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Did we overcook the mash?


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    • #3285

      Hey guys,

      A couple buddies and I are distilling for the first time. On a tutorial we were looking at, we read that we should boil the water before adding in our cornmeal in order to begin making the mash. After doing this, however, the cornmeal became very chunky. We are cooling it outside right now and stirring constantly (temp is around 120 F at the moment), but the mash is full of chunks of cornmeal. My question is: Have we overcooked the mash and is it worth continuing forward?

      The first batch we did seemed a little better, as we followed another tutorial that told us to keep the temp of the water hovering around 140-150 while adding in the cornmeal and sugar, but this method wound up with a watery mash with a lot of the cornmeal sinking to the bottom with a gritty/gritsy texture. That batch is currently fermenting in the basement, and seems to be doing well.

      Anyways, thanks for your time!

    • #3286

      What is the full recipe?

      Did you add enzymes or sugar to the mash? Is it just cornmeal?

      • #3287

        Recipe can be found here:

        Yes, it is probably the last place we should have gone to get a moonshine recipe, but we found that the ingredients used there are way more common than some of the ingredients in more advanced recipes.

        And we just added sugar to the mash, no enzymes.

        • #3288

          You will be fine.
          I’d add the sugar then let it cool down to 80-90 before you add the yeast.

          You did not hurt anything by boiling it.

          It will turn out fine.

          • #3468

            We made Mash from corn flake (brew-store product) for the first time last night. We normally brew beer so we were REALLY baffled by the extremely thick consistency of the corn flake after boiling it. It was much thicker than soup and … there is no way were were going to be able to strain anything off of it. It was also burnt and the bottom of our pan was black.
            In the end we would up throwing the entire batch away.
            Can you tell us what temp we were to keep the corn and water at… and after the boiling is done what is the next step… is it suposed to be that thick and we have to strain it.. or did we mess up?

    • #3292
      Zymurgy Bob

      Oh, boy. Where to begin?…and I apologize for going long.

      First off, that recipe is for a “thin mash”, where the only source of sugars for making alcohol is the table sugar you added 10 pounds of. In that recipe, the corn itself is not “mashed”, and the corn is present only for flavor and yeast nutrients, for which the corn does not need to be boiled. 10 pounds of sugar in 10 gallons of wash should give you a specific gravity of about 1.045, and if properly fermented, will yield a wash of about 5.6 % ethanol. 10 pounds of cornmeal is a helluva lot of cornmeal for a thin mash. For a common, popular and very successful thin-mash recipe, google “UJSSM”, Uncle Jesse’s Simple Sour Mash.

      To demonstrate how the author of your recipe ignorantly conflated a bunch of stuff he didn’t understand, to properly mash corn, that is to convert the corn starches to sugars that the yeast can ferment into ethanol, you must first “gelatinize” the corn starch by heating it in water to about 170F, for a time dependent on how fine your corn is ground. You then need to cool it down to about 150F (at perhaps 165, you have killed your enzymes, and the whole process stops) and introduce amylase enzymes, either from malted barley or bottled from your local homebrew supplier. Over a period of anhour or two, these enzymes will convert your corn starch to sugar (google “iodine starch test”). Now you can cool your mash down to ~85F and introduce your yeast to ferment that sugar to ethanol.

      At the low specific gravity this recipe produces, the author is right (for once); just about any kind of yeast will work fine.

      Because cooked corn becomes the goopy, gluey mess you encountered, the thin mashes with uncooked corn are popular. Making “real” corn whiskey, with cooked corn, is a lot more work dealing with how to get the alcoholic liquid off that corn porridge. When the author says,”Strain the sour mash through a cheesecloth” after he’s told you to boil it first, he’s given you a fool’s errand, which you will only understand when you try to do it.

      When he tells you that, “The liquid that comes out of the copper tube before the cooker reaches 177 degrees contains methanol, which becomes steam at a lower temperature than ethanol.” he is again displaying his ignorance. If (and only if) there is methanol occuring naturally in your wash, it forms an association with ethanol (the good stuff) called an azeotrope, and every bit of ethanol that comes through your still, has a tiny (and perfectly safe) amount of methanol in it. The real reason you toss the early, low-boiling distillate is because it smells and tastes awful, with lots of acetone, acetaldehyde, ethyl acetate, and other smelly compounds in it.

      The fear of methanol, which can be truly toxic when added to liquor, as was done in American prohibition, came from the US government’s denaturing hardware-store ethanol (drinking alcohol) with methanol (the killer stuff). Not only were they doing this because it’s virtually impossible to separate the two alcohols by distillation, but they reasoned that if you were breaking the law by drinking during Prohibition, you deserved to die. The lesson on from this? Don’t pour methanol, or any other poison, for that matter, into your liquor.

