When Do You Stop Your Moonshine Still

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When Do You Stop Your Moonshine Still

But what do these mean in practical terms? What are they, and what role do they play during the distillation process?

Let’s start at the top and work are way down.

The distillate’s initial part is called the “head,” and the head’s own initial part is called the “foreshot.” The foreshot contains most of the toxic methanol produced as a fermentation byproduct. Most traditional distilleries have a significant amount of foreshots from their pot stills.

The rest of the head constitutes the part of the distillate up to the choice where the distiller starts collecting the ethanol. This is known as the “first cut” from the head to the heart.

When Do You Stop Your Moonshine Still

Heads contain light, ethereal aromas, but also a significant portion of the methanol being distilled. It is thus a creative choice from the distiller where to cut the heads, to include as much light aroma while excluding methanol.

Traditionally, what happens to the heads differs between distilleries. Some distilleries use them in subsequent distillations, further distilling flavour and ethanol from them.

Other distilleries merely throw them away or recycle them another way. Our distillation’s accuracy gives us only tiny amount of heads.

We keep them in one of the tanks underneath the still, and redistill them in further distillations.

The Heart

The “heart” is the main body of the distillate that the distiller keeps. It is the part of the process where most of the ethanol comes through the still, and also contains pleasant flavour compounds.

How much of the distillate to keep as the heart before the “second cut” that begins the tail is a creative decision.

Heavier, richer flavours obviously appear further along the distillation — as do unpleasant, water-soluble flavours that are plainly unwanted.

When Do You Stop Your Moonshine Still

The Tail

Finally, we come to the tail. Once the second cut to the distillate has been made, the still is stopped, but the pot takes a long time to cool down—so much so, that the wash stops evaporating. The liquid that continues to run off the still is called the “tail.”

For us, the tail is only the distillate that has made it into the condenser, as the remaining distillate in the column and basket’s chamber runs through pipes back to the wash.

In conclusion, the Head, Heart and Tail are fundamental distillation characteristic that a distiller needs to intrinsically understand in order to perfect the craft.

There are not equal amounts of heads, hearts, and tails volume.

Therefore, the distiller will need to pay close attention throughout the duration of the distillation run to determine when the “heads cut” or the “tails cut” needs to be made.

Head, Heart & Tail

When Do You Stop Your Moonshine StillWhen Do You Stop Your Moonshine Still

But what do these mean in practical terms? What are they, and what role do they play during the distillation process?

Let’s start at the top and work are way down.

Does Barrel Wood choice matter?

From now on we will keep you updated on spirit knowledge and recipes.

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Head, Heart & Tail

When Do You Stop Your Moonshine StillWhen Do You Stop Your Moonshine Still

But what do these mean in practical terms? What are they, and what role do they play during the distillation process?

Let’s start at the top and work are way down.

From now on we will keep you updated on spirit knowledge and recipes.

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Head, Heart & Tail

When Do You Stop Your Moonshine Still

Introduction To Distilling


By Malcolm Lieban

Quick Links

When Do You Stop Your Moonshine Still

Why distill?

Distilling is an interesting process that will get you more familiar with the science and depth of the flavors of your favorite alcoholic beverages. This process of concentrating and separating the flavors from inside your beer, wine, or “wash” to create a character all its own is a wonderful way to expand and explore your hobby of homebrewing or winemaking. 

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Distilling is the process of separating the chemical components within an alcoholic beverage. We achieve this by heating the beverage or “wash” to a simmering point where alcohol and other compounds will evaporate but the majority of the water does not. As the alcohol evaporates, we collect the vapor and condense it back down into liquid form.

The volatile compounds that come out will be in much higher concentration than in the beer or wine which leads to more intense or volatile flavors and aromas. While collecting this newly concentrated “spirit” we separate certain parts of the product for various reasons. We want to separate the distillate into portions as it comes off of the still.

The very first portion that comes off is colloquially called the “heads” and contains “Foreshots” which are poisonous as well as other volatile compounds that might not smell or taste good. The next portion is the bulk of the ethanol and tasty flavors known as the “hearts” and the last portion contains excess oils and is known as the “tails”.

More on that later.  

Spirits are named by what sugar was fermented to produce the alcohol. Brandy comes from fruit, Whiskey from grain, and Rum from sugar cane.

Another way to classify spirits is by how they are distilled: distilling to a high proof achieves neutral flavor of vodka; distilling spirits with juniper berries and other botanicals is what makes a gin.

