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Food Science

The chemistry of modern moonshine

Whiskey’s rougher cousin gets a makeover

by Kerri Jansen
March 30, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 14


Credit: C&EN/ACS Productions

About a century ago during Prohibition, people cooked up moonshine with jury-rigged equipment to fly under the radar of the law. But today, a new generation of craft distillers are making moonshine—high-proof, unaged whiskey—for the masses. In the latest episode of Speaking of Chemistry, we explore the chemicals that put the “fire” in “firewater” and visit a local distilling operation to see and taste how modern chemistry has changed the production of this potent spirit.



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Curious (March 28, 2018 2:17 PM)
I think you mean Jerry-Rigged.
Jo (March 29, 2018 10:58 AM)
Actually, they were right.
Wayne Mascarella (April 2, 2018 9:46 AM)
"Jury-rigged" is entirely correct. "Jerry-built" has an entirely separate origin and slightly different meaning.
Raimund Miller (April 3, 2018 4:22 PM)
Very well presented video on "The chemistry of modern Moonshine". The list of low boilers, that make up the Heads portion of the distillate, which contains iPrOH invites, however, a comment. iPrOH itself has a higher boiling point than EtOH, and a mixture of the two alcohols is very difficult to separate by normal distillation. Here we are, of course, concerned with the ternary azeotrope of iPrOH, EtOH, and water, which apparently has a lower boiling point than the azeotrope of EtOH with water.
Matt Davenport (April 5, 2018 12:22 PM)
I thought so, too! But it is jury-rigged, according to Merriam Webster:
Jonathan Keim (March 28, 2018 2:39 PM)
Great video, very interesting and well-made!
Bob Ryan (March 29, 2018 11:58 AM)
For 12 years I have been a craft distiller at Ryan & Wood in historic Gloucester, MA. This video is the best I have seen and an excellent presentation of the process. Good choice utilizing Kerri Jansen and Ryan Hendricks.Cheers,Bob Ryan
Bill Kwalwasser (March 30, 2018 12:09 PM)
Great video. Been tasting shine for years, especially when aged over peaches, cherries, apples, etc. It's called Fruit, and it is sooo smooth.
Martin Bide (April 5, 2018 10:36 AM)
Interesting stuff. Where do (now, and maybe in the old days) the amylase enzymes come from? In beer, they occur in the malting of the barley, but I don't think barley is involved here.
Kerri Jansen (April 5, 2018 1:08 PM)
Hendricks told us KO Distilling uses both natural enzymes from malted grain, and also commercial enzymes derived from thermophilic bacteria, which can withstand higher temperatures than the natural enzymes and speed up the process. So it's a mix of modern technology and more traditional methods.

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