Why Does My Moonshine Taste Bad

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It is almost impossible to obtain at home. The distillation product requires cleaning, regardless of the mash recipe. The unpleasant smell and taste of moonshine is given by chemical compounds formed during the ferrying process… The mechanism for softening and purifying moonshine is aimed at removing fusel oils and impurities.

The quality of the moonshine is primarily influenced by the recipe for making the mash and the seasoned technology of correct distillation. A moonshine still equipped with a dry steamer or a reflux condenser should also have good quality; copper is recognized as the most suitable material for it.

An important condition the observance of cleanliness is: the fermentation tank, moonshine still, dishes for collecting and storing the product must be clean throughout the entire process.

However, even if all the rules of home brewing are observed, the final product needs additional cleaning and softening. It will be necessary to get rid of the bitterness and unpleasant odor. There are many ways to enrich and enjoy moonshine. Since ancient times, herbs, roots, spices have been used for this. Nowadays, the list of cleaners and additives has grown significantly.

To soften moonshine, sweeteners, acidifiers, spices, spices, nuts, charcoal, bark, etc. are used. Starting to eliminate a specific smell, it is necessary to fulfill all the conditions and proportions of the recipe, starting with small volumes of moonshine.

We clean the drink from impurities and unpleasant odors

Experienced homebrewers use the double distillation method – re-distillation allows for a cleaner product. Before the secondary distillation, the moonshine must be additionally cleaned to remove impurities harmful to the body.

To do this, prepare the product, diluting its strength to 30% – this concentration facilitates the separation of fusel oils. It is also recommended to let the moonshine stand for 2 days at room temperature before the cleaning procedure. Purification of an alcoholic beverage is carried out using:

Why Does My Moonshine Taste Bad

reference… The ferrying process is conventionally divided into “head”, “body” and “tail”. Most of the harmful impurities are in the “head” – in the first 10% of moonshine.

In the “tail”, the alcohol strength is reduced to 30-35º, the approximate amount is up to 10% of the total amount of the product. The “head” is poured out, and the “tails” are left for breeding the mash before forcing.

The purest moonshine is distilled in the “body”, it is most of all free from impurities and a specific smell.

Moonshine can be flavored during the distillation process if you put an ingredient used to improve the taste in it. For example, juniper berries, dry citrus zest, dry herb.

Video on how to improve sam at home

In this video, an experienced moonshiner will tell you how to give a more magical taste and improve the smell of moonshine:

We give a softer taste

The taste of the resulting purified moonshine can be improved by softening it with additional products. At home, infusion or flavoring with flavors is used for this. Tinctures for raw materials are made without chemical additives, therefore they are completely safe for health.

Why Does My Moonshine Taste Bad

In cases where a lot of softener has been added, the concentration is reduced by diluting pure alcohol with water. The container must be tightly closed and kept at a temperature close to zero degrees.

Reference. The higher the degree of moonshine, the more difficult it is to soften the drink, optimally alcohol should not exceed 40º.

What to add to improve?

Ways to eliminate bitterness in moonshine. Why is there bitterness in moonshine? Why distilling water produces a bitter taste

  • Everyone who is engaged in home brewing tries to achieve ideal indicators in terms of taste and aroma of the drink.
  • In reality, even experienced distillers can produce moonshine with bitterness, which can negatively affect the overall taste of the tasting.
  • Let's try to understand the reasons for the appearance of bitter notes in the taste of moonshine and the main ways to eliminate them.

Causes of the bitterness of moonshine

The list of the most common causes of bitterness in moonshine includes:

Burning drink that occurs when errors occur during distillation. The products formed as a result of combustion, together with the steam, penetrate into the drink, creating a bitter taste.

