Beginners Guide - From One NOOB to Another

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Beginners Guide - From One NOOB to Another

Postby Linny » Fri Jan 04, 2013 9:16 pm

First of all, alot of the credit goes to MacStill and the mods who have helped alot... Many of the notes here are from Aussiedistiller, and questions that i have asked here. These are a compiled guide of notes that got me through to understanding much of what is going on from A-Z. Once reading this, it doesn't stop there is always more to read and learn and much can be found in the library here in the forum. I suggest reading the compleat distiller 4-5 times with runs in between to understand what they are talking about. There is no wrong or right way, just your own way to learn. but this has helped me and hopefully many others.

I used a 30 Litre plastic jerry can with a tap on the bottom (basically looks like a beer fermenter but only $25 from Bunning’s). While this works well with the 27 Litre wash, you start to find you need at least 2 of them so you can offset your fermenting washes since they can take up to two weeks to ferment. I use 2 layers of glad wrap with rubber bands where the lid sits so it can stretch and can easily inspect how the wash is going.
Another good suggestion is to get 2x 20 Litre buckets with the lids so you can make the 15 Litre washes, much easier to stagger the weeks (making sure you install an airlock).

Rinse out with water to get most of the solids out, I also use a tiny tiny bit of dishwashing liquid to help. Close the lid and shake it around continue rinsing out until all the foam is gone (don’t forget inside the tap).

Next you want to sanitise with a product such as Sodium Percarbonate (aka Napisan Plus – make sure it’s the unscented version), 3 table spoons to 30 Litres or 1 table spoon to 10 Litres. You want to leave this soak for 24 hours, once finished clean and rinse with water.

Finally just before you want to sterilise the fermenter, bleach and water works well. John Palmer suggests in his book “How to Brew” 4ml per Litre of water. So for 25-30 Litres try ½ to 1 tablespoon of bleach.

Most of my washes have completed within 8-10 days they can take longer the lower the temperature the longer it takes the temperature should not go beneath 20°C (baker’s yeast is fairly resilient). Have to remember that the longer it takes the better your final product will be. If you let it run at 30°C it will finish faster but the yeast will create more fusel oil (aka tails of the run). If you keep the fermenter sealed the alcohol (about 10-16%) will kill most bacteria so you can store a fermented wash for at least a month or two before running it and it still will be fine.

Make sure you rinse the still out with water after every run since what is left over in the boiler is corrosive (like basic vinegar).
I suggest after completing your stripping runs that you clean the still with warm water and can use baking soda to neutralise the packing in the reflux column (you don’t want the yeast oils carrying over into your final spirit run) smells funny.

Well there’s Pot, Cooling Management (CM’s), Liquid Management (LM’s or BOKA’s) Vapour Management (VM’s), Plated/Bubble Cap.

Pot-would consider the easiest to run, since you just have to have enough heat and your condenser (Liebig) big enough with water flow to condense the alcohol vapour. It’s also the fastest to “strip” your washes/Mashes and carries over the 2nd most flavour, it is ideal for the beginner for RUMS, WHISKEYS and BOURBONS.

CM’s- Are basically a Pot still with a second condenser at the top of the column. This second condenser allows reflux to happen giving the operator a higher alcohol by volume (ABV%).

LM’s/VM’s- Tend to have a larger column allowing the vapour to fraction over time giving the Operator a greater compression of heads, hearts and tails with a greater amount of reflux which gives a higher ABV% but less flavour. Great for Neutrals, bad for genuine RUMS, WHISKEYS and BOURBONS.

Plate/Bubble Cap- If you need to ask then obviously your not ready lol :laughing-rolling:

Basically you want to double distil every wash (wash = the sugar wash that is in the fermenter). The first run is called a Stripping run and the second is called the Spirit run.
For the strip run you want to run it hard and fast, it’s all about saving time here since everything will get cleaned up during the second “spirit” run. And the spirit run is slow to increase the quality of the final product.

