The stage of distillation is the process that is well loved by most home distillers in the process of distilling moonshine apart from tasting the final product. In distilling spirits, several pots are used in order to come up with your desired spirit. Yet, the most preferred by most distillers is the pot still. This is due to the fact that pots stills are simple, easy to use and can produce grain based spirit that have retained most of its flavours at the end of the distillation process. If you want to make use of a reflux and fractionating still you can achieve the same results by removing the columns or the packing so that it can have the function of a pot still.
The most essential step in distillation is to take note of vapour temperature. In order to monitor it accurately, it is best practice to place a thermometer above the stills column because this is where the vapour will pass before reaching the condenser. This will let you determine accurate vapour temperature which will guide you to gauge which substance is currently in the condenser. Yet, the display of temperature can also vary depending on the type of still that you are using as well as with the placement. If you are using a pot still, you can insert the thermometer in the rubber cork hole that can be placed in the appropriate hole above the stills column. Typically, if you will place your thermometer deeper into the hole, the readings can be a bit higher by few degrees. That is why you need to make sure that your thermometer is stable at its place. Also, you can practice reading your thermometer before you proceed with the whole process. You can do this by determining the baseline temperature using a sugar wash which is affordable and easy to make. You can do this so that you can identify what your still is generating at a specific temperature. You also have to understand that there is some degree of overlap when using a pot still. For instance, you will not be able to generate ethanol and methanol in divided amounts. Instead, what you will get us a mixture of these two substances until the other substance fades away as the temperature rises. In order to understand this better, you should have dealt with the key information in the Fermenting and Distilling Basics Distilling page, but you should not dwell on it to much because your focus at this stage is how make the cuts and produce spirits like bourbon according to your own taste.
You can start with placing your fermented wash to your still. The only drawback with distilling a grain wash is that it can produce foam. This foam can be a minor disadvantage because it can fill the condenser and the columns once heat is already applied. You can remedy this situation by adding anti-foam agents that can be purchased from any home brewer store in your locality. All you have to do is to add the agent into your wash and this will automatically reduce foaming. In case that foaming still exists, what you can do is to decrease the amount of wash you are distilling during the first run so that there will be enough space to accommodate the foam just in case. You may also resort to heating your wash in the still and wait for the foam to build up and then turn off the heat and walk away. You have to wait for a few hours until the foam subsides. After this, you can continue with the distillation process and with less foaming this time. You can also pass the grain wash in the still two times and splitting the wash into 2 or 3 even batches. This will not alter the outcome of your wash because you can collect the output out of all the batches and run it in the second pass. You will also notice that there will be no more foaming in the second pass because the impurities that have caused the foam will have been eradicated at this point. If you still remember from the Distilling page in the basics of fermentation and distillation, the first substance that will come out of the still is methanol. Methanol is not good for the human health for a number of reasons and it is the primary substance that your still will produce as the temperature increases. In most still designs, water will just circulate all throughout the condenser with the aid of a pump. It is recommended to turn on the pump once the temperature reaches 60 degrees Celsius. In actuality, the boiling point of Methanol is around 64 degrees Celsius so turning the pump at the mentioned point will work perfectly to capture this substance as it is the first thing that comes out of your still due to the low boiling point. In collecting Methanol, it is recommended to use an old bottle so that the output can be discarded. It must be noted that the methanol come out slowly and then faster as the temperature progresses. So, from 25 litres of wash, it is expected that the first 50 to 200 is methanol. Once the vapour temperature rises to 78 to 82 degrees Celsius, it is assumed that most of the methanol has come out of your still. At this point, the outcome of the still will be ethanol and you should proceed with gathering it in a separate vessel. You can make use of 5-7 litres of glass container to collect the outcome of the still.
You can proceed with gathering this entire first pass without slitting it because you will be passing it on your still once again. What you have to do is to collect all the still is generating until you reach a temperature that is 2-3 degrees lower than the temperature that will trigger the production of fusel oils. Once this temperature is reached, you can turn off the heat and stop collecting from the still. You have to cool your still prior to discarding the remaining contents. You may rinse the still with water in order to get rid of sediments before continuing with the second pass.
The amount that you have collected in the first pass is composed of ethanol and other flavour enhancers called congeners. You can separate these two substances in the second run so that you can create a spirit according to your personal taste. Typically, the alcohol content in the first pass can reach 65% and can rise up to 90% in the second pass. In order to determine accurate alcohol strength, investing on an alcometer is a wise decision.
The next thing you have to do is to gather everything in the still and proceed with distillation again. It is possible to trace methanol in small amounts. You can discard the first 50 ml in order to be safe. Once the temperature reaches 86 degrees Celsius, you can collect everything and put these in separate containers. And when the vapour temperature reaches 91 degrees Celsius you can turn the heat off and stop gathering the outcome of your still. The total amount that is collected is now ready for aging and flavouring. Read more