a batch starting on Wed. to have for Saturday nights. I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere else. Does anyone have any experience in doing this. Does it sound practical to do it this way. How would it taste?

Guest's picture
Guest

Jean, it's gassy beer. The yeast is very much alive, and well, were it not for the fact that they were drinking it outside, it would not be intollerable. The gas would take about 2 days to wear off. The yeast, would hit your intestines, and continue to ferment there and build up gasses. Any questions?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

I think it is a cheaper version of a beer. Hops are a preservative. If they didn't have any, it would turn sooner. As to how soon, I can not tell. Being open to the air gives access to other things then yeast. That could have contributed to the spoilage. They would have been better off bottling it and making a malt wine. With the conditions they used, it would have large amounts of contamination, though. If you used it to distill on the 3rd or 4th day, it would be ok. If you read accounts of beer making in the last 20-30 years, you will see a change. Not just a simple beer, but flavour. Cleanliness is stressed at EVERY level.

Guest's picture
Billyhill

merry christmas from missouri!!! keep the spirit alive!!!two arkansayers drivin down the road, pass a sign that says free sex with a fill-up. dude pulls in, pumps truck full of gas, runnns inside, says 3. guy says damn close i was thinkin of 4. ****. next week theyre drivin by again, dude pulls over, pumps truck full of gas. runnnns inside says 7. guy says damn close again, i was thinkin of 8. ****. gets in his truckand drives off. hisbuddy says, i think this here game is rigged, some kinnda racket. hell no it's not, my wife won twice last week!!!! i wish someone that knows, would give some more about the finer points of using fruits/berries in their mash. peaches in the summertime apples in the fall yaknow. i'm just learning, but i've heard it's done best in a pot still?? how does a reflux do?

Guest's picture
Billyhill

i think what i'm asking is if you did a real tasty, quick, with the new super-duper turbo-charged yeasts, what kind of flavor would come through a reflux still if you cut it off at 170- 140 proof? and then let it ride down and cut it at say 80? 60? 40? 20? more flavor down low? mixed all together(minus heads and tails), would you have a good tastin' medium strong spirit? then, if you took the same mash and ran it through an inefficient pot still(no offense), two or three times, what would be the difference? if you wound up with the same proof, say 110-120 in the end, wich would taste better? difference in a headache? i think i read that if an inefficient pot still that produces lower lower proof spirit is run, then rerun,and reran to get 180-190 it tastes better because alcohol A N D flavor are condensed? can anyone say first hand?? moral being, if you use a bunch of tasty berries and sugar, can a pot still produce better flavor at higher proofs? just that it is more work? is the difference noticable at high proofs? or is it all just a hammer to the head?, so just mix it with something tasty???

Guest's picture
Zorcy

The old pot still has more flavour, hands down. See it this way, when the mash starts to steam up, it carries the fruity flavours with it. It goes up and the first thing that condenses is the water, it falls back down, most of it. The alcohol and flavour is still carried on with some water. Now you have a funnel collecting steam and squeezing it to the pipe. If the funnel runs up hill, what condenses runs into the pot, the flavour and some more water fall out? If it runs down hill, it falls out and runs into the coil. You will get more flavour with an old time pot still with the funnel running down hill. You will also get more water, fusel oils and yes, hangovers.

A reflux still is different. It does the same thing in the pot itself, some water falls out. When it hits the first part of the column, some water falls out, the rest moves up a few inches in the column. Now its a little cooler and more water falls out, and some flavours and oils. They drip back down to try again. What is left goes up higher. This process takes place every couple inches and strips away anything that is not alcohol. What comes out is very strong and pure the first time thru. No much for the flavour is left.

If you want some artistry or flavour to your run, use a doubler or thumper. It goes between the still and the condenser. It is essentially a still that gets its heat from a still. You have some product in the thumper. It will be a mash with lots of flavour. The steam off the still comes in with low flavours and high alcohol. It heats up the liquid and causes it to steam. It is infused with alcohol from the steam, strips out the alcohol and flavours in the thumper and caries it to the condenser. Viola, you have strong flavourful liquor!

Guest's picture
Billyhill

SOOO, if i'm understanding. i could add a thumper to a reflux still?, with tasty mash in it, to acheive a high proof, yet tasty drink? advantage being, that i only have to make a small amuont of tasty fruit mash to flvor the said drink? larger amuont of sugar mash in the pot. what iwould like to know is do you know, or willing to speculate on the flavor produced between that no.1, no.2 a reflux still filled with alot of very flavorful mash, no.3 a pot still??? with the end product being say 140 proof. acheiving that proof by either adding backings or rerunning wichever the case may be. just curios, without having to deal with 100 pounds of berrys first. which don't grow in a missouri winter anyway. you sound like a wise man zorcy!

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Berries in the mash for a reflux, is not the best route. You only do that if you have 20 trees and the fruit is rotting on the ground. It makes for free sugar. The reflux alone would strip it down to about 180-190 proof. You have to tweak boiler temps and column temps to get it up the 190.

If fruit it scarce, make a small batch for the thumper. You will have to keep the column hotter then normal so you can get some hot steam coming out the top. The thumper won’t work at low temps. It has to reach 185 F. place condenser after it.

If you don’t have a still, and you are always going to make flavourful liquor, get a pot still. If you are going to make vodka, then get a reflux. If you are going to do both, then the reflux with a thumper over heating some will do the best.

As you increase the temp on a still, you increase pressure. Here, you take a chance of explosion. Most column stills have a loose cap on top. More then a couple pounds of pressure and it will pop off. Keep the temps at just the right levels. The top of the column should be right at 180-185. You will have to maintain a steam watch, since the temp is going to be a good bit higher with a thumper. Always think of the safety first. The condenser can be attached loose, no silver solder. This allows you to put in the thumper. I like glass, you can see if it is boiling too much or filling up and needs a little changed out.

Oh, geez. I wish I could draw well enough to show you. If this does not explain it enough, just ask. I will try to clarify it.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Every time you put it thru the still, you strip away flavour. You can get the same results in one pass of a reflux as you can 3 or 4 in a pot still. The flavour is gone in both, for the most part. Every time you rerun the still, you have to cut it down with distilled water and then distil it. If you are really concerned about taste and don’t want to worry some much about proof, use a pot still, 1 or 2 times. This is flavour. You will get some headache with it, a hangover.