By distilling at home you can create your own specialty spirits from whatever sugar and by whatever distillation process you choose. 

A still is the apparatus through which distillation becomes possible. The still comprises 3 main parts: The Boiler, The Neck (a.k.a. Column or Lynne Arm), and the Condenser. 

The boiler can be made from a brewing kettle, electric kettle, or pressure cooker. This is simply a large vessel that holds the wash while it is heated. The most important aspect of a boiler for distilling is that it creates a seal with the neck so all of the vapor is contained and captured. Electric kettles are preferred to open flame gas stoves because alcohol vapor is flammable.

The Neck, Column, or Lynne Arm are where much of the flavor characteristics of your still are realized.

Simpler Pot Stills or Alembic Stills will have just a small copper or steel pipe coming from the lid of the kettle straight over to the condenser.

These stills inherently produce a more flavorful spirit at a lower proof. These kinds of stills are excellent for rum, agave spirits, bourbon, and brandy.

Other, more complex, stills are commonly called “Reflux Stills” and will have tall columns with copper wool or percolation plates inside and an extra “reflux condenser” on top of the column. These materials inside the neck add “reflux” to the still.

Adding reflux causes the vapor to condense into liquid form and fall back into the wash instead of exiting the still. This means that heavier, more flavorful compounds stay behind and do not make it into your finished spirit.

These types of stills are necessary for the production of vodka, modern gin, and fuel.  

The product condenser is the final piece of the still where the vapor is turned back into liquid form just before being collected.

This is the most important part of the still because without it we are venting flammable vapor into our workspace. Condensers come in lots of different shapes and sizes.

The size and efficiency of the condenser will limit how much throughput your still can manage safely. 

When Do You Stop Your Moonshine Still

The distillation process is fairly simple and rewards patience.

How to Make Moonshine? A 5 Steps Beginner’s Guide

Home distilling of alcohol is a nice hobby. But how do you make moonshine? If you want to make distilled spirits in a high quality, it is not done to put the fruit into a barrel and leave it.

There is a certain quantum of basic skills necessary to make an alcoholic mash of fruit (= to mash fruits and ferment the fruit pulp) and to distill the mash (= distillation of the mash, distilling alcohol, distillation of spirits).

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Not till then you will rejoice in distilling alcohol at home.

Why Home Distilling of Alcohol?

There are a lot of distilled spirits found in the supermarkets. In specialist shops you can find nearly every kind of fruit distilled to spirits or brandies. So why should you spend such a lot of work on distilling alcohol at home?

  • Home distilling of alcohol is a good alternative to other uses of your own fruit or to waste it.
  • By reason of the small scale of distilling alcohol at home, it is possible to produce spirits which are rarely available for purchase.
  • If you make your own alcohol at home by preparing your own mash, it is possible to create top quality spirits and brandies, because only by the use of small amounts of fruit it is possible to eliminate all rotten parts and stalks.
  • Home distilling of alcohol is a nice hobby, which results in a lot of experiments and therefore makes a lot of fun.

Home Distilling of Alcohol – A 5 Steps Beginner’s Guide

How to make moonshine at home? Is distilling alcohol for everyone? What has to be done exactly to distill alcohol at home?

  1. In fact there are different legal regulations in every country concerning distilling alcohol at home. So primarily contact your legal authority and inform yourself about the legal situation on home distillation at your location.

  2. Only use clean and fully ripe fruits, which you would use for e.g. preparing a cake.

    It is a mistake to think that partly rotten and dirty fruit is good enough to produce alcohol in reasonable quality at home.

    Detailed information how to prepare the mash you find in our homemade moonshine videos, in our distillers’s guide about home distilling and in our short instruction – how do you make moonshine.

  3. Pour the crushed and mashed fruit into a barrel, close it, and attach a fermentation lock. The fermentation lock is essential! Don’t forget to add previously yeast, pectinase, and acid. Only with these ingredients a perfect mash will form – without mold and decay.

    Depending on the ingredients there are two different types of mash: conventional mashes (low alcohol content) and high-grade mashes (high alcohol content).

    Conventional mashes have to be distilled immediately after fermentation, for an outstanding quality the distillate has to be stored for several years in glass bottles or steel tanks (wooden cask storage is another story).

