Distilling moonshine involves a lot of processes and different materials such as a still. Without this equipment, making quality moonshine is almost impossible. Yet, many individuals are still not certain as to how this thing woks and how does it affect the beverage they are making. In actuality, there are various types of stills and each has its own function and is perfectly suited for certain tasks. Thus, an adequate knowledge on the different types of stills is essential in order to come up with best results. In general, pot stills are the most widely used by many brewers, but there are still a lot to know about the different stills.
In order to understand various stills and its purposes, it will be useful to master the distillation process. So, for better understanding, a quick review of how distillation works is necessary. Let say, you use a basic sugar wash in order to come up with your distilled beverage. You can initiate the process by pouring your fermented wash into the still and heating it to certain temperatures. As the wash heats up, it will reach its boiling point. At this stage, steam and vapor rise up into the condenser which transforms the vapor back into a liquid form. This liquid serves as the output of the still and is referred to as your spirit.
In essence, when you prepare your wash it is just normal that it will contain several substances such as water, ethanol, fermentation derivatives like methanol and other elements that can be utilized to contribute to the taste of the final product if you wish for it. Although the alcohol is the major thing that you want to extract from the mixture, there are still other components that you have to get rid of quickly such as methanol which is the byproduct of fermentation. Methanol in small quantities can cause hangovers, but you must be aware that large quantities of methanol can cause blindness. Also, there are substances that can be retained if you desire to make a flavored spirit or omit in case you want a neutral one.
So, what is the role of the still in the process? Essentially, the still presents the means so that certain substances in the wash can be separates at various boiling points. In actuality, methanol which is an undesirable derivate has a boiling point of 64 degrees Celsius. In relation, ethanol boils at 78 degrees Celsius and water has an absolute boiling point of 100 degrees Celsius. Both methanol and ethanol are combined with water in the distillation process. Hence, when all these are mixed and subjected to heat, the whole liquid is reduced and the components with the lowest boiling point will transform into vapor ahead of other substances. Therefore, in the process, the methanol will actually turn into vapor first and eventually into liquid form once it reached the condenser. With this, you can collect the liquid methanol and discard it until nothing is left from the mixture. Yet, it must be noted that there can be some degree overlap among various substances. In the initial process, you will mostly catch methanol and then a mixture of methanol and ethanol until no methanol can be collected at all. That is why ample knowledge about these different temperatures in necessary if you want to distill your own beverage.
The overlap of temperatures can be very eminent when using pot stills, but can be both advantageous and disadvantageous at the same time. For instance, if you pour a sugar based wash that has been fermented to 20% alcohol strength into the still once will have an outcome of 60-65% alcohol strength if you get rid of the first 200 ml in order to eliminate its methanol content. If you once again run this mixture to the still, it will reach the 90’s level until the percentage shoot up to just above 95% in the third pass which is almost 100% pure. And since this is the case, you must know that is fatal and you must not drink it at this stage. However, if you use a reflux or fractionating still, you can come up with a suitable base mixture in just one pass and this contains no flavor at all making it ideal for adding spirit essences. You can water this mixture back to the strength that you prefer, but the most recommended is about 40-65%.
While this overlap in temperature is very beneficial in making spirits that are rich in flavor such as bourbon and whisky. This is due to the fact that when the vapor temperature reaches 78 to 84 degrees Celsius, still outputs will turn to a mixture of ethanol and other components such as congeners or the derivatives of the fermentation process. Congeners typically contain chemical substances such as esters, acetone, aldehydes i.e. glycols, ethyl acetate and propanol. It must be noted that congeners play big role in the taste and odor of your spirits and these are the major still outputs at temperatures above 90 degrees Celsius. Essentially, managing the amount of congeners that you would like to incorporate in your spirit is more convenient using a pot still rather than using other types of stills. This is because using a pot still makes the temperature changes more pronounces; thus it will be easier to collect the outputs when the vapor reaches certain temperatures.
In this process, it will be useful to use separate vessels to collect still outputs in order to separate various substances such as ethanol and congeners and mixing certain amounts from these outputs in order to produce a well flavored spirit. The process of splitting the still outputs from one another is referred to as making cuts.