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Tannins – Off Flavors in Homebrew

Astringent flavors

Off flavors in your booze no matter what that may be , wine, beer or whiskey all come from basically the same things. These off flavors usually result for the normal processes of making the alcohol and flavoring it.

I am going to focus on astringent flavors in this article. Astringency is the tart , tangy flavor that tends to make you pucker up like eating walnuts or pecans and getting a piece of shell in your mouth.

This flavor can come from several things including :

via GIPHY

 

1. The grains during the mashing operation
2. The temperature of the fermentation
3. The trub in bottom of fermentation bucket
4. The wood used to age the alcohol

We will discuss all of these things and how to stop it from happening. It is mostly just a matter of keeping the operations within the norm of brewing specs. Sometimes these specs are difficult to adhere to especially temperature when homebrewing as you just do not have that high tech setup of a big brewery or distillery.
How ever there are ways around this and it is just a matter of working with what you have . It is not all that hard to get tasty drink with even the most primitive setups.

 “ A poor man has poor man ways

Astringency comes from tannins.  They will leave off flavors in your homebrew. These tannins are just a normal part of plant material and is bad and good in your booze. A little in the right booze is good. A little in the wrong booze is bad. It can bring on several different flavors like vanilla or clove and even that medicinal metallic flavor.

 

What is a Tannin

A tannin is an astringent, polyphenolic biomolecule that resides in plant tissue like galls and bark. It contains derivatives of gallic acid. It binds to and precipitates proteins, alkaloids and amino acids. Hence why they come out during your processes.

These tannins are quite useful and needed for wines but not so much for beer or whiskey. This is what causes the dry mouth effect when you drink wine. Why this is desirable I do not know as I am not a wine drinker. The tannins are released from grapes as they are smashed up. Grapes have a lot of tannins in them from seeds, skins and stems.
You will get this dry mouth from some liquors like whiskey and brandy. Anytime you have that dry mouth and slight bitter after taste it is tannins ( polyphenols). These flavors may come from the barrel it is aged in or from the grains and other plants it is made from.

Not only do tannins give you that bitter taste and dry mouth but also might give you a headache. Some people are sensitive to tannins. This mixed with other fusel alcohols present in booze can also leave you with a hangover.

A more scientific and complete description of a tannin from Horvath (1981) :

Any phenolic compound of sufficiently high molecular weight containing sufficient hydroxyls and other suitable groups (i.e. carboxyls) to form effectively strong complexes with protein and other macromolecules under the particular environmental conditions being studied

 

How is a tannin formed

I am glad you asked .

Here is how several types of tannins are formed:

  • Gallic acid is derived from quinic acid.
  • Ellagotannins are formed from hexahydroxydiphenic acid esters by the oxidative coupling of neighboring gallic acid units attached to a D-glucose core and then the real fun begins
  • Further oxidative coupling forms the hydrolyzable tannin (HT) polymers and stuff starts doing other things
  • Proanthocyanidin (PA) biosynthetic precursors are the leucocyanidins (flavan-3,4-diol and flavan-4-ol) yea , right
  • Upon autoxidation, in the absence of heat, they form anthocyanidin and 3-deoxyanthocianidin, which, in turn, polymerize to form PAs. Of course but then we all knew that alrady.

Now aren’t you feeling well informed and smart ?  I bet you don’t ask that question again.

 

Tannins in Beer

When dealing with beer the tannins are far less desirable than with other drinks. Some beers like brandy wines use a little tannins in them along with other fusels to lend the proper flavor. How ever in lighter beers any fusels or tannins is just going to make for a bad flavor.

When brewing beer you wan to keep tannins and other off flavors form forming. To do this you need to pay close attention to the temperature at which you mash and ferment along with the grind of your grain and how long it is mashed. the sparging operation also falls under these guides.

 

Your Grind

When grinding your grain bill up you need to only crack it’s hull for the operation to succeed. How ever a finer grind will allow for more flavor to come out in the mash.
The finer you grind the more tannins will be able to soak out of the hulls. This can be minimized by controlling your heat.

 

Mash Temp

I am not going to go all into mash temp at this time but simply put you need to mash at a temp that does not exceed 170 degrees. Not that your mash should be at or near that temp but that the water you start with should be no more than that. It is better to start with warm grain and less water temp. ( I keep my grain in freezer. This means it has to be warmed up first).
Pouring near boiling water over cold grain to make up the mash temp is a bad idea. the hot water will pull tannins from the grain before the temp goes down to mash level.

The longer your mash sets the more tannins can be extracted from the grain. Only mash as long as needed to complete they style of beer you are making.