If you want to get drunk without a hangover, use pure alcohol, stripped down to nothing. Everything after that adds a higher degree of chance for a hangover. If I were to do a nice batch for sayyyyy, cherry. I would ferment 15 gallons with cherry. 2 gallons would use different yeast for flavour. The other 13 gallons can use the turbo yeast. Distill in a pot still, the 13 gallons. Run it to a thumper, with 1 gallon of the 2 gallon batch. Watch your temps so you get as close to the 180-183 mark. This will allow for a higher proof on one run. When it is done, cut it to 120 proof with distilled water. Combine it with the left over gallon of mash. This will cut it bellow the 90 proof. Add about a cup of toasted and charred white American oak. Sawdust and splinters if you can. Shake daily. After a few weeks, filter it out. You can use double coffee filters. Bottle it, now you have a flavourful drink, with enough proof to enjoy.

See the link for another brandy:
http://homedistiller.org/ prepare wash, fruit, brandy

Guest's picture
Billyhill

tell if an arkansas girls on the rag? she's only wearin' one sock!!my suspicions are true. i think i'm a reflux with an alternate thumper kind of mind. although, i'm confused with information. ithought i understood that thermometer would read 78point. whatever until alcohol became to low. hence you can measure proof by temperature?, water boils at 212. so, put the pettle to the medal and let the thumper kick in, at 180, and then slow it down at 185degrees and run to desired proof? would boiler temp. be lower at this point? steam hotter than liquid? i believe i understood your recipe. that last 1 gallon of mash would be WINE? but, what would be the difference between that 90 proof and letting a reflux still, full of berry mash, run until the combinations equal 90 proof? headaches? how much in flavor, alot? i did read that flavor was also increased with alcohol content, multiple runs in a pot still. i will assume this was bad information. that was my biggest mis understanding? retain, or increase flavor, and raise proof. how does charcoal effect these things? can i unpack a reflux still and create a " traditional" pot still by by-passing the reflux condensor and let it go to a worm and water? best of both worlds? good clean liquor, mixed with tasty stuff, every day and frankenstein aging on a shelf for holidays and occasions? i think i thunk to much. your a kind and patient man zorcy. but, i'm sure i want more.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

If you have a still and can take the column off, then yes, take it off and connect to the thumper then a worm or condenser from the column. The reason to increase the column temp is to let some extra stuff pass, the flavours. You also need a little extra heat to make the thumper work. It needs enough to steam off the alcohol, 180-185. All the extra steps are just for flavour. Seems you have already taken a few steps in the right direction and are just working at the artistic level. That is where it becomes worth it all. Vodka is so easy to do. Brandy is a goal. I have heard of, but never tried, peach moonshine. I don’t think it is fermented peach, but just flavoured with it.

As far as charcoal, it’s always a good thing. I like to use Brita filters. You have to cut the proof before you use them. It has to be cooled down, too. 2 or 3 passes is about as much as it needs. I have been thinking of a longer column of PVC, packed with filter media. You can even by cheap vodka, run it thru a few times, and be surprised at the difference. If you try to reuse your filters too many times, you will need to open them up and clean the charcoal. Lay it out on a baking dish, let it dry. Once it is completely dry (its flammable) you can put it in a warm oven, 250F, and bake off the chemicals it has collected. Now you can reuse it. This is so much more effective then a few chunks in a bottle and way faster.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

BillyHill, you mentioned bypassing the reflux condenser. The reflux is the column, it is re-distilling every couple inches it goes up the still. By the time it gets to the top of the column, it is stripped and is close to pure alcohol. You can use the condenser still, after the thumper. It is so much more effective then the worm. I think you can better just the proof from the thumper temp then anywhere else on this set up. You want to watch the boiling for pressure, for safety. If you over heat the boiler, the column will overheat and pass water thru too much. The thumper will fill up very fast with water and you will get some extra water in the condenser. Steady as she goes. Keep the boiler at a hard 185; control the reflux by allowing the temp in the top of the column to be above normal, but not too much. That should do it.

Guest's picture
Billyhill

WOW. thank you for the homedistillers tip zorcy. so much time, so little brains. it'll take me awhile to get my head around all that. just got our first puter, lucked on to this site. think i'll just cook sugar while i read about flavour. the still dynamics are something. alot of answers. i found something interesting, if you havn't seen it. think its cooper moonshine stills.com. not just the stills, check out the govt. stuff..fast bikes, good likker, and slow women!!

Guest's picture
CarolinaBoy

So let's say for instance I didn't have access to any store bought yeast, I read somewhere that certain fruits have yeast on them and you could use the fruit as your yeast substitute. I tried this with apple juice and then some kiwi crushed in (skin and all) because I didn't know exactly where the yeast came from off of the fruit, and after about two weeks i had alcohol but not very strong, now that i've recently found grapes (which was said to be the best wild yeast) I'd like to make sure my final product is stronger than the last, how would I insure this?

Guest's picture
Billyhill

HAPPY NEW YEAR ZORCY!!! i can't get enough of homedistiller. just wanted to thank you again. i suggest it, to anyone. by the way that was coppermoonshinestills.com. these puters are great, i'm even learn'n to type faster! this didn't take me 1/2 an hour. haaaaa! if you wanna find an angel you gotta find er were she fell, if you wanna get to heaven, you gotta raise a little hell!!!!OZARK MOUNTAIN DAREDEVIL'S

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Yeast would be the best ready to use yeast you will find for free. You cultivate it, but it will only get so strong. You could order it on line, and keep it alive like a pet. You can car for and feed your pet yeast.

Though you CAN do it that way, you will not get the strong yeast you desire. Bread yeast will not give you what you really want either. Yeast is cheap, not governed by the man and can be maintained once you get it growing. Spend the $2 and be done with it. You will be happy you did.

Guest's picture
Rudy Ray

Okay, not much of a drinker myself (on occasion), but I thought I might add some clarity from a chemists standpoint (for information only). I'll try to be brief.

The fermentation process, of course, is where the ethanol is produced. In addition, a few other compounds are produced, and usually remain after distillation; [acetaldehyde, 1-propanol, 2-propanol (isopropyl alcohol), 2-methyl-1-butanol, and 3-methyl-1-butanol]. These compounds are the culprits of the yeast-like odor of the distillate. I won't comment on dealing with those.

The distillation is simply the separation of the alcohol from the water. This takes advantage of the difference in the boiling points of alcohol and water (78.5 deg. C and 100 deg. C, respectively). Your distillation apparatus determines whether or not you can separate liquids with boiling points which vary by this amount (~23 deg. C). The configuration of your still determines its efficiency (its ability to separate solutions with smaller variation in boiling point), so design does matter. The more surface area available for liquid/vapor equilibria to occur, the more efficient the separation. This might help if you are getting weak distillate. Tweak your design.

Since the ethanol boils at 78.5 deg C, the temperature of the solution will boil near this temperature until the separation is complete. At that point, the boiling point of the solution will increase, as it is mostly water. When this begins to occur, you should quickly stop collecting distillate. If you want to take advantage of this, you must be able to measure the temperature of the vapor, just below the level where the vapor enters the condenser.

