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Problem - Cloudy Moonshine
Here at Clawhammer Supply we receive many emails with questions about making moonshine. One of the more common questions we receive goes something like this, “Why is my moonshine cloudy?” As I’m sure you already know, moonshine that is made correctly should be crystal clear. If cloudy moonshine has been a problem for you, don't despair. We have several solutions.
Solution No. 1 - Prevent "Puking"
Over the years we've come to realize that about 99% of the time, cloudiness is caused by a still "puking" into the collection vessel. When this happens, liquid in the boiler foams up into the column and then drips down through the condenser and drip arm. If you find yourself in the middle of a run and notice that the liquid in the collection jar is cloudy, it means your still probably just puked! The good news is that this problem is very easy to fix. All you need to do is turn the heat down.
Manage Temperature Carefully
Just the right amount of heat needs to be added to a still for it to function properly. If you add too much heat, liquid will boil up into the column and puke into the collection vessel, causing distillate to turn cloudy. If too little heat is added, runs will take much longer than they should.
To determine how much heat to add, simply monitor still output. Stills between 1 and 10 gallons should produce 2-4 drops of liquid per second. Liquid should not pour out of the still. If it's pouring, too much heat is being added. Conversely, a still that is only producing one drop of liquid per second is running too slow, and more heat needs to be added.
Solution No. 2 - Eliminate Fusel Oils
Another potential cause of cloudiness is a poor tails cut. The tails contain fusel oils. If a high enough concentration of tails makes its way into a finished batch of spirits, it will turn cloudy right away. More interestingly, at lower concentrations, spirits may be clear initially, but after being chilled, the liquid will develop a cloudy haze. Aside from cloudiness, fusel oils and other compounds in the tails (such as propanol and butanol) taste and smell bad. To prevent cloudiness, make sure to make a good cut between hearts and tails.
Make Good Cuts
Making good cuts is important. Novice distillers can easily learn to learn to make cuts with the aide of small mason jars (1/2 pint mason jars work great). Collect the moonshine in the 1/2 pint jars and number them starting with the number 1 and counting up from there. The heads will have the lowest number and the tails will have the highest number. The reason for using smaller jars is simple, if there are more jars there will more opportunity to taste slight differences between different parts of the run. When each jar is collected take notes about each jar, mark the number of the jars, the proof of the jar, the temperature of the still, and any other pertinent information. This information is useful when tasting the jars at the end of the run, it is also helpful when trying to repeat a run, and important when making changes if something was slightly off with the run.
Once the run is finished and the still has been cleaned it is time to taste each jar and make more notes. The jars with the lowest numbers are going to be the heads, the middle part of the run is going to be hearts, and the tails are going to finish out the run. Jar number 1 is going to be the headiest jar, it will have the highest proof and taste and smell like solvent. The heads will gradually mellow into the hearts, the small jars make it very easy to taste the heads turning into the hearts. Taste the jars that contain the hearts and then taste the jar that comes after the hearts. You will notice that these jars don't taste as smooth, but they may a bit more complex in character. Once you have tasted each of the jars you must decide what jars should be blended together.
If you need more information on making cuts and want more information on the different parts of the run checkout our article "Making Moonshine - The Dummies' Guide".
Solution No. 3 - Use Good Water To Lower Proof
Occasionally, moonshine will be clear until it is proofed down. If a clear moonshine is proofed down to 80 and then becomes cloudy it's most likely an issue of fusel oils, as mention above. However, certain types of tap water can cause contribute to this problem. It doesn't happen often, but if the tap water has a high mineral content it can make cloudiness more likely.
Use Filtered Water
When proofing moonshine always use filtered water if possible, as this will lower the chance of cloudy shine resulting from the proofing process. The water and shine must be at the same temperature when mixed and the water must always be poured into the distillate. Most distilleries actually use reverse osmosis water to proof down their spirits. This helps to eliminate random flavor compounds from impacting the quality of the spirit, but it also helps to prevent cloudiness.
Solution No. 4- Don't Transfer Yeast Into The Still
It is very important to let the mash finish fermenting. After fermentation is finished the yeast will naturally settle to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. If fermenting in a temperature controlled fermentation chamber lower the temperature of the mash (cold crash) which will speed up the settling process. Once the yeast has settled to the bottom of the fermenter it is ready to distill.
Use An Auto-Siphon
It is best to use an auto-siphon to transfer the wash into the still. An auto-siphon will leave behind the yeast and trub that has settled to the bottom of the fermenter. If the wash is dumped into the fermenter all of the yeast will be transferred into the still, yeast can cause cloudy moonshine.