Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

15844New Distillers FAQ

Expand Messages
  • Tony Ackland
    Apr 27, 2005
    • 0 Attachment
      New Distillers FAQ
      "NEW DISTILLERS" Frequently Asked Questions (Feb'03)

      Posted near the 1st of each month, to the NEW_DISTILLERS newsgroup
      at www.yahoogroups.com

      Please email any additions, corrections, clarifications required,
      etc regarding the FAQ to Tony Ackland
      (Tony.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 / gin ?
      7) Should I use sugar or grains ?
      8) Can I use fruit wine ?
      9) How do I make a Turbo-all-sugar wash ?
      10) How do I run a Pot still ?
      11) How do I run a Reflux still ?
      12) Can I use a reflux still to make rum or whisky ?
      13) How do I measure the strength of it & dilute it ?
      14) How do I get rid of that "off-taste" ?
      15) Why do my spirits turn cloudy when diluted ?
      16) How do I flavour/turn the vodka's into something else ?
      17) What web resources are there ?
      18) How do I contact the NEW DISTILLERS news group ?
      19) Can I run my car on it ?
      20) How do I convert between gallons and litres and ....
      21) What is a "Thumper" ?
      22) Can methylated spirits be made safe to drink ?


      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 careful. 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, and easily observed via changes in the vapour
      temperature. 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.

      The cases where you do hear about people poisoned by "illict
      spirits" have been the terrible situations where adulterants such as
      methanol, antifreeze, battery acid etc have been added to the
      spirits afterwards by unscrupulous sellers (for what misguided
      reasons ??). If you have had a healthy fermentation take place, it
      is infact very difficult to make methanol. The other problems have
      been lead poisoning when people have used lead-based products (ie
      lead solder) when constructing their still, instead of something
      more appropriate for food-grade vessels. The rules should infact
      be "dont buy spirits from an unknown supplier" - but its very safe
      to distill for yourself.

      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 96.48 %(by volume)), 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. You don't really need any plans for these -
      just follow any of the photos about.

      Reflux stills can be made from plans on the net, or bought from
      several manufacturers. For reflux still plans see
      The photos section at http://homedistiller.org/photos-ns.htm
      for "Offset head" designs, and http://homedistiller.org/photos-
      reflux.htm for general reflux stills.
      Alex's designs at
      StillCookers http://us.geocities.com/stillcooker/
      Stillmakers "Build a World Class Distillation Apparatus" at
      http://www.Moonshine-Still.com (Free!) or
      Gert Strands : http://partyman.se/Engelsk/default.htm (US$5).
      Ian Smileys "Making Pure Corn Whisky" at http://www.home-
      distilling.com , with full design details.

      For an excellent book on all aspects of still design, see "The
      Compleat Distiller" at http://www.amphora-society.com.
      See the list of "web resources" below for links to sites selling
      ready-made stills.

      For fuel alcohol stills see the Mother Earth Alcohol Fuel manual at
      .html, and the The Manual for the Home and Farm Production of
      Alcohol Fuel by S.W. Mathewson at
      Regarding the choice of heating for the still - if you have 240V
      available it is usually easiest to control & safer (particularly
      with internal elements). Gas can be used, but more care is needed to
      keep the collection container further away and not letting it

      For more details on design, see http://homedistiller.org/designs.htm
      and http://homedistiller.org/refluxdesign.htm.

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

      Whiskey : Heat 4 kg cracked or crushed malt with 18 L of water to 63-
      65 °C, and hold there for 1-1.5 hours. Heat to 73-75 °C, then strain
      off and keep liquid, using 250 mL of hot water to rinse the grains.
      Cool to below 30 °C (should have an initial specific gravity of
      1.050). Add hydrated yeast & leave to ferment (maintain at 26 °C)
      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. Many people also have
      sucess starting with a beer-kit instead of using grains.

      Vodka : dissolve 5 kg of sugar & 60 g of nutrients in 20 L of water,
      cool to below 30C and add hydrated yeast. Leave to ferment at 25 °C
      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 1.060 - 1.070. Run
      through either a pot still, or a de-refluxed reflux still.

      Gin : make a very pure vodka, then add the following essence. Simmer
      35 g of juniper berries in 350 mL of 50% vodka for ten minutes with
      the lid on, let cool overnight, then filter through coffee filters.
      Use 5-10 mL of this essence per bottle of vodka.

      When doing any fermenting, take a lot of care to ensure that any
      items used are clean/sterile (soaking them in a water + bleach (10
      mL per litre) ), or else the wash can start growing other things.
      Use a closed fermenter with an airlock too, to let the CO2 out
      without letting wild yeasts, bugs etc in. For more information about
      fermenting, see beer or wine homebrewing sites.