The picture shows a graph (not exact) where you have the different compounds that were created in your “wash” by your yeast, Its to give the basic idea why you can’t control the distillation process by the heating element and why you can only control the speed of the reflux via the temperature of the condenser.
As your boiler increases in temperature you will notice that it will stay at a set temperature no matter how much energy you put into your heating. What is actually happening is the energy the heater is inserting is being converted to vaporise the lower compounds (grey for example) first which is your methylated spirits. Once all the methylated spirit compounds have vaporised the temperature moves up to the next compound and the process continues until you reach 98°C where you will be on the onset of collecting nothing but water which boils at 100°C.
This is why you can’t control the distillation process via the heating element. What you are trying to achieve is the process of reflux where the steam vapour rises where it then meets the main condenser (which then turns back into a liquid) As long as the valve is closed, then gravity takes over where it “rains” back into the boiler, re-vaporises etc. etc. The more this happens the higher ABV% your final product.
If you can notice steam coming out of the Liebig/Main condenser, this means that your water flows to your condensers are too slow and you need to increase the pressure so that the alcohol can condense back into liquid form. The higher the water pressure the slower the run.

Once the Temperature has levelled out and “equalised” you can slowly open the valve so you can start collecting the “product”. Depending on your size of your boiler the first 30ml for a 5L boiler or 150ml for a 25L boiler is considered safe to throw out since this is your methylated spirits commonly known as your foreshots (this is what makes you blind - as in lose your sight) but if you’re going to double distill (and I highly suggest it, you will be safe since you will discard the first foreshots on both the strip and spirit run)

What you’re aiming for a clean neutral alcohol is nothing but hearts. You can tell by the smell since it smells like nothing…. Just clean. Heads smells a bit like ethanol fuel, and the start of tails smells like vanilla, then goes on to smelling like burnt cardboard.

Once the foreshots are discarded you then have to worry about “cuts”. This will decide quality over quantity. I prefer quality since you can always re-distill your unwanted heads and tails, BUT NEVER THE FORESHOTS! (KiwiKegs Guide to cuts can be found here ... =57&t=2859)

A thermometer allows you to monitor the vapor temperature as you distill. At the beginning of the run, the temperature will allow you to know when your still has begun to reflux. Later, the temperature lets you judge the purity of the distillate output without having to measure it with an alcometer. While it is often shunned by potstillers, in reflux distillation the thermometer becomes an invaluable tool to indicate when to begin collecting the distillate, and when to cut to tails, or to assist in adjusting the correct amount of reflux. Temperature is the primary feedback in optimizing your distillation, as it relates directly to the purity of ethanol vapor at that point.

When attempting to double distill (spirit run) make sure that your boiler is at a maximum of 40% ABV (alcohol by volume), your first strip run could possibly finish at 60-70% depending on where you finish (your ABV% will drop as you near 100°C since you will be collecting more water vapor therefore watering down). You also always want your heating element covered and at 40% ABV you reduce your risks of the alcohol catching on fire in your boiler.

Collect your final product, water down to your desired ABV% (usually somewhere between 37% & 40%). Let your product air over night (this helps with the ageing, as the methanol alcohols tends to evaporate) then mix your Essence flavoring letting your product “blend” for 1-2 days ( I prefer to let it sit at least a week ). Then you can enjoy your fine drink. Neutrals are the easiest to follow. Once you are happy with your flavors, start trying actual mashes. But if you make plenty of neutral and then “Age” it, you can create different flavors out of one wash just but dividing and flavoring with each essence.

Gelatin – Clearing Agent
Add about one day prior to wash finishing, helps clear the wash and is effective if you use warm/hot water. Common unflavored clear gelatin can be purchased from the local grocery store and is effective in reducing both proteins and polyphenols.
Add 1 tsp of unflavored gelatin to a cup (about 200 ml) of hot, but not boiling water and gently mix it into your fermenter. Again, wait a few days before bottling or racking to allow the gelatin to clear.

Glycerine – Smoothing Agent
Using a non-sweet aging syrup can mellow out your spirit, without having to store it away for years. Just don't use too much to kill the character of whiskeys.

Try 3 mL per litre of glycerine as a starter. (I use 5ml /L for Whiskey)

Heat Distressing – Ageing
Crow suggests getting 65% alcohol with a cap of maple syrup. I then put the jar into hot water, once warmed up I seal the jar and put it in even hotter water then after say 1/2 hr. I put it in water that is 1/3 hot and 2 3rds boiling and leave it until it slowly cool. One year’s barrel age overnight.


Have a crack at any of the recipes in our Our Tried and Proven Recipes forum to find one that suits what you want to make.
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