What Is a Thumper? – A thumper is essentially a parasitic kettle connected to the primary distilling kettle, The thumper gets heated with the heat already produced to feed the primary kettle. Evidently, the thumper gets its name from the sound it makes while in operation.
What is the purpose of a thumper on a moonshine still?
A Quick Summary – If you’re in a hurry and just need to know the most essential information about the humble thumper keg, here it is.
- What Is It? A thumper keg works to distill your low wine a second time. It may be made of copper, steel, or wood, and sits between the still pot and condenser.
- What Does A Thump Keg Do? It speeds up the distillation process and transforms your low wine into a liquid with higher alcohol content, which is critical for making moonshine or bourbon.
- What Size Thump Keg Do You Need To Use? It should generally be about 25% to 40% of the size of your main boiler.
Now, if you need to know more about the thumper keg, keep reading.
What is a thumper for an alcohol still?
- Distilling Thumpers
- What Are They?
- How do They Work?
- by NorCal Brewing Solutions
- There is nothing worse than spirits that are harsh, throat burning, off flavored, or have odors or impurities.
- Common distilling wisdom dictates that to avoid the above you should perform multiple distilling runs.
- But who’s got time for that?
- If you don’t add a thumper (also known as a thumper keg) – or even a series of thumper kegs – to your pot head distilling system!
- What Is a Thumper Keg? (Short Answer)
- A thumper keg is a sealed, liquid-holding container that is placed between the still and the condenser in a pot head distillation system.
- It has one ethanol vapor entry port and one ethanol vapor exit port.
- It essentially performs a secondary distillation during a single distillation run.
- A thumper keg enhances alcohol content while simultaneously refining the flavor of the product – whether it be gin, whiskey, rum, or anything else.
- How Does a Thumper Keg Work?
- Hot ethanol vapor passes from the main still into the thumper through a DOWNCOMER – a tube whose end is submerged in “Thumper Liquid” at the bottom of the thumper.
- It is preferrable to have the Thumper Liquid be related to the spirit being distilled.
- For example, the Thumper Liquid can be:
- · Mash from the current run
- · Collection from a prior run
- · Store-bought spirit of similar type
- · The Thumper Liquid can contain fruit, spices, botanicals, or juice to enhance the flavor (more on this later!)
· Water can be used as a last resort. Using water will substantially dilute the alcohol content of the collected spirit.
- The hot ethanol vapor bubbles through the Thumper Liquid, cools, and in turn becomes liquid itself, mixing with the Thumper Liquid already in the thumper.
- As the vapor condenses in the semi-sealed environment it produces a THUMP – THUMP – THUMP sound, from which the name “Thumper” is derived.
- The collected spirit has a high alcohol content and enhances the flavor of the spirit.
- Temperature Warning!
- CAUTION: Due to a thumper’s proximity to the still it will get hot!
- For this reason, the thumper keg container should be made from heat-resistant materials (stainless steel, copper, glass, etc.)
- NorCal Brewing Solutions manufactures a line of thumpers designed for 1/6 barrel Sanke kegs and an economical line for glass canning jars (Kerr, Mason, and Ball).
- Let’s Get Technical!
- Okay but how does this produce a SECONDARY DISTILLATION?
- A thumper works by distilling low wines that come from the still.
- When distillation first starts, the starting liquid in the thumper keg is cool.
- As hot ethanol vapor passes from the still through the thumper the heat waste carried in the low wines heat the thumper up.
NOTE: Typically, no other heat source is used. This allows greater temperature control should the mash temperature get too hot.
- Eventually, the low wine gets heated to a point where it vaporizes, a second distillation happens, and this newly distilled vapor passes out of the thumper and into the condenser (or into ANOTHER thumper keg).
- The final spirit exits the condenser and is collected.
- In essence, a thumper keg allows a pot head still to gain some of the features provided in the column portion of a column still.
- Can a Thumper Keg be Used with a Column Still?
The short answer is “no”. There simply isn’t enough energy left to run the “thump” by the time ethanol vapor leaves a column still.
- A Thumper as a Gin Basket!
- A thumper keg can be used to add flavor to spirits.
