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The Science of Whiskey Barrels

                    

There has been a recent trend in the small, independently brewed liquor makers’ community.  While men and women all over the world have entrusted their palates to fine liquor makers from established distilleries, there has been growing interest among newcomers to the market, and liquor enthusiasts to produce their own spirits.  There can be no mistaking the allure of creating your own concoctions, whether it is whiskey, gin, or any other potent potables.  This is why consumers have looked to our website seeking, for example, a 1 gallon copper moonshine still for sale.  However, what is often forgotten among whiskey makers is the inclusion of an extra phase in this particular drink’s production: barrels. 

While other drinks do not necessarily require the utilization of barrels, such as vodka or white whiskey, the ultimate concoction of a fine whiskey often arises from time spent within barrels.  Barrels, as you may well be aware, can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  If you’ve ever seen a pirate movie, you’ve probably seen barrels of rum or other liquids on the decks of their ships.  If you’ve seen a Jameson commercial, you’ve probably seen the eponymous character making some daring act or other in defense of his precious whiskey.  However, what you may not realize is how specific and, really, how special the construction of these barrels actually is.

The choice of wood for the barrels often varies, with oak being among the preferred wood types.  Because of the alcohol content in whiskey, it acts as a solvent, causing it to break down the compounds contained within the wood of the barrels.  As such, the drink which ultimately is borne from this time within the barrel takes on many of the flavors lying dormant within the staves.  What eventually finds its way into the bottles (where the aging process is ended) comes from the effects of both the distillation process and the aging process within the barrels.  In fact, many independent makers prefer to utilize smaller barrels in an effort to maximize the inner surface of the barrel interacting with the liquid.  If a whiskey enthusiast were to buy 1 gallon copper moonshine still and then produce whiskey to be stored in smaller, well-crafted barrels, they would be very happy with the results of this aging process.

Therefore, it is necessary for anyone interested in distilling whiskey and aging it in barrels to select the right ones for the job.  While many independent confectioners and whiskey hobbyists may be incline to skip the aging step altogether, it should be noted that the aging process is often said to account for as much as 60% of the whiskey’s eventual flavor.  Additionally, the added factors involved with storage location (indoors or outdoors, warm weather or cold weather, rough or still conditions, etc.) will also be primary factors governing the effects upon the finished product. 

While the importance of barrels in making whiskey cannot be ignored, I caution you not to undervalue the still's impact upon the finished product.  A 1 gallon copper moonshine still for sale on our company’s website will no doubt prove to be a versatile tool in creating many different types of liquor, including but not limited to rum, cider, whiskey, and vodka.  However, with the purchase of small and finely constructed barrels, you could even age your own whiskey and, a few years from now, reap the benefits of this patient and thoughtful process.  If you do decide to make the dual investment of time and effort, you cannot go wrong with the decision to buy 1 gallon copper moonshine still which is offered by our company.  This will no doubt be the first step in a glorious road towards your production of the finest spirits possible.

How Much Alcohol Will My Whiskey Still Make?

Although every copper moonshine still is different, many distillers start with a basic question like “how much moonshine will my still produce?” or “how much will I get out of my 5 gallon whiskey still?”

While there is no definitive answer - you will have to make 2 or 3 batches with your particular whiskey still to understand how it operates most efficiently - we can give you some general guidelines, so that you can adjust your methods if you aren’t producing moonshine efficiently.

Factors that Affect Yield

The alcohol proof of your final product will be based on a variety of factors - the strength of the ingredients in your mash, the chemistry of how those ingredients interact, and the efficiency of your distillation run. These factors contribute to the alcohol by volume of the mash and its alcohol wash, which is then distilled into your whiskey or moonshine. Consider how each of the following will help you make the most of each alcohol run.

Yeast and Sugar

There is a delicate science to combining the yeast and the sugar in your moonshine mash recipe so that the maximum amount of sugar is fermented into alcohol. Generally, more sugar is better, but too much is waste. In addition to finding the right proportion of yeast to sugar in your whiskey mash recipe, you will want to use a distiller’s yeast instead of regular bread yeast. Distiller’s yeast has been bred to withstand higher alcohol concentrations, and so can ferment more sugar in any moonshine mash recipe.

Using a Copper Still

Temperature control is extremely important in distilling alcohol, and copper stills definitely give moonshiners the best temperature control. Ethanol alcohol vaporizes at a lower temperature than water, and in a very precise range (typically 174-195 degrees Fahrenheit), so timing your run at this temperature is key. Because copper heats evenly, it is one of the most trusted materials for kitchen and distilling equipment, and using a copper still can help you maximize the amount of time you spend at the precise temperature for distilling the most ethanol.

