freeze distillation (moonshine cider)

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The one the left is the normal cider and the one on the right has been freeze distilled.

We had some friends visiting this weekend so what better way to celebrate than with alcohol. I’d been wanting to try this technique of freeze distillation with cider for a while but never got round to it. Basically you put your alcohol in a container then put it in the freezer. All the water freezes and you are left with a higher alcohol content and a stronger flavour.

Freeze distillation is a metaphorical term for a process of enriching a solution by partially freezing it and removing frozen material that is poorer in the dissolved material than is the liquid portion left behind. Such enrichment parallels enrichment by true distillation, where the evaporated and recondensed portion is richer than the liquid portion left behind.

Part of the reason I did this was that I was not convinced that the cider had much alcohol as it does not taste as if it does. However after the freezing process the change was considerable. It had definatly enhanced the flavour, colour and raised the alcohol content. It really works!

Although I did not end up with much compared with the volume that I started with what I ended up with was a much better drink. I am going to try it with the second batch of cider that I made as this was mostly Bramleys and although it’s not as bad as I was led to believe, I think that it could be turned into a far superior drink if distilled.

According to Wikapedia this process is illegal in many countries because a number of by-products of fermentation (fusel alcohols), which are mostly removed by heat distillation, tend to accumulate to an unhealthy level in freeze-distilled beverages.

From what I understand, this process was very popular among the New England colonies.
Barrels of apple wine would be set out in sheds during January and February when the temperatures where blistering cold. And, by first thaw it would be ready to drink. In America this drink is called Apple Jack. Freeze distillation is also refered to as the Mongolian still and is said to have been in use since the 7th century.

59 thoughts on “freeze distillation (moonshine cider)

  1. Sarah says:

    How does this stuff taste compared to bought cider? better? or not as good in a still-learning kinda way?

    My boyfriend keeps telling me I need to try ‘real’ cider; I think wine, beer and cider are generally not nice (not a big alcohol drinker in general), but he keeps promising me ‘real’ cider just tastes like apples… hmmm 😛

    • T says:

      Yes, I know this is an OLD thread. Real cider (from an orchard–basically fresh-pressed apple juice that has not been distilled) is much better. Grocery store cider is glorified apple juice (it has been pasteurized, and is probably reconstituted). For really good cider, go to an orchard, buy a gallon (as much as you want), and take it home. Loosen the cap on the jug to vent (so it won’t explode), put it in a cool place (I put mine in my basement, which is between 50 and 60 degrees (F) when orchards are selling cider (in the fall) and let it sit for a few weeks (if the jug is REALLY full, drink a half cup or so first to make a little room for foam). After it sits for a few weeks, you’ll see some shiny beige foam on top–possibly some solids. Filter this by pouring it through a coffee filter (cheesecloth is more traditional, but it’s more expensive and harder to find); a paper towel in a funnel will suffice if you don’t have a coffee filter handy. Have a taste. It should be lightly sparkling at this point (not much alcohol at all)–still sweet, slightly bubbly. I don’t like it much harder than this, so I put it in the fridge for drinking. It will get a little bit harder as time goes on, but it will be gone before it makes it anywhere close to “strong.”

      Let’s say you had a barrel of this stuff and let the process continue to very hard cider. Put it outside in the winter, and (in the region I live in, anyway) you’ll have a barrel with a big ice donut and a liquid core. Dip off that core, and you have freeze-distilled jack (or brandy). No added yeast makes for a really clean taste. Some people distill that to make it clearer. (Make only enough for personal use.)

  2. Oooh. We too have been tempted to try this to up the octane levels of our cider. I am seriously tempted to try, but, alas, all the cider was finished months ago….

    I assume it will work with ordinary home brew? I have an out of date tin of bitter which stares at me every time I go into my garage…

  3. dibnah says:

    Real cider does taste like apples, honest.

    I used my own cider for this experiment and apparently you can use any beverage.

  4. Sarah says:

    so you could make vodka more alcoholic? 😉

    • T says:

      Remotely decent vodka won’t freeze in any conventional appliance. However, the process can be used to lightly strengthen watered-down swill (in the 40 proof range).

  5. Ian Bolton says:

    Antony, I was one of your friends this weekend and I liked your cider. It was pretty sweet, and I knew id we drank a litre of it like in the olden days we’d have never made a whole weekend.
    Good to see you anyway. I left my leads at your house I think. Could you check, and maybe you could make some use out of them!


  6. Mel says:

    It doesn’t actually increase the amount of alcohol, just the concentration. So if you and your friends drank all the cider, you’d be just as drunk as if you drank all the applejack.