    High-grade mashes on the other hand should be stored for at least six months before distillation. After this period the high-grade mash is free of heads (foreshot). It’s no need to store the distillate for years to become outstanding.

  4. For distillation use the entire mash, both liquid and solid parts. Don´t filter the mash before distilling. You would lose taste and smell by filtration. Therefore the stills contain solid parts. Hence it is necessary to use a burn protector.

    Large stills are jacketed kettles in common, mostly equipped with a stirrer, but this system is not appropriate for small copper stills of hobby distillers. If the mash contains less than about 10 %ABV alcohol, you have to distill twice (double distillation).

    If the alcohol content is higher than that, a simple distillation is completely sufficient. This kind of distillation produces the most intense taste and smell, more than double distilled alcohol. Don’t forget to separate the heads (foreshot). Also if your mash is free of heads, you should separate about 30 drops per 1,5 liters (1.

    5 US quarts) of mash. Collect the hearts until 91 °C (196 °F) steam temperature, after that you can collect the tails or stop the distillation.

  5. There are two opposed opinions regarding alcohol dilution (alcohol dilution calculator): dilute immediately after distilling or dilute after storage. Both approaches have their specific pros and cons. We prefer to dilute immediately after distillation, in this case the finished spirit or brandy can be stored in glass bottles.

    Nevertheless do not dilute immediately after distillation if the spirit or brandy will be stored in wooden casks – a part of the alcohol will evaporate through the cask’s wall. In this is case dilute the brandy after storage. In other cases put the alcohol in containers (bottles) made of glass, ceramic, or stainless steel.

    NEVER use plastic to store high-proof alcohol!

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Much Success!

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Basic equipment for the distillation and dilution of spirits.

Basic equipment for mashing and distilling schnapps.

When Do You Stop Your Moonshine StillWhen Do You Stop Your Moonshine Still

How to Test Moonshine?

Making moonshine alcohol is a fun hobby, it can involve the whole family (or just be a “father and son” or “father, son and grandson” activity) or it can involve some friends.

Making your own moonshine alcohol can introduce you to a whole community of people who have the same passion like you, one that does not create damage, is interesting and does not require a big financial investment.

However, if you want to properly enjoy your homemade moonshine, then you need to pay attention to how you prepare it, as well as to the ways to test your moonshine and see if it’s any good.

Hence, before making the moonshine alcohol, you need to be careful to the next safety tips:

•    Always use a pure copper moonshine still. Using copper is not just a traditional way of making moonshine, but it has huge benefits such as absorbing syntheses with sulfur, reducing bacterial contamination, has great heat transfer properties and increases the entire quality of the product.

•    Always use a solder without lead. Lead can cause health problems and, once in your organism, it is very hard to eliminate. Try a silver solder instead, for example.

•    Always use natural ingredients (water, sugar, yeast).

•    Make sure your moonshine still is very well sealed. Clean it with some water before using it, as this way you can also see if there are any leaks to it which might allow the alcohol vapor to escape, thus wasting your time and money.

If, however, you notice a leak during the process, try to seal it with flour paste (which is the best sealing material).

If, you cannot do that, consider that the leak is still not very well sealed or find other leaks, then stop everything and do not start again until you repair your leak(s).

•    Always use a collection pot made of glass, never of plastic and preferably of small mouth. And remember to place this vessel away from any fire or other form of heat.

•    Always dispose of the first bit of moonshine, in order to avoid contamination with methanol (which has a lower boiling point than ethanol). Contagion with methanol can be noticed by the bad smell and taste of your moonshine and needs to be avoided, since it is toxic.

Now, if you successfully made your moonshine alcohol, here are is how you properly ensure that the process went well and that you, in fact, made good moonshine:

1.    First, smell it. If you notice a weird, chemical odor, do not drink it and proceed to the second step.

2.    The best test is the spoon one. No matter if your moonshine smells or not weird, this test needs to be done: put some moonshine in a spoon and light it on fire. If your alcohol is:

  • a)    Red: there is lead in it, so do not drink it.
  • b)    Yellow: you risk getting blind, so not drink it.
  • c)    Blue: best color to get, as it means you achieved your purpose of making good, safe, moonshine alcohol.

d)    If it has no color: basically, if it does not burn, then your process did not go as scheduled and you obtained some liquidwhich is not proper moonshine. Again, do not drink it.

There are no better ways to create proper moonshine alcohol than to respect the above advices and to always trust the spoon test, which will never fail.

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