Failure to comply with the raw material manufacturing technology:

  • Moonshine should be prepared exclusively from fresh, refined raw materials.
  • When making it on the basis of berries and fruits, make sure that there is no rot in them, refuse to chop the seeds, they contain a lot of tannins that give the moonshine bitterness.
  • Sugar and subsequent boiling during ferrying will neutralize it, but the taste will deteriorate considerably.
  • Do not forget to remove the foam while preparing the drink.

Poor yeast quality and wort contamination. Failure to comply with the fermentation conditions leads to the multiplication of foreign bacteria and fungi in the wort.

Why Does My Moonshine Taste Bad

Malfunctions of the moonshine unit:

  • In most cases, the bitterness appears when it becomes necessary to clean the equipment.
  • A malfunction can occur when mash or foam gets into the coil when overheating.
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The Best Advice For New Distillers

Written by Lisa Wicker, President & Head Distiller at Widow Jane Distillery.

Why Does My Moonshine Taste Bad

The best advice I ever received was from the man who trained me to make wine. To this day, it’s something I always share when I speak to new distillers.

When I moved from wine-making to distilling, I was so excited to be actually producing something that I set some aside in what I now refer to now as my Humble Jar. It’s terrible stuff, an “okay” fermentation at best.

While I had lots of fermentation practice in wine-making, the distillation turned out horrible. Cuts were something I had no experience in, which is evident in the sample.

I keep it to remember where I started, and that there’s always something more to learn or improve.

Recently, I spoke to a whiskey group. Several of the members were starting their own distillery and were excited to share their juice. Handing me a glass, one of them leaned in and told me, “this is all we drink these days!” I took a sip… and it was awful.

I could taste the flaws of a poor fermentation and poor distillation, which reminded me too much of the contents of my Humble Jar; but they were all so excited and clearly weren’t looking for advice.

I could tell that all they wanted was for me to smile and tell them it was perfect.

In the moment, I struggled with myself. I knew I should say something, but they were all so happy with their work – and no wonder! Those words of advice came once again to my mind, explaining how their taste could be so off beat. It’s just what they got used to drinking!

But I can’t say I blame them for their mistake. I get it.

After spending a fortune, maybe even your life savings, and then investing so much time into preparing for that first distillation – which is always way behind the anticipated date and way over cost, I might add – there’s a lot of excitement in finally having something to show for it. But I think it’s also important to recognize the realities involved in this business.

Plan and budget appropriately, acknowledging that the first few distillations may not be your dream product – and may not even be palatable. Getting the first bottle of your product placed and sold successfully is difficult enough for any distillery – but if you make a poor first impression, the second bottle will be impossible.

Distillation – The science of distillation

Why Does My Moonshine Taste Bad

Distillation does not produce alcohol, it merely concentrates it. To produce a distilled spirit you need to start with an alcoholic liquid ('wash') to distil your spirit from. The majority of vodkas and all whiskies are distilled from a wash which is essentially beer made by fermenting cereal grains.

Potable (a fancy word for 'drinkable') alcohol is a liquid called ethanol. And because ethanol alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water the two liquids can be separated by evaporation.

So by heating the wash in an enclosed environment (the still) and capturing the alcohol vapours emitted it is possible to concentrate the alcohol by boiling it off from the water which is left behind as it needs more energy before it can evaporate.

This process is complicated by the fact there are different types of alcohol and other chemical compounds present besides ethanol, all with different boiling points. These are collectively known as congeners and these chemicals give spirits character and flavour. Some congeners are desirable in small quantities, others should be removed as completely as possible during distillation.

In vodka production more of these congeners will need to be removed than if you were making a less pure, more characterful spirit such as tequila or cachaça, or a spirit that will undergo a prolonged maturation process such as cognac or whiskey, as evaporation during aging process will facilitate the removal of some congeners while others are softened by interaction with the wood.

Ethanol alcohol, the potable alcohol which the distiller wants to capture has a boiling point of 78.2˚C. Other, less tasty and often harmful congeners have boiling points that are slightly higher or lower than Ethanol.