A couple of points I would like to make:

1. Trying to heat your mash solution aggressively will not help. Once a solution reaches its boiling point, it will continue at that temperature regardless of the amount of heat added. Just make sure you maintain enough heat to continue the distillation at a fairly even rate. Don't let it stop (you might have to increase the heat slightly throughout). If you try to heat "aggressively", it is more likely that you will end up with more water in your final product because the change in boiling point will happen more quickly.

2. It is true that this process can only yield 95.6% ethanol and 4.4% water by weight (about 97.1% ethanol by volume) because the molecules interact slightly, forming an azeotropic mixture. That also means that the boiling point, while collecting ethanol, will actually be about 78.2 deg. C, since the system isn't "ideal". Plan to collect from between 78-80 deg. C, if you are able (and desire) to monitor the vapor temperature.

3. The density of 95.6% ethanol at 20 deg. C is about 0.8028 (as opposed to about 1.0 for high purity water). That means 1.0 mL should weigh about 0.8028 mg. 80% ethanol by weight has a density of about 0.8436 at 20 deg. C. (A nice check for proof if you are interested and have a balance, but no hydrometer).

To learn more, track down some information on organic chemistry, especially fractional distillation techniques. You will be surprised to understand how simple the concepts are, and hopefully you may find some safety tips and confidence along the way. Focus on the lab methods more than theory.

Once again, this is for information only, and you should not take my commentary as advice for any activities in which you decide to engage.

Have fun!

Guest's picture
tom

After all is done and I am cutting the alcohol with water to "thin" the alcohol down, it becomes cloudy. Can someone please tell me why and how can I fix this?

Guest's picture
Rudy Ray

Water,
I have experienced this cloudiness issue in a laboratory setting involving testing sugar for impurities. There was a step involving dilution of ethanol that we had a cloudiness issue with for a short time period. I can't recall what we determined, but it will probably come to me (I always say I wouldn't be good at Jeopardy because I might know the answers, but not right now...more like when I'm riding down the road thinking about something completely different). The circumstances are probably similar. So, I'll try to help. I've got someone to call who may remind me.

In the meantime, it would be helpful to know more specific details, such as:

1. When you are "cutting" the alcohol, what is the temperature of the alcohol and the water (are you doing it right after distillation in other words, and is the water slightly chilly)?

2. Are you adding the water to the alcohol, or the alcohol to the water.

3. How rapidly are you performing this dilution/cutting process?

4. I assume you are going for the alcohol only, with nothing to add flavor. Is this correct? If you are only going for ethanol, have you tasted it and does it taste sweet at all?

5. Have you determined the density of the solution by some standard method? (Of course this would help determine proof, but may also indicate the presence of impurities).

6. Are you filtering with charcoal (or something similar)?

You don't need to answer all of this, but the more information, the better. Some details about your process and still setup may be helpful as well.

No matter what, it's probably no big deal, but I know you want the clear stuff. I'd love to help out.

Guest's picture
Rudy Ray

It seems most likely that your distillate is turning cloudy due to addition of hard water. Even if your water is not extremely "hard", there may be enough mineral content to cause cloudiness. Specifically, you are probably seeing the precipitation of calcium, as calcium and magnesium are the two major contributors to hard water. Your ethanol is clear before you dilute it, because it has been distilled (leaving any calcium behind). If this is the problem, you can either dilute with distilled water, or you can filter after you dilute. Many people seem to advocate filtering with activated carbon anyway, so maybe that's the way to go.

As always, just for information. Don't take my statements as actual advice for any actions you take.

Guest's picture
Guest

Though fermenting with yeast produces a relatively low proportion of wood alchohol to grain alcohol, wood alcohol (methanol) has a lower boiling point and is thus concentrated in the first and last of the production run, as the temperature rises to the optimum level, and falls below it.

Therefore, it's REALLY important to pour off the first and last (foreshot and aftershot) of the product, to get rid of the methanol; and to monitor the temperature of the mash during distillation. Methyl alcohol boils at 64.5C (147F); ethanol, at 78.5C (173.3F).

Methanol turns into formaldehyde in your liver... VERY toxic stuff. The effects of methanol poisoning are cumulative, and can result in blindness and death.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Not sure what you fermented with. Did you make sure you tossed out the heads and tales? Fusel oils are carried over in that time. Oil and alcohol can mix some, but oil and water are not so good at it. Did it settle some while sitting? Filtering or re-distilling may be needed. Cut with distilled was.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

water, WATER, sorry, sent it without spell check and re-reading.

Philip Brewer's picture

I've updated the text above, but I thought I'd also mention down here for people who follow the comments that Tin House Books has reissued the classic manual on frugal living that taught me everything I know about making moonshine: Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and with (Almost) No Money. It's wonderful to see this important book available at a reasonable price.

Guest's picture
Dan Hogsed

Love this site. I'm doing my first fermentation for moonshine, using Whole grain sweet feed. 5 gal bucket 4 inches sweet feed at bottom, 5 lbs sugar, and yeast. Boiling water added half and finished with cool water. Letting stand and I'm 4 days into it. Smells great so far....This is the best info I've ran across about moonshine. Thanks

Guest's picture
Holmesey

Hey, I must say you've got the best patience I've ever came across, people keep asking the same questions and you keep answering them, cudos to you.

I scanned through 112 of the questions and got bored myself, but I couldn't find an answer to my question, or at least a direct answer.

Basically, I'm fermenting at the moment (day 2). I have all my ingredients (sugar, cornmeal, distilled water and bakers yeast(didn't know there was 2 types of yeast)) in a sealed bucket. On the lid I have an air lock to slowly let the gasses out.

This morning my brother took off the air lock to see what was inside, I cursed him out for it because I'm under the impression that he's ruined the whole batch.

Basically I'm asking if I have to apologize to him, or if I'm right and I have to start my batch all over again.

A quick response would be greatly apreciated cause I have this stuff still sittin in my room over the heater...if it's useless I'd like to get a quick start on my next batch.

Much obliged, thank u very much for the help

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Letting in oxygen and stray organism is a bad thing, if you are making beer or wine. It alters the flavour, sometimes a great deal. You would ideally not open the top. Since you are distilling, it has less, but still an effect. I have read and watched some educational shows that show the old timers would have just a cloth over the opening. This would allow for natural yeast to get it, usually on the legs of flies.

You should be ok to use it. BUT,,,,, (there is always a but) remind him not to look. If he wants to see activity, watch the bubbles in the air lock.