Boiling the Wort

The boiling operation is not a big culprit of tannins but you need to make sure you do not get any grain in the boil pot. The other thing that may come into play during the boil is hops. They do contain a bit of tannins albeit not much.
Hops and tannins both bring on bitterness. The main difference is that the tannins in hops do not really come out in the beer unless you use a lot of hops or leave them in the fermenter for long periods of time. They also have a different type of bitterness and flavor. Hops get their bitterness mainly from oils and resins.

 

Fermenting and Tannins

When fermenting your wort or wash you must be careful that the temp does not exceed 80 degrees. This is the point at which tannins and fusels will be readily produced from the process of yeast eating sugars. Room temp and fermentation temp are different and confused by many people. The temp of your fermentation given in a recipe is the room temp not the beer temp. It is much hotter in that bucket than in the room. The yeast produce quite a few nasty things during their process and most are not good. You need to limit the bad stuff as much as possible by controlling the temp. Different yeast make different flavors in your beer. The nasty flavors and the tannins can not be stopped but can be greatly reduced.

Rack your beer as soon as possible so it is not sitting ton the trub too long. The trub is composed of all sorts of stuff that contain tannins and other flavors. If your beer sits on it too long it will start absorbing the off flavors from the trub. Using fining agents or putting in the cold for a while can drop out a lot of these flavors along with the yeast.
In whiskey fermentations the off flavors will be further processed during the distillation. The off flavors can be removed or limited either by the distillation or the cuts. Then after distillation is complete and the cuts have been made the whiskey can further be improved with the aging and/or filtering processes.
The preferred method of filtering or aging first may just depend on who is doing it. How ever the usual process would be to filter the whiskey through charcoal and then age in an oak barrel. This will remove off flavors. How ever the barrel could add some back in.

 

Aging in Oak

There are many flavors that can be achieved from aging in wood. Oak barrels or chips if you are a poor boy, is how whiskey gets it’s good flavor and mellows out. The way the wood is prepared, the strength of the liquor, the temp and humidity is what is going to make the flavors. Tannins are extracted during the aging process. The longer the whiskey is aged the more tannins and less other flavors it will have.
Another thing that I think may play here is the amount of time and use the wood has had. Home distillers often use oak chips that they either toast ( for things like Scotch ) or char ( for American whiskey). At least that is how it should be used. Some people like to use the Jack Daniels wood chips made from old barrels. They work well but do not last long. The barrels have already been used up for whiskey and are normally sold for use with scotch. These chips may lend more tannins into the hooch during aging since they have already been leeched of the other flavors. In the Hooch Bird’s opinion a good char will result in less tannins and a smoother drink. He also said that chips that have not been charred or toasted enough may cause more tannins and a hickory like flavor to be imparted into your sweet hooch.

To sum it up:
Tannins are astringent, nasty tasting, bitter, metallic crap from plants.
Wine drinkers have no taste buds obviously. They also most likely snack on walnut shells stored in tin cans of rubbing alcohol.

This leads to my next article : Wine – Really just made from soaking walnut shells in grape juice.

Sweet Feed Moonshine Recipe – Hooch Bird’s Original

Sweet Feed Moonshine Recipe

 Hooch Bird’s Original

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Hooch Bird’s Recipe

This sweet feed moonshine recipe is the Hooch Bird’s original that he uses to brew his world famous whiskey. He uses only the best grains and sugar from local stores. Well maybe not the best but the cheapest. He says it is all the same and do not fall for the “price makes the difference” crap when it comes to corn and sugar. The malted barley he says is the only thing you need to that must be good. He buys his at Adventures in Homebrewing . Click on the banner above for grain and any other product you need.

The Hooch Bird really loves his Barley Crusher grain mill. I also own one. If you do not have one you should get one .

Barley Crusher Grain Mill
Barley Crusher Grain Mill 15 Lb Hopper ! Best Quality Mills on the Market

Barley Crusher  

 

 

 

 

Grain crushing just don’t get better than this. These mills eat through grain fast. They come with the hand crank but it is removable so you can use a drill motor.

 

 

The Hooch Bird does not use the standard measure of grains for his sweet feed shine. He likes to use mostly equal amounts with the exception of malt.

4 Lbs Corn

4 Lbs Oats

2 Lbs 2 Row Malted Barley

17 Lbs sugar

Yeast – turbo works well in the 13% – 18 % range. Champagne yeast also works but takes a lot longer.
Bread yeast will do a good job but you must use a lot less sugar as it only goes to about 8%.

This grain bill is just a standard mix. Use what ever amount you need for your batch. 4 inches in bottom of 5 bucket for a 5 or 6 gallon batch.

