Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Makin' Whisky Part 2

Okay then! In Makin' Whisky Part 1 we learned a little about the theory behind producing distilled alcohol. In this installment we will get right down to it.
I'm assuming you have a still and know how to make it work. If not, and you want to, you can check out the websites I suggested in part 1.

First of all we have to make some mash. Since we are making corn whisky we will need the following ingredients and supplies.
One 4-5 gallon plastic bucket with a tight sealing lid.
One airlock. This can be purchased at a beer and wine making shop or you can run a piece of plastic tubing from a hole drilled in the bucket lid to a jar or bottle half filled with water - more on this later.
One candy or meat thermometer.
5 lbs of corn meal or dried, cracked corn or frozen corn.
1 lb of malted barley.
5 lbs of white sugar.
2 packages of baker's yeast.
4-5 gallons of water

Dump your corn into a large cooking pot and add enough water to cover. Heat to boiling. Remove from heat and wait until the temperature drops to about 150 degrees or so. Check it with your thermometer. Stir in the malted barley and all of the sugar. Stir it well. Let the mixture cool until it reached about 85-90 degrees. This takes longer than you might think. Hot corn seems to retain heat for a fair amount of time. If you don't have a store bought airlock and you want to make one this is a good time to do it. Punch or drill a hole in the lid of your bucket the same size as your plastic tubing. It should be a tight fit. You'll probably need a couple of feet of tubing, by the way. If the hole you made is a little big you can seal the tubing in the hole with a little silicone caulk. The tubing should stick in the lid no more than 1/2 inch or so. Have your bottle or jar at the ready.

Your mash should be at about the right temp now. Check it again with the thermometer. If it's between 85 and 90 degrees or so (a little cooler doesn't hurt, but no hotter!) stir in the yeast. Dump the mash into the bucket and add more 85 degree water until the level is about 2" under the bucket rim. Stir well.
Now, seal the lid and run the plastic tubing to the bottle or jar, which should be 1/2 or 3/4 full of water. Make sure the tubing is sticking in the water in the jar.
Keep the bucket in a warm room. 65-70 degrees is perfect. Warmer is okay but cooler will make for a longer fermentation time and, if you're like me, you want this stuff to be done as soon as possible.
After a few hours the mash will probably start to 'work'. The yeast will start eating the sugar in your mash and commence to piss alcohol and fart CO2 gas. It's by the farting that we know the stuff is working. The CO2 gas will come out of the tube and make the water bubble. If we didn't have an airlock the gas would build up in the bucket and pop the top off and possibly split the sides. That's one reason for using plastic for your fermenter. If you used glass for the fermenter and the CO2 built up with no release mechanism it would explode the glass with messy and possibly worse consequences. The other reason we use an airlock is because we don't want any nasty things in the air to get into the bucket. If any bacteria get into the bucket it will kill the yeast and we'll get vinegar (or worse) instead of alcohol. Remember, we are maintaining a controlled environment for the yeast here. We want fermentation, not rot.

By the second day the airlock or jar should be bubbling merrily along; the yeast orgy is really taking off now. Over the course of the next week the orgy will peak and then slowly die down, like any really cool party. If the bubbling stops after only a few days remove the lid and give the mash a good stir. Actually, it is a good idea to stir it every couple of days during the fermentation period. It can't hurt and it probably helps.
When you remove the lid you will smell the alcohol in the mix. It's kind of sour smelling. As a matter of fact, even without opening the lid you will begin to smell the fermentation process after a few days. Some people like the smell, some don't. To me it smells like sourdough bread rising. To my wife it smells like ass.
Either way the smell is your clue that you have alcohol in the bucket.

