To the knowledge of all distillers, seasoned and beginners alike, moonshine should be clear as crystal. Yet sometimes, especially for beginners, duly distilled moonshine ends up being cloudy. Well, it is a little disheartening but then again, as with everything else under the sun, there is never an end to learning. Today we look at why moonshine ends up being cloudy and what to do about it.
Reasons why your moonshine is cloudy
Here are four common reasons why moonshine ends up being cloudy.
1. Presence of minerals in tap water
This is perhaps one of the most common causes of cloudy moonshine. Tap water may be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as safe for use but this only goes as far as placing a limit on the concentration of some impurities in the water. This is to mean that tap water will not be lacking in mineral compounds that will give you clouded moonshine at the end of the process.
How about using distilled water instead of tap water for your moonshine? alternatively, filter the water you will use for proofing your moonshine. Simply heat the tap water to evaporation and then allow it to condense in a separate container. This will eliminate impurities from your water. Be careful to check the temperature of your purified water because it should be the same as that of your moonshine when you mix them. Pour the water gradually into the distillate. This process eliminates other compounds that affect the quality of your distillate through the reverse osmosis process.
2. Still puking
Another great determinant of whether you will end up with clear or a cloudy moonshine is how well you manage temperature when heating. Extremely high temperatures probably beyond 185 °F (85 °C) can cause puking from the still into the collection points. This happens when the liquid in the boiler becomes too hot. It will start foaming through the column into the condensing container and through the drip arm to the collecting container.
The great news is that correcting puking is simple and can be done in the course of your run. Immediately you notice that your distillate is cloudy, turn down the heat. Ideally, the temperature should range between 173 °F (78.3 °C) and 185 °F (85 °C) during your runs. You could also easily determine the appropriate temperature by checking the rate of dripping into the collection container. If the drips transform into a stream or flow of liquid, you are most likely running your still on very high temperatures. On the other hand, extremely slow dripping means that your still’s temperature is lower than required.
3. Fusel oils
There is a possibility of corn oil causing your moonshine to turn cloudy. Tails typically contain fusel oils in high concentrations. If tails find a way into your final distillate, the oils in it will certainly cause cloudiness in your moonshine.
In addition, a cloudy shine can also be a result of the presence of leftover pesticides and hormones sprayed on corn by farmers, and this is usually when corn has not been cleaned properly. Unlike other causes of haziness in moonshine, it is possible to get clear moonshine which becomes cloudy when cooled.
The importance of making the right cuts for your runs cannot be overemphasized. Given that tails have fusel oils, a highly concentrated tail will most likely make your distillate cloudy almost immediately. On the other hand, tails with low concentration can initially appear clear but on chilling turn hazy. Considering that it is not easy to determine whether corn is covered with oil, always wash your corn to remove oils and compounds that may be on its surface. Additionally, other chemical particles like propane and butane that exist in the tail will not only cause cloudiness but also make your shine taste and smell awful.
4. Yeast in your still
Even if you have to use yeast when fermenting your mash, it’s the last thing you want in your still. Amateurs can be tempted to rush the process without giving the yeast enough time to settle on the pot. The result is that some yeast will get into the still resulting in a cloudy moonshine.
Do not rush the fermentation process. When fermentation is complete, the yeast will naturally settle at the base of the mash container. This can be better if you are using a controlled fermentation set-up because it allows you to speed up fermentation by lowering the temperature of the mash. Alternatively, consider using an auto-siphon when pouring your wash into the still. As the name suggests, the auto-siphon will stop yeast particles from passing through to the still.
How to make a good cut for a fine quality spirit?
For beginner distillers, learning to make accurate cuts using mason jars will be invaluable in mastering the art of distilling. It helps them learn where exactly to make a cut throughout the distillation phases and this forms the foundation of making fine spirits.
Here is how to make good cuts for your run
- Collect moonshine in half-pint jars and number each jar from 1 to 10.
- The foreshots are jars with the lowest numbers followed by the heads, the hearts, and then the tails with the highest numbers to the tenth jar. Using many small jars gives you the advantage of picking up even the slightest difference in your distillates.
- Also, take note of other details like the temperature of the still and the proof of the jars. This will be helpful when tasting the content of each jar at the end of the run. You can always repeat the run if you doubt the information you have collected.
- After finishing the run, it’s now time to taste the content of each jar and take notes. As noted earlier, the content in the jars with the lowest number is referred to as the heads, the middle part is the hearts, while the tails are the jars marked with higher numbers.
The foreshots are usually the first to be collected and represent about 10% of your distillate. As it usually vaporizes before getting to the boiling point of ethanol which is 175 °F (80 °C) you can be sure that this is not ethanol and is thus not safe for consumption. Pour it away.
Next to be collected are the heads and accounts for 20-30% of your distillate. It may contain traces of chemicals and impurities and so not the best for consumption. While some distillers may pour it out, others take it through another round of distillation.
The third and finest cut is hearts. It will account for 30% and is almost pure ethanol. When making the next cut for the tails, it is advisable to make an early cut to keep your hearts as pure as possible. The last cut is the tails. It doesn’t quite have the rich ethanol flavor found in the hearts and will thus have a flat or undesirable taste. Tails should also be disposed of.
There are several reasons why your moonshine turns cloudy whether immediately or shortly after it has cooled down. For the most part, it all boils down to making the right cuts for your runs. This explains why this is a challenge experienced by those who are new to and are learning how to distill spirits.