First Post + Sanitization?


Wow first I was intimidated by distilling in general. Now I'm intimidated by this forum. I feel like it operates differently than the forums I'm used to but that could just be the fear talking.

Anyway brand new. Don't even have a still yet. Have not read the Read First thing but I promise I will. I've cooked all my life and for the past few months I've been obsessed with pizza dough. That got me into yeast and after a while I've gotten bored just making dough. I have been thinking about getting into this for a couple years now. Is this going too long? I had a lot of coffee this morning so I'm very chatty right now.

Anyway, everyone keeps telling "You need to start brewing beer before you can learn to make liquor" Is this true? I'm turned off by brewing because first off "I don't always drink beer" (like the Dos Equies guy says) In fact I hardly drink beer. But, mostly I'm turned off by the way everyone in that community is like YOU HAVE TO SANITIZE EVERYTHING OBSESSIVELY OR THE WHOLE WORLD WILL DIE!!!!

I know obviously safety is a huge issue but is obsessively sanitizing as important in distilling as it seems to be in brewing?



  • You do have to start as a brewer as making a ferment is the first step. It doesn't have to be beer though.

    UJSSM is a fantastic start, as is mollasses rum ferments or fruit washes.

    Sanitization is fairly important, though not quite as critical as beer as any infections or faults may not show though as much in a more refined product.

    In any case, with the exception of the evil festering dunder pit, no ferments will really harm you, you won't use them if they get infected as they smell like a combo of spew and shit. The thing that will make you a little conscious of sanitization will be the cost of tipping all that hard work out.

    Don't be scared off the forum here, it's the friendliest place around, with no need for moderators to sort people out. We are self policing.

    StillDragon Australia & New Zealand - Your StillDragon® Distributor for Australia & New Zealand

  • edited November 2022

    I will chime in on this one. The first I would say is I have never gotten too much into making beer for the same reason that I dont like sterilising things. I dont do much cleaning up around the house either if the truth be told. If your married to a Latina your not allowed to. Anyway on this board I read a lot of times that whiskeys makers are just beer makers that boil their beer. In order to make good whiskey you have to make good beer. I thought that was kind of bullshit but over the last 3 years I have realised the real truth in that statement as my beer making ( for making whiskey) has gotten better and better. I started out with using just one yeast and now I am up to four and varying the combination depending on what whiskey I want to make. Most of the esters and aromas and flavors you get from your yeast. I think, IMHO, that making good whiskey is first making good beer with the yeasts, not fucking up the distillation process, and then matching the white whiskey with the right barrel. And then knowing when to pull the whiskey off the wood. As in many things your looking for balance between complexity and flavors from various components of the process and ingredients.

    So as for sterilisation, DONT PANIC. The main infection your ever going to get will be Lacto Bacillius and thats normally at day 5, that is murder for beer and you have to chuck it out but for whiskey it makes the best whiskey. The best whisky I have made to date was a heavy smoke barley aged on american oak and 3 out 4 ferments got lactos. After reading advice here I ran it anyway. Its divine. I am saving that for competition entries its that good. Anyway I have my own shed now but before then I would operate in my garage which was basically a roof and that was it. My fermenters were second hand 220 steel tanks and they had lids that didnt seal. I had 2 that I used as mash tuns and 4 that I used as fermenters. After each ferment I would fill one with water and put sterliser in it and pump from one to the next until they were all sterile and wash them out. I used the pumping to sterlise my pump and wash/water transfer lines, and thats it. Before I moved to my shed. I would have done about 300 ferments using a very rudimentary sterilsation regime and only once I got a persistent bug that required me to go nuclear and tear everthing apart and sterlise everything with Peroxide. That was what killed that bug. Anyway when I would have people over who make beer they would have kittens that everything is not sealed and sterile. But its distilling its not beer making. Often if I would be doing a back to back ferment I would just hose down the fermenter and mash tun and go again. No sterilising. In my shed I just filled up my 1300l fermenter with 800l of wash. After the last use. I tipped in about 50l of sterlising solution splashed around with a brush, hosed it out and its good to go. Thats it. I just put the latest wash in it and its off and running. This fermenter has a lid but no seal. No need. My tank making mate is driven out of his mind wanting to put seals and super sterilising features in everything. I say nope. Give me basic and cheap. I would be buying SD products if I didnt live in Argentina. Anyway there is a huge amount of information on this board and it is very helpful. There are a lot of people with way more knowledge than me. I only have a niche knowledge which is alternative woods and how to survive and setup a distillery in a shit country. The only other advice is if your starting go straight to a Bain Marie boiler. It just makes the best product right out the gate. go for three or 4 yeast combinations and start at 50l barrels of whiskey. Anything smaller its hard for beginners to control. Maybe control is not the right word. Its hard for beginners to understand the speed a whiskey will pick up wood flavor in a 20l barrel as opposed to a 50 or 100l. In very small barrels your whiskey can get massively overpowered in the wood very fast and then you have lost all your work and time and energy and money to make oak flavored alcoholic tea. I have read quite a few stories here of gin makers making whiskey puting it in 20 or 50l barrels and trying it after 12 months and getting shitty oak tea out of it and quitting.

