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  • Tony & Elle Ackland
    I m in the process of putting together a FAQ for the newbies on the New Distillers newsgroup at Egroups. I ve already run it past them once, and had a few
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 18, 2000
      I'm in the process of putting together a FAQ for the newbies on the "New
      Distillers" newsgroup at Egroups. I've already run it past them once, and
      had a few suggestions.

      Is there anything that you "Advanced Distillers" reckon should be on it
      (suited to someone just starting out - eg deliberately avoiding too much
      detail on building stills & all the combinations thereof because this is
      where it can get confusing), but otherwise just touching on the basics. Or
      corrections, or ..... ?


      "NEW DISTILLERS" Frequently Asked Questions (July'00)

      Posted near the 1st of each month, to the NEW_DISTILLERS newsgroup at

      Please email any additions, corrections, clarifications required, etc
      regarding the FAQ to Tony Ackland (ackland@...), however please
      direct any general questions to the newsgroup itself.

      1) Is distilling hard to do ?
      2) Is it legal ?
      3) Will it make me blind ?
      4) Whats the difference between a pot still, reflux still, and
      fractionating column ?
      5) How do I get or make a still ?
      6) How do I make a whisky / rum / vodka ?
      7) Should I use sugar or grains ?
      8) Can I use fruit wine ?
      9) How do I get rid of that "off-taste" ?
      10) How do I measure the strength of it & dilute it ?
      11) How do I flavour/turn the vodka's into something else ?
      12) What web resources are there ?
      13) How do I contact the NEW DISTILLERS news group ?
      14) Can I run my car on it ?
      15) How do I convert between gallons and litres and ....


      1) Is distilling hard to do ?

      Nope - if you can follow instructions enough to bake scones, then you can
      sucessfully distil. To distil well however, will require you to understand
      what you're doing, so read around and get a bit of information under your
      belt before you begin.

      2) Is it legal ?

      Probably not. It is only legal in New Zealand, and some European countries
      turn a blind eye to it, but elsewhere it is illegal, with punishment
      ranging from fines to imprisonment or floggings. This action against it is
      usually the result of either religous beliefs (right or wrong), but more
      generally due to the great revenue base it provides Governements through
      excise taxes. So if you are going to distil, just be aware of the potential
      legal ramifications.

      3) Will it make me blind ?

      Not if you're carefull. This pervasive question is due to moonshine lore,
      which abounds with myths of blindness, but few actual documented cases.
      The concern is due to the presence of methanol (wood alcohol), an optic
      nerve poison, which can be present in small amounts when fermenting grains
      or fruits high in pectin. This methanol comes off first from the still, so
      it is easily segregated and discarded. A simple rule of thumb for this is
      to throw away the first 50 mL you collect (per 20 L mash used). Probably
      the greatest risk to your health during distilling is the risk of fire -
      collecting a flammable liquid near a heat source. So keep a fire
      extinguisher nearby.

      4) Whats the difference between a pot still, reflux still, and
      fractionating column ?

      A pot still simply collects and condenses the alcohol vapours that come off
      the boiling mash. This will result in an alcohol at about 40-60% purity,
      with plenty of flavour in it. If this distillate were put through the pot
      still again, it would increase in purity to around 70-85% purity, and lose
      a bit of its flavour.

      A reflux still does these multiple distillations in one single go, by
      having some packing in a column between the condensor & the pot, and
      allowing some of the vapour to condense and trickle back down through the
      packing. This "reflux" of liquid helps clean the rising vapour and
      increase the % purity. The taller the packed column, and the more reflux
      liquid, the purer the product will be. The advantage of doing this is that
      it will result in a clean vodka, with little flavour to it - ideal for
      mixing with flavours etc.

      A fractionating column is a pure form of the reflux still. It will
      condense all the vapour at the top of the packing, and return about 9/10
      back down the column. The column will be quite tall - say 600-1200mm (2-4
      foot), and packed with a material high in surface area, but which takes up
      little space (pot scrubbers are good for this). It will result in an
      alcohol 95%+ pure (the theoretical limit without using a vacuum is 95.6%),
      with no other tastes or impurities in it.

      5) How do I get or make a still ?

      If you're after a pot still, these are generally home made using what-ever
      you have at hand - say copper tubing and old water heaters or pressure
      cookers. Reflux stills can be made from plans on the net, or bought from
      several manufacturers. For reflux stil plans see Stillmakers :
      http://stillmaker.dreamhost.com/ (free!) or Gert Strands :
      http://partyman.se/Engelsk/default.htm (US$5), or for a fractionating
      column see Nixon & Stones : http://www.gin-vodka.com/ (US$8). See the list
      of "web resources" below for links to sites selling ready-made stills.

      6) How do I make a whisky / vodka / rum ?