Guest's picture
NAX

hey everyone,
i just decided to try to get into distilling cuz im broke and am in construction so i have no work right now and i really like liquor, lol. anyway ZORCY YOU ARE AWESOME!!!! i sat here and read ur post and all of almost 300 of the comments in one sitting. i am VERY interested in distilling and i wanted to make sure im doing everything right before i start. im mixing your posted portions of water sugar and yeast into food grade plastic buckets and letting it ferment for about a week or so. im then getting a large pot and sealing it or getting a pressure cooker. from wut ive gotten, it is better to use a a large pot and seal it. is this right, and wut is the cheapest but still effective way to seal the edges? i drill a hole for the copper pipe on top of the pot and run the pipe through a cork into the pot. do i need the cork or can i just seal it, and wut is the cheapest but most effective thing to use to seal all holes drilled? i then run the copper and spiral it into a large bucket filled with cold water and some ice and out the bottom/side of the large bucket into the collection bottle. i am suppose to bring the mash to 173-185 degrees and throw away anything that come out before 173 degrees. what is the best temp to maintain in order to get the highest proof of liquor? do i have to filter the liquor? if its not strong enough can i run it through the still again in order to higher the proof and do i just run it through by itself or mix it with distilled water or something? im really sorry im bothering you with this, but it would b so awesome if you could fill me in on everything at once so i do it the right way and the safe way. you can e-mail me if you want at NAX447@hotmail.com. or just post. if you wanna answer questions with references to previous comments that's fine, and im willing to try to send you some of what i make in return for your help. im gonna get into using essences and make alot of different types of alcohol. THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!

Guest's picture
stillman

(1)re;pressure cooker,on the top of the cooker you should have a 1/8" plug/vent you can just p/u an adapter to go from 1/8 male thread to 1/4 compression fitting and run your copper tubingto your cooling vessel (2)the 1st300ml(12oz) should be tossed it contains impurities from the copper.(3)you'll want to keep the mash temp between 180deg. and 210deg,after212 deg. the water will begin to boil off also diluting your product(4) yes you can filter it through charcoal to take some of the bitterness off.(5) yes you can redistill it to get more impurities out but if you maintained the temp. between 180 and 210 you shouldnt have to do this it should be 140proof on the 1st run. i hope this helps good luck and good stillin

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Nax, thanks for the offer, but since we are all just theorizing on making this stuff, we would never really make it. Me, I am a teetotaler, don't drink a drop ;).

Remember, don't use an ALUMINUM pressure cooker, seal the holes with a cork is ok, I use silicone, black or red are heat and chemical resistant. To seal the lid to the pot, get some bread wet and make a paste. If the plastic bucket lids are the right size, they have a rubber seal you can use. To hold the lid in place, I use jumbo paper clips or clothes pins. Pull off the heads and tails, very little if you are using sugar only. Ounce or 2. The mash will boil at about 180; it can not get hotter until the alcohol is gone. So if it started to go up, it’s done, pull off the last as tails. You can take your product and add distilled water and run again. Since this is a sugar wash, that may not be needed. It will strip away the flavours you will get from sour mash. If you run this right, your product will be so strong, it is poison. Make sure you cut it with distilled water, just to the point that it will not flame when lit. You do not HAVE to filter it, but you should. Use an old Brita filter. You can age it with white American oak shavings, too. Coffee filter it out in a few weeks.

Never send any product. Transporting it is a very big crime.
If you want to try different recipes, I came across this idea for Peach. Soak fresh peaches, with pin pricks in the skin, in the high proof stuff. About a month. Pull the peaches out and dust them with sugar for a day. Pull of the liquid and put to the side. Repeat this till it stops giving you liquid. Now add that liquid to the high proof, filtered, liquor to taste, it will be sweet, peachy and will cut the proof down as you add the sugar.
Got to give credit where it's due, http://www.coppermoonshinestills.com/id28.html and http://homedistiller.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1229

Nice reads.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Just a word to the wise. The internet is a marvelous thing. It knows no bounds from borders or economic standings. You can learn to learn or to help your standing or station in life. Everything you read should always be taken with a grain of salt. Use your better judgment when you can, and research when you must. Don't just take the word or someone because you have seen it written by another, look it up.

Everything here is for knowledge. You can try making moonshine if you like, but know it is illegal in most areas. Some countries have a death penalty for it. Don't post anything that can lead anyone direct to you. Your name, location, email address or clues as to who you may be can be collected and figured out. If you mention you are in the south in one post, that you sell cars in another and your handle is g009le, they can put that together and locate you easily enough. You may have a visit one day.

If you build a still, make it so you can disassemble it and separate the parts so they can be used for something else. A coil of copper is common in a garage, but not the kitchen. If it's next to a spare sink makes for sense then with 3 glass jugs and hydrometer. Do not try this for making money; this is an art to be passed down. Don't draw attention to yourself by getting 300 kg of feed and yeast at the same time. Make small batches and don't sell a drop. If it looks to good to be true, it usually is. Don't fall for the lure of easy money.

If you apply for a distilling license and do not get it, they will visit you to see what you are doing. If I had a lawyer and the cash for pursue it, I would still try to get it. They are still catching people making shine, so don't think it's an outdated law.

Enjoy the subculture and stay safe.

Guest's picture
NAX

oh my bad. i thought you could make it for yourself. just not sell it. some stupid site i guess. im glad i havent bought any of the stuff yet. wut a waste of money it would have been!! maybe i'll come across someone who could use this great info for a school project or something. there's a lot of chemistry kinda classes in college, right? anyway, thanks everyone so much for all of your help. especially Zorcy. ::)

Guest's picture
NAX

ok sorry, one more question and i'll try to leave u alone :) you are allowed to make your own beer and wine, right? you just cant go past the fermenting stage to the distilling stage? and there is'nt anything wrong w/ buying essences to put into liquor that you buy, right? thank you very much ::)

Philip Brewer's picture

It's running the still that's illegal.  (And, of course, possessing, transporting, or selling the product of the still.)

Actually, it's even a little more complicated than that, in that it can be legal to distill ethanol for non-beverage purposes (such as to make ethanol fuel). There are, however, forms to be filed and rules to be followed.  But just making beer or wine for your own household use is entirely legal and there are no special formalities that you need to follow.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

There is a way to ferment at a very high proof. It takes special yeast. Look up Turbo Yeast. You can then enhance it with flavours. This is completely legal. You could say it is very strong, tequila flavoured sugar wine. You can get about 20% which is 40 proof. That is good enough for most people. You can take it a step farther. You can freeze the wine before you add the flavours. The water will ice up and can be removed. You are better off freezing it, let it thaw, and then refreeze it. This helps to layer it with water on top. Much easier to remove the ice this way. You can increase the proof a lot this way. It will increase the flavours carried over from fermentation. So use very clean flavours. Be sure you run it thru Brita filters. This is more susceptible to give you a hangover then real distilled tequila. BUT, it is legal.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Can you believe this post is over 300 long? WOW! I lost the updates on a second page :)

Philip Brewer's picture

Yes, it is a thread to treasure. 

Thank you, Zorcy--and thank you all the readers and commenters!

Guest's picture
A-dam

Phil, this is a good thread. You are informative (and patient) without being a snooty connoisseur. Zorcy added a lot of useful info to the tread as well.

I think the methanol scare has gotten undue attention by many posters. Brewing, and especially distilling your own booze is something few people do anymore. This makes the practice seem rare and mysterious, and dramatic talk of "poisoning" and "going blind" makes for alluring urban legends.

It's been said (ad nauseum) that a must or wash made from sugar, yeast, and water will produce virtually no methanol when it ferments. Fermenting the sugars from fruits and grains may produce more methanol and other "funky" compounds, but still very small amounts.

Let's say someone makes a gallon (128 oz) of homebrew beer with an alcohol content of 5%. That's a total of 6.4 oz of alcohol. If they drink the whole gallon of beer, are they going to go blind? Of course not, even though it may contain a very minute portion of methanol. You can drink 2 or 3 gallons of that beer and not go blind from methanol. Of course, 3 gallons of beer is more than a 30-pack, so your vision may get impaired from the ethanol alone!

Now if you take that gallon of beer and distill it, you will not be "producing" more methanol, just separating the alcohols from the non-alcoholic ingredients of the beer.

But, methanol could be a problem if you are distilling a large batch. Let's say you have 100 gallons of wort at a strength of 20%. A theoretically perfect distillation would yield 20 gallons of pure alcohol. But the small amount of methanol would distill out first, and drinking that concentrated methanol could hurt you. But if you mix all your output together, you have nothing to worry about.

Someone mentioned earlier that much of the methanol poisoning in the past was not from moonshine. Some rotten people may have added cheap methanol to moonshine they sold to increase profits. I have also heard that it was not uncommon for poor alcoholics to drink the juice from Sterno (called the drink a pink lady). Yummy! But most of the hype over "deadly moonshine" was started by the government revenuers to scare the public and prevent moonshiners from selling their mountain dew.

Guest's picture
Guest

If I were to ferment water, white sugar and yeast in a plastic container, would it still be safe if I did not distill it?

I understand that it would probably have an awful taste and low alcohol content, but does a plastic bottle make a difference?

If so, would the jacking technique solve this problem?

Thanks!

Guest's picture
Zorcy

There are many types of plastic. Some are able to hold only room temp liquids, but will still pass small amounts of oxygen that affect the taste of fermentation. This would affect beers and wines more so then mash.

There are other plastics that can handle the temps, such as used in a microwave oven. They do not break down and emit chemicals.

There are plastics designed for chemicals. They store things in them such as chlorine, glycol and yes, alcohol.

You need to be sure to use a food grade and chemical resistant. I find that a pickle bucket works well. It is food grade and withstands a very harsh chemical, acid. You will need to clean it well. Bleaching a lot. I have had some funny smells from some beer for the first run, but was gone on the second.

There is plastic out there that can be used with alcohol and temps up to a level that can be trusted for such things as the "amazing still". This is a great concept and can be run in your closet while you are away.

As far as the taste. The sugar wine would be drinkable as is, even if it picks up taste from the plastic. So long as you have chemical resistant plastic. Jacking will intensify what ever flavour you have. If it’s sweet, it will be sweeter. Alcohol will be stronger. Odors or bouquets will be more pronounced. The only thing you are doing, is physically removing water.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

That is where proof came from. I saw on the history channel, that they took teaspoon of black powder and teaspoon of shine to prove the content, proving-proofing. Not sure what the gunpowder would do, but that is what they said. It could be the colour of the fire. They also show how you can shake it and test it by the bubbles, but you need something to compare to. Keep a bottle of 190, 150, 100, 80 and 40 proof. You can watch the bubbles and judge by that. Just don't drink the test samples if you run low :)

Guest's picture
willieboy

What's the deal with all this inverted snobbery from the hillbillys,about "prohibition era hooch" as opposed to "proper corn-liquor moonshine"? i thought we were all just trying to make some decent harmless alcohol? It all tastes near enough the same when it's properly distilled anyway. Just pay a bit of heed to the brewster. And personally, i'd go for a 10 to 15% wash anyway. Anything less is just a waste of time and too much hassle.

Guest's picture
willieboy

Goddam hillbillys with your "traditional corn-liquor moonshine" as opposed to "prohibition era hooch". Get with the program.Thought we were all just trying to make some decent, safe, drinkable alcohol here. A sugar/yeast wash will give safer and more consistent results. listen up to zorca and the brewster. And get yourself a hydrometer, an alchometer, and an aquarium heater to keep it fermenting at the right temperature.. Even if you're in the appalachians, you can still make it the modern way. Check out the "smartstill" thing. I know i guy who has one. I have seen the future.........and it's a glorious haze!!!And I wouldn't even bother running anything less than a 10 to 15% wasah through a still............waste of time and effort.

Guest's picture
willieboy

And the major problem with jacking is that you are just concentrating the fusels and stuff. you could probably get rid of them , the "heads", by gently warming your hardjack on a stove to evaporate them without reaching a temperature where the decent ethanol would start going, but you'd still be stuck with a lot of concentrated "tails" stuff, wouldn't you?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

What a great idea!!! It should clear a good bit of the heads. The tails should still be there, but it still reduces the hangover some.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

For those out there with one, that were disappointed that it had no use for making a still, I have an idea.

Was doing some research on old still evolution. Seems they moved to a steam still later on. It gets hot faster.

Here is the setup: Have a stainless pot for the still. You will need the head to come off just as before. The only difference would be the heat source. Instead of fire underneath, you will jet in steam. Steam can reach very high temps.

Start with an aluminum pressure cooker. Leave the safety plug in. for the rocker part, take it off and put in a fitting. This is the supply line for steam to the pot. It would not hurt to have a pressure gauge tapped into the lid. Watch the pressure to match what the weight would allow from the original set up of the cooker. The steam will run off thru a copper line and go into the pot, to the bottom of the mash. Have a coil with lots of holes drilled in it, on the bottom. Crimp the end of the coil, but not all the way. Small holes would be good. You do not have to strain out your mash; it won’t be scorched this way. You can ferment in the same pot you distill in. If you are using an open fire, you can be far away from the still and reduce fire hazards. The steam is hotter then just heating the pot, so the heat and bubbles will strip the alcohol right from the first bubble.

It may look odd, but I think this could solve many issues at one time.

Guest's picture
willieboy

Zorcy, what strength wash are you running through,and how are you monitoring it? just rule of thumb stuff (ie. 2 pound of sugar to a gallon will yield 10%) , or are you measuring it with a hydrometer, ( a reading of 1.08 indicates a potential 10%, etc)?I've been hitting a 15% fermentation every time using 2 and half pound of white sugarto the gallon, plus a small tin of molasses dissolved into as well, as extra nutrients for the yeast.I got a cheap aquarium heater for $15 to suspend in it and keep it at around 75 degrees, ( its actually marked in celsius, so it says 25 degrees on the control). Ferments completely from start to finish in a week.

Guest's picture
Rudy Ray

Go with distiller's yeast (i.e., Turbo Yeast) with your basic sugar wash, and forget about settling for 15% fermentation! Also, be confident that you are not producing methanol when you ferment and distill sugars. Methanol is produced by anaerobic metabolism of bacteria, like in compost piles, decaying cow manure, and landfills. It is also produced from pyrolytic distillation of wood. Fusel alcohols (often referred to as fusel oils) are the major undesirable products resulting from fermentation of sugar. As I have mentioned before, these include primarily acetaldehyde, 1-propanol, 2-propanol (isopropyl alcohol), 2-methyl-1-butanol, and 3-methyl-1-butanol. These compounds are the culprits of the yeast-like odor of the distillate. Their presence in vodka is considered to be an indication of poor quality. However, in some specific beers the flavor is acceptable, and even desirable and intentional. The most dangerous impurities typically come from whatever equipment is used in the process. Lead is a prime example. Don't be concerned about methanol. That is simply just not an issue based on anything other than rumor and ignorance. I am not advocating that anyone should distill their own liquor, but if you decide to, you should educate yourself on basic principals of Organic Chemistry. If you rely on what you hear, even from me (a chemist), then you really only have a vague idea of what you are doing. That isn't exactly the best recipe for success. Don't be afraid to pick up a textbook!

Guest's picture
The new guy

Do I pour my whole batch back into a new wash and distill again or back into the old wash

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Cut your run with distilled water. Go for something that is NOT flammable. You want a clean mash this time, but not so strong that you are boiling what amounts to gasoline over an open flame. Just cut it to equal half of what you started with, distilled water, which should be ok. It should only be double the original strength.

Guest's picture
willieboy

I've tried the turbo stuff, and, okay, it gives a much higher yield of alcohol and a much faster fermentation, but even after dumping the first part of each run to cut out the fusels, i've found it still leaves a distinct and slightly unpleasant aftertaste. Has anyone else found this?? I've been putting the grated peels of a few lemons in it (because the citrus oils evaporate around the same temperature as ethanol) and running it through again. And carbon-filtering it a few times. There must be an easier way of removing the "off" taste of turbo yeast?? I'm ending up with what tastes like lemon grappa every time here.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Are you separating the wart clean? You may need to let it settle more and pull off the clear part. If there is a lot of yeast in the mash still, it will carry some flavour. You could try a double fermentation. Start your first fermentation and run it for a few days with regular yeast. When it settles, add sugar and turbo yeast to kick up the level. Most of the flavour will be from the first yeast.

Clean the still, you could have residual mess it the column still.

I have some distillers yeast. Not a lot of flavour but gets high proof. I use it for making hard lemonade. Packs a kick.

Guest's picture
willieboy

Yo, Zorcy. You're a pretty knowledgeable guy; can you help me out on this one, please? I was given 5 gallons of home-made carrot wine. It tastes like a strong beer, maybe around 8 or 9% stuff. I wasn't really too impressed with the taste of it, so I ran it through the still. After ditching the heads and fusels, I've got over half a gallon of 50%+ 'shine/ poteen, whatever you want to call it. The thing is, it has a slight smell, vaguely reminiscent of acetone.Is it possible that you could distill acetone from a fermentation of root vegetables? It burns with a blue flame, the same as ethanol. Could it just be a flavour that's particular to carrot wine? Or maybe running it through again might improve it?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

"Acetone has been rated as a GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) substance when present in beverages, baked goods, desserts, and preserves at concentrations ranging from 5 to 8 mg/L"

Just to take the scare off. Acetone evaporates at room temp very fast. The chance of it condensing in your still is very slim. I do not think you have any in your product. That said, I think it is just the taste of it. You should be able to cut it with distilled water, run thru a Brita filter then distill again. Make sure your rig is clean before you start. If you are using a thumper or double, but beer in it instead of your product. It will carry over the beer flavour more so then the carrot top mountain taste.

Guest's picture
Guest

Hi, Zorcy - I don't have a lot of time to read through all the posts, so if you don't mind, I have a bunch of questions.

1. When distilling, using the pot, bowl, and upside down lid method, do I still need to throw away the the heads and the tails?

2. Does the coiled up portion need to be in ice, or is cold water good enough?

3. When distilling from a pressure cooker, is it OK to stick a deep-frying thermometer through the rubber fitting of the safety blow-hole?

4. I read that the copper line can get clogged, causing the cooker to blow. What causes that, unless the mashed is being cooked with the liquid. Is the mash supposed to be cooked with the liquid, or is only the liquid supposed to be cooked.

5. Should my tubing be 1/4" diameter or can I use 3/8" diameter?

6.Do I really need to use distilled water? I have made many batches of beer and wine using tap water, and I've never had any problems.

7. Are you sure that a magnet won't stick to a stainless steel pressure cooker? I tried a magnet on every stainless steel item in my kitchen, and it stuck to every one of them.

8. I tested my pressure cooker for temperature (with a deep-frying thermometer stuck through the safety hole) and it appears that the thing would get up to 200o even at the 2nd lowest setting on my electric burner. Is it not possible to maintain a constant temperature of 180o? I can't seem to do that, even when I start at a low setting.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. I apologize if these questions are already answered....I just didn't have the time to read all the posts.

Cheers!

Guest's picture
Guest

Sorry....I forgot to ask that if I made 23 to 25 litres of cornshine, what would be the ideal amount of cornmeal and sugar, and how much shine would it make after distillation? Thanks.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

1. There will be no separation. It will not be strong enough to matter. Make sure you use sugar wash for this, to avoid the stuff you would normally pull off.

2. So long as you can touch it without having to pull your hand off is cool enough. It is long enough and enough air flow, it would work too. Usually, with high output, it gets really hot, so water should be used.

3. Any time you changed the safety equipment, you open a chance for danger. If this is dedicated to distilling, drill another hole. Try to make it very similar to the blow out hole, so it does not affect the integrity of the lid structure.

4. If the copper really gets plugged, yes, it can blow up. If you had corn mash and it boiled up and got in the line, it would plug solid. If your coil goes up hill, you can get a vapor or water dam that will increase the pressure in the pot, but should not blow up, only force the liquid thru forcibly. If you are doing a large batch, say 200 gallons, you may not want to separate the grain from the wart. If you are doing 20 gallons or less, pull it off and distill it as clean as you can. You can get off flavours from the grains cooking in the still.

5. Decide your production level. If you do small batches, 1/4 is fine. It will condense faster. If you are doing high volumes, you need the size to allow the volume that will come thru at a high rate. That could cause pressure to build up, blow past the condenser to fast to cool or ever blow the still. Commercial distillers' videos show something more like 1/2 to 3/4, but it is really pouring out. I am sure they have a really efficient cooling system on the condenser as well.

6. You do not have to do it, but anything you do that distills out, is amplified about 8 times. If you leave enough minerals behind and reuse the wash for the next mash, then reuse that, and again, again and again.... you start to get a build up. You should be fine for a few runs though.

7. You could have steel cores or a low quality stainless, with high iron content. It should tell you the type stainless you have, on the handle area. So long as it is NOT aluminum, you will be ok. If you find small pin holes start to develope, don't be surprised.

8. For the most part, it will only get as hot as the compound in the still. Alcohol boils around 180. It will hold that temp until there is no more alcohol, then it will go up to the next compound and boil at their temp. Usually, the next one is water, and will then boil around 210. When you see the temp start climbing above 185, you are out of alcohol and should stop distilling.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

I used this info, not my own. The best kept secret is at http://homedistiller.org/

To make a grain mash for whiskey : Heat 4 kg cracked or crushed malt with 18 L of water to 63-65 &degC, and hold there for 1-1.5 hours. Heat to 73-75 &degC, then strain off and keep liquid, using 250 mL of hot water to rinse the grains. Cool to below 30 &degC (should have an initial specific gravity of 1.050). Add hydrated yeast & leave to ferment.

To get the same effect, you can also do a malt-extract brew (like making beer kits), then boil 1-2 kg of grains or cracked corn and add them for flavour.

Only use a grain mash if you're specifically after a whisky/bourbon, of if making a vodka and it is cheaper than sugar to do so.

You need to use either malt or enzymes to convert the starch into sugar so that the yeast can use it.

My comments again: Bean-o is a great enzyme. Wiki says about 4 or 5 tablets for every 5 gallons. Give it an extra day to ferment as it works harder and longer then without. Malt gives it flavours, if you choose that route.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Guess that was vague. It depends on the alcohol level of your mash. If you have 25l at 10%, an ideal would put all of that in the product at 200 proof, you get 2.5l. Since you can not get 200 proof, it increases to more like 3l at around the 150-180 proof. If you did not distill it out very well and you have 80-100 proof, then its more like 5l. If you can get your mash up to 20%, then you can double all your outputs.

for Sugar, use this handy calculator, http://www.brewhaus.com/Calculators-C108.aspx

I don't have one for grains.

Guest's picture
Guest

I weighed my pressure cooker, and it weighs close to five pounds, including the lid. It definately doesn't feel light like aluminum does. I even did the scratch test with a fork tine, and I had to apply considerable pressure to put a scratch on it. It also has these tiny pits on the metal like pin pricks just like on the one my mom used to own. Having said all that, can I assume that it's a stainless steel model? It doesn't say on the cooker what type of metal it is. I also noticed that after I did my temperature testing with just water, the water looked a little cloudy....would that be from the minerals in the water, or does that indicate an aluminum cooker? Thanks.

Guest's picture
willieboy

zorcy...thanks! ran it through again after filtering.........no acetone taste. i believe acetone has a 58 degree point or something anyway, so it should have come over before the fusels?. must be just a particular carrot odour. The whole aluminium debate puzzles me. My uncle had a still made from an aluminium milk churn...well not exactly a "churn" as such, more like one of those aluminium double-handled containers with the deep lids that the dairy collected the milk from the farm in. there never seemed to be any problem taste-wise or anything with his poteen.I always heard that the chemicals in the coating on stainless were more harmful. anything in this??

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Aluminum will be very thick. not quite 1/4 inch, but close enough to know it's thick. Stainless will be closer the the thickness of a heavy stainless cooking spoon. If you take a green scrubby to the aluminum and swirl it around wet, you will get a gray slurry. Stainless will not do this.

For pitting, try the magnet, if it does not stick, it is pitted, then it is aluminum. She has cooked something acidic at some time. Salty would cause it too. If the magnet does stick, it is pitted, then it is low quality stainless and should work ok.

Stainless is not a coated steel core, but a mix of metals. Chromium is the non rusting part, as far as I know. This makes it rust, stain, heat and chemical resistant. Alcohol is corrosive, just ask your liver;) Heat speeds up chemical reaction most of the time. These are what you are fighting on the still. You can use pure steel, but it will start to rust almost instantly. There was a still on the internet made from a 55 gallon steel barrel the molasses came in. That will work, but will also rust quickly.

The cloudiness of water when boiled in a pitted pan will have extra O2. The extra captured air will go into the water and make it cloudy. Turn off the heat and wait, does it go away? Then the tinny bubbles have floated to the top and disappeared, I still think its aluminum though.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

I worked at a spa and hot tub company making fiberglass shells. We used acetone to clean the brushes and rollers. We would use 55 gallon barrels of the stuff. If you take a room temperature can of beer, wrap a paper towel around it and start to dip and let dry in acetone, It will get cold enough to drink in a short bit of time. I don't know if there was any residual smell or taste, as I could smell and taste acetone all the time, even at home.

Guest's picture
willieboy

that's a bit like the outdoor cooling thing where you hang your can of beer in a wet cloth, isn't it? as the water evaporates , even on a hot day, your beer gets nice and cool. But back to the aluminium queation, if it's not too much of a drag. What's wrong with it? it must be a food-grade material if the dairy board collected milk in it, surely? And i have a set of saucepans of varying sizes, all made of aluminium. A british company, Swan brand.so why would it be unsafe for making a still? Is this anything to do with the whole Alzheimers/aluminium connection debate?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

The aluminum is not chemical resistant. It is not so much the heat, as it is the chemical. Any time you add chemicals AND heat, it gets worse. Aluminum is absorbed by the body. If it pits the pan, the aluminum is dissolved, guess where it goes. Have you seen those sole stickers that turn black and are supposed to absorb the chemicals from the body? That is the aluminum in you coming out. Ever get a dark spot under your arms from sweating? That comes from using deodorant with aluminum in it. I did not hear about the Alzheimer connection till just now. WOW! Just read up on some of it. I guess if you are distilling enough, getting Alzheimer may not be your personal leading cause to memory loss.