  • edited November 2022

    The short answer is no, well not always no, but mostly no.

    The phrase "you need to be a good brewer to make good whiskey" is accurate. But has far more to do with being able to mash and ferment grain-based washes appropriately. You need to master turning starch into sugar, and fermenting that sugar into alcohol effectively and efficiently.

    Distilling is very much garbage in - garbage out. HOWEVER, that does not mean that distilling a great brewer's beer automatically gives you a great whiskey, and what's garbage in brewing and garbage in distilling are two very different things. Sorry, I can't describe this, you'll simply need to do the work, spend time at the still, and you'll figure out what you like and don't like, and how to repeat it. This is qualitative, it's like cooking.

    Proper sanitation is required in both endeavors, but distilling is far more forgiving, and for many spirits styles, bacterial infections are a traditional part of the process. Jamaican rums, American style sourmash whiskies, spirits fermented in wooden washbacks, these are all good examples of co-fermented beers (yeast + intentional bacteria).

    Don't obsess, but cleaning your distilling equipment to the same standard you are cleaning your plates, bowls, and cooking/eating utensils at home is perfectly fine. Heck, if the only thing you ever used a sanitizer for was your fermenters, you'd be doing pretty good in distilling.

    The reason you see this cited a lot in journals and literatures, is if you are using fixed pipeline equipment, or are a commercial distillery, the unexpected impact of bacteria can be significant. While it's easy for a hobbiest to wash their hoses, cleaning and sanitizing a few hundred feet of multi-level pipelines, with dead-ends, is significantly more problematic. Keep that in mind when you hear about commercial distillers obsess over this. A 2% loss in yield for a hobby distiller is insignificant. A 2% loss in yield to Heaven Hill, Diageo, or others is probably millions of dollars.

  • @grim is my Hero. I would like to second what he said. There is no substitute for practice and experience and putting time in. I would also say experiementation. when I started I wrote a list of about 40 different whiskeys and combinations I would like to make and I have made most of them and come up with some more besides that. I have narrowed it down to 12 that are my favorites. Why so many ? If you want to do tastings of your product you have to have more than one. Would you travel to the other side of town for a winery with one sort of wine ? No, but for a tasting of 6, sure. You can tell I live in wine town no?

  • When i moved here and contacted the local coffee roaster i told him i'm partial to a darker blend mostly.

    He said " I make what i like, that's the only blend i make and you can buy some if you want'.

    Luckily i did like it.

    StillDragon Australia & New Zealand - Your StillDragon® Distributor for Australia & New Zealand

  • Damn this is a cool forum. Before this I was on a bonsai tree forum and they were terrible. They basically told me I was asking stupid questions.

    Thanks for all the info and support!

  • I am firmly of the beleive that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Stupid people yes but stupid questions no. And your questions were pretty good. I hate sanitation. I do the minimum.

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