During the distillation process the first vapours to boil off the water are the more volatile alcohols, those with the lowest boiling point. These are variously known as 'heads' or 'foreshots' depending on the part of the world you are in and the product being distilled.

Next comes the desirable ethanol alcohol, usually described as being the heart. By diverting the flow of spirit emerging from the condenser the heads can be discarded and the heart separated and saved.

As the alcohols with the lower boiling points have now evaporated, this leaves water, proteins, carbohydrates and less volatile alcohols with higher boiling points, better known as 'tails', or 'faints'.

The still will be run to separate these less volatile alcohols from the watery wash until the liquid left in the still is around 1% alcohol by volume. It is not economical to further separate the little remaining alcohol and the 'pot ale' left in the still will be sent for processing or simply spread over fields as fertiliser.

The tails and sometimes also the heads will be retained and added to the wash of the next distillation so recycling any trapped ethanol.

One of the skills of a distiller is judging the right moment to “cut” the stills outflow from heads to hearts and hearts to tails. The smaller the percentage of heart so the greater the purity of the heart but this means sacrificing more valuable ethanol.

The Heads

Also known as 'foreshots', these are volatile (low boiling point) alcohols given off at the start of distillation and include the following chemical substances:

Acetaldehyde (CH3CHO) is an aldehyde produced by plants as part of their normal metabolism. It is also produced by the oxidation of ethanol. Acetaldehyde has a boiling point of 20.8˚C and is believed to be a major contributor to the severity of hangovers. It has a pungent fruity odor reminiscent of metallic green apple.

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Acetone ((CH3)2CO) is a colourless, flammable liquid with a boiling point of 56.2˚C. It is the simplest form of a group of substances known as ketones.

Indeed, the word ketone derives its name from Aketon, an old German word for acetone. Acetone commonly used as a cleaning solvent and is the active ingredient in nail polish remover and as paint thinner.

Thus when you smell nail polish remover in a spirit it is usually Acetone that you are smelling.

Esters are naturally occurring chemical compounds responsible for the aroma of many fruits, including apples, pears, bananas, pineapples and strawberries.

Esters are most commonly formed by condensing carboxylic acids with an alcohol and their presence in a distillate can contribute fruity aromas.

Esters have inoffensive, often sweet odours so are considered desirable by most distillers.

Esters include ethyl acetate (boiling point 77.1˚C), ethyl butyrate (121˚C), ethyl formate (54˚C), and hexyl acetate (171.5˚C). Although Acetate esters have a low boiling points, Acetate hangs around in the still as its molecules act as if they need a lot of room to escape.

Methanol (CH3OH often abbreviated MeOH)

Why Your Moonshine Never Works Out the Way You Planned

You dedicate a lot of time and effort into the moonshine-making process and you are optimistic that it’ll taste awesome. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to make good tasting hooch. Even the tiniest mistake can make your batch undrinkable.

If your white lightning never works out the way you planned, you might be making some of the common mistakes we’ve detailed below.

Fermenting in the Wrong Container

Fermentation is vital to the moonshine-making process. It occurs before distillation. The corn mash is placed in a container and left to ferment for about a week so the sugar or grains turn into alcohol. One of the most common mistakes new moonshiners make is fermenting in an air-tight container.

When you use an air-tight container, no air can get in or out so your yeast won’t be able to convert the sugar or grains into alcohol effectively. The mash needs to breathe! It should be fermented in an open container with cheesecloth wrapped around the top.

That way, the air can still pass through, but bugs and debris can’t get in to contaminate your product.

Using Tap Water

You might not even think about it. You use tap water for your mash because it’s easily available, and really, what’s the difference? Tap water can contain impurities and chemicals, both of which can affect the aroma and taste of your moonshine. Serious moonshiners who want to create high-quality hooch know only to use distilled water.

Drinking Your First Batch

If this is your first time making ‘shine and it tastes weird, it’s probably because you haven’t worn in your still yet. You should always discard your first batch—metallic residue could seep into your product. Your second batch will taste a lot purer.