  7. dibnah says:

    Yes you are right, sorry, if you consider the volume you started with.

  8. Rob Burns says:

    Is there any chance you could hook your blog into feedburner? It means that people can sign up to your blog by email as well as hook it into a number of feed readers. It would be great to get all these posts by email!

  9. stonehead says:

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only person that enjoys rocket fuel. I also freeze distill cider – especially my super strong scrumpy which comes in between 10 and 12% ABV.

    Freezing it two or three times gives it even more oomph and flavour, but you definitely do not want to drink a lot of it as it’s a real headache inducer. You have been warned!!

  10. ichabod says:

    It’s the truth! If you want to kick up any type of alcoholic beverage, the freze method works just fine. I have done it with homemade apple wine and it brings it up a notch right below apple brandy. Not to mention the concentration of flavors. Go for it!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Mosey says:

    Of course it’s illegal, and I wouldn’t DREAM of trying it – but if I did it would be with our own home made wines. I just happen to have an old book which details freeze distillation, but with the addition of filtering through “animal charcoal” then “activated charcoal” to get rid of the toxins. The activated is no problem, but anyone know where I can get some animal charcoal??

  12. Phil says:

    just fyi but charcoal will get rid of nasty tasting elements but also a lot of the flavour. WARNING! Charcoal does not remove any mentanol so if there is some already in the cider(almost unavoidable) and you freeze distill and then charcoal filter, you WILL have a stronger concentration of metanol, hence the wicked hangover;

  13. Phil says:

    Oops…. read methanol for the above

  14. aou says:

    I don’t think it’s illegal because with this method the “bad stuff” is not removed from the product. The real reason is the same as for “regular” or evaporation distillation.

    Governments just don’t want you to do that. I think only New Zealand (out of all english-speaking democracies) allows home distillation for private use, regardless of the method.

    For US and Canada it’s just a nasty leftover from Prohibition times. Believe it or not – bringing bottle of wine from Quebec to Ontario is technically illegal.

    • T says:

      If you can make a lesser quantity that is as strong as the original quantity, it is illegal; the reason being that a smaller quantity is easier to transport and harder to tax. The policy has nothing to do with “remnants” or “health.”

  15. Kev. says:

    Re Moseys item 04/02/06
    FYI – Activated Charcoal has the ability to absorb Colour, Odours and Gases (used in some gasmasks) so i guess it can pick up fine-particulate so if it’s going to collect some of the toxins in the brew, it seems reasonable that some of the taste will go to. You can always ass that back with boiled-down fruit-juices though to give it even better flavour

    Animal charcoal

    Animal charcoal or bone black is the carbonaceous residue obtained by the dry distillation of bones; it contains only about 10% carbon, the remainder being calcium and magnesium phosphates (80%) and other inorganic material originally present in the bones.
    It was used for removing some colour from Syrup in the past. Presumably to lighten it to a golden colour. A tiny bit of burnt syrup could darken a whole barrel.

  16. Kev. says:

    Sorry, that should read “add that back” Proof-reading save typing.

  17. Roxy says:

    I, too, wish you would add some type of feed burner or email subscription. I like your blog and would like to keep tabs on it, and I would link it to my own site. You have some good ideas.

  18. dibnah says:

    i’ve been off the blog for such a long time it’s nice to see people are still looking. I would put in a feed burner if I knew how or what one is. help??

  19. Roxy says:

    Here’s one you can use easily. It’s not an rss feed, but this allows people to bookmark your site in over a hundred ways, and it’s free.

  20. dibnah says:

    Gosh this is a popular post. I’ll be doing it all over again soon so I’ll have to post the results. We did it by accident the other day with a bottle of wine.

  21. james says:

    will this method work with vodka?

  22. AdamGoodBrew says:

    I don’t want to be too nerdy here, but just wanted to let everyone know that when fermenting you are not making any “methanol”. And that hangovers are not made by the consumption of methanol in alcoholic beverages. Hangovers are a result Hypoglycemia, dehydration, acetaldehyde intoxication, glutamine rebound, and vitamin B12 deficiency. In the case of next day after hard drinking, your hangovers are mainly due to dehydration and the acetaldehyde intoxication. The flavor responsible for that “green apple” taste is acetaldehyde. So the more green apple flavor you have in your drink the more potential hangover you may have. Hope this helps.

