Pearl barley is made from polished barley. Sometimes the polishing process is repeated 6 times. Polishing makes grains unfold in a faster and more efficient way. Pearl barley is usually used for making porridge or soups, but it also serves as a great raw material for strong distillates. If prepared right pearl barley moonshine’s aroma and taste can be on par with barley moonshine. You can let the prepared drink age in oak barrels or infuse it with oak chips to make homemade whiskey.
Theory. Distiller’s yeast can only convert simple saccharides; that’s why before setting for fermentation starch which is contained in pearl barley needs to be converted into simple saccharides with the help of ferments which are present in malt. This process is called conversion.
Using barley malt or rye malt is preferred. It’s important that it’s not fermented—you can purchase such malt in specialized stores or prepare them yourself. For normal conversion, you’ll need about 1 kilo of malt (dried white or green—there’s no conceptual difference) per 4-5 kilos of pearl barley.
Without the help of malt, pearl barley will not ferment
Theoretically, from 1 kilo of barley material (grains or malt) you can obtain about 800 ml of 40% ABV moonshine. But in practice, the yield will be 5-20% less because grains never contain maximum possible starch, and some distillate is lost during distillation. In order to increase the yield, you’ll have to add sugar—1 kilo will increase it by 1.1-1.2 liters (40%), but this will impact the quality of the drink. That’s why I don’t recommend adding sugar to grain distillates. It’s only beneficial if you have very little groats.
Warning! A thermometer is necessary for measuring the temperature of wort and preparing wash. A thermal error of 2-3°C is acceptable for conversion.
- Pearl barley – 5 kilos
- Malt (not fermented green or white) – 1 kilo
- Water – 27-30 liters
- Sugar – 1 kilo (optional)
Pearl Barley Wash Recipe
- Put grouts into a large cooking vessel—enamel cooking pot or bucket works fine.
- Warm up 20 liters of water in a separate pot to 50°C (4 liters of water per 1 kilo of pearl barley).
- Squirt hot water into the groats while stirring it to prevent lumps forming.
- Warm the mixture to 55-60°C, cook for 15 minutes and then raise the temperature to 62-64°C and cook for another 15 minutes.
- Bring the mush to a boil and let it simmer for 90 minutes. Stir it from time to time to prevent burning. Make sure that the mixture is homogenous before adding malt.
- Cool the mixture to 65°C.
- While the mash is cooling down mill the malt, put it into another vessel, and pour it with 3 liters of 26-28°C water (3 liters per 1 kilo of malt). Stir until the mixture becomes homogenous.
- Trickle the obtained malted milk into the pearl barley cooled to 65°C while constantly stirring the mixture.
- Cover the vessel with a lid and heat it up to 63°C. Maintain the 55-65°C temperature for the next 2 hours and stir the mash every 20 minutes.
At the end of the cooking process, pearl barley should become sweet. If it is then the conversion was successful—starch got converted into simple saccharides which in their turn can be converted by yeast.
- Cool the wash to 70°C and add beet sugar (optional) along with 3 liters of water (7 liters if you added sugar), and stir.
- In order to prevent a microbial infection, you should cool down the wash to 28-29°C as fast as possible. The easiest way to do this is lowering the wash container into a cold or ice bath.
- Pour the cold wash into a fermentation container, leaving at least 25% of free space for foam and carbon dioxide. Add previously dissolved yeast and stir.
- Install an airlock on the neck of the container. You can use a medical glove with a hole punctured in one of the fingers instead.
A glove used instead of an airlock
- Transfer the pearl barley wash to a dark room (or cover it with thick fabric) with a stable temperature of 18-27°C.
Depending on the yeast used and temperature fermentation lasts for 4-12 days. After that, the airlock stops bubbling (and the glove deflates), the wash becomes a bit bitter and brighter, there’s no sweetness to it, and there’s a layer of sediment at the bottom of the container. If all of this is apparent you can proceed to the next step—distillation.
Making Pearl Barley Moonshine
- Drain the fermented wash through a few layers of cheesecloth to prevent the burning of groats remains during the heating process, which might spoil the taste. Steam generator owners can skip this step.
- Pour everything into a moonshine still and run the first distillation without fractioning. Finish collecting the main product when ABV goes below 25%. The distillate might turn out cloudy—that’s okay.
- Measure ABV of the distillate. Calculate the volume of pure alcohol: ABV percentage times the volume in liters divided by 100.
- Dilute the moonshine with water up to 18-20%. You can clarify with charcoal or in any other way.
- Run second distillation and gather separately the first 8-14% of the pure alcohol calculated at the previous step while there’s still bad smell. This harmful part is called “heads”, and it shouldn’t be consumed.
- Gather the middle run (“hearts”) until ABV goes below 45%. After that finish the distillation process and gather the last fraction called “tails” separately.
- Dilute the obtained middle run with water to get the required ABV. Bottle and hermetically seal it. To improve the taste of the moonshine, leave it in a cold place for at least 2-3 days to let the chemical reactions settle.
- To get pearl barley whiskey just pour the distillate into barrels or infuse it with oak chips for a few months.