General Alcohol Yields

You can generally assume that your alcohol still will produce a final batch that is about 20% of the size of your copper still’s pot. For example, the average run in a 5 gallon still can be expected to produce about a gallon or a gallon and a half of moonshine. Of course, the quality of the different batches of moonshine will vary depending on many factors - you may only get ¾ of a gallon in one batch, but with a very high proof and excellent quality. Or, you may run up a batch that ends with more than a gallon, but with more “feints” that will make their way into future runs.

Standard Yields:

Most standard distillation runs will yield about:

  • 3 - 6 cups of alcohol from a 1 gallon copper still
  • 1/2 - 1 gallon of alcohol from a 2.5 gallon copper still
  • 1 - 2 gallons of alcohol from a 5 gallon copper still
  • 2 - 5 gallons of alcohol from a 10 gallon copper still

Ending the Run

"Barrels" by William Warby

There are many clues that tell you when to end your whiskey run, but you can also guess at the end of a run based on the approximate quantity of moonshine you’ve collected. Most runs will still leave some wash at the “bottom of the barrel,” so don’t worry if you have distilled every last drop. It’s typically not worth running your copper still higher than 212 degrees Fahrenheit on your run, so that is a good indication. Generally, a distillation run might only remove 85-90% of the alcohol from the wash, but that is good enough for most moonshiners.

Each distillation run on a copper whiskey still will result in a different amount of moonshine. While there is no exact formula to accurately predict exactly how much you will get out of any run, if you are not reaching numbers close to these, consider how changing some of the factors of your distillation process will allow you to get more product out of your copper moonshine still.


Article by: Jim Thomas

Distilling and Temperature Control


Temperature control is important when distilling.
Don't lie down on the job.

Distilling alcohol at home is an exciting process that requires skill and diligence. If you want to be great at it, be aware of some important considerations about temperature. Distillation requires a lot of heat, and it’s important to control that heat, so you distill safely and end up with a high quality product (called the “distillate”). 

Several factors go into producing a high quality distillate - your mash recipe, the mash’s ABV, and your still are a few important ones - but every experienced distiller knows that temperature control is key to making a fine alcohol when it’s all said and done.

Temperature Safety When Distilling

Distilling alcohol uses high temperatures - generally around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. High temperatures mean opportunities for accidents, so make sure that everyone who is in your distilling environment is aware of how hot your equipment will get. Controlling and monitoring the temperature will help you keep your distillery safe.

How to Monitor Temperature

The temperature of your still varies in different spots. There are three key places on your still where you should monitor the temperature - the pot boiler, the top of the column, and the condenser coil.

The temperature inside the pot boiler will tell you about the boiling liquid in the mash. Keep it increasing, maintaining a range of 175 - 195 degrees Fahrenheit for as long as possible. Turn off the heat when it reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

The temperature at the top of the column will tell you about your alcohol vapor as it begins to condense. Monitor this temperature, watching for an excess of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If it becomes overheated, turn down your heat.

copper flip top column whiskey still
It is especially important to use a built-in thermometer
at the top of the column in a large column still

Keep an eye on the touch-temperature of your condenser coil. The coil should be kept cool to the touch, with cold running water or ice packs. If it reaches room temperature, decrease the heat on your still and pack more ice on the coil. If the condenser coil ever becomes hot to the touch, end distilling immediately.

When all the elements of your temperature control come together, the condenser coil should release a steady drip of moonshine - not a stream, but a quick and regular amount that flows without interruption.

 

Why is Distilling Temperature Important?

#1: Tells you when to seal your still

As you begin a run, your still’s seams will tighten as the metal naturally expands with the heat. Have your homemade flour paste ready, and you can easily seal the seams with it when the temperature reaches approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you wait too long to seal the still’s seams, the metal will burn both your fingers and the dough.

#2: Tells you when to make your cuts

Different liquids boil at different temperatures: While the boiling point of pure ethanol is 174 degrees Fahrenheit, there are other trace elements that boil at slightly lower or higher temperatures. By controlling the temperature of your still, you can collect trace elements in different cuts in your run. Experienced distillers often make cuts - separating the distillate into portions - based on the temperature of the alcohol vapor.

#3: Tells you when your run is ending

Water boils at a higher temperature than alcohol, and as alcohol boils off from the pot, there is more water being boiled. So, the longer you run your still and the hotter it gets, the more water there will be boiling into steam at the later stages of your run. There is no reason to let the temperature climb higher than 212 degrees Fahrenheit, because that is the boiling point of water. Many distillers will cut off their run somewhere around 205 - 207 degrees, knowing that the last 10% or so of alcohol left in the mash won’t be worth it. Letting the still heat over 212 degrees is great if you’re looking to distill water, however.

