Weird question....distilling beer

Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum

Help Support Homebrew Talk - Beer, Wine, Mead, & Cider Brewing Discussion Forum:

Teufelhunde

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 4, 2020
Messages
378
Reaction score
302
The wife and I were talking about a batch of mead that I made that neither one of us can stomach. We were talking about how to save it, and distilling it came up. She then asked me "can you distill beer?".

I have no f'n clue and she keeps asking, so I thought I would put the question to those more knowledgeable than myself.

Can you distill beer? And what would you have if you can?

Lon
 

DBhomebrew

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 18, 2020
Messages
2,272
Reaction score
4,333
Location
St Louis, MO
Grain spirits. And within certain parameters, whiskey.

 

doug293cz

BIABer, Beer Math Nerd, ePanel Designer, Pilot
Staff member
Mod
HBT Supporter
Joined
May 14, 2014
Messages
13,403
Reaction score
10,269
Location
Renton
I know of folks who distill beer all the time. If you use a pot still, you will get some hop flavor carry over. I don't find it offensive, but some people do.

Brew on :mug:
 

Gilbert Spinning Horse

Well-Known Member
Joined
May 28, 2018
Messages
175
Reaction score
243
After distillation, the stuff that is left is nasty, from what I understand.

From what I understand no one really distills beer. Normally what is distilled is a high alcohol wash, so, yeah, what would be left would be waste. Considering the beer doesn't need to be boiled, only heated, I wouldn't have thought it would affect it that much, other than removing the alcohol.
I'd be well interested to hear from someone who did this to get a non-alcoholic beer, but I'm guessing its not a common practice.
 

doug293cz

BIABer, Beer Math Nerd, ePanel Designer, Pilot
Staff member
Mod
HBT Supporter
Joined
May 14, 2014
Messages
13,403
Reaction score
10,269
Location
Renton
From what I understand no one really distills beer. Normally what is distilled is a high alcohol wash, so, yeah, what would be left would be waste. Considering the beer doesn't need to be boiled, only heated, I wouldn't have thought it would affect it that much, other than removing the alcohol.
I'd be well interested to hear from someone who did this to get a non-alcoholic beer, but I'm guessing its not a common practice.
The feedstock (wash, wine, beer, etc.) does get boiled during distillation. The process would be impractically slow if it didn't.

To reduce the alcohol content below 1% you would have to boil until the boiling temp increased to ~98.5° (209.3°F) at sea level. A 5%ABV beer boils at about 95°C (203°F.)

Brew on :mug:
 

Vopiscus

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Feb 19, 2020
Messages
18
Reaction score
13
Several breweries do it. Seven Stills, Westward, ReBru, and Adnams. This is with regular hopped beer and ReBru actually mixes many expired beers. Some call them "eau de vie de beire"
I know Seven Stills beefs up their specialty malts percentage by as much as 5x for their recipes to get more of the flavor to carry over. Also you tend to lose the floral and more volatile hop aromas and pull out more vegetal notes even if the hops are added through a gin basket.

As for personal favorites, I had some old baltic porter malt and it made one phenomenal Christmas dessert moonshine that made me all warm and fuzzy inside with it's chewy spice cookie goodness.
 

doug293cz

BIABer, Beer Math Nerd, ePanel Designer, Pilot
Staff member
Mod
HBT Supporter
Joined
May 14, 2014
Messages
13,403
Reaction score
10,269
Location
Renton
I had a friend of mine distill 4 kegs of beer that I made and didn't want to drink. I tasted the resulting product, and it was perfect grain alcohol. He also saved the heads and tails, to demonstrate to me why those are removed. If I recall, there was only about a quart of the good stuff.
That's terrible yield. With 20 gal of 5% ABV feedstock, a good column still should give you close to 1 gal of 190 proof alcohol. If all you have is a pot still, you should still get close to 1/2 gal of usable product. A good combo if you want to make whiskey is a pot and column combo. Keep the hearts from the spirit run of the pot still, and rerun everything else (including the dregs from all previous runs) thru the column, then blend back together.

Brew on :mug:
 
Joined
Apr 23, 2009
Messages
35,621
Reaction score
15,443
Location
☀️ Clearwater, FL ☀️
That's terrible yield. With 20 gal of 5% ABV feedstock, a good column still should give you close to 1 gal of 190 proof alcohol. If all you have is a pot still, you should still get close to 1/2 gal of usable product. A good combo if you want to make whiskey is a pot and column combo. Keep the hearts from the spirit run of the pot still, and rerun everything else (including the dregs from all previous runs) thru the column, then blend back together.

