Historically, people have distilled grappas, spirits, water, and essential oils in their homes for centuries. The copper stills we have come to know as “whiskey stills” or “moonshine stills” are old designs that have been in use around the world for a long time. It wasn’t really until the late 19th century that they developed their nickname and reputation.
There are many legends, myths, and downright lies about owning a whiskey still, using a still to make non-alcohol products, and distilling moonshine or other alcohols at home. Know your facts about distilling laws, and don’t settle for lies.
Still ownership law is overseen by a department in the US Treasury - the Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau. US Federal law states that it is legal for anyone to own a still or distilling equipment if it is used for “legal purposes.” This means that if you are a collector or are interested in having a whiskey still as a decoration, you do not need to apply for any federal licenses or register your still. You may simply continue to use it for legal purposes.
Federal law also sees the distillation of non-alcoholic products as a “legal purpose.” If you are using your still to distill water or essential oils, you also do not need to apply for any federal permit or register the still.
Copper stills are often also used in chemistry laboratories, and for various scientific experiments and procedures. If you own and use a “moonshine still” (any design of distilling equipment) for these purposes, you do not need to register or license your still.
One of the most common misconceptions is that federal law says that people can’t own stills larger than 1 gallon. But, federal law clearly states that a person can own any size still for a legal purpose.
Another myth is that if you own a whiskey or moonshine still, you are not allowed to keep it in your home, and must keep it outside or in a special building (like a shed or barn) - even if you never operate the still.
This is also false. Federal distilling law does not place regulations on how you must keep or care for a still that is being used for legal purposes like decoration, collection, or safe distilling of water and botanical oils.
Own whatever size still you like and get permits for any alcohol distilling
Now, owning a moonshine or whiskey still to use for “legal purposes” like decoration and distilling water may not require a permit or licensing, but if you plan to distill, distribute, consume, and sell any alcoholic product from your copper still, you want to have the proper permits beforehand.
There are 2 types of federal distillation permits:
With so many ethanol-fuel-powered machines on the market today, some people have chosen to produce their own alcohol-based fuel at home. To do so, apply for the Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit, which is inexpensive and easy to obtain. Moonshine still owners with this permit cannot distill “consumable” alcohol - only alcohol-based fuel.
One of the most obvious, and popular, reasons for owning a moonshine or whiskey still is to distill some type of alcohol - be it bourbon, vodka, whiskey, grappas, or moonshine.
If you want to distill spirits at home to consume yourself or share with others, you must first apply for a Federal Distilled Spirits Permit. The permit requires a hefty fee, in addition to regulated inspections of your distillation equipment and facility.
If you want to bottle, sell, and market your spirits, you should make sure to read all the preparations you need to consider about your consumer product. Check out the TTB’s helpful guide to Getting Started in the Distilled Spirits Industry.
Each state has its own legislation about at-home distillation. Some states (like Missouri) allow citizens over age 21 to distill alcohol at home without any permits or licenses at all, and other states (like Florida) do not even allow citizens to own distilling equipment unless they have obtained the proper state permit.
Federal law takes precedence and overrides any state law that does not agree with it.
For example, Missouri citizens still need to obtain a federal permit in order to distill spirits, but they do not need to obtain additional permits from the state. On the other hand, a Florida citizen who wants to own a still for decoration (but not to distill any alcohol) does not need to obtain a federal permit, but would need to obtain the proper license from the state of Florida.
State laws about owning and using distillation equipment are available on the website for your state’s government. Begin your search with this list of State-by-State Distilling Laws from the Hobby Distiller’s Association. You can also use USA.gov to search for the current information on your state's website.
Once you are sure that you have the proper license at the federal level, and you confirm that you are in compliance with your state laws about at-home distilling, you want to also check with your county and city statutes. You never know until you look if your specific county, parish, city, or township may have local certifications, licenses, or permits that are needed to operate your moonshine still at home.
USA.gov can also be used to quickly find information from your local government websites.
1920s cops were always on the lookout for illegal moonshiners
The truth about distilling and the law is: It’s easy to stay within the lines of the law when you know what they are. The first step in beginning your alcohol production at home is to do your research about the law and the consequences of breaking it.
Your moonshine still can be enjoyed for a number of things, and should always be enjoyed responsibly.
Article by: Jim Thomas
“Moonshine” is distilled from the fermented sugar of a malt grains like oats, cornmeal, or wheat. A strong alcohol, the recipe for moonshine is very basic, which is why it has been popular throughout the years as something that can be made by amateur and professional distillers alike. While there are many successful (and delicious!) recipes for moonshine, here is a basic one that can be altered to fit the ingredients you have available or your taste preferences.
To make moonshine, you will combine your grains in an enclosed chamber with a fermenter, such as sugar or yeast. Add water, and you have a mixture that is called a “mash.” Mashes are used for other alcohols as well, such as whiskey. You’ll leave your mash in the chamber for a limited amount of time, to allow the sugars in the grains to turn into alcohol.
Before distilling, you can filter the solid husks and plant matter out of the mash. If you remove these solid materials, the liquid that is left is often called the moonshine or whiskey “wash.”
Either a mash or a wash can be distilled, so that the alcohol is separated from the water, and you can enjoy your own fine homemade whiskey.
Tips for Moonshine Mashes:
Basic Moonshine Mash Recipe
Because moonshine has often been made in secret, there are no standardized measurements for the different ingredients in moonshine - it can be a process of trial and error to find a recipe that you like and that works well in your moonshine still.
Most people have used 5-gallon grain buckets to measure grains over the years, and that is often still a typical measurement given, because stills are also measured in gallons
Some recipes call for yeast, while others call for sugar. Ours, however, requires a bit of both. After a few runs, you may find that one type of fermenter over the other is right for you.
It’s best if you can use distilled water to make your moonshine mash, because you know that distilled water will not add any impurities that could throw off the fermentation process, or the flavor or alcohol content of your final product.
In a fermentation chamber, combine approximately 5 pounds of sugar with 1-2 gallons of malt grain. Add warm water until the sugar dissolves - the water should be warm enough to dissolve the sugar but not hot enough that it kills the yeast.
Stir the mixture as the sugar dissolves. Continue stirring as you add the remaining grains, sugar, and water. Keep stirring until all sugar dissolves.
Cover the fermentation container, while still allowing the mash to “breathe.” The mash can take 2 weeks or so for all the yeast to have turned as much sugar into alcohol as possible, if you let this process (called “clearing” the mash) happen naturally. However, you can use a product like Turbo Clear to shorten your fermentation time to as little as 4 days.
When the bubbles are large and slow to move to the top of the container, you might check to see if your mash is ready to distill. Distill the mash or wash in a clean, high-quality copper still, and your final moonshine should be between 90 and 140 proof, depending on the alcohol by volume of the mash.
Moonshines can be flavored during the mash, and there are hundreds of recipes that describe how to add varying ingredients to achieve different textures, flavors, and potencies of moonshine.
Moonshines can also be flavored after distillation, by having fruit soak in a container of moonshine for a number of days, then straining out the solid materials. Flavored moonshines can be combined into cocktails, and are even used in recipes for stews, desserts, dressings, and more.
There is no end to the uses for this versatile, easy-to-make, and strong-willed alcohol. Enjoy trying different moonshine recipes, and always enjoy your moonshine responsibly.
Article by: Jim Thomas
Alcohol distillation is an ancient process that is both an art and a science. It’s easy, but not as easy as simply turning it on and watching it go. Diligent distillers know that you have to keep an eye on the temