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1477New Distillers FAQ

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  • Ackland, Tony (CALNZAS)
    Nov 18, 2001
    • 0 Attachment
      "NEW DISTILLERS" Frequently Asked Questions (Sept'01)

      Posted near the 1st of each month, to the NEW_DISTILLERS newsgroup at
      www.yahoogroups.com

      Please email any additions, corrections, clarifications required, etc
      regarding the FAQ to Tony Ackland (ackland@...), however please
      direct any general questions to the newsgroup itself.

      *******************************************************************

      1) Is distilling hard to do ?
      2) Is it legal ?
      3) Will it make me blind ?
      4) Whats the difference between a pot still, reflux still, and fractionating
      column ?
      5) How do I get or make a still ?
      6) How do I make a whisky / rum / vodka / gin ?
      7) Should I use sugar or grains ?
      8) Can I use fruit wine ?
      9) How do I get rid of that "off-taste" ?
      10) How do I measure the strength of it & dilute it ?
      11) How do I flavour/turn the vodka's into something else ?
      12) What web resources are there ?
      13) How do I contact the NEW DISTILLERS news group ?
      14) Can I run my car on it ?
      15) How do I convert between gallons and litres and ....
      16) What is a "Thumper" ?
      17) Can I use a reflux still to make rum or whisky ?

      **********************************************************************

      1) Is distilling hard to do ?

      Nope - if you can follow instructions enough to bake scones, then you can
      sucessfully distil. To distil well however, will require you to understand
      what you're doing, so read around and get a bit of information under your
      belt before you begin.

      2) Is it legal ?

      Probably not. It is only legal in New Zealand, and some European countries
      turn a blind eye to it, but elsewhere it is illegal, with punishment ranging
      from fines to imprisonment or floggings. This action against it is usually
      the result of either religous beliefs (right or wrong), but more generally
      due to the great revenue base it provides Governements through excise taxes.
      So if you are going to distil, just be aware of the potential legal
      ramifications.

      3) Will it make me blind ?

      Not if you're careful. This pervasive question is due to moonshine lore,
      which abounds with myths of blindness, but few actual documented cases. The
      concern is due to the presence of methanol (wood alcohol), an optic nerve
      poison, which can be present in small amounts when fermenting grains or
      fruits high in pectin. This methanol comes off first from the still, so it
      is easily segregated and discarded. A simple rule of thumb for this is to
      throw away the first 50 mL you collect (per 20 L mash used). Probably the
      greatest risk to your health during distilling is the risk of fire -
      collecting a flammable liquid near a heat source. So keep a fire
      extinguisher nearby.

      4) Whats the difference between a pot still, reflux still, and fractionating
      column ?

      A pot still simply collects and condenses the alcohol vapours that come off
      the boiling mash. This will result in an alcohol at about 40-60% purity,
      with plenty of flavour in it. If this distillate were put through the pot
      still again, it would increase in purity to around 70-85% purity, and lose a
      bit of its flavour.

      A reflux still does these multiple distillations in one single go, by having
      some packing in a column between the condensor & the pot, and allowing some
      of the vapour to condense and trickle back down through the packing. This
      "reflux" of liquid helps clean the rising vapour and increase the % purity.
      The taller the packed column, and the more reflux liquid, the purer the
      product will be. The advantage of doing this is that it will result in a
      clean vodka, with little flavour to it - ideal for mixing with flavours etc.


      A fractionating column is a pure form of the reflux still. It will condense
      all the vapour at the top of the packing, and return about 9/10 back down
      the column. The column will be quite tall - say 600-1200mm (2-4 foot), and
      packed with a material high in surface area, but which takes up little space
      (pot scrubbers are good for this). It will result in an alcohol 95%+ pure
      (the theoretical limit without using a vacuum is 96.48 %(by volume)), with
      no other tastes or impurities in it.

      5) How do I get or make a still ?

      If you're after a pot still, these are generally home made using what-ever
      you have at hand - say copper tubing and old water heaters or pressure
      cookers. Reflux stills can be made from plans on the net, or bought from
      several manufacturers. For reflux stil plans see Stillmakers "Build a World
      Class Distillation Apparatus" at http://www.Moonshine-Still.com (Free!) or
      Gert Strands : http://partyman.se/Engelsk/default.htm (US$5). A good book is
      Ian Smileys "Making Pure Corn Whisky" at
      http://www.magma.ca/~smiley/main.htm, with full design details. See the list
      of "web resources" below for links to sites selling ready-made stills. For
      fuel alcohol stills see the Mother Earth Alcohol Fuel manual at
      http://journeytoforever.org/biofuel_library/ethanol_motherearth/meToC.html,
      and the The Manual for the Home and Farm Production of Alcohol Fuel by S.W.
      Mathewson at
      http://journeytoforever.org/biofuel_library/ethanol_manual/manual_ToC.html

      Regarding the choice of heating for the still - if you have 240V available
      it is usually easiest to control & safer (particularly with internal
      elements). Gas can be used, but more care is needed to keep the collection
      container further away and not letting it overfill.

      6) How do I make a whisky / vodka / rum / gin ?

      Whiskey : Heat 4 kg cracked or crushed malt with 18 L of water to 63-65C,
      and hold there for 1-1.5 hours. Heat to 73-75C, then strain off and keep
      liquid, using 250 mL of hot water to rinse the grains. Cool to below 30C
      (should have an initial specific gravity of 1.050). Add hydrated yeast &
      leave to ferment (maintain at 26C) until airlock stops bubbling and final SG
      of around 1.010. Let settle for a day, then syphon carefully into a pot
      still. Discard the first 50 mL's, collect the next 2-3L of distillate or
      until you start noticing the tails coming through.

      Vodka : dissolve 5 kg of sugar & 60g of nutrients in 20L of water, cool to
      below 30C and add hydrated yeast. Leave to ferment at 25C until below an SG
      of around 0.990, then settle for a day. Syphon into a reflux or
      fractionating still, and collect as per usual.

      Rum : as per vodka, but use some brown sugar or mollasses, to give an
      initial specific gravity (SG) of around 1.06 - 1.07. Run through either a
      pot still, or a not-so-great reflux still.

      Gin : make a very pure vodka, then add the following essence. Simmer 35g of
      juniper berries in 350 mL of 50% vodka for ten minutes with the lid on, let
      cool overnight, then filter through coffee filters. Use 5-10 mL of this
      essence per bottle of vodka.

      When doing any fermenting, take a lot of care to ensure that any items used
      are clean/sterile (soaking them in a water + bleach (10 mL per litre) ), or
      else the wash can start growing other things. Use a closed fermenter with an
      airlock too, to let the CO2 out without letting wild yeasts, bugs etc in.
      For more information about fermenting, see beer or wine homebrewing sites.

      7) Should I use sugar or grains/fruit ?

      It depends on what sort of still you have, and what you are trying to make.
      If you have a reflux or fractionating still, only use whatever is cheapest
      (usually sugar), as the refluxing will strip out all the flavours anyhow. If
      you have a pot still, and are after a bourban or whiskey, then you need to
      go the grain route, or mollasses if after a rum. If you are trying to make a
      neutral spirit for flavouring, go for sugar.

      Basic guidelines for using them are ..
      SUGAR. Wine yeast can use no more than 2.5lbs of sugar/1imp gal or
      2.2lb/1U.S.gal or 1.25kg/5litres of must. This will produce 14%a.b.v. Honey
      and liquid malt extract are 80% sugar so you need 1.5kg/5l must or mash.
      Molasses is 50% sugar so you need 2.5kg/5l must or mash. Maple syrup is 32%
      sugar. Carob beans are 45% sugar. Sugar beets are 15% sugar Grain malt is
      60% sugar (starch converted to sugars) so you need 1.5kg/5l mash. Cooked
      grain contains 60% convertible starch so you need 1.5kg/5l mash
      FRUIT - Grapes contain the ideal sugar, water, acid balance. A sugar content
      of 17-23% and a water content of about 80%. 8kg of grapes produces 5l of
      wine. Most common fruits (apples, plums, apricots) contain about 10% sugar
      and 85% water. Cherries and figs contain 15% sugar. A fruit mash could be
      4kg fruit, (400g sugar content), 2l water (3l in pulp already), 800g
      additional sugar. Bananas are 17-24% sugar, 75% water. Acid content 0.3%. A
      banana mash could be 4kg of cooked bananas, 2l water (3l in pulp
      already),400g sugar. Add 3lemons/5l for correct pH. Dates are 70% sugar, 20%
      water. Add acid to a date mash. Raisins and sultanas have a water content of
      about 15% and a sugar content of 60%, grapes have a water content of 75% and
      a sugar content of about 20%, so using 1.5-2kg/5l of water appears about
      right if we want to reconstitute them.
      ACID - 5g of citric acid (1tsp)/5l must raises acidity by 0.1%. 3g of
      calcium carbonate powder lowers acidity by 0.1%. A pH of 5 is 0.4% acidity.
      Winemakers aim for 0.6% acidity. Most common fruits are about 0.6% acid
      content. For distilling, a higher acidity in the mash helps to suppress
      bacteria. A high tannin content doesn't matter as we are not making wine.
      Meaurements are logarithmic, so a pH of 4 is 10 times more acidic than a pH
      of 5.
      YEAST - Brewers (& possibly baker's yeast) can tolerate only 8% alcohol. A
      bottom fermenting lager yeast ferments out all the sugars better than a top
      fermenting ale yeast. A good wine yeast (Champagne, in the right conditions,
      can tolerate 15%a.b.v. (up to 18%a.b.v. in optimal conditions - no need to
      use expensive turbos). Wild yeasts vary, but some are very low - this is a
      risky path. Whisky distillers often use a combination of yeasts - initially
      a brewer's yeast because they believe it effects the flavor.

      8) Can I use fruit wine ?

      Sure, if you have it available. Again, using a pot still will result in a
      brandy/grappa/schnapps, whereas a reflux still will just strip it down to
      neutral spirit.

      9) How do I get rid of that "off-taste" ?

      That "rough moonshine edge" or "off-taste / wet cardboard smell" is due to
      impurities such as the higher order alcohols, known as cogeners or fusel
      oils. These will be present more when using a pot still, less if using a
      reflux still, and just about absent if using a fractionating column. So one
      way is to use a taller packed column and increase the amount of reflux
      occuring. They can also indicate that you've tried to collect too much of
      the alcohol, and have run into the "tails"; so finish collecting a little
      bit earlier next time. Soaking tainted alcohol with activated carbon for a
      week (or even months) will help remove some of this flavour - this is known
      as "polishing" the spirit. I'm also suspecting that you need a little bit of
      copper somewhere in the still where it can come in contact with the vapour.
      The copper helps catalyse some of the sulphur, esters & organic acids,
      reducing their odour & taste.

      10) How do I measure the strength of it & dilute it ?

      You need a hydrometer. This is a wee float, with a scale inside it. The more
      alcohol that is present, the lighter the density of the liquid, so the
      hydrometer sinks a bit lower. You then just read off the scale how much
      alcohol is present. You need a seperate hydrometer for measuring the density
      of the mash, as this is generally > 1.0, whereas the spirit is < 1.0, and
      they can't accurately do both ends of the scale.

      11) How do I flavour/turn the vodka's into something else ?

      There are now many commercial flavourings available, which turn vodka or
      neutral alcohol into pretty decent gin or whiskey, or all manor of liqueurs.
      See the commercial sites, like Des Zines
      http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~topkiwi or Ray Toms http://moonshine.co.nz/ for
      details. Or you can soak it with oak chips and make whiskey, or soak fruits
      in it to make your own liqueurs.

      12) What web resources are there ?

      For more details, see :
      Tony Ackland's http://homedistiller.org
      Aaron Smiths's http://www.go.to/distillation
      Steve Spence's http://www.webconx.com/ethanol.htm
      StillMaker's http://www.Moonshine-Still.com
      Biofuels Library http://journeytoforever.org/biofuel_library.html

      13) How do I contact the NEW DISTILLERS news group ?

      Both the NEW DISTILLERS and the DISTILLERS news groups are available via
      YahooGroups, at http://www.yahoogroups.com . NEW DISTILLERS is, as the name
      suggests, intended for those of you new to distilling and after simple,
      straight-forward discussions, whereas the DISTILLERS group is a bit more
      advanced, throwing in bits of design philosophy, theory, and alternative
      ways of achieving the results. Both tend to overlap to some extent.

      14) Can I run my car on it ?

      You can run your car on alcohol over about 80% purity. Because any water
      present will seperate out in the presence of the gasoline (and become a
      problem), you either need to exclusively use the alcohol, or dry it right
      out (eg 99%+ purity) if using it to mix with gasoline. See Steve Spences
      site for more details, the Mother Earth Alcohol Fuel manual, or the The
      Manual for the Home and Farm Production of Alcohol Fuel. In addition, in the
      USA, you can get a "small fuel producer" permit, which allows small scale
      distilling for "motor fuel" purposes. A nice advantage is that they don't
      require denaturing for "fuel" used on the premises. The regulations are
      posted at http://www.webconx.com/ethanolusaregs.htm

      15) How do I convert between gallons and litres and ....

      To convert between SI & Imperial units, multiply the first unit by the
      conversion factor to get the second. Divide back to do it in reverse .eg 1L
      = 0.264 US gal, so 20 L = 20 x 0.264 = 5.28 US gal, and 20 US gal / 0.264 =
      75.76 L

      1 L = 0.264 US gal = 0.221 UK gal
      1 L = 1.057 US qt = 0.880 UK qt
      1 kg = 2.204 lbm = 32.15 oz (troy) = 35.27 oz (av)
      deg F = ((9/5) x deg C )+ 32
      1m = 1000 mm = 39.37 inch = 3.28 ft = 1.09 yd

      16) What is a "Thumper" ?

      A "thumper" is an extra chamber sometimes fitted to a pot still. It can be
      as simple as a glass jar with two holes in the lid. The off-take from the
      still is fed into it, with the pipe running almost all the way to the bottom
      of the jar; the jar is half filled with liquid (water or mash or tails) so
      that the vapour from the still will bubble up through it; then the vapour
      coming off it is collected & cooled as per normal. It acts as a second
      distilling chamber using just the heat from the vapour, and lifts the purity
      from 50-60% to 70-80%, hence improving what might otherwise be a very
      mediocre design.

      17) Can I use a Reflux Still to make Rum or Whisky ?

      Yes you can. To do so, you need to carefully monitor the various transitions
      between the foreshots, heads, middle run, and tails, and time the collection
      of the middle run precisely. The reflux still allows you to more precisely
      judge the changes between the various stages, and hence target them
      accurately. A typical rum or whisky would be obtained by discarding the
      foreshots, then collecting the heads, middle run, and then begin the tails,
      until the purity has dropped to around 58-60% (81.4C). By altering when to
      start collecting, and how late to time the final "cut", various flavour
      profiles will result.
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