      Finally, when the author of the recipe says, “Keep monitoring the temperature and collecting alcohol until the temperature rises above 177 degrees or drops below it.” it tells me he’s never run a potstill (which is what he has you build). Any potstiller will tell you that you will boil your wash all through your still run, and that the wash will boil at one single temperature dependent entirely on what’s in your still and in what concentrations. Because you can come pretty close assuming that wash to be a simple mixture of ethanol and water, and because we know from that recipe that our starting wash concentration will be 5.6% ethanol, and we know from a boiling point chart that the wash will start boiling at about 204F, although you may have a couple of drops of really nasty stuff before that. Because the ethanol will come through the still faster than the water, at first, the percent of ethanol in the wash will slowly drop, and the temperatire will slowly rise for that reason. If you boiled your still until the boiler was dry, and we wouldn’t, the vapor temperature would get all the way to 212,F, the boiling point of pure water. Youe willsee tempertures rise slowly from 204 to 212F. At the author’s 177F, (the boiling point of PURE ethanol, not the mixture of water and ethanol that you really have), your still will not boil, and distilling that 10 gallons might take years.

      Wow! Sorry to be so long winded, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much bad information in one place, and someone needed to say something!

      • #3293

        Zymurgy Bob,

        Thank you for your detailed response. It may have seemed long-winded to you, but I can assure you it was a pleasure to read! I will no longer be following the procedure set forth by that tutorial. Do you happen to have any suggestions for a simple, clean-cut tutorial for beginners?

        The only real steps we took from the wiki tutorial, however, was the recipe and cooking the mash. Other than that, we have been following this guy’s tutorial from YouTube:

        He seems to know what he is talking about, but if you have any other tips I would be glad to listen to them. We didn’t follow this man’s recipe because, personally, I would have no idea where to purchase some of the ingredients he uses in his video.

        Anyways, the two batches we made (that I mentioned above), are fermenting in my basement right now and the yeast seems to be making a good amount of CO2. Do you think we should continue forth with those batches and attempt to distill them or would the end-result not be good at all?

        Once again, thank you for your reply!

    • #3295
      Zymurgy Bob


      This guy is way way better than that Wiki recipe, but I do have a couple of points, which may or may not seem like quibbles. First, the recommendation of champagne yeast is a good one, and that yeast (Lalvin EC-1118 is another one) can indeed ferment a wash that has enough sugar in it to make a 17% ethanol wash, but if you only have, say, one pound of sugar per gallon in your fermentation, then the most ethanol you can get will be almost 6%, no matter what yeast you use. On the other hand, if you have enough sugar (2 pounds 14 ounces per gallon) to make 17%, many yeasts cells will burst with osmosis in that strong a sugar solution, or die horribly when enough ethanol is produced to kill whatever strain of yeast you are using.

      Most sugar-wash fermenters don’t try for higher than maybe 12% ethanol in the wash, because the harder the yeast has to work, the worse the wash (and the liquor) tastes.

      With some other distillers, we’ve put together a Read Me First document here:
      and this should answer a lot of your starting questions.

      While the sweetfeed recipe is a common one (I’ve never used it, so it’s all hearsay), but some good stillers I know like it. I do have another little quibble here, and it involves heating and holding the grain and water at 150F to convert grain starches to fermentable sugars. While it’s pretty close to right, there are no amylase enzymes in that mix to convert those starches (like no malted barley or no store-bought bottled enzymes), so an iodine/starch test after an hour of his heating, would show purple-black, showing the starches are still there. He may have soaked some flavor and yeast nutrients, and molasses out of that sweetfeed, but that’s all he’s done. As for simulating spring conditions for the grain, that is correct, but the process takes days and very specific conditions, and you can read about it here.

      While he accurately told us about coming up to the boil temperature and then creeping slowly up, he’s got it right, but his temperature numbers seem very low, as in a bad thermometer or high altitude. (he did mention something about his altitude throwing things off).

      I don’t know where you live, but most places have a homebrew or winemaking supply store somewhere near, and they have all the supplies and instruments (you really should have both a proof hydrometer for distillate and a brewer’s winemaker’s hydrometer for measuring your wash before and after fermenting.

      I hope this helps.

    • #3296
      Zymurgy Bob


      There’s a much clearer sweetfeed (thin mash) recipe at:
      For separating the grain from the liquid, the easiest way is to buy an elastic-topped paint strainer from your paint store. This fits inside a 5-gallon bucket, and the elastic holds it up by the bucket rim. I think they’re about 4 bucks.

    • #3297

      There is some great information in the thread.

      When I make a corn mash I used flaked corn and a bit of malted barley for the starch conversion.

      Kyle has a good write on his page:

      I add an extra pound or two of flaked maize to bump up the ABV a bit- but it works really well the way it is written.

    • #3298
      Zymurgy Bob

      Thanks for the great link, Richard. This guy is right on, and I like the way he really leans on the need for enzymes from malted barley, a point that the Wiki recipe missed completely.

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