1 bottle molasses . This he normally adds in after the fact as it tends to stall fermentation. Boiling it before adding in may stop this from happening.
It is not needed if you want some shine that is more traditional but is what makes the sweet in sweet feed. It gives it a very nice flavor in the rum area but not as strong. Only takes a little. 10% is good.

In some areas you may still be able to buy sweet feed at the local stores that do not have the green pellets or other crap in them that you do not want. It must be straight up sweet feed i.e. corn, oats, molasses etc. and no added nutrients. You can get co-ops to special mix it for you. They make it up in large quantities but will make smaller usually. you want 10% molasses.

Making the Mash

Crush the malt. It only needs to be cracked a little but a good fine crush will make the flavor come out better. The malt is needed to convert the starches in the corn and oats over to sugars.

Mix the corn, oats and barley together. You will need about 4 inches of this in the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket. Adjust as needed for larger batches. Hooch Bird uses a 55 gallon barrel.

Heat up a couple gallons of water to about 170 degrees.  You can also add in the molasses and boil it if you want and let it cool back down.

Pour in the grains. 4 ” worth in bottom of bucket for 6 gallon batch. Let it mash for an hour or so and then pour the wort off. Add the grains to your fermentation bucket.

Use the wort to dissolve sugar. Heat it up to 170 and add in 17 Lbs sugar a little at a time while stirring until dissolved. You may have to add more water to accomplish this.

Pour wort into fermentation bucket and fill with cool water to 6 gallons. ( don’t use tap water) It adds in bad flavor from the chlorine. Use distilled or bottled drinking water.

Water needs to be about 90 degrees but not more than 104.

Add in yeast per the instructions.

Let it ferment until you like the taste of it. Leave in more sugars for sweeter shine or ferment it on down for more volume and back sweeten it after distilling . This is what the bird does and he adds in his molasses at this time also.

Distill slowly. Heat up still slowly and turn on water at about 120 degrees. Toss the first 150 Milliliters. This will come out between 150 and 172 degrees.  It is fusel alcohols.

Keep the rest up to maybe 200 degrees but you just need to keep tasting till it is getting weak and has a bad flavor.

Making cut is up to you but the bird says just mix it all together and cut it to about 70 – 120 proof and add in oak chips and sugar maple charcoal and allow to sit for a week. Open once a day and let out vapors and then shake a little.

When it gets a flavor in it you like pour it through a piece of paper towel to filter. This works much better than coffee filters.

Add in a little bit of molasses and maybe a pinch of sugar to a glass of shine and you will have one tasty drink.


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Higher quality Moonshine

If you want really good shine then do not use the sugar. you will of course need to use a lot more grains to get any volume of shine. This will make a very tasty shine , all grain. Much better just costs more and will not make much.

 

 

 

Liquid Activated Carbon – Distilling the Wash

 

To read this article from the beginning Click Here

Drunk bird

The bird put about 2 gallons of the wash that had the activated liquid carbon and yeast dropped out , in the still and went to work distilling the wash . Running it very slow to get out as much alcohol as possible with as little of the sweet flavor as possible. Ran it until it was about 80 proof.
Ended up with about a pint of hooch that had a lot of corn flavor and was not overly sweet. It actually was not too bad considering it had about 1/4 of it being tails.

The bird then decided since the flavor was pretty good for what it was that he would try and ferment it out. He poured the rest into a bucket and added water to double the volume.

To this he added a little 24 hour turbo yeast. The yeast took a lot longer than 24 hours to do its job as it had to deal with whatever stopped the fermentation the first time. I say that was the molasses. They do not list any preservatives in it but you know it has them.

Fermentation started about 12 hours later. A small heater was put by it to raise the temp up. It never really kicked in hard as you normally would get from a turbo but then the sugar content had been cut in half also. Just a thin white foam swirling around on top.

After a few days he distilled it off. I snapped this rare photo of the bird at his still. He is wearing a disguise so as to not be identified.

Hooch Bird had let this sit in the fridge for a day to drop down most of the yeast and crap. Then ran off about 2 gallons or so as a test. It was ran fairly quickly as a strip run. It produced about 1 3/4 quarts of drinkable but not real tasty hooch. This also had the tails in it down to about 30 proof.

He then ran the rest at a fast flow down to 50 proof. This was all mixed together to make almost 1 gallon and allowed to sit another day.

The gallon was mixed with 1 gallon of water and put back in the still for a second distillation. He ran this very slow to make sure all the bad flavor stayed out .

