The problem’s simple. You spend the time to source the ingredients, mash the grain (or boil the wash), ferment and ferment some more, and finally distill, then again and (if you’re feelin’ crazy) yet a third time. Maybe once you’re done you run it through active carbon and maybe you don’t. You toss it in a jar with wood chips and any flavours you want and you wait. Then, weeks or months later you go to claim you prize. Unfortunately, it looks a little something like this:
Mmmmmmm. That is some delicious high test swamp water. I know, it looks appetizing. This picture, in case you can’t quite make out the label, is the rum that I put together as my final 2015 run (which was actually in ’16…don’t judge me). To really illustrate the point, before I added the wood and the wash (to give it a little sweetness, color and molasses complexity) it looked like this:
Yep, we went from crystal clear to bog water in about 2.5 months. It looks nasty and it’s certainly nothing that you’re likely to share with your friends. “Hey guys, check this out. No, no, it’s not from the gutter – just take a sip, you’ll love it.”
Anyway, I’ve been trying to solve this problem in a cost effective manner. The process is still in development, but here’s what we’ve come up with so far.
Step 1. – the cheesecloth funnel.
Yep, that’s high tech. you make a plug out of cheesecloth and stuff it in a large funnel. You want the cheesecloth to be tight. Fluid needs to pass through it, but you don’t want it to be free flowing, right? remember that the point is to take out as many particulates as you can at this step.
Then you filter it right into a large measuring cup (or another jar…which is my preference). You can see that the fluid is trickling out of the funnel. It doesn’t have the capability of forming any sort of proper stream if you’ve packed the cheesecloth right.
When you’re done with one pass, it’ll look something like this:
I usually pull the plug at this point. Then I toss the chips and rinse the funnel. I make a new plug and then strain my old plug into the new one. I mean, come on…it’s product, right? Then I’ll do the same thing again.
Once you’ve done this 2-3 times, you should see a pretty marked improvement in the clarity. From here you have a few options. Unfortunately, I lacked the foresight to take pictures of this process from start to finish. In the interest of full disclosure, the following pictures are the bourbon from May 15, not the rum from Jan 16.
Option 1 is a Brita. I’ll be honest and say that this process worked pretty well for the whiskey and the dark rum (pictured above). The white rum that was aged with lemon peel for limoncello did not do as well. We’ll cover that in a later post. I just toss that out there so that you know to start slow with the Don’t commit all the product until you are sure you want to.
Here’s my trusty brita working on that whiskey:
You will note the sediment buildup in the bottom. It’s finer than the cheesecloth (thank you capt/ obvious). you should see even clearer whiskey coming out of the brita. I usually do this at least twice. I run distilled water through in between.
The clarity (with all but the limoncell0) was vastly improved both times:
Here it is in its final form, proof tested at about 85-90 proof (along side Alex Kieth’s pride of Nova Scotia).
If I hadn’t had the recent issues with the brita leaving my limoncello cloudy, I would have left this at my recommendation. The old cheesecloth to brita was successful for multiple runs. Now, maybe it’s my fault and I should have replaced the brita filter (which is also active carbon in case you were wondering)…but I don’t know. There’s no benchmark to test it with moonshine (at least none that I’m aware of). For all I know, it may have been something to do with the lemon oil that was so prevalent in the mix. Who knows. I think that, given my recent experience, I will try with a paper coffee filter to see what that does to clarity. I’m sure that I’ll let you know how it all turns out. After all, the spring run is in the planning phase now. We need to crawl back up above freezing again and we’ll be ready to rock and roll.
If anyone has any recommendations for an improved “bootleg filtration” process, I’m all ears.