Not Discarding Foreshots

The reasons for the appearance and methods of eliminating bitterness in moonshine

Even after the second distillation, bitter moonshine can be obtained by both beginners and experienced distillers, since the problem is not always associated with a violation of the distillation technology. There are 5 main reasons for a bitter taste.

1. Burning of solid mash particles

The most common occurrence. If the wash is poorly filtered (filtered), when heated, the remnants of raw materials, yeast and sediment will burn, and the combustion products, along with alcohol vapors, enter the moonshine.

Prevention: thoroughly filter and clarify the mash (preferably), removing particles of pulp, skin, dead yeast and sediment. Distil thick mash with a steam generator or in a water bath.

2. Incorrect work with raw materials or wash

Too much crushing of fruits and berries leads to damage to the seeds, which contain a lot of tannins and tannins. As a result, these substances first enter the wash, and then into the finished moonshine. Sometimes the skin and inner parts near the bones are also very bitter, so they need to be removed.

Another option – rotten or spoiled raw materials got into the wash, even a relatively small amount is enough for rot to spoil the taste. Also, bitterness in moonshine appears if the fermented mash is not removed from the sediment (filtered) for a long time, since over time the sediment begins to decompose and rot.

Prevention: carefully monitor the quality of raw materials, chop the fruit and crush the juice so that the bones remain intact. Remove the fermented wash from the sediment in time.

3. Bad yeast and wort contamination

Sometimes spoiled or low-quality yeast gives the mash a bitter aftertaste. You need to think about this problem if the technology for making moonshine has not changed, and bitterness appeared immediately after using new yeast.

In the absence of sterility and access to air, the wort can become infected with pathogenic microorganisms that cause vinegar sourness, mold and milk fermentation. Subsequently, this wash tastes bitter or becomes sour.

When mold or other signs of infection appear, the mash must be drained from the sediment, brought to a boil, then cooled to room temperature, a new portion of yeast must be added and fermented under a water seal to ferment.

Prevention: take a responsible approach to the choice of yeast, monitor sterility, use a water seal, limiting the access of oxygen.

4. Problems with the moonshine still

First of all, the bitter aftertaste of moonshine makes itself felt if the device has not been cleaned for a long time or if splashing occurs – foam or hot mash gets into the coil due to too intense heating. As a result, the remnants of the mash from previous distillations in the cube or on the tubes are burnt.

Bitterness in a new moonshine still may indicate the wrong choice of material or sealant (especially silicone), which are destroyed under the influence of high temperature or alcohol vapors.

Prevention: use moonshine still made from safe materials, regularly clean the distillation cube, connecting pipes and coil. Observe the technology of distillation without overheating the mash.

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5. Long contact with wood

This refers to aging in barrels or infusion on oak bark or chips (wood), as a result of which the distillate is over-saturated with tannins.

Prevention: periodically control the taste during aging (in the case of bark and chips, at least once every 5-7 days) in order to pour the drink into bottles for storage in time.

You can eliminate only a slight bitterness and mask the middle one. For complete disposal, I advise you to rectify the moonshine into pure alcohol.

If the problem is caused by low-quality materials of the device, the drink cannot be corrected and can only be used for technical needs, since it is hazardous to health due to harmful substances.

Moonshine stored in plastic bottles cannot be cleaned either.

Step-by-step instructions on how to remove bitterness from moonshine

1. After fermentation, filter the mash and taste it. If strong bitterness is felt (light bitterness is normal), peel the mash with egg white or bentonite (preferable) even before distillation.

For cleaning with egg white: beat the eggs, carefully separate the white from the yolk, beat the whites with a whisk until foamy, add 50 ml per 1 liter of mash. Stir, seal tightly and leave in the cold for 7 days. Then drain from the sediment and distill.