      7) Should I use sugar or grains/fruit ?

      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.

      Basic guidelines for using them are ..

      SUGAR. Wine yeast can use no more than 2.5lbs of sugar/1imp gal or
      2.2lb/1U.S.gal or 1.25kg/5litres of must. This will produce 14%
      a.b.v. Honey and liquid malt extract are 80% sugar so you need
      1.5kg/5l must or mash. Molasses is 50% sugar so you need 2.5kg/5l
      must or mash. Maple syrup is 32% sugar. Carob beans are 45% sugar.
      Sugar beets are 15% sugar Grain malt is 60% sugar (starch converted
      to sugars) so you need 1.5kg/5l mash. Cooked grain contains 60%
      convertible starch so you need 1.5kg/5l mash

      FRUIT - Grapes contain the ideal sugar, water, acid balance. A sugar
      content of 17-23% and a water content of about 80%. 8kg of grapes
      produces 5l of wine.
      Most common fruits (apples, plums, apricots) contain about 10% sugar
      and 85% water. Cherries and figs contain 15% sugar. A fruit mash
      could be 4kg fruit, (400g sugar content), 2l water (3l in pulp
      already), 800g additional sugar.
      Bananas are 17-24% sugar, 75% water. Acid content 0.3%. A banana
      mash could be 4kg of cooked bananas, 2l water (3l in pulp
      already),400g sugar. Add 3lemons/5l for correct pH.
      Dates are 70% sugar, 20% water. Add acid to a date mash.
      Raisins and sultanas have a water content of about 15% and a sugar
      content of 60%, grapes have a water content of 75% and a sugar
      content of about 20%, so using 1.5-2kg/5l of water appears about
      right if we want to reconstitute them.

      ACID - 5g of citric acid (1tsp)/5l must raises acidity by 0.1%. 3g
      of calcium carbonate powder lowers acidity by 0.1%. A pH of 5 is
      0.4% acidity. Winemakers aim for 0.6% acidity. Most common fruits
      are about 0.6% acid content. For distilling, a higher acidity in the
      mash helps to suppress bacteria. A high tannin content doesn't
      matter as we are not making wine. Meaurements are logarithmic, so a
      pH of 4 is 10 times more acidic than a pH of 5.

      YEAST - Brewers (& possibly baker's yeast) can tolerate only 8%
      alcohol. A bottom fermenting lager yeast ferments out all the sugars
      better than a top fermenting ale yeast. A good wine yeast
      (Champagne, in the right conditions, can tolerate 15%a.b.v. (up to
      18%a.b.v. in optimal conditions - no need to use expensive turbos).
      Wild yeasts vary, but some are very low - this is a risky path.
      Whisky distillers often use a combination of yeasts - initially a
      brewer's yeast because they believe it effects the flavor.

      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 make a Turbo-all-sugar wash ?

      The first trick is to locate the "Turbo" yeasts - either try the New
      Zealand sites, or www.brewhaus.com. Then, dissolve 5-6 kg of sugar
      with 2-3 L of boiling water, top up to 25 L with cold water, wait
      until its cooled below 24 °C, and then stir the yeast in, and close
      the lid with an airlock. Keep at 24 °C until the SG has dropped
      below 1.010 Its then possible to add extra sugar (1 kg at a time,
      dissolved in a little water) each time the SG has dropped below
      1.010. You should be able to add an extra 3-4 kg this way over a
      week. It should finish around 0.980 - 0.990

      10) How do I run a Pot Still ?

      See http://homedistiller.org/dtw.htm#use_pot for details. A pot
      still is fairly straight forward to use. Turn it on. Once the
      temperature is up to about 60 °C turn on the cooling water to the
      condensor. Make sure you throw away the first 1 00 mL per 20L wash,
      as this will contain any methanol that might be present. Segregate
      the distillate into 500 mL lots as it comes off. Only keep (for
      drinking) that which doesn't contain fusels (smell off) - probably
      below about 92 ° C, however you should keep distilling past here,
      untill about 96 ° C, as this fraction, although high in tails and
      not good for drinking this time, can be added back to the next wash
      and cleaned up OK then.

      11) How do I run a Reflux / Fractionating Still ?

