Yeasts and nutrients
When producing alcohol, we recommend the use of a good quality wine or distillers yeast. It will produce a higher, cleaner tasting result than other kinds of yeast. Don't be tempted to use bread yeast...you're not making bread after all! And general quality supermarket yeasts are largely made for baking, not brewing. They may work, but will produce lower alcohol and less flavourful distillate.
Some old Moonshiners never used yeasts. They relied on 'natural yeasts' that occur in nature. That isn't recommended since you just don't know what kind of yeast you're dealing with. Not all are 'alcohol friendly', and some are downright bad. See below for how a yeast works and why you should use a proper commercial yeast variety.
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How Yeasts Work
Yeasts work by consuming sugar and producing alcohol from it. As they 'work', they give off carbon dioxide and you often see a foamy 'head' on top of your wash or mash.
Turbo yeasts will produce the highest amounts of alcohol, and work the fastest, but general wine yeasts or beer yeasts are also acceptable. There are also specialized yeasts available for brewing specific drinks, such as whiskey, rum or vodka.
Many yeasts, especially turbo yeasts, will come with nutrients already in the package. If not, it's wise to add a little yeast nutrient to the brew to feed the yeast as it grows and multiplies. This is especially true if you are only using a sugar wash...think of yeast nutrients as vitamins for the yeast. It keeps them healthy and happy! Another option is to use a distiller's nutrient. This often helps if your fermentation 'sticks'. Called a stuck ferment, you'll know if you still have a high sugar content to your must or wash (taste it), and activity has stopped. Adding some nutrient will help get it going again!
As a rule, turbo yeasts will ferment in a couple weeks or sometimes much less, where a beer yeast or wine yeast will often take several weeks to completely ferment out the sugar. When your brew no longer has a sweet taste, and smells quite alcoholic, you're done! Allow it to clear and distill it off. You can also determine this using a hydrometer. When you start, the hydrometer should read in the neighbourhood of 1.08 to 1.09 specific gravity, which is fairly sweet. When you're done, it should read about 1.00 or close to it, meaning the sugar has been used up.
Remember the old adage, which holds true for many things in life...junk in - junk out! In other words, use good quality materials when brewing anything, and you have a better chance of producing something you'll like. Use cheap or low quality ingredients and you stand a greater chance of failing!
No matter what you are making, whether it be moonshine, wine or beer, you need yeast to convert sugar into alcohol. If you use dry yeast, you can simply add it to your wash or mash provided it is between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. If you use a liquid yeast, it is best to start it a day or so ahead of time.
See below for a YouTube video on a simple starting proceedure to get it going. Although the presenter uses a dry yeast, the same directions would apply to a liquid yeast. For either, it is a way of getting your fermentation underway a bit quicker and ensure that your yeast is alive and viable.