#4: Tells you about your distillate quality

You can assume that the longer you run your distillation around 175-195 degrees Fahrenheit, the more time you will be producing a large amount of high-quality distillate. With some variations and exceptions, this temperature range produces the purest ethanol and will typically be the “hearts” cut of your alcohol run.

Tips for Temperature Control:

  1. Use multiple thermometers. Monitoring both the boiling temperature inside the still’s pot, and the temperature at the top of your still’s column gives you the most information.
  2. Never use a laser-powered (or infrared) thermometer. The rays can bounce off highly polished surfaces (like copper) and give false readings, and in addition to that, they only measure the surface temperature and not the internal temperature of the still.
  3. Use insulated gloves. Never try to hold or make adjustments to hot metal without being safe.

Monitoring the temperature of your still, in addition to recording the mash recipe, type of still, a description of the distillate, and other details about the run, helps you repeat batches that were amazing, and avoid repeating mistakes in the future. Make the most, and the best, out of your moonshine still every time.


Article by: Jim Thomas

Photo credit: Eli Christman

May 02, 2015

Posted in chemistry, copper, science


Why the Best Whiskey Stills are Copper

There are many high-quality whiskey stills for sale online - some already built and some delivered in assembly kits for you to put together yourself. For many reasons, the best stills are copper, without question.

Regardless what you are planning to distill, copper will improve your distilled water, essential oils, or spirits (the “distillate”) at an atomic level. Besides that, it’s a metal that glows and beautifies any room. Copper is easy to clean and easy to repair. What more could a distiller want?

Experienced distillers know: choose a copper still every time.

What makes copper different?

Although many stills are made of stainless steel, copper has better natural temperature control and antimicrobial properties.

Copper has been used for centuries in cooking equipment because of how evenly it heats. It is easy to reach the right temperature and maintain it, which is essential for crafting the best distillate. Copper can be heated to temperatures up to nearly 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, so there is never any question of possibly overheating your copper whiskey still.

Centuries ago, people observed that water stored in copper tasted better than water in other containers. Now, science has shown copper’s dramatic anti-microbial effects. It destroys micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungus spores.

Generally known as a “touch surface,” copper’s effects are so powerful that being in contact with the metal for an hour can purify some liquids of up to 99% of micro-organisms. This means a cleaner, more purified, healthier product from a copper whiskey still than a stainless steel one.


What’s the science behind why copper is better?

At the atomic level, a copper atom is shaped in a crystal. The shape of its atom makes copper’s electrons less stable, and copper atoms frequently gain and lose electrons. The changeable nature of copper atoms also means that they easily disconnect from bonds to one another sometimes, but strengthen their bonds under certain conditions.

The shape of the copper atom means that the overall metal is malleable and can be reshaped into a reliable copper still. The atomic shape is also what makes copper energy efficient and able to spread heat through the individual atoms quickly, then maintain the spread of that heat evenly.

Because copper interacts so much with the other elements it comes into contact with, it causes several quick reactions in those elements. When copper atoms come into contact with the oxygen in organic cells - like in a bacterium or a fungus - the copper basically causes a small rust hole in the cell’s wall, which begins to leak and ultimately kills the bacteria or fungus.

Copper is a natural wonder that can never be duplicated. No other metal will provide the same purification and health benefits to your distillate as a top quality copper whiskey still.

Is copper easy to maintain?

Copper also has three very practical reasons why it is the best material for a whiskey still: copper is easy to clean, beautiful, and easy to repair.

To keep copper glowing its distinct red-golden shade, still owners can clean a copper still inside and out with recipes using nontoxic household items such as white vinegar. Copper develops a natural discoloration called a “patina” if left uncleaned, which helps protect the metal from further damage. A patina is especially helpful for large stills that remain outdoors, exposed to weather elements.

Any surface that comes into contact with the distillate needs to be kept a purifying “touch surface” and should be cleaned after every still run. But the exterior of the still can be left to develop its natural patina. Smaller stills kept indoors can be polished or left to patina, according to what the owner wants. Copper lets you choose how to clean your still to have it develop the look you like.

Copper stills are simple to repair when damaged. Hire a professional coppersmith, because soldering, patching, or melting can require expensive and dangerous equipment, as well as specific knowledge and skills. Always make sure that the materials used in any repair work for your copper still are 100% lead free.

There’s no question that a copper whiskey still is the best choice, considering that is offers health benefits stainless steel can’t match, and is also easy to clean and to repair. In order to distill high quality water, essential oils, whiskey, moonshine, or other spirits, you have to start with the best still. The best copper whiskey still.


Article by: Jim Thomas

Photo credit: "Copper" by fdecomite