Fusels were small. Only had to toss out a  hundred milliliters. The resulting spirits were basically neutral as you would expect and were about 3/4 gallon. Just enough flavor to make it have a taste. This he put in the aging jar and added in some charred white oak.

Another batch of shine saved from the drain by the infamous Hooch bird.

 

 

One Last Word on Charcoal

I see little use for liquid carbon or clearing agent. In my opinion it is just money spent on something you do not need. This I see as just another product brought out by the brew industry to make money after convincing people they really need it.
Unless you are using some special type of yeast that might require it due to all the extra added whatever in it , I would not use it. How ever some people swear by it and it may very well do a good job.

So to end this , I say don’t use it. You do not need it. Just let your beer settle in the cold and rack. Then distill it if your making whiskey.
If after distillation you think it has any off flavors simply pour it through a tube filled with activated charcoal. A cheap one can be made easy out of a fluorescent bulb cover and some granular activated charcoal. See Charcoal Filter for instructions.

As a side note on the charcoal, add in some crushed up sugar maple charcoal. Sugar Maple buy it by the pound. There is a link at bottom of page. Adds in a nice flavor and is what is used to make fine rye whiskey and others.  I will be writing about this later. Also about turbo yeast.

The off flavors in your beer are most likely from :

  • Fermenting at too high of a temp for the yeast used
  • Using turbo yeast
  • Mashing or sparging at too high of a temp
  • Perhaps going too far with the mash efficiency could pull out some tannins. ( I have a extremely efficient home made mash tun design False Bottom filter and it will do this if not done properly) at least that is what I think it does.

 

 

Liquid Activated Carbon The Cold Theory

Using Liquid Activated Carbon – continued

 

To read this article from the beginning Click Here 

 

Testing the Cold Theory

So I am back to update with a little more info on the dreaded liquid carbon in the beer fermentation. The bird had a theory that the liquid activated carbon would drop out of the beer if it got cold. So he went on to testing the cold theory.

Before adding in the clearing / fining agent the bird said he took out a gallon of the beer and put it in the freezer until frozen. He then put it in ice box until thawed.  He was hoping that this would drop out yeast and carbon so his beer could be distilled into fine whiskey.

Actually the Hooch Bird distills moonshine since he does his thing in the woods at night . The Hooch Bird says the best shine is made under the light of the moon in a pure copper still. He uses a thumper sometimes. Here is a good article on building one and some information Thumper in case you think you need one

This dropped a thick layer of carbon and yeast , generally called “trub” along with yeast nutrients to the bottom about half inch thick but the wash was still a gray color. So he poured it back in the fermenting bucket.

 

The Decision to Add the Fining Agent

Then part A of the clearing agent was added into the beer fermentation. It was allowed to sit over night so it would get warm enough for part B to do it’s job. Then he added in part B and waited to see if the yeast and the activated carbon would drop out of the beer.

The next day the beer looked a little cleaner how ever the fermentation had started back up. It had been hindered by either the charcoal, the molasses or perhaps just some bad yeast. Hard to say but the beer was low alcohol and very sweet. This sugar content may have contributed to the charcoal not dropping out when set out in the cold.

The bird had decided to allow the beer to sit for another week or so and see if the small fermentation would finish up . This would allow for more alcohol and perhaps a better flavor.

Hooch Bird’s sweet hydrometer

Hooch Bird will check his hydrometer for this I think just to make sure it is as low as possible.

 

Wow a week has almost went by already

 

Anyway the bird told me that fermentation had continued albeit quite small. The alcohol content was rising but he was not sure if it would ever make it to the almost zero sugar content he likes.

The bird likes to take his fermentations all the way down. This he says gives him maximum alcohol volume. Then he back sweetens the whiskey after distillation. This works out well and makes for some very tasty moonshine.

The bird also runs his distillation slowly for high proof but keeps a good quantity of the tails for flavor. He has his own ideas of how to make cuts and the “norm” is not his idea of how things should be done.

The bird said he ran out of hooch and had to fly on over to the local liquor store for some swill and after he drinks a bottle of that he will get back to work on his batch of whiskey. Oh, he said ” Don’t call it corn whiskey. It is “sweet feed whiskey” . You can get his recipe Sweet Feed Shine

Says he ain’t no damn corn shine slurpin hillbilly. 

The bird gets a tude when he has to drink from the liquor store.

Anyway to move ahead a little, he decided it was time to rack that wash. It looked pretty good but never did ferment down much. It was only at 1.050. He does not know what it started at but was about 18 Lbs sugar and 6 1/2 gallons water. He said he did not measure just poured a bunch in.