Brew on :mug:

Might not have been full kegs, and really I don't recall exactly how much he got. I just remember the big jar was the middles. I also remember him lighting a spoonful of it and it producing a nearly invisible flame.

He knows what he's doing though. I don't think you'd teach him anything. Here's his new rig (two floors tall). @clearwaterbrewer

1660242837751.png
 

doug293cz

BIABer, Beer Math Nerd, ePanel Designer, Pilot
Staff member
Mod
HBT Supporter
Joined
May 14, 2014
Messages
13,403
Reaction score
10,269
Location
Renton
Tha
Might not have been full kegs, and really I don't recall exactly how much he got. I just remember the big jar was the middles. I also remember him lighting a spoonful of it and it producing a nearly invisible flame.

He knows what he's doing though. I don't think you'd teach him anything. Here's his new rig (two floors tall). @clearwaterbrewer

View attachment 777435
That's gotta be a pro setup. You're right, not gonna teach him anything. But it hardly seems like 20 gal, or less, would even prime that thing. :cool: Or, did he run your stuff on a different system? If so, it'd be interesting to know what kind of still it was.

Brew on :mug:
 

odie

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 18, 2016
Messages
2,019
Reaction score
1,133
Location
CC, TX
liquor is basically distilled beer. take a source of sugar, mash it, ferment it, distill it.
 

odie

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 18, 2016
Messages
2,019
Reaction score
1,133
Location
CC, TX
Big difference is beer has hops. Whiskey washes don't.

Brew on :mug:
hops are irrelevant to the process of making alcohol. it's a "flavoring" additive for the most part.

beer & wine share the need for a source of sugar, extraction of sugars, fermenting the sugars into alcohol. Liquor just takes the next step, distillation, to remove excess water to increase alcohol percentage beyond that which yeast can produce.
 
Joined
Apr 23, 2009
Messages
35,621
Reaction score
15,443
Location
☀️ Clearwater, FL ☀️
Tha

That's gotta be a pro setup. You're right, not gonna teach him anything. But it hardly seems like 20 gal, or less, would even prime that thing. :cool: Or, did he run your stuff on a different system? If so, it'd be interesting to know what kind of still it was.

Brew on :mug:
It is :) He upgraded and went pro right after he did mine. Mike's a member here - maybe he will get the notification as I added his username above. His original system was a Still Dragon setup, pretty impressive also.
 

Vopiscus

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Feb 19, 2020
Messages
18
Reaction score
13
A good combo if you want to make whiskey is a pot and column combo. Keep the hearts from the spirit run of the pot still, and rerun everything else (including the dregs from all previous runs) thru the column, then blend back together.
That solved an issue I was struggling with. Gonna give it a try once I get a larger still.
 

bracconiere

Jolly Alcoholic
HBT Supporter
Joined
Jan 19, 2018
Messages
23,897
Reaction score
14,027
Location
S.AZ
I'm more interested in what sort of non-alcoholic beer would be left over.

i've never actually tried tasting the feed stock when i'm dumping it. i'd best describe the aroma though as something renouncement of if you cooked brussel sprouts in a crookpot for 3 days....
 

warx

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Mar 13, 2022
Messages
23
Reaction score
12
Location
Tiburon
I think it's harder trying to get something like a regular whiskey from hopped beer. If you are after eau-de-vie-de-biere it would be easier, yield more, and a more interesting drink to boot. Probably still need to start with beer that is not hoppy (like casked real ale bitters, ESBs, perhaps even a pale) I am sure a simple two run (maybe even just one!) with a pot still would do the trick. For regular whiskey it would be simpler to go back and make a whiskey wash.
 

warx

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Mar 13, 2022
Messages
23
Reaction score
12
Location
Tiburon
Interestingly, I saw that the French classify beer eau-de-vie as a brandy. The British and Americans say whiskey but the British version is more beer-like. I am guessing the American distillers (Westward etc.) distill more flavors out and then do more aging.
ReBru says they sort the beers to be recycled and the stronger flavored, hoppier stuff gets distilled further in reflux columns and ends up as vodka (and gin) only.
 