- Simply add botanicals, herbs, spices, fruit, juice, or extracts to the Thumper Liquid and the ethanol vapor will extract the flavors from the Thumper Liquid as it passes through the thumper and exits into the condenser.
- What Size of Thumper Do I Need?
- A thumper should be approximately 1/3 the size of the still.
So 1/6 barrel kegs are PERFECT as thumpers when used with a half barrel (15.5 gallon) Sanke keg still. Half gallon canning jars are PERFECT as thumpers for 1.5-gallon stills.
- And don’t forget
- Thumper Kegs can be used in series to double thumper capacity, triple it, and so on.
- Two NorCal Brewing Solutions Half Gallon
- Canning Jar Thumper Kegs used in Series
- First Time Thumper Set-up (Step-by-Step Instructions)
- The thumper keg must be cleaned to remove bacteria and other contaminants. An easy way to accomplish this is through a “Vinegar Run”:
- NOTE: If using a series of thumpers, perform a Vinegar Run on each thumper individually (don’t assemble them in series).
1) Determine what 20% of the still’s capacity is. (1/6 barrel keg would be 20% of 5.17 gallons = 1.03 gallons). This is the “Vinegar Run Volume”.2) Assemble the still, thumper, and condenser.3) Mix half distilled water and half vinegar to make up the Vinegar Run Volume.
- 7) Discard all solution from still and from thumper.
- 8) Thumper is now ready for use.
- Using a Thumper Set-up (Step-by-Step Instructions)
- 1) Assemble the still, thumper(s), and condenser.
- 2) Add mash to still boiler.
- 3) Add enough Thumper Liquid to the thumper to cover approximately half an inch of the bottom of the downcomer.
- 4) If using the thumper as a Gin Basket: Add flavorings to the Thumper Liquid.
a. Make sure thumper keg is no more than 2/3 filled with Thumper Liquid and any additives. More than 2/3 full could produce too much back pressure for the thumper to work properly.
- 5) Heat boiler of the still to approximately 172 degrees Fahrenheit (78 degrees Celsius).
- 6) As the still heats up, ethanol vapors pass through the still and into the thumper (through the downcomer), where the vapors will turn into liquid and mix with the Thumper Liquid.
- 7) Eventually the thumper will heat up enough where ethanol vapor will continue out the thumper’s exit port and through the condenser, where it will turn into the final collected spirit.
- 8) Once the thumping process is complete, turn off the heat source to the boiler.
WARNING: Understand and ALWAYS follow proper still shut-down procedures, Failure to shut down the distilling process correctly can cause back pressure, resulting in equipment damage and even an explosion!
- Adding Flavor by Using a Thumper Keg
- A thumper can replicate a Gin Basket by adding flavor(s) to distillate!
- Simply add fruits, fruit juice, herbs, extracts, flowers, or spices to the Thumper Liquid.
NOTE: Using anything but alcohol in the Thumper Liquid will dilute the alcohol content of the collected spirit. If high alcohol content is a priority, consider using multiple thumpers in series. Adding Dried Fruit, Herbs, Flowers, Spices: Use any combination of dried fruit, herbs, flowers, spices, etc.
- When ready to distill, add this mixture to the Thumper Liquid.
- Pros and cons of this method:
- PROS: Allows good flavor extraction while keeping the highest possible alcohol content of the collected spirit.
- CONS: Time delay / hassle.
- Adding Raw Fruit, Fruit Juice:
- Use any combination of ripe, mashed fruit and fruit juice and add it to the Thumper Liquid.
- Pros and cons of this method:
- PROS: Skips the low wines process and the associated time delay.
CONS: Dilutes the alcohol content of the collected spirit. Doesn’t extract as much flavor. Experiment, and Have Fun! Thumper kegs add a certain amount of pizazz to a pot head distilling system. Not only do they look cool, the “thump thump thump” sound they make while operating adds an auditory signal that all is going well in the distilling process.
Being able to easily extract flavors from fruit, botanicals, oak, or anything else you dream up adds a whole new dimension to flavor design. If you don’t have time for multiple distilling runs If you like the idea of flavor design If you like a higher proof at collection while getting a refined spirit then consider adding a thumper keg – or even a series of thumper kegs – to your distilling system.
