9. Always discard the “foreshots.” – A commercial distiller realizes that one of the risks associated with making and drinking spirits is concentrating methanol. Methanol is a potential byproduct of the fermentation process and its presence in a wash is a legitimate danger.
They will discard the first bit of alcohol produced by the still. This part of the run, known as the foreshots, smells like high powered solvent, tastes even worse, and is potentially poisonous. Or, they will combine and mix everything thoroughly (if lower quality alcohol is being produced), which eliminates the concentration risk.
Why do you get rid of the first bit of moonshine?
Page 6 – Distillation is used for numerous applications, including the distillation of essential oils and spirits. Our Copper Alembics are perfectly suitable for these applications nevertheless certain should be taken to avoid personal injury as a result of negligence or the continuous consumption of poor results.
Distillation is a basic chemical science which involves the separation of a chemical substance into its different components based on difference in the boiling point of each fraction. This is done by heating a mixture in an alembic pot so the fractions that make up the mixture begin to evaporate, these are conducted via a connecting arm or swan neck into a condenser where they are chilled and revert to their liquid state.
Ethanol alcohol evaporates at 78.3ºC at sea level and water at 100ºC but a mixture of the two components will evaporate between 78.3ºC and 100ºC depending on the ratio of ethanol alcohol and water. The more volatile components or those fractions with a lower boiling point will tend to evaporate first so the resultant vapours will be more enriched with those components with a lower boiling point.
- A fermented batch may be composed of ethanol, other higher alcohols such as methanol also acetone, various esters, water and furfurals.
- The more volatile components such as acetone, methanol and the various esters are undesirable; methanol for instance has been known to cause blindness.
- It is common practice to throw away the first portion of the distillate, this way you will get rid of the methanol.
Separate and discard the first 50ml If distilling a 25 L wash or mash in a reflux still or 100ml per 20L wash from the rest of the distillate if using a traditional alembic, these fractions are known as foreshots or heads and are distilled first. The result of any distillation is divided into three separate parts in the following order: heads, hearts and tails.
- The best and desired portion of the distillation is obtained from the hearts.
- Cut off points have to be determined between heads, hearts and tails, the art lies in when to start collecting the hearts and when to stop.
- Experienced distillers use their senses to determine cut off points, they monitor the taste and smell of the heads, these usually have a very sharp taste and are foul smelling.
The hearts portion of the distillate (the ethanol) should be totally transparent and odourless. The tails contain a large amount of compounds with higher boiling points, such as the higher alcohols and furfural. These compounds can spoil the taste of the spirit if the collection is carried on too long.
The cut off point for the tails can be identified by the taste, smell and milky cloudiness of the distillate. This is done by collecting a few drops on the back of a spoon every so often and checking what it tastes or looks like on a regular basis. The tails are usually saved to include in the next batch as a considerable amount of ethanol alcohol can still be recovered.
Cut off points may also be established based on temperature (see our ) or readings. Temperature readings may not determine the cut off point with the greatest accuracy though they may be helpful in determining the end of a complete distillation run. For instance when the vapour temperature nears 98° C most of the alcohol has already been distilled and it becomes unnecessary to continue the distillation process.
- The percentage at which to do the cut may depend on the flavour profile you may want to obtain and the kind of wash distilled.
- As a rule for fruit mashes the cut off point for tails may be 25% alcohol and for grain washes 18%, this is not a hard and fast rule and the distiller has to toggle with these values to obtain the desired flavour profile.
Most distillates are double distilled to further purify the distillation results and raise the alcohol percentage. A second distillation may also concentrate the flavour further. The cut off point for a second distillation in a fruit mash may be as low as 60%.
What is the first part of the moonshine?