bernardsmith

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 10, 2012
Messages
5,596
Reaction score
2,029
Location
Saratoga Springs
In response to the residue being non alcoholic "beer". No. When you pot distil, the hearts contain most of the flavor compounds and almost all the drinkable alcohol. The forshots (feints) and heads are viewed as undrinkable - The tails can taste crap at the beginning (fusels and the like) but late tails are known as sweet water and there are those that collect and use this. So you are not going to produce alcohol-free beer through distillation.
To make alcohol-free beer, you need to make regular beer and then heat the beer to about 175 F to boil off the alcohol. A temperature above this (or in my opinion, even at that) will produce off flavors: I believe commercial breweries that make non alcoholic beer use a vacuum chamber to boil off the alcohol which allows them to heat the beer way below 175 F to boil off the alcohol.
 

warx

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Mar 13, 2022
Messages
23
Reaction score
12
Location
Tiburon
Isn't there also certain yeast derivatives that produce way less ethanol in their consumption?

My post distilled (ESB) beer tasted weird. Not easy to describe but unpalatable for sure.
 

bernardsmith

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 10, 2012
Messages
5,596
Reaction score
2,029
Location
Saratoga Springs
You brew beer by adding (pitching) yeast to wort to ferment the sugars in the wort. Fermentation is not distilling. Fermentatuion is done by yeast. Distillation is done by human beings and is not a naturally occuring process. If you are distilling then you are using the beer (or wine) and boiling off the alcohol and collecting the alcohol vapors allowing them to condense as liquid. This essentially removes the water from the alcohol. If you are distilling all the beer that you or someone else brewed then you are also collecting not just the drinkable alcohol but what distillers call tails. Tails taste like junk. If you know what you are doing, your post suggests that you may not, and if you don't know what you are doing it may be useful to go to your library and read up on how to brew beer and how to distill the alcohol you brewed...
 

bernardsmith

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 10, 2012
Messages
5,596
Reaction score
2,029
Location
Saratoga Springs
It was, yes. Yeast will ferment to the amount of alcohol the particular variety of the strain of yeast has tolerance for. You can use beer yeast to ferment honey or fruit to 12% or higher. Most wine yeast can function in 14 -16% ABV. The issue is typically either the amount of fermentables in the wort (beer ) or must (wine). Wort also contains sugars that some yeast can't handle and so beer yeasts have a designated "attenuation" level. Wine yeasts don't have that such designations because those sugars are not typically found in fruits. The other possible problem with any fermentation is that the brewer or wine maker has stressed the yeast so that it simply quits fermenting leaving sugars and off flavors. BUT that is all in the FERMENTATION. Distillation uses the beer or wine that the brewer /wine maker has produced and removes the water. If the distiller distills tails then the flavors in the spirits can be undrinkable. If you are aware of all this, I apologize. Your post uses language that suggested to me that you aren't
 

warx

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Mar 13, 2022
Messages
23
Reaction score
12
Location
Tiburon
I was just adding to the comments regarding "is this a way to get LA or NA beer". I mentioned the different yeast options (non-Saccharomyces strains that that won't consume maltose). Also mentioning how yucky my post distilled beer tastes as re-assurance that is not a way to try unless you have vacuum equipment to make it a bit better. I've never done it.

My process is brew a 6-7% British ale, not too hoppy, like ESB, Strong Ale, Porter etc. Ferment it with ale yeast, perhaps little dry hopping, then put half in a cask for secondary and half goes in my distiller. I do one or two runs (only sometimes enough to do strip and spirit). Make cuts and pick the good stuff to be put on French Oak cubes very lightly charred and roasted for 2-4 weeks and make beautiful eau-de-vie-de-biere. It tastes very interesting and different. Sort of a mix between a sweetish whiskey and brandy.

I try to make drinks I can't easily go buy from the store. Real ale cask conditioned is hard to get. A few distilleries do "beer" whiskey but they are much closer to whiskey than mine.
 

bernardsmith

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 10, 2012
Messages
5,596
Reaction score
2,029
Location
Saratoga Springs
I was just adding to the comments regarding "is this a way to get LA or NA beer". I mentioned the different yeast options (non-Saccharomyces strains that that won't consume maltose). Also mentioning how yucky my post distilled beer tastes as re-assurance that is not a way to try unless you have vacuum equipment to make it a bit better. I've never done it.

My process is brew a 6-7% British ale, not too hoppy, like ESB, Strong Ale, Porter etc. Ferment it with ale yeast, perhaps little dry hopping, then put half in a cask for secondary and half goes in my distiller. I do one or two runs (only sometimes enough to do strip and spirit). Make cuts and pick the good stuff to be put on French Oak cubes very lightly charred and roasted for 2-4 weeks and make beautiful eau-de-vie-de-biere. It tastes very interesting and different. Sort of a mix between a sweetish whiskey and brandy.