    • superalvacado says:

      Although some of your information is correct, there is always some methanol present in alcoholic beverages. Particularly apple cider if pectin enzymes have been used. By the way methanol attacks the optic nerve, that’s why you get the worst hangover headaches(felt right behind the eyes) from cheap booze.
      for some info on methanol content
      (first one i saw)

      • ben says:

        When stilling moonshine with a conventional heated still the first part of the batch it thrown away because of methanol. its called the head, but and has nothing to do with a beer head. Drinking ANY ammount of the head will cause blindness!! It is a wood grain alcohol and not meant to be consumed. Just like rubbing alcohol. The tradition of moonshining and booptlegging go way back with my family.

      • ben says:

        On a sidenote, drinking good moonshine wont give you a hangover, even though it is up to 180 proof, due to the lack of toxins/methanol.

      • dibnah says:

        I bow to your greater knowledge and background.

  23. fuzzyman says:

    Well Adamgoodbrew, I love the fact that you have the nerdy smarts to know what goes on.
    Any suggestions to help those of us who are just on the planet to brew a few.
    How would one prevent or help cure the hangovers from hell ? (other than not to drink)
    Any suggestions on brewing, or freeze distillation?
    Some of us need all the help we can get 🙂

    I sure would llike all the help I can get.


    passin on thru ….

  24. miggy says:

    i tried mixing my freeze distilled cider with the same amount of high strength vodka to produce what I call AppleJack Schnapps!

    its actually not bad !!

  25. moonshiner#1 says:

    fun fact: the methanol is a product of pectin decomposing during fermentation. The more pectin, the more methanol. If you drink enough methanol (not much), you will go blind. It is not a rumor or a scare tactic. You will literally go blind, and your optical nerve will atrophy. Look it up. As it would turn out, apples are among the best natural sources of pectin.

    Freeze distillation (and apple jack especially, as apples contain a lot of pectin) is unsafe because unlike conventional distillation, it removes water rather than separating parts of the mash by boiling point. As a result, the cider becomes more concentrated, increasing the concentration of the flavor and drinkable alcohol content(ethanol), but also the undesirable(fussel oil), and toxic(methanol) alcohols, and any contaminants. This is why everything else balanced, apple cider gives you a worse hangover, and apple jack gives you a terrible hang over.

    This will not work with vodka. Freeze distillation will not work with liquors of more than ~25%ABV in a regular freezer, as the freezing point of water is too low at these concentrations. That is why you can keep a bottle of vodka in the freezer.

    As for increasing the yield of your apple jack: a slow freeze decrease the amount of good flavor and liquor lost to the ice cube you remove. This is traditionally achieved by allowing many freeze/thaw cycles (which is easy if your apple cider is in a pit in the ground, heated and cooled by the climate). This can be simulated by simply turning up your freezer, or removing it from the freezer to the fridge a couple times. Think days instead of hours.

    • Bobby Hollis says:

      My understanding is….this is done to FINISHED wines or cider…most of the pectin has been dissolved by the yeast and settled out..then the wine is racked off..Only do this to clear finished wine…If it worked for George Washington, which never went blind by the way…it should work for us… Our germiphobe society has brain washed us into forgetting the old ways of our ancestors so that we depend totally on the corporate world to survive…People are scared to home can their excess vegetables, cure their own meats etc…..When if done right, its much more healthier and safer than opening a can of beans that 30 different people, mice, and God knows what has been in contact with in the canner from which it came…Those old folks didnt get to be old if home made products are dangerous..

  26. Boaterbob says:

    After freezing the applejack, you can eliminate the methanol by warming the jack to about 150 to 160 degrees F. Use a thermometer. Methanol boils at about 150 whereas the ethanol doesn’t boil till about 170. Cheers

  27. XReply says:

    Boaterbob – that’s insane, all you would be doing is CREATING methanol by doing that. The only way to guarantee the removal of methanol by that point would be to create a distiller.

    You are in ZERO danger of creating methanol if you are not actually using a HEATED distiller! Methanol does NOT occur naturally unless the fruit has already begun to ferment due to heat. CERTAIN types of pectin turn into methanol IF THERE IS A HIGH LEVEL OF HEAT INVOLVED. Otherwise, it is just harmless pectin and that will never hurt you.

    People repeatedly confuse the methanol created in a heated still with the freeze distilling process. Methanol does not occur without heat. If what’s being said by moonshiner #1 and various other ill-informed miscreants across the internet were actually true, there would be millions of blind, cramped, and hospitalized under-aged teenagers the world over.

