Saturday, February 11, 2012

Running the still.

To bring us all back from that fantastic beer we had on Thursday, here is a little reminder of what’s going on.

First, I made a wine from sugar, brown sugar and molasses, talked an old codger into showing me the distillation process, took my wine to his still and collected the foreshots containing the methanol.
After collecting the poison, we began collecting the distillate in 400 ml “Cuts”  so as to be able to blend all the best parts of the run later.

The still produces a continually changing product from beginning to end. As different compounds and alcohol turn to steam, flow to the top of the still and condenses back into liquid, the product that comes from the still changes. That is why we are collecting small portions of the product through the process.

The forshots contained the poison, but the heads contain a lot of the compounds that cause hangovers. I’m not really understanding the chemistry behind making these cuts, so I will just be happy that we are blending them later. I will say that I immediately notice that it pretty much smells like paint thinner. I was thinking... “God I hope it gets better!”

 As the process continued, the product kept smelling cleaner and cleaner, but then started to smell funny again. As the “Hearts,” or good part, began to taper off, the distillate started to smell like wet cardboard and was fairly nasty to taste.

My mentor said that if we were going to keep this process up through several batches, we would keep all of the “Tails,” or the end of the run so we could add that alcohol back to the next running of the still. The alcohol would distill out and increase the “Hearts” cut of the next run. But because this was a one-off run, we just shut down the still.

Another cool part of the recipe would include using the spent wash or “Dunder” as water in the next batch of wine. This process adds a bit of acidity to the ferment and increases flavor. Apparently, some distillers will use dunder to make up as much as 75 percent of the next fermentation. When making a “Sour Mash” whiskey as they were presumably making on “Moonshiners” it would be called backset instead of dunder.

Skip forward a few days and we blended our products. The jars that we collected during distillation have been sitting around with lids off to air out. This process lets a lot of funky flavors to evaporate away.

Starting with the middle jars from the run, we worked out in both directions. Mixing small amounts in a Brandy snifter with distilled water allows us to tastes the flavors and distinguish which jars contain the really good product and which ones contain product that would be added to the next batch for re-distillation.

When it was all said and done, we ended up with about 3/4 of a gallon of alcohol at 60% abv. This “Shine” tasted pretty clean with no distinct flavors at all.

I am told that if we let it age for several months, either on oak or in glass, the flavor of the rum will improve, mellow and become more like the rum flavor you expect.

This process was fascinating and much to my surprise, we made a passable white rum that has me very excited about the prospect of aging on oak or making a spiced rum for mixing.

To all of you reading this, I want you to ask yourself why this is illegal! Does the government really think that a handful of people distilling their own rum at home is going to cause a revenue shortage?

My guess is that very few if any hobby distillers could or would replace their purchased spirits with home made. Much like homebrewed beer and wine, the process only sparked my interest and served to increase my store purchases because I want to try all the different products out there. 

I hope I’ve inspired you to think about this a little bit, and maybe find your own “old guy” to show you the process first hand.

I have looked around a lot, shopped all the still makers and even put some time in reading the forums. I feel like since I'm trying to inspire you, I should point you toward some good info. The info found at Homedistiller and it's forum is worth it's weight in gold. They kept me from looking like a total jackass in front of my "Still Master" and for those going it alone, safety and quality products are paramount to the host and mods. If you're considering this, I suggest reading up there. They will help keep you from killing yourself! 



Anonymous said...

Nice review. Importantly you failed to mention that with a properly produced home distilled product (whisky, gin, vodka, etc.) you will never have a hangover.
Hangovers are an inescapable result of the continuous distillation process, i.e. commercial production. Home distillation, in batches, mandates the discard of 'foreshots' containing the poisonous methanol.

flowerysong said...

@Anonymous: He failed to mention that because it's complete bullshit.

Firstly, you can get a hangover drinking laboratory grade pure ethanol that's been diluted to drinkable strength. Hangovers are an inescapable result of drinking too much ethanol.

Commercial production and continuous distillation are also not synonymous. Many home distillers use a column still; many commercial operations use pot stills.

Finally, continuous distillation doesn't preclude the removal of heads. In fact it makes it easier, since a fractionating column allows you to remove the interesting fractions precisely, instead of relying on making cuts to the output. This is why a Coffey still can be used to efficiently produce a lighter-tasting whisky; instead of multiple pot still runs, you can do it all in one go.

TropRockBlog said...

Great Article - I have never (knock on wood) had a hangover, so bring it on.

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