Common Moonshine Terms
ABV – “Alcohol by volume” – is the percentage of alcohol (ethanol) that is contained within a liquid. Alcometer – is a measuring device used to determine the % of alcohol also referred to as a spirit hydrometer Backins – Weak whiskey produced at the end of a double run or at the end of a run through a thumper. Bead – The bubbles that form on the surface of shaken whiskey and reflect the alcoholic content. Beading Oil – An oil dripped into low-quality whiskey by Prohibition-era moonshiners to make the alcohol bead like quality whiskey. Beer – The liquid part of fermented mash. Beer, also called “teedum,” was often made for its own sake rather than for distilling. Blackpot – A submarine still in which the mash is allowed to ferment directly in the still rather than in barrels or boxes. Boiler – Also called a “pot,” the container in which mash is initially cooked or heated. Bootleg Turn – A whiskey-hauler’s technique of turning a car around in a sudden controlled skid. Cap – The removable top of a still. Caps are named by their shapes. Carboy – is a glass or plastic vessel used in fermenting beverages, Usually it is fitted with a rubber stopper and a fermentation lock to prevent bacteria and oxygen from entering during the fermentation process. Charge – The act of filling the still or the thumper with beer or pumice. Condenser – The part of the still, typically a copper coil, in which the steam condenses into liquid alcohol. Corn – Whiskey made primarily from corn mash. Dropping the Bead – Also called “cutting” or “proofing,” the process of lowering the strength of liquor by mixing it with weaker alcohol or water. Double Run – The technique of running alcohol through a still twice. Flake Stand – The wooden water-filled box in which the condenser is cooled. Fermentation lock – Also called air lock. Is a device used in beer brewing and wine making that allows carbon dioxide released during fermentation to escape the fermenter, while not allowing air to enter the fermenter, thus avoiding oxidation. Fermenter – Container used to Ferment wash. Carboy or air tight food grade pail is often used. Foreshots – “the low boiling point compounds that come out of the still first. They contain acetone, methanol, various esters and aldehydes, and other volitiles. Foreshots are to be considered poisonous and should be discarded.” Gauger – A revenue agent in the pre-Prohibition era. Granny Fee – Bribery or payoff money paid by moonshiners to law enforcement officers. Heads – “come out after the foreshots, and are almost pure alcohol, except that they are contaminated with trace amounts of unwanted cogeners ” Liquor Car – A car modified to haul illegal alcohol to market. Malt – Barley malt for mixing in mash. Corn that is sprouted and then ground can be used in place of barley malt. Mash – Some combination of water, grain, malt, yeast, and sugar that is allowed to ferment before being distilled into alcohol. Peckin’ the Cap – A technique of rapping on the cap to tell by the hollow sound if the mash has boiled into the cap. Pot Still – A pot still is a type of still used in distilling spirits such as whisky or brandy. Heat is applied directly to the pot containing the wash (for whisky) or wine (for brandy). This is called a batch distillation (as opposed to a continuous distillation) Pot-Tail – The “slop” of fruit or grain left over after the alcohol has been distilled out of it. Also called “thumper tails.” Puke – The boiling over of a still Pumice – Crushed fermented fruit and sugar used to make brandy. Revenuer – A government agent whose job is to catch people involved in moonshining. Reflux – Reflux is a distillation technique involving the condensation of vapors and the return of this condensate to the system from which it originated. Reflux Still – Produces a flavorless spirit though the process of reflux Runner – A person who hauls moonshine. Singlings – Un-proofed whiskey that has gone through one distilling and will be distilled again. Steam Outfit – A still which uses steam rather than a direct flame to heat the mash inside the pot. Still – The combination of the cap and boiler in which the mash is initially distilled. “Still” is also used to describe the entire distilling setup. Still Hand – A person who works at a still site. Stillhouse – Historically a small permanent building constructed specifically for distilling. Stir Stick – A stick with a fork at the end used to stir mash. Wire is commonly stretched back and forth across the fork. Stuck Fermentaion – occurs when the yeast become dormant before the fermentation has completed. Unlike an “arrested fermentation” where the winemaker intentionally stops fermentation Submarine Still – A large-capacity style of still in common use since the 1920s. Shaped like a low box with two curved ends, the submarine still usually has two wooden sides. Swab Stick – A bristled wooden stick used to clean out a still. Thumper – The part between the boiler and the coil that distills mash and redistills the alcohol coming out of the boiler. Also called a “doubler,” “thumper keg,” or “thump barrel.” Turnip Still – An old style of still pot that has a round, squat shape. Worm – A coil submerged in a water-filled container. Alcohol-laden steam condenses to a liquid in the coil. Yeast Starter – A yeast starter is used to initiate cell activity or increase the cell count before using it to make your beer. The yeast will grow in this smaller volume, usually for 1-2 days, which then can be added to 5 gallons of wort.
: Common Moonshine Terms
What to do with moonshine tails?
Collecting the Heart – Once the distiller makes the first cut, the heads are generally either disposed of or redistilled in able to collect more alcohol from them. After the distiller has decided that the quality of the incoming distillate is good enough to keep for drinking purposes, they will cut to “hearts”.
- Hearts are ultimately what become the finished product.
- They contain the bulk of the ethanol we want along with flavors and aromas that make our spirit unique.
- All good things must come to an end, however.
- Eventually the emerging hearts distillate will steadily take on unpleasant aromas and flavors, sometimes even developing some bitterness.
This is when the distiller will make another cut and divert the distillate flow to another container for the remainder of the distillation run. The distillate at this point is called “tails” and it has increasingly lower amounts of alcohol. Additionally, higher amounts of bad aromas due to the growing amount of fusel alcohols come over in the still. Waterford Distillery’s Head Brewer Neil determines when to make the cut / Photo Credit: Waterford Distillery
What is the purpose of a stripping run?
What is a Stripping Run ? – When distilling moonshine the stripping run is often the first distillation of the mash. The goal of this first distilling run is to strip as much alcohol from the mash as possible. This distilled alcohol is often referred to as “low wines” and what’s left over in the boiler is the bulk of the water, sediment and yeast from the fermentation process which can be discarded.
A pot still is often used for this distillation process and is run hot and fast, No cuts are made during the run so the separation between fractions is bad. It’s common to see a stripping run abv range between 40% – 60% abv. Below is a illustration of whats going on during a pot still stripping run. Notice as the ABV drops the water increases.
This is why many distillers stop the stripping run around 20% abv it’s simply not worth distilling anymore,