Let the mash work until the bubbling stops. Even if it has stopped I'd let it sit 7-9 days, depending on the ambient temperature in your fermenting room.
Your mash is now ready to be distilled. Some distillers like to strain the mash through cheese cloth or something similar into another bucket (with airlock) and let it sit a few more days. It will work a little more and get you a little more alcohol. It's not necessary, however. If you want to store the mash for a while before running it through your still (crazy talk!) you will need to strain it into another container. You don't want it sitting in the original fermenting bucket with all the yeast and corn. It could 'drop', which is an old moonshiner's term for turning to vinegar.
Anyway, strain your stuff into the still, light the fire underneath, turn on the cooling water and wait for a while. When the thermometer on your still reads about 160-165 degrees you should have a few drops coming from the output tube.
Put your collection vessel (a one-gallon glass jar works great) and start collecting. You'll have to adjust the flame under your still a little now and then to get it running just right. Too hot and steam comes out - bad! that steam is wasted alcohol wafting away through the air (it's flammable too) when it should be condensing in the still and coming out as whiskey. Too cold and you get a tiny little stream - maybe only drips.
Keep running until the temperature gets to about 200 degrees or so. You have probably sucked most of the alcohol out of the mash by now. You have also sucked out a bunch of other stuff that lives in the mash that is not especially good for you, but that's okay because your going to do the whole thing again. That's right, we have to run this stuff twice. The first time we run it we suck all the alcohol we can from the mash. The second time we run we keep just the good stuff - the 'middle cut' - that is the best whiskey you've ever drank in your life.
Ever see the original John Wayne version of the movie 'True Grit'? There is a scene where Rooster Cogburn (Wayne's character) offers young Mattie a nip from his jug. 'It's genuine double-rectified busthead, aged in a keg!', says Rooster. 'Double-rectified' - now that's what I'm talking about. Single rectified, where the mash is only run once is crap, pure and simple. Only degenerate alcoholics (or normal people in jail) would drink it.
The first run contains many nasty things that probably wouldn't kill you, but they surely will give you a hangover from hell and probably make you puke. The term 'rot-gut' originally meant cheap, single run liquor.

Okay, back to business..Dump the mash left in your still in a bucket and save it. Rinse your still out (you did shut off the flame, didn't you?) and pour the good stuff you collected back in the still.
Fire the still up again, turn on the cooling water and place a shot glass under the output tube. When the temperature on the still gets to around 150-160 degrees you will start getting a few drops. Then a small stream. Collect a shot glass full and set it aside for now. In the unlikely case that there is any bad, methyl alcohol in your stuff it will be in the first ounce (shot glass) that comes out. That's because methyl alcohol boils at a lower temp than good, ethyl alcohol. If you have a large still and are running more than 5 gallons collect more in the shot glass. This stuff is called 'the heads' by moonshiners and kept for later. There probably is no bad, methyl alcohol in it, but just in case...Replace the shot glass with your gallon jar and start collecting.
Adjust the flame under the still until you get a nice little stream coming out of the output tube. The still will start chuckling and humming - making little happy still noises. Experience will teach you when your still is happy and running nicely.
Keep an eye on your thermometer! It will hit around 170-175 or so and stay there for a while as the still strips the good whisky from the first run stuff. As more and more alcohol is stripped the temps will slowly rise. When the temperature hits around 180-185 replace the collecting jar with another jar and let the still keep going until it hits 200 degrees or so. You will probably have about 1/2 gallon of approximately 130-140 proof whisky in your gallon jar. Obviously this is way too strong to drink so you need to dilute it with water down to between 80 or 90 proof. To do this by taste (the old moonshiner's method) poor one cup of whisky into a jar or large glass and try adding about 1/4 cup of water. It your shine is still too strong tasting add water a little at a time until it tastes right. Be careful as you can easily get carried away with tasting. You want to stay reasonably straight while you are mixing your whisky. If 1/4 cup of water made your 1 cup of whisky taste right you need to dilute the rest in a 4-1 ratio - four parts of whisky to one part of water. If you needed 1/3 cup of water you will dilute your whisky to 3-1 ratio and so on.
They sell hydrometers at beer and wine making stores that will show you what the proof of your distillate is. It is a long glass tube marked with 'proof lines' that you place in your whisky jar. It will float in the whisky and you read the line on the tube that is closest to the surface of the whisky in the jar. If your undiluted whisky reads at 150 proof (75% alcohol content) and you want 100 proof finished product you would mix on a 3-1 ratio. The taste test method is more fun and it makes you feel all organic and shit. Like I said, it can also make you feel drunk, so take small taste sips, okay?
Oh yeah, that stuff you have left in the still and the stuff you collected after the second run is used in place of water to make your next batch of mash. This stuff is called 'sour mash' and it contains more good alcohol than you might think. By the way, you can make your next batch with the stuff left in your fermenting bucket. Just add the sour mash, another 5lbs of sugar and top it off with water. You really don't need to add more yeast as there is still lots left in your bucket. You can use the same corn/yeast/barley in your buckets for three batches. You just keep your sourmash and add it and more sugar to the buckets. After the third batch you should use new corn, barley, sugar and yeast. But use your sourmash to mix it with, adding water as necessary to top off the bucket. It's just like having a sour dough starter. You just keep using it.