      See http://homedistiller.org/dtw.htm#use_reflux for details +/or
      variations. It is best to first equilibriate the column under total
      reflux for 10 minutes or so. This will concentrate up the foreshots
      so that they can be removed first. Collect them one drip at a time,
      for approx 50 mL per 25L wash, and throw away. You can then collect
      the remaining run at a quicker rate. Adjust the reflux ratio (the
      ratio of how much of the total vapour is returned as reflux) by
      varying either the rate of collection or rate of cooling water
      (depending on still design) to maintain the purity you want. You can
      judge the purity by measuring the vapour temperature. Target around
      78.2 - 78.4 °C . Towards the end of the run it will be hard to get a
      high enough reflux ratio to maintain the high purity / low
      temperature. When the temperature has nudged up to around 80 °C quit
      collecting for drinking, and collect the remainder as tails (for
      redistillation in the next run) up to around 96 °C .

      12) Can I use a Reflux Still to make Rum or Whisky ?

      Yes you can. To do so, you need to carefully monitor the various
      transitions between the foreshots, heads, middle run, and tails, and
      time the collection of the middle run precisely. The reflux still
      allows you to more precisely judge the changes between the various
      stages, and hence target them accurately. A typical rum or whisky
      would be obtained by discarding the foreshots, then collecting the
      heads, middle run, and then begin the tails, until the purity has
      dropped to around 58-60% (82 °C). By altering when to start
      collecting, and how late to time the final "cut", various flavour
      profiles will result. You'd collect it faster and at a slightly
      lower reflux ratio than for a neutral spirit, as you want the
      flavour present.

      13) 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.

      14) 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. I'm also suspecting that you need a
      little bit of copper somewhere in the still where it can come in
      contact with the vapour. The copper helps catalyse some of the
      sulphur, esters & organic acids, reducing their odour & taste.

      15) Why do my spirits turn cloudy when diluted ?

      With neutral spirits, either you have pushed 'tails' into your
      product (eg collected too much product from the still - quit earlier
      next time), or you are using poor tap-water (high in calcium
      carbonate). If it happens when diluting your gin, sambuca or the
      like, its because there is too little alcohol/too much oil present
      and the oils are no longer dissolved. Either drink it cloudy or
      increase the % alcohol present.

      16) 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. There are many websites describing how to make liqueurs -
      see http://homedistiller.org/liqueurs.htm or
      http://www.guntheranderson.com for a starting point.

      17) What web resources are there ?

      For more details, see :
      Tony Ackland's http://homedistiller.org
      Aaron Smiths's http://www.go.to/distillation
      Steve Spence's http://webconx.green-trust.org/ethanol.htm
      StillMaker's http://www.Moonshine-Still.com
      Biofuels Library http://journeytoforever.org/biofuel_library.html

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

      Both the NEW DISTILLERS and the DISTILLERS news groups are available
      via YahooGroups, at http://www.yahoogroups.com . NEW DISTILLERS is,
      as the name suggests, intended for those of you new to distilling
      and after simple, straight-forward answers to questions, whereas the
      DISTILLERS group discussions are 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.

      19) Can I run my car on it ?

      You can run your car on alcohol over about 80% purity. Because any
      water present will seperate out in the presence of the gasoline (and
      become a problem), you either need to exclusively use the alcohol,
      or dry it right out (eg 99%+ purity) if using it to mix with
      gasoline. See Steve Spences site for more details, the Mother Earth
      Alcohol Fuel manual, or the The Manual for the Home and Farm
      Production of Alcohol Fuel. 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 http://webconx.green-trust.org/ethanol.htm

      20) 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

      21) What is a "Thumper" ?

      A "thumper" is an extra chamber sometimes fitted to a pot still. It
      can be as simple as a glass jar with two holes in the lid. The off-
      take from the still is fed into it, with the pipe running almost all
      the way to the bottom of the jar; the jar is half filled with liquid
      (water or mash or tails) so that the vapour from the still will
      bubble up through it; then the vapour coming off it is collected &
      cooled as per normal. It acts as a second distilling chamber using
      just the heat from the vapour, and lifts the purity from 50-60% to
      70-80%, hence improving what might otherwise be a very mediocre
      design. Don't make the thumper too small, and start it off with
      liquid already high in alcohol.

      22) Can Methylated Spirits be made safe to Drink ?

      No. Methylated spirits (aka meths) is a mixture of ethanol and
      (poisonous) methanol, with a denturant added to make it foul
      tasting. There is no effective way of seperating them, be it by
      distilling, using carbon, or filtering through bread (old wives
      tale). Do not add meths to anything you ever intend to distill or
      drink, and don't try using it in any form - it will still be
      poisonous. Keep it for cleaning and starting the BBQ with. Likewise,
      you cant "clean up" antifreeze in your still.
    • Show all 29 messages in this topic