How To Moonshine

Fermenting &
Distilling Basics
Making Equipment
How to Make Moonshine Using Sugar How to Make Moonshine Using Grain Moonshine Recipes

Fermenter for Making Moonshine

Fermentation is an important step in distilling moonshine. Whether you are making a sugar based wash or an all grain masterpiece the fermentable sugars need to be converted into alcohol by yeast and a good fermenter allows this process to take place in an environment that is protected from contamination.

There are two methods of fermentation commonly used in the production of alcohol, whether it be spirits, beer or wine. Closed fermentation is the most common method, where the process of fermentation takes place in a sealed environment that uses an airlock to permit excess carbon dioxide to escape. Open fermentation is less widely used in modern times and as the name implies the process of fermentation takes places in an open topped vessel that may or may not have a cloth such as a tea towel stretched over the top to prevent any organisms or objects from entering.

Closed fermentation has several advantages over open fermentation, not in the least being the ability to prevent wild yeasts from settling into your wash which can yield unpredictable results such as off flavours and low alcohol content. As we want to make the best moonshine possible open fermentation will receive very little further mention.

There are a number of choices as far as buying a fermenter is concerned, both of the fermenters pictured on the left of this page are commercially manufactured and they can be purchased from as little as $AU30 or so. Pictured at the top is a 12 litre glass fermenter fitted with a plastic airlock to a hole drilled in the cork. As some air space is needed to accommodate foam this fermenter can comfortably ferment a wash of 10 litres making it ideal for trying new recipes or making small batches.

The fermenter pictured at the bottom is typical of a store bought high density plastic fermenter. It holds a maximum of 25 litres and can be used to ferment beer, wine, cider and of course the wash that will eventually become your moonshine. In the instance of beer, wine, cider etc the most it should be filled to is 23 litres. It would not be wise when making spirits to fill this fermenter above the 20 litre mark as the aggressive turbo yeasts used to make moonshine tend to create a lot of foam and some air space is necessary. Most of us will use this type of fermenter extensively as they are quite affordable and well suited to our needs. They are available with two different styles of lid, the fermenter pictured has a press on lid however many have a screw on lid that seals using a large O-ring. Either type of lid will do the job well though I personally prefer the snap on lid as they are easier to clean and less prone to leak.

Most plastic fermenters are usually fitted with a tap at the bottom which simplifies transferring the wash into your still. After fermentation is complete there will be a fairly thick cake of yeast at the bottom of the fermenter and simply picking the fermenter and pouring its contents into your still will disturb it. The tap allows you to drain off the wash without stirring up the yeast cake. In the instance of our glass fermenter or indeed any fermenter that does not have a tap then the wash is siphoned out of the fermenter using a length of food grade plastic hose instead, taking great care not to put the siphon right on the bottom and suck up the yeast cake.

Airlocks are a very important part of a closed fermenter, as the yeast consumes the fermentable sugars contained in your wash there are two byproducts created. One is alcohol (ethanol) and the other byproduct is carbon dioxide gas. Of course we want to keep the alcohol but the carbon dioxide gas can be a problem if it is not vented from the fermenter as the pressure inside the fermenter will build up rapidly and this would result in the fermenter failing at is weakest point (usually blowing the lid off!). The most common type of airlock is much like the S-bend of a toilet or a sink filled with water however they can be as simple as a plastic tube going from the airspace of the fermenter to a glass or bottle of water.

The S-bend of the airlock is filled with water and this effectively prevents the air outside from entering the fermenter carrying with it unwanted airborne wild yeasts and bacteria. As the pressure of the carbon dioxide gas builds up it is vented through the airlock, literally bubbling its way through the water and escaping into the outside atmosphere. The rate that the carbon dioxide bubbles though the airlock is a useful guide to the activity of the yeast within the fermenter. When you first pitch the yeast into the wash there will be a period of several hours where the yeast is not yet active but sometime in the first 24 hours the airlock will begin to bubble, slowly at first but almost continuously as the yeast becomes established and consumes the fermentable sugars. After a period of time, usually 2-5 days with a turbo yeast, the rate at which the airlock bubbles will slowly reduce. Once the airlock stops bubbling completely or only bubbles every few minutes it is a sign that all of the fermentable sugars have been consumed and fermentation is complete and the wash is ready to be distilled.