Why did we stop collecting our drinking whisky at 180-185 degrees? Glad you asked! Above that temperature you start getting more by-products coming out of the still. Yeast cells, unfermented sugar, and chemicals called 'higher esters' that are present in the mash. They are also called 'fusil oils'. These things are good and bad. They are good because they are the things that add the flavor to the whisky. Bad because in any but very small amounts they are poisonous. They contain the elements that give you a hangover and, if there are too many, can kill you. DON'T EVER DRINK ANYTHING THAT COMES OUT OF THE STILL AT OVER 185 DEGREES! This is a simple safety precaution. If you never break this rule you will be fine.
Commercial distilleries collect to higher temps than home distillers and, frankly, that's why commercial booze gives you a hangover. The commercial distillers have super high-tech shit that analyzes the distillate and keeps it at just under the poisonous level. Home distillers don't have access to all that high-tech shit, so we have to play it safe.
That brings up another good point - home brewed alcohol that comes off the still at less than 185 degrees will not give you a hangover. It's amazing, but true.
With experience you learn what temperature yields the best tasting whisky. There's an old moonshine saying - 'You gotta know when to quit'. The old timers knew by taste, smell and gut feeling when to stop collecting. Don't get greedy. Hell, after dilution you're gonna have over a gallon of good old corn whisky. Pretty good return for you investment in ingredients and time, I'm thinkin'.

So anyway, that is the way one makes whisky. It takes the same amount of care that any kind of cooking takes and, like cooking food, the quality of your ingredients and the amount of time, care and skill yields the best results.
Now, once again - I'm not recommending this to anyone. It's illegal and it can be dangerous if you're not careful. You are producing a flammable liquid over the top of an open flame. If your still has any leaks stop the process - turn off the flame NOW and repair the leaks. You are also practicing chemistry and there can be some dangerous substances produced. As long as your fermentation went right and you stop collecting at less than 185 degrees it should be fine.
Of course if you stuck with this chapter to the end you're probably really interested in the subject and are probably smart enough not to kill yourself. This can be quite the hobby and you can really get into it if you wish. As I said in Part 1 there is a lot of info on the net about home distilling. I'd strongly advise anyone who wants to try it to study as much as possible first. Home distilling is legal in New Zealand and those crazy Kiwis have really come up with some cool stuff. Just Google 'home distilling' and start reading. You'll be amazed.
This has been a rather short and sweet explanation and there are lots of details to be explored. Again, I recommend further detailed study into this fascinating subject before diving in.

Here is a good rum recipe.

5lbs of brown sugar
4 cups of molasses
2 packs of yeast
4-5 gallons of water

Mix the brown sugar and molasses in a couple of gallons of 85-90 degree water. Do it right in your fermentation bucket. Fill the bucket to within 2" of the top with more water and stir in your yeast. Seal the bucket, hook up your air lock and let it work for 7-9 days. Run it twice. That's all there is to it. And guess what? You're gonna get more booze than the whisky recipe yields due to a higher sugar content. I just don't think rum tastes as good as whisky.
You can also make excellent rum with just molasses, water and yeast, but it takes a lot of molasses (which has about a 40% sugar content) so it is more expensive than using mostly brown sugar with enough molasses for the taste.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Fun! Great recipe and very detailed instructions. I purchased my own still from here, pretty one, they provided me a basic shine recipe. Tried it (my first time by the way) and had great results, couldn't be more satisfied! I was looking at other recipes online and I came across this page. Thumbs up! I'll take this and try it in my next run!!!

  3. Great writing! This short manuscript is one of the best introductions on home distillation that I've seen. Keep up the great work it is greatly appreciated!

  4. When you refer to the temperature (185) that is of the liquid, correct? Not the steam?

  5. There are many Passionate Foodie and their special friend is Essential Distilling because of their complete distillers & accessories.