Clearing Moonshine and Getting Rid of Bad Smell

Most newcomers face a problem of a bad smelling moonshine. Craftsmen have come up with a few simple methods which allow solving this problem in a quick and effective way without wasting too much time and efforts. These are the most effective tested methods.

Six methods of getting rid of the unpleasant smell:

  1. Pour 2-3 grams of potassium permanganate powder per 3 liters of the finished product. Wait for the precipitate to settle. To speed up the process, just close the jar, shake it several times, and put it for 10-15 minutes in a heated bath at a temperature of 50-70°C.
  2. Add 8-10 grams of baking soda per 1 liter of moonshine, stir, and infuse for 20-30 minutes. Then stir again and leave for 10-12 hours. After this, drain the top liquid layer and remove the sediment at the bottom. Soda is good for getting rid of fusel oils that cause an unpleasant smell.
  3. Infuse your moonshine with orris root for 12 days (100 grams of ground root per 3 liters of moonshine). This old recipe is of little use to urban dwellers, since finding orris violets in stores is nearly impossible. However, this method is very effective.
  4. Freeze the moonshine in a metallic keg or glass container. Water will freeze near the edges of the container along with harmful substances. After the water turns into ice, pour the liquid moonshine into another container. If necessary, repeat the process several times. This method is simple and cheap, as the only thing you need is a refrigerator.
  5. Re-distillation. Dilute the moonshine with water to 15-20% and run another distillation, separating the finished product into fractions. This method is laborious and time-consuming. These blemishes notwithstanding, it’s also the most effective.
  6. Clearing with activated carbon. For this method, you’ll need birch charcoal (BAU-A and BAU-LV). Technology: grind the charcoal and roll it in several layers of cheesecloth. Filter the moonshine through the obtained filter.

Clearing with Carbon

Still, activated carbon remains the most simple and environmentally-friendly method of clearing moonshine. It removes unpleasant smells and harmful substances. Let’s find out how you can clear your moonshine with carbon at home.

Thanks to its pores, carbon absorbs molecules of a certain size, so it’s very important to choose the right type of coal. For example, animal bone coal consists of micropores and can only absorb small molecules. Fusel oils and other harmful substances are composed of large molecules—that’s why this type of coal is not suitable in our case.

Note: In order to clear the moonshine you’ll need activated carbon obtained by wood pyrolysis (decomposition brought about by high temperatures). Most activated carbon tablets sold in pharmacies are made from animal bones with the use of binding additives (starch). Its ability to absorb harmful impurities is extremely low.

Alternatively, there is a commercial product that I now use for clearing most of my Moonshine, which is the Still Spirits – EZ Filter System.

This is the simplest method of clearing Moonshine, the kit comes with everything you need, including purpose-built filtering containers, all you need to purchase ongoing is purpose-made carbon cartridges & washers, both of which are very cost-effective and save a lot of time in filtering your Moonshine. 

Where to get Charcoal for Moonshine

It can be purhcased from homebrewing shops. The most suitable are BAU-A and BAU-LV activated birch charcoal, and also KAU-A activated coconut coal, designed specifically for the liquor industry.

Due to the presence of impurities, coal found in gas masks and other industrial devices should NOT be used!

You can find carbon with large pores in many water filters. As long as it has no impurities—ionites and other substances which start to dissolve in moonshine during the chemical reaction.

From my experience, birch charcoal is a good one to use to clear moonshine. It’s not hard to find as it’s used in hookahs and grills. When choosing charcoal to be wary of any impurities in its list of contents.

Birch charcoal is the best one

Clearing Moonshine with carbon

It’s pretty straightforward from here on: crush the carbon in a saucepan, then add to the moonshine (40-55%), 50 grams per liter. After this, infuse the mixture for a week in a sealed container. Shake it 1-2 times a day. Then decant it and filter through a layer of cotton wool. By the way, even vodka can be cleared in the same way.

As you can see, this clearing method is very simple. You just need to pick the right activated carbon.

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