Questions? Click to “Ask Jaybird” – NorCal Brewing Solutions in-house distilling expert! : Distilling, Spirits
Should I air out my moonshine?
How to Blend Cuts After Distillation Learning how to blend cuts is an important step in crafting your spirit after distillation. Blending cuts is the process where you’ll assess the distillate you’ve collected in jars (see our article on ) and carefully curate the ones you want to add to your final product.
It’s a process that requires a bit of patience and a bit of practice. Once you’ve taken your cuts during your spirit run, w e then suggest you let the jars air out for 24 hours for the more volatile aroma compounds to dissipate. This can be done by covering them with a thin type of material, such as muslin cloth, being careful it does not dip into the jars.
Once the 24 hours is up, line all your jars up from beginning to end and get ready for the fun to begin, because this is where you get to choose exactly what goes into your drink! Take this time to waft a few of the jars towards your nose – just don’t stick your nose into the jar as you may be met with some very strong and potent aromas.
- Try smelling a middle jar, then the first, and then the last – take note of the difference in aroma between them all.
- Once you have an idea of what smells good to you, and what doesn’t, start selecting what you want to keep.
- Typically, it’s easier to start from the middle (the hearts) and work your way out.
Put aside the jars you don’t select. Use your sense of smell first and if you want to give it a taste, place a drop or two onto a teaspoon and dilute it with a few drops of water so you can get a better idea of what it tastes like. Once you have selected your jars, combine the contents into a larger vessel and check the ABV.
- Now that your cuts have been blended, the next steps will depend on the type of spirit you’re making.
- If it’s a gin, it’s time to dilute the combined distillate down to drinking level (typically 39-42% ABV) and let it rest for a week or so to settle out prior to enjoying.
- If, on the other hand, you’ve made a dark spirit such as rum or whiskey (although, it won’t be dark yet), it’s time to prepare for your ageing and oaking steps.
These steps will contribute colour and flavour to your final product. Find out more in our article What about those other jars that didn’t make the cut? Fear not, this isn’t wasted alcohol! Keep these aside in a separate and clearly marked container, and then add these back to another spirit run to further refine and extract better tasting portions from them.
Remember to keep like spirits together – rum leftovers probably won’t go well with bourbon leftovers! What’s Next? While you wait patiently for your spirit to age, make use of the time, and distill a few more batches! Once your spirit is oaked and aged you’ll be tempted to sit back and enjoy the product of your hard work.
You certainly can, however, it can pay off wait until other batches are ready so you can blend them. You can simply blend the batches to taste, after all, it’s you who will be enjoying it. Sample the batches individually, then try blending a small amount of a few together and see what you think.
If you find a blend you like, then simply increase the proportions to the desired amount. Many commercial spirits are blended. There are different regional laws around the globe that define labelling requirements, so spirits that state their age on the bottle, may contain spirit aged for different periods.
: How to Blend Cuts After Distillation
Do you have to use a thumper for moonshine?
If you are interested in increasing the potency of your spirits or making a traditional backwoods moonshine, then you should grab a thumper keg for your still. It is a clever innovation which will increase the potency and purity of your distilled spirits.
Thumper Keg : A copper, steel, or wooden vessel which is placed between the still pot and condenser. What Size Thumper Keg to Use? A thumper keg should be 25% to 40% the size of your main boiler. What Does a Thumper Keg Do? The main purpose of a thumper keg is to speed up the distillation process.
Related: Moonshining in Appalachia in 1900s
How big of a thumper do I need for a 10 gallon still?
3.3 Gallon Copper Distillation Thumper with 3″ access and triclamp, temperature gauge, and 1/4 turn boiler drain. This Copper 3.3 Gallon Thumper/Doubler is the perfect addition to an 8 to 12 gallon still. The advantages of a thumper would be gaining a higher proof on the first run and/or to add back flavor that is lost during the first distillation process from the pot.3.3 Gallon Thumper 3″ ferrule with locking triclamp, gasket and stainless sanitary end cap Temperature gauge placed at the vapor line to help you manage your still 1/2″ ball valve drain to maintain levels 1/2″ copper pipe stubbed out ready for plumbing to your still (if you need help with this part, please contact us as will need measurements to help you).20 oz Revere copper and silver based, lead-free solder