So now he has what would amount to a weak sweet beer . He said he would go ahead and run it as it was not going to be a recoverable operation as far as fermentation goes.
The bird has cheap electricity from solar panels so he can afford to run a batch that does not yield much alcohol. He also has well and thus a cheap source of ice cold water.
He also has a sweet bird house. Some birds just have it made in the shade.

Hooch Bird's Sweet House

Well off to take care of my other projects again. Will tell  you how this turned out next time.

Click Here for the end to this story

 

 

 

Liquid Activated Carbon – Remove Off Flavors in Fermentation

The Bird and the Alcohol

Liquid Activated Carbon in Fermentation Experiment

 

Distilling alcohol is of course illegal if you do not have a license to do it. It does not matter if you use a whiskey still or any other method to concentrate the alcohol. As ridiculous as it is for a law to have so much power written into it, you can have every single thing you own confiscated simply for owning a unregistered homemade pot still or any other still. If you have hooch in your car they can confiscate your car.
This is why I only brew beer but I do know a little bird that has a still. You can get a real nice one. Just hop on over here for a great selection of copper moonshine stills . They are Quite useful for other things also like distilling water and essential oils from plants.

5 gallon coper still
On sale $31.00 off
Get it now !

Still Spirits 18% ABV Turbo Yeast

32 Qt Brew Pot only $49.00 $10.00 off

Now on to that liquid activated carbon the Hooch Bird decided to toss in his fermentation to remove off flavors. This was for a batch of his world famous sweet feed whiskey. He wanted to test out the stuff and see if it was actually a useful product or just a money maker for the manufacturer.


Any words on distillation are second hand told to me by the bird. The bird never shuts up and I think he samples his own wares.

Drunk bird


 

Activated Carbon (a birds perspective)

Okay I am going to start this blog off with a few words on using Liquor Quik Liquid Activated Carbon / Charcoal in with your fermentation of whatever it is you ferment.  This should equally apply to a wash or wort.  I am guessing you know what I mean by wash or wort. Just in case,  I call the liquid from the mash that is going to made into whiskey “wash” or “beer” and the liquid from a mash to make beer “wort” . They are of course both the same thing until fermented and finished up unless your using a sugar wash… But what the heck do I know I get my info from a drunk bird!

This is the opinion of the bird after using the charcoal one time so you may have a different experience in this matter.

 

What is Liquid Carbon


The activated carbon or charcoal is meant to absorb all the nasty off flavors that your yeast are making during the fermentation process.  You add it in the fermenter after the yeast and leave it in until fermentation is done.
Just stir it in real good. It turns your wash black. Does not look so tasty any more. It will absorb off flavors and should in theory make a much better tasting alcohol. This I would assume would apply more to a sugar wash and turbo yeast than any other thing.

After the fermentation is done you need to get rid of this stuff. The instructions say to then add in some clearing agent to drop out the carbon along with the yeast and other crap. The liquid carbon must be dropped out or the flavors will simply come back when you distill the wash.

Getting Rid of Liquid Activated Charcoal

According to the manufacturers directions you now need to add a clearing or ” fining” agent.  You need to store this clearing agent at room temp not in ice box. It don’t work so well if you do that. This clearing agent is a two part liquid. First you add part A and gently stir it in. You only want this floating on top so do not stir it all the way in just disperse it across the top. Then wait an hour and add part B and stir it in real good.
This is something the bird decided not to do. He had a theory that simply putting the wash somewhere good and cold would drop everything to the bottom just as he did normally. He figured why waste money on a fining agent when cold air is free in the winter.

I put my beer outside in the freezing cold all night to drop the crap out. It works quite well for yeast. Then I rack and allow to set again and rack again. Gives me nice clean beer

The bird was then going to rack it and let it set again one night. This should have cleared it up.
NOT! This beer was black and it stayed black. The charcoal did not drop.

So now the bird has ice cold wort and charcoal mixture to deal with. He could try a filter but this would likely leave too much carbon in the wash.

Okay then the bird said he decided to add the clearing agent. The beer was still cold but now in a warm room. Should not be a problem as it should warm up quick enough. Maybe.
The bird bought a pack of Still Spirits Turbo Clear and put it in the wash. Available at Adventures in Homebrewing for $3.99 and from Amazon for $10.99 .

What Will Happen 

I will write more about what happened later on. As for now I am off to do some writing on my other blog at Employee No More – Quit Your Day Job . Yep , I did it. I just endorsed my other blog. You can send me a hate filled email at marcus@employeenomore.net or marcus@employee-no-more.com . Just do not post it here or I will have to send that Hooch Bird over to kick your behind and drink your booze.

Page 2 Liquid charcoal – continued click here

 

 

 

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