When there are so many options available to you, if you are given a bad side effect, even small, avoidance is easy and preferable.

Guest's picture
Guest

When starting the boil for the distilling, what would be the ideal setting for the burner? I am assuming that a gradual temperature climb at a low setting would be ideal. Is that correct?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Won't really matter. It will only go up to the boiling point of alcohol anyways. Might as well crank it and get there right away.

When you do your second run, you will cut it with distilled water. That takes away the guess work of flash point of almost pure alcohol, too.

Slow increase would be more of a concern if you left your sludge in the bottom of the pot. It could scorch before the wash could boil and stir it up. In order to keep off flavours from forming, you would want to pull that off anyways.

Guest's picture
Guest

I was wondering how a person would know if they accidently killed their yeast by adding it to their mash before it was cooled down enough???????

Guest's picture
Guest

And in theory-- if some one did kill their yeast due to a temperature mistake, would it be ok to add another pack now that the mash is at room temp?

Guest's picture
Zorcy

You can add as much yeast as you like. In fact, you can save your old, dead yeast to use as food for the yeast that is still alive. You can start with a yeast with a certain note, or flavour. Then finish off with a second dose of special yeast, that kicks the proof up.

You may want to take note that the yeast has dropped out and the mash has cleared before you put the heat to it. Any excess will fall out and can be pulled off.

Guest's picture
Guest

Thank you for the quick response. I always hear that you can tell if your batch is still fermenting by bubbles. How long after adding the yeast should bubbles take to form. And if their is little bubble activity in the first day or so is that a sign of a person who killed off their yeast due to temperature. Thanks again for your quick responses.

Guest's picture
willie-boy

How do re-start a "stuck" fermentation? It's at the right temperature, (i have an aquarium heater in it), but it's stopped fermenting with enough sugar still in it to make another 5% alcohol or so, according to my hydrometer reading. I'm using a high-alcohol wine yeast that supposedly ferments up to 18 or 20%. i've tried putting more yeast nutrient in it, but it didn't work. Any ideas?

Guest's picture
Guest

I decided to use an enameled cookoing pot to make a still out of. I already drilled a 1/4 inch hole into the lid to accomodate the 1/4 inch copper tubing. I'm trying to figure out a way to firmly attach the tubing and make it as detachable as possible. I know that the most firm methtod would be to solder it, but I want to break it down after each opperation. Would just using a dough mix work to seal the tubing? Would two corks or stoppers work if I attach them to the top and bottom of the lid? I have a tap and die set...could I thread the tubing and the hole in the lid? Does anyone know what the best method would be? Thanks.

Guest's picture
Zorcy

Try a brass compression fitting and BLACK silicone to seal and "glue" to the lid. You can just pull off the nut on the compression fitting.

Willie, try dissolving some table sugar in hot water, then pour that in the mix. Another bit of an issue, is the type of sugar you used to start with. table sugar is digestible by the yeast easily. there are some complex sugars that need converted first. That is why some people use malted barley. The enzyme breaks the sugars down and allow the yeast to eat it. Get a few Bean-O tabs, crush them, dissolve them and drop them in. You should see some air bubbles in the air lock within the hour.

Yeast. Any bubble activity shows the yeast is alive. If you did kill off some yeast with hot water, some survived. They will double in volume every 20 minutes. If you went from 10 Million cells to 10, then it will take a while to get back to 10 Million. That is where it will just start to do the work. Keep the temps right, and be patient. It sounds like you are still in the race. Before you add your yeast, always pitch it. That is re hydrating dry yeast. Take a cup on warm water, a tablespoon of table sugar and the yeast. Stir it up and sit it in a warm, calm area. it will bubble up a lot. 20 minutes doubles your yeast. It also gives them some time to start working before you throw them into a strange environment that forces them to overwork with all that sugar and water volume.

Guest's picture
willie-boy

Zorcy, there's 2 two types of white granulated table sugar, isn't there? The refined cane stuff and the beet stuff? Is there any real difference between them when using it for making alcohol? I always boil it up with lemon juice for about 20 minutes before when making a wash; a guy I know who is a research chemist said to do this to turn it into "invert sugar", which supposedly ferments better. Dunno if there's any truth in this at all; it "stuck" this time! And thanks for the help; it's bubbling away again.

Philip Brewer's picture

Granulated sugar is just sucrose; it doesn't make any difference whether it comes from cane or beats.

In fact, as far as the yeast is concerned, it doesn't even matter if it's sucrose. Yeast can also eat glucose, fructose, etc.

So, the key thing for moonshine is to get the cheapest sugar you can find. For most people, that's white granulated sugar, but if you've got a source for really cheap glucose or high fructose corn syrup, go for it.

(Most yeast can also digest maltose, the kind found in grain, which is why you can make beer and scotch. The yeasts that live in sourdough starter are an exception. Yeasts in general can't digest lactose, so don't try to make moonshine out of milk.)

Guest's picture
Zorcy

But don't scoff at lactose. If you have a supply of it, keep it handy. It makes great creme stouts, creme soda and root beer!! It gives it a smooth creamy mouth feel that you can not beat. Since it does not ferment the same, you have sugar left over after carbonating the soda. But that is off subject, sorry. :)

Guest's picture
willie-boy

Don't the Mongolians ferment horses milk into an alcoholic drink? Koumis, i think it's called,(must google this and check it out). Must be able to distil that, surely? Though god knows what it would taste like..........

Philip Brewer's picture

There's a good wikipedia article on kumis:

Much like sourdough starter, kumis fermentation uses lactobacilli to break down the lactose, producing lactic acid. Yeasts make alcohol with whatever they can find, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide, but the result isn't going to be very alcoholic, unless you add sugar from some other source. Pretty sour, though.

In a lactose-intolerant population, producing kumis is a good way to turn otherwise undigestible milk into something people can consume. But, again, I don't see it making good moonshine.

Guest's picture
Guest

Phillip: Thank you very much for all you have put into this blog as it has been the most helpful I have found. I am just digging into all of this and just have one question that I don't seem to see the answer posted to. At what point does a person add fruit for flavoring moonshine (not as a sugar substitute)? During the fermentation, distillation or aging? I have shared friends before that had a distinct blueberry or strawberry flavor which takes a bit of the edge off! Thanks!!!!!

Guest's picture
willie-boy

I've found that if you run it through the still, and then infuse something in it (say, juniper berries for a gin flavour; star anise for an ouzo flavour, etc) for a couple of weeks, and then distill it again, the flavour comes through. Has to be run at least once before flavouring; the oils from the juniper, lemon, anise, vanilla or whatever you're using come over at about the same temperature as the fusels; you'd have to ditch them if you flavoured the wash with them to try to get the flavour on a first run.