Where should you start when you want to learn how to distill. That was my question. I was spending hours on the internet, watching YouTube videos, reading articles on Google and Pinterest. Essentially getting information overload, but going nowhere fast.
Everything I read and watched was specific to a problem. Even a great forum at such as www.homedistiller.org, although great, it was a forum. Specific questions and answers to a problem. There really wasn’t much available on where to start. I found that most people were just directing newbies to go to www.homedisteller.org.
It was at a family gathering when I was talking about my efforts about distilling, when a younger relative of mine piped up (which I found humorous) told me about a book I should read called “The Home Distiller’s Workbook” by Jeff King. I had no idea my relative and their friends where backwoods moonshiners lol.
I bought the eBook on Amazon and I wasn’t disappointed. It was a real beginners guide to distilling. Along with some great stories and recipes, it explained how distillation process works, how to follow the steps and even how to build a beginner tea pot still.
“To become a good distiller,
go make beer first and learn about yeast“
Recently one thing stuck out in a conversation which a friend pointed out to me. My blog looked like all I was doing was brewing. In my own mind I know that I was trying to capture in my blog. I was approaching my journey on how to get from A (the start) to Z (to distilling). I feel that to become a good distiller, go make beer first and learn about yeast. Once you can make great beer, you are on your way to make great liquor.
The entire process and equipment is the same in the beginning except adding Hops in your wort. Even the mash for your still is often called beer or low wines. You have to remember that your flavour of your end product is determined by the flavour of the product in the beginning. Distilling does not add flavour or alcohol to the end product. It removes the alcohol from the beer. However that alcohol is infused with the flavour of the beer will come with the alcohol in the end product. You will also get a little water with the end product that also has the flavour of the beer. So depending how much of that water you let through, drastically effects the flavour of your end product.
So I started with leaning how to brew with beer kits. The advanced brewers all look down on beer kits, but I think what ever gets you brewing is a great way to start your hobby. It was the easiest way to make beer and really isolates the process about learning about the yeast and the fermentation process. I didn’t have to learn about mashing in grains, sparging and buying all the equipment. It was a great and inexpensive starting point.
Over time I built up my collection of equipment and I added in the next stages of the processes. I bought grain that was already milled so I didn’t have to buy a grain mull. This is where I skipped a step of making beer with hops and went straight to distilling.
I bought a T500 still from Still Spirits. A great starter still. With the T500, you start out with an all sugar mash or wash as they referred to it. And a sugar wash had a very small foreshot section. Foreshots is the bad section you throw out of your run. There are no heads or tails, everything comes out usable. Pretty easy. But when it comes to grains, it is a whole new ball game I had to learn, and did I struggle.
The Turbo 500 is a great starting still.
You can buy both a column and a copper dome condensers for the kettle.
The column helps you make high proof vodka and the copper dome is for whisky.
But, I started out with milled grain. All I had to do was bring it to temperature, add the analyse on the stove and keep it at a temperature for the instructed time. A very simplistic process (I thought anyway). I didn’t get the most efficient starch to sugar conversion but I got enough to get a distillation of 10% ABV from my still.
But I still didn’t understand the distillation process. I found another acquaintance who was an expert in the art of distilling. I didn’t even know it. They gave me a few pointers which helped immensely. But it still took a while to learn the cuts. I was hung up with the difference in cuts between the sugar wash and the grain wash. There was a difference and I wasn’t listening.
The story goes on. You just can’t add a wash to a still and out comes your moonshine like you see on TV. There is a lot more too it. They don’t want to give away all their secrets. There is an art and a science that goes along with distillation.
But it all starts with learning how to brew beer. With all the skills and know how in the art of distilling, without a great starting product, your end product will not be something you can be proud of.