I try to make drinks I can't easily go buy from the store. Real ale cask conditioned is hard to get. A few distilleries do "beer" whiskey but they are much closer to whiskey than mine.
Most distilleries won't distill beer made with any hops. Truth be told, I have never tasted an eau-de-vie-de-biere, and my sense is that Scotch whisky is made only using pot stills but my knowledge of distilling is less than basic. I make cheese, Ferment the whey that is leftover into a 12% wine and then make a batch of "vodka" from the whey wine at about 63% ABV (126 proof), using a pot still designed for distilling water. (I get about 400 ml of hearts from about 1 gallon of the wine) from which I make liqueurs I give to my friends and family.
 
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Messages
4,808
Reaction score
5,712
Location
Chicago
Big difference is beer has hops. Whiskey washes don't.

Brew on :mug:
I highly recommend this book. Tons of wash recipes that are adapted from craft beers, including IPAs.

Alt Whiskeys: Alternative Whiskey Recipes and Distilling Techniques for the Adventurous Craft Distiller: Bell, Darek, Bell, Amy Lee, Rodman, Pete: 9780983350002: Amazon.com: Books

Hopped whiskeys is definitely a thing, hops can be incorporated in several ways;
-Traditional boil, whirlpool, dry hop, etc.
-Added to the boiler at the time of distillation
-Injected into the boiler after heads fraction
-Added to the thumper, either at the beginning of the run or as the run progresses. "Shooting the thumper" so to speak.

I'm in the process of fitting a chamber to my boiler lid that dumps through a butterfly valve, so that I can add hops, fruit concentrates, etc.

1662921303991.png
 
Last edited:
Joined
Apr 23, 2009
Messages
35,621
Reaction score
15,443
Location
☀️ Clearwater, FL ☀️
Most distilleries won't distill beer made with any hops. Truth be told, I have never tasted an eau-de-vie-de-biere, and my sense is that Scotch whisky is made only using pot stills but my knowledge of distilling is less than basic. I make cheese, Ferment the whey that is leftover into a 12% wine and then make a batch of "vodka" from the whey wine at about 63% ABV (126 proof), using a pot still designed for distilling water. (I get about 400 ml of hearts from about 1 gallon of the wine) from which I make liqueurs I give to my friends and family.
Won't you be my neighbor? Next door house gets listed in a week, you should buy it. Then teach me. I never even considered fermenting whey. The only time I heard of such a thing was in a history podcast which mentioned that the Mongolians circa 1300 (Khan times) would ferment horse milk ("airag").
 
Joined
Nov 26, 2016
Messages
4,808
Reaction score
5,712
Location
Chicago
So what exactly is moonshine? Can you differentiate it by taste, quality or it's just something illegal on which no tax is paid?
"Moonshine" is an outdated stereotype that conjures images of long-bearded, barefoot hillbillies concocting rot-gut it a wash tub in the moonlight. The truth is that hobby distilling takes place all over the world, not just in the American south.

Homedistilling can be every bit as sophisticated as commercial distilling, it just takes place on a much smaller scale. With sufficient knowledge and experience, hobby distillers can absolutely match and even exceed the product quality of large-scale commercial operations. Removing the profit motive enables better ingredients, tighter cuts, and more attention to detail, just like homebrewing.

Personally I find the redneck overtones incredibly naiive and offensive, and I wish reality TV would stop glamorizing it.
 
Last edited:

BrewingWisdom

Supporting Member
HBT Supporter
Joined
Mar 13, 2022
Messages
257
Reaction score
161
Location
Pakistan
"Moonshine" is an outdated stereotype that conjures images of long-bearded, barefoot hillbillies concocting rot-gut it a wash tub in the moonlight. The truth is that hobby distilling takes place all over the world, not just in the American south.

Homedistilling is in fact every bit as sophisticated as commercial distilling, it just takes place on a much smaller scale. With sufficient knowledge and experience, hobby distillers can absolutely match and even exceed the product quality of large-scale commercial operations. Removing the profit motive enables better ingredients, tighter cuts, and more attention to detail, just like homebrewing.

Personally I find the redneck overtones incredibly naiive and offensive, and I wish reality TV would stop glamorizing it.
That's exactly what my views are.
Tv's are supposed to talk against home distilling because it costs government tax revenues. When your motive is to make a profit you will source cheaper materials and want the product ready asap. That's exactly what the companies are doing.
 
Top