  28. A friend and I are wanting to make rum from brown sugar, honey. The recipe said to ferment for 14 days. It says nothing about distilling. An exeperienced friend told me to ferment it for 21 days and then freeze it to distill the drink and then removing the ice. Does it have to be distilled? Has anyone tried this before? Any suggestions…

  29. […] Appearance – The liquor was just slightly richer in colour than the original. This really surprised me, as the colour difference between freeze-concentrated applejack and the original cider is often very striking. […]

    • Peter .O says:

      As someone on one of the sites said correctly, freeze the Cider, then partially thaw out in fridge, then refreeze, partially thaw out,etc etc.Keep repeating this and you will soon understand and see the complete separation of liquor from the slurry ice to the point where the ice will eventually become a hard block of just water, then pour off the liquor.

  30. newshiner12 says:

    Wow i just wanted to say i have read all the posts on this blog and i have learned alot i feel. But one thing i cannot get over is the argument over the methanol. I’m new to the whole brewing and distilling aspect so if someone knows the truth bout this fuel that would be great to know site reference is great. Umm also if an apple is high in natural pectin would that make high acidic fruits like pineapple have a lower pectin level and less to worry about??

    • Bobby Hollis says:

      George Washington was known to drink apple jack as his favorite drink…He never went blind..and they set their wine barrels out in the cold of the New England states in January and February to let them freeze…no freezer, no controlled sanitary environment…just bitter cold winter temperatures…The thing to remember..This product you are creating is no longer Hard Cider or Wine…it becomes more like a Schnapps….you would drink it as a sipping whiskey or in shots….not 8 ounce glasses..

  31. I do trust all the concepts you’ve offered on your post. They are really convincing and can definitely work. Still, the posts are too brief for novices. Could you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

  32. David says:

    i have 9 litres of homemade cider that is about 10%. i might try this and see how far i can take it……………get smashed on a shot glass! 😉

  33. […] Appearance – The liquor was just slightly richer in colour than the original. This really surprised me, as the colour difference between freeze-concentrated applejack and the original cider is often very striking. […]

  34. dibnah says:

    Glad this is still such an interesting post. My son looks so young on the photo he’s 9 now! i froze some Perry (pear cider) recently that wasn’t tasting too good, it did’nt improve the taste but made it much stronger per glass so not all bad.

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  36. Markus says:

    Im going to try some freezes distilling tonight I’ll let you guys know tomorrow how it turns out I’m starting out with some pretty weak low wine about 1 the maybe 3 percent hopefully I can make it get up till like maybe 6 percent wish me luck

  37. Howard Williams says:

    inexperienced brewer here. The thought came to me that if methanol boils at a lower temperature than ethanol at atmosperic pressure than the same must be true under a vacuum. While degassing with a vacuum pump after th co2 is gone, would not the methanol boil off before you started to lose ethanol? what do you think?

    • Christopher says:

      Regarding boiling while a vacuum is present: This is correct. I have seen 90 degree farenheit water boiling under a vacuum. The water was cooler than a bathtub and it boiled. Really creepy.

      But if you don’t have any tables to look up the “boiling point depression” of a water-alcohol mixture under a vacuum, you won’t be able to predict what “cut” of vapor is coming out of the column. You might blast right past methanol fraction and end up with a “fat fraction” containing both the methanol and ethanol. The distillation needs to proceed slowly through the methanol/ethanol separation.

  38. Winemaker says:

    I have wondered, what about wine. If we ferment grapes/sugar and do not heat distill the methanol off of it….we are consuming the natural by-products as well ?

  39. Tandy says:

    Yesterday i spent 300 $ for platinium roulette system , i hope that i will earn my first cash

  40. […] stills used heat to separate the materials, but another method, the Mongolian still (also known as freeze distillation), relied on the different freezing points of alcohol and water. The mash was frozen, and since the […]

  41. I came across you blog and I want to add a little input. I am an experienced Home Brewer and among other things I home brew Cider from my own Apples. I live in Sascatchewan. Freezer Jacking is not illegal in Canada. Natural Cider when fully fermented will produce a drink of 8%. I however boost it to ten percent and increase the volume by parging the pulp with water and then adding sugar to increase it to 10%. This makes for a better cider and gives full use of the resource. To make Jack I then take the finished Cider and put it in two liter Pop Bottles and freeze it. You can turn one of these upside down in a one liter wine carafe and let it melt until half of the contents of the Pop Bottle has melted into the carafe. This leaves you with Apple Jack with a reasonably accurate content of 20%. At this percentage it could be Jacked a second time but a household freezer will only get it to 38% an no farther. If you want better then that then get dry ice and you can get it to 60%. But why? At 20% you will find you will like it better mixed with Ginger Ale.

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