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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.

What is a Conical Column Whiskey Still and Why is it a Premium Design?

 

One of the most unique and efficient copper still designs is the “Kentucky” premium design - an 8 gallon moonshine still with a conical column that increases the “reflux” that occurs during your distillation. More reflux means a more finely distilled product, and that is great for certain types of high-quality alcohols, like the alcohol used for fuel. With a Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit you can distill alcohol at home - it won’t be safe for people to consume, but it will be amazing alcohol fuel for your equipment.

Many owners of equipment and machinery that run on ethanol-based fuels are finding the benefits of distilling their own ethanol at home. For anyone looking to distill alcohol at home for years to come, a premium conical column design, like the Kentucky, may be ideal. Especially, the best alcohol stills are copper, so they produce only the best ethanol. Of course, conical column stills make the finest essential oils, spirits, and water as well. Don’t doubt their versatility.

Why is reflux important in distilling?

During distilling “reflux” is when alcohol vapor condenses and is re-vaporized several times before being condensed into alcohol and staying that way. The additional steps create a distillate that is purer and more refined, without you having to put it through multiple distillations - it distills itself multiple times, making the work easier for you

Reflux occurs more in stills that have a conical, or “gooseneck” shape, at the top of their column. Although all still designs allow for some reflux, the farther away from the heat the vapor has to travel (up a conical column), the more likely it will cool enough to drip back into the boiler and need to be turned into vapor again. By the time you have collected all the distillate, you can rest assured that it has been refined multiple times through this reflux process.

Fewer Cuts With a Conical Whiskey Still

It is important, if you are distilling alcohol that people will drink, that you make the right cuts in your alcohol run. If you allow too much methanol into your moonshine or whiskey, it could make people sick. Methanol is poisonous to people. Typically, you will make three cuts during a whiskey or moonshine run, and you will with a conical still also, but you will collect dramatically more hearts and less feints.

If you are distilling alcohol for fuel, it is still important that you cut your run well, but you will probably only need to make 1 cut - after the foreshots. Depending on the machinery that your alcohol will be fueling, it may need ethanol of a certain purity, or certain types of alcohols (such as methanol) may be damaging to the engine. Always be knowledgeable about the specifics of your equipment when you distill alcohol at home to use as fuel in that equipment. After several runs and testing the quality of the alcohol from your conical column still, you may find that you don’t need to separate feints at all. If you do, they will be substantially less than with other moonshine still designs.

Industrial conical column whiskey stills are larger than life
(Photo by Richard Szwejkowski)

Easier Distilling, Purer Product

The bottom line is: a conical column whiskey still will give you a cleaner, purer distillate with less effort on your part, no matter what you’re distilling. This premium moonshine still design can be one of the best for certain types of essential oils, and it produces superior quality distilled water that can be used in situations that require the utmost sterility - like medical facilities and chemistry laboratories. But where it really shines is in producing the purest, most refined ethanol for your alcohol fuel or consumable spirits. When you need the most refined alcohol and a whiskey still that will last, choose a premium design like the Kentucky 8 gallon copper whiskey still.   

 

Article by: Jim Thomas

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

June 16, 2015

Posted in how to, moonshine mash, recipe, science


Basic Moonshine Mash Recipe

“Moonshine” is distilled from the fermented sugar of a malt grains like oats, cornmeal, or wheat. A strong alcohol, the recipe for moonshine is very basic, which is why it has been popular throughout the years as something that can be made by amateur and professional distillers alike. While there are many successful (and delicious!) recipes for moonshine, here is a basic one that can be altered to fit the ingredients you have available or your taste preferences.

Making Moonshine Mash in 3 Steps

To make moonshine, you will combine your grains in an enclosed chamber with a fermenter, such as sugar or yeast. Add water, and you have a mixture that is called a “mash.” Mashes are used for other alcohols as well, such as whiskey. You’ll leave your mash in the chamber for a limited amount of time, to allow the sugars in the grains to turn into alcohol.

Before distilling, you can filter the solid husks and plant matter out of the mash. If you remove these solid materials, the liquid that is left is often called the moonshine or whiskey “wash.”

Either a mash or a wash can be distilled, so that the alcohol is separated from the water, and you can enjoy your own fine homemade whiskey.

Tips for Moonshine Mashes:

  • Corn meal does not filter well out of a wash, and a cornmeal mash may burn the bottom of a copper still
  • The first product in a distilling batch has the highest alcohol proof
  • Measure your yeast fermentation and the mash’s alcohol content using a hydrometer

Step 1: Research and Purchase Ingredients

Basic Moonshine Mash Recipe

  • 5 gallons of malt grains (rye, barley, or a combination of grains)
  • 1 package of bread yeast
  • 10 pounds sugar (any kind)
  • 5 gallons warm water

Because moonshine has often been made in secret, there are no standardized measurements for the different ingredients in moonshine - it can be a process of trial and error to find a recipe that you like and that works well in your moonshine still.

Most people have used 5-gallon grain buckets to measure grains over the years, and that is often still a typical measurement given, because stills are also measured in gallons

Some recipes call for yeast, while others call for sugar. Ours, however, requires a bit of both. After a few runs, you may find that one type of fermenter over the other is right for you.