      Whiskey : Heat 4 kg cracked or crushed malt with 18 L of water to 63-65C,
      and hold there for 1-1.5 hours. Heat to 73-75C, then strain off and keep
      liquid, using 250 mL of hot water to rinse the grains. Cool to below 30C
      (should have an initial specific gravity of 1.050). Add hydrated yeast &
      leave to ferment (maintain at 26C) until airlock stops bubbling and final
      SG of around 1.010. Let settle for a day, then syphon carefully into a pot
      still. Discard the first 50 mL's, collect the next 2-3L of distillate or
      until you start noticing the tails coming through.
      Vodka : dissolve 5 kg of sugar & 60g of nutrients in 20L of water, cool to
      below 30C and add hydrated yeast. Leave to ferment at 25C until below an
      SG of around 0.990, then settle for a day. Syphon into a reflux or
      fractionating still, and collect as per usual.
      Rum : as per vodka, but use some brown sugar or mollasses, to give an
      initial specific gravity (SG) of around 1.06 - 1.07. Run through either a
      pot still, or a not-so-great reflux still.

      7) Should I use sugar or grains ?

      It depends on what sort of still you have, and what you are trying to make.
      If you have a reflux or fractionating still, only use whatever is cheapest
      (usually sugar), as the refluxing will strip out all the flavours anyhow.
      If you have a pot still, and are after a bourban or whiskey, then you need
      to go the grain route, or mollasses if after a rum. If you are trying to
      make a neutral spirit for flavouring, go for sugar.

      8) Can I use fruit wine ?

      Sure, if you have it available. Again, using a pot still will result in a
      brandy/grappa/schnapps, whereas a reflux still will just strip it down to
      neutral spirit.

      9) How do I get rid of that "off-taste" ?

      That "rough moonshine edge" or "off-taste / wet cardboard smell" is due to
      impurities such as the higher order alcohols, known as cogeners or fusel
      oils. These will be present more when using a pot still, less if using a
      reflux still, and just about absent if using a fractionating column. So
      one way is to use a taller packed column and increase the amount of reflux
      occuring. They can also indicate that you've tried to collect too much of
      the alcohol, and have run into the "tails"; so finish collecting a little
      bit earlier next time. Soaking tainted alcohol with activated carbon for a
      week (or even months) will help remove some of this flavour - this is known
      as "polishing" the spirit.

      10) How do I measure the strength of it & dilute it ?

      You need a hydrometer. This is a wee float, with a scale inside it. The
      more alcohol that is present, the lighter the density of the liquid, so the
      hydrometer sinks a bit lower. You then just read off the scale how much
      alcohol is present. You need a seperate hydrometer for measuring the
      density of the mash, as this is generally > 1.0, whereas the spirit is <
      1.0, and they can't accurately do both ends of the scale.

      11) How do I flavour/turn the vodka's into something else ?

      There are now many commercial flavourings available, which turn vodka or
      neutral alcohol into pretty decent gin or whiskey, or all manor of
      liqueurs. See the commercial sites, like Des Zines
      http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~topkiwi or Ray Toms http://moonshine.co.nz/
      for details.Or you can soak it with oak chips and make whiskey, or soak
      fruits in it to make your own liqueurs.

      12) What web resources are there ?

      For more details, see :
      Tony Ackland's http://www.geocities.com/kiwi_distiller
      Aaron Smiths's http://www.go.to/distillation
      Steve Spence's http://www.webconx.com/ethanol.htm

      13) How do I contact the NEW DISTILLERS news group ?

      Both the NEW DISTILLERS and the DISTILLERS news groups are available via
      Egroups, at http://www.egroups.com . NEW DISTILLERS is, as the name
      suggests, intended for those of you new to distilling and after simple,
      straight-forward discussions, whereas the DISTILLERS group is a bit more
      advanced, throwing in bits of design philosophy, theory, and alternative
      ways of achieving the results. Both tend to overlap to some extent.

      14) Can I run my car on it ?

      You can run your car on alcohol over about 80% purity. See Steve Spences
      site for more details. In addition, in the USA, you can get a "small fuel
      producer" permit, which allows small scale distilling for "motor fuel"
      purposes. A nice advantage is that they don't require denaturing for "fuel"
      used on the premises. The regulations are posted at

      15) How do I convert between gallons and litres and ....

      To convert between SI & Imperial units, multiply the first unit by the
      conversion factor to get the second. Divide back to do it in reverse .eg
      1L = 0.264 US gal, so 20 L = 20 x 0.264 = 5.28 US gal, and 20 US gal /
      0.264 = 75.76 L

      1 L = 0.264 US gal = 0.221 UK gal
      1 L = 1.057 US qt = 0.880 UK qt
      1 kg = 2.204 lbm = 32.15 oz (troy) = 35.27 oz (av)
      deg F = ((9/5) x deg C )+ 32
      1m = 1000 mm = 39.37 inch = 3.28 ft = 1.09 yd
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