Everything you Need to Know About Distillation

Everything you Need to Know About Distillation

Distillation is the final step on your journey to delicious moonshine. While you may be intimidated about taking this final step, rest assured we will take you step-by-step through the process. 

 

So you have completed fermentation and are ready for your first run. This is a fun and exciting step and one that requires a little bit of prep to get a great final product. While it may seem intimidating, distillation is not overly complicated. It simply requires you to pay close attention to temperature. 

WHAT IS DISTILLATION? 

 

 

 

Distillation is the process in which your alcohol is going to be separated from your mash to be bottled and enjoyed. This is essentially the pot of gold at the end of your moonshin’ rainbow, but for first-timers, it can be a little intimidating. 

 

Distillation doesn’t have to be intimidating, especially if you know what you are doing. In this section we will go over everything you need to know to use your distiller from the assembly, operation, fractioning and clean-up. You will easily become an expert in no time with lots of delicious spirits to share with family and friends. 

 

How does Distillation Work? 

 

 

The distillation process is essentially taking a liquid made up of different elements and separating them by heating and cooling them. The distillation process starts with heating your mash to a boiling point. Since alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, the alcohol will become a vapor and then get cooled back into a liquid state. This process removes the alcohol from your mash and makes your moonshine. This process will take your moonshine from being a fermented mash to becoming a distillate. Through the distillation process many impurities are left behind. 

 

Your distiller will either use cold water or a fan to cool down the liquid. Distillers that use fans are called air stills and are a bit easier to set up. 

 

Water has a higher boiling point than alcohol. The boiling point of water is 212°F (100°C) and the boiling point of ethanol is 173°F (78.3°C). 

This is why temperature plays such an important role in distilling. By holding your temperature steady at 175°F you can vaporize the ethanol out of your mash and leave the water behind. 

However, ethanol is not the only substance that will be distilled.

 

Along with ethanol, there are other concerning elements within your moonshine that can affect the smell, taste and hangover caused by your final product.

 

Temperature plays an important role in eliminating these undesirables as well. There is a simple process called fractionating that keeps these unwanted items from your final product. This is the part of distillation that you will hone over time to perfect your spirits, however, there are some simple steps to take to make sure you get a tasty yield. 

 

Cuts and Fractions

 

 

Once you have your still set up and heated up you will start to notice some liquid coming out. Success! You have made some moonshine. Well...not exactly. 

Pot still distillation requires a little bit more than just collecting your moonshine out of your still. In order to get a quality (and safe) product, you need to fractionate your yield. While it sounds complicated, it really is a learned skill that comes with practice. 

 

WHAT ARE CUTS AND FRACTIONS?

 

 

 

 

Cuts or fractions are predetermined points in which you will separate your yield and collect it in a different vessel.

Each vessel will have a different taste, quality and ABV. In order to learn where to make the cuts in your run you need to first understand the fractions of your run and to recognize their characteristics. Your run can be broken down into the following fractions:

 

  • Foreshots 
  • Heads
  • Hearts 
  • Tails

 

There are three different ways to recognize these fractions: by still temperature, by ABV and by appearance. As you get to know the actual performance of your still as well as the science of moonshining, this will become easier and easier to recognize. 

Different elements vaporize at different temperatures, however, for your moonshine you only want to collect ethanol. So keeping a steady temperature and monitoring temperature closely is essential in fractionating.

As your still heats up and liquid appears at the output it is not ethanol. By referring to the chart below you will be able to more or less pinpoint what the output could be. 

 


Output 

Temperature 

Fraction

Keep or Toss?

Acetone

134°F or 56.5°C

Foreshots

TOSS

Methanol

147°F or 64°C

Heads

TOSS

Ethyl Acetate 

171°F or 77.1°C

Heads

Keep for a second distillation or toss

Ethanol

172°F or 78°C

HEARTS

KEEP

2-Propanol

207°F or 82°C

Tails

Keep for a second distillation or toss

1-Propanol 

207°F or 97°C

Tails

Keep for a second distillation or toss

Water

212°F or 100°C

Tails

Keep for a second distillation or toss

Butanol 

241°F 116°C

Tails

Keep for a second distillation or toss

Amyl alcohol

280°F or 137.8°F

Tails

Keep for a second distillation or toss

Furfural

322°F or 161°C

Tails

Keep for a second distillation or toss

 

  • Foreshots – About the first 10% of your yield is considered the foreshots. This is the stuff you do not want to drink. Many of the tales of going blind from moonshine and other such dangers come from drinking the foreshots. This is because the foreshots contain a large amount of acetone, which is not something you want to put in your body. You will notice an output from your still starting at about 106°F or 50°F. This needs to be collected and tossed. 

 

  • Heads: When you get to the heads fraction of your moonshine you will notice a sweet smell with a mix of solvent. The Heads Fraction is a mixture of acetone, methanol, ethyl-acetate and ethanol. Some people choose to toss the heads and others will keep it to distill again. It depends on your comfort level and personal preference. Your heads will contain a good amount of ethanol so it is worth it to try a second distillation. 

 

  • Hearts: are the goal of your run. The hearts fraction contains the largest amount of ethanol but unlike the heads, will have a clean taste without a bite in it. It can be collected between 172.4°F and 179.6°F (78-82°C). Hearts should always be the base of your shine if you plan on blending your fractions. 

 

  • Tails: Do you smell a wet dog? This is one of the tell-tale signs you are at the ‘tails’. The Tails fraction contains large amounts of fusel oils which cause unwanted flavors in your product. However, there are still many rich flavors and ethanol in the tails which can be beneficial if you are making rum or whiskey. Collection of the tails can be ended when still temperatures reach 201°F and 203°F (94 – 95°C )

PRO TIP: USE 12 JARS TO COLLECT YOUR MOONSHINE! 

 

 

 

Those new to moonshining will benefit from using about 12 mason jars to collect their moonshine.

By collecting your moonshine in smaller batches and labelling them one to 12, you can closely observe the smell and taste of your moonshine so you are better able to fraction your run and differ between the foreshots, heads, hearts, and tails. By collecting in small amounts it will be easier to try and determine where the jar falls in your run after the fact rather than trying to make these types of decisions on the fly.