It’s best if you can use distilled water to make your moonshine mash, because you know that distilled water will not add any impurities that could throw off the fermentation process, or the flavor or alcohol content of your final product.

Step 2: Prepare Mash

Commercial distillery fermentation chamber

In a fermentation chamber, combine approximately 5 pounds of sugar with 1-2 gallons of malt grain. Add warm water until the sugar dissolves - the water should be warm enough to dissolve the sugar but not hot enough that it kills the yeast.

Stir the mixture as the sugar dissolves. Continue stirring as you add the remaining grains, sugar, and water. Keep stirring until all sugar dissolves.

Step 3: Wait for Fermentation

Cover the fermentation container, while still allowing the mash to “breathe.” The mash can take 2 weeks or so for all the yeast to have turned as much sugar into alcohol as possible, if you let this process (called “clearing” the mash) happen naturally. However, you can use a product like Turbo Clear to shorten your fermentation time to as little as 4 days. 

When the bubbles are large and slow to move to the top of the container, you might check to see if your mash is ready to distill. Distill the mash or wash in a clean, high-quality copper still, and your final moonshine should be between 90 and 140 proof, depending on the alcohol by volume of the mash.

Moonshines can be flavored during the mash, and there are hundreds of recipes that describe how to add varying ingredients to achieve different textures, flavors, and potencies of moonshine.

Moonshines can also be flavored after distillation, by having fruit soak in a container of moonshine for a number of days, then straining out the solid materials. Flavored moonshines can be combined into cocktails, and are even used in recipes for stews, desserts, dressings, and more.

There is no end to the uses for this versatile, easy-to-make, and strong-willed alcohol. Enjoy trying different moonshine recipes, and always enjoy your moonshine responsibly.

 

Article by: Jim Thomas

Photo credit: Logan Ingalls, Josh Rubin

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 31, 2015

Posted in Bain-Marie still, distilling, science


What is a Bain-Marie Still?

There are several designs of high quality stills used since ancient times. Depending on your needs and your final product, a Bain-Marie still - also called a “double boiler” or a “water bath” - might be the answer.

The ancient design of the Bain-Marie still uses the method of insulating the product that is being distilled by heating it through a layer of water. As the water heats, it will create steam, and the heat is applied to the distilling substance slowly and indirectly.

General info on the Bain-Marie method

The Bain-Marie double-boiler design is used in cooking foods and sauces, as well as in distilling. There are many Bain-Marie method kitchen items. Chefs generally use water baths to melt chocolate or cheese, and double-boilers are commonly used to maintain the temperature of heated foods.

Literally translated, “Bain-Marie” means “Mary’s bath.” Although scholars debate which Mary the design is named for, they generally accept that this bath technique is superior for certain types of distilling. It was used for centuries to slowly melt metals during experiments in alchemy.

What does a Bain-Marie still look like?

The large pot of a Bain-Marie still is filled with water in its larger chamber. The Bain-Marie still design has an interior pot chamber that sits at the top of the large pot and is somewhat submerged in the water. The water’s insulation causes the mixture in the interior pot to heat slowly, and generally very evenly, which prevents the materials from scorching.

 


The "double-boiler" or "water bath" design prevents direct heat


How to use a Bain Marie still

Depending on what you are distilling, the Bain Marie’s double-boiler design can be the most efficient. You can use a Bain-Marie to distill anything, but most commonly, the design is best for refined spirits, grappas, and essential oils.

The substance you’re distilling also has a different name depending on what ingredients you use and your desired final product - it is called “mash” in the case of spirits, “marc” in the case of grappas, or “botanicals” in the case of essential oils.

After filling the large chamber of the pot of a Bain-Marie still about 50% with water, place your mash, marc, or botanicals in the smaller interior chamber of the Bain-Marie still. Continue with the distillation process as you normally would.

In a Bain-Marie still, the interior chamber will be slowly heated as the heat is transferred from the copper still, through the boiling water and the steam it releases, and into the mash, marc, or botanicals.

Why use a Bain-Marie still?

Hands-down, experts agree that the double-boiler method of distilling works best for wine, grappa, and other alcoholic spirits distilled from fruit. It is also an excellent design for distilling certain essential oils that are delicate and require a slow increase in temperature and specific thermal control.

A Bain-Marie can also be run continuously. Because of the double-boiler design, the still needs very little “down-time” to be cooled, emptied, cleaned, and begin the next run.

The water does not need to be replaced often. Steam is purified by the still’s copper, condenses and falls to the large pot, and is re-used in the boiler for multiple runs. However, if leaks occur from your mash, marc, or botanicals into your water, you will want to empty and thoroughly clean the still as much as possible.

Lastly, because of the reflux and natural refining of the distillate you produce, you may have fewer cuts to make if you are distilling moonshine, whiskey, or some other spirit. The “heads” and the “tails” of your run will be a lower percentage of your product and may be cut from your run entirely.

Bain-Marie still designs are one of the most classic, easiest-to-use, and convenient. They are not necessarily for the faint of heart, as they are serious pieces of equipment, but their premium design and advanced features are unbeatable for certain distilled products.

 Article by: Jim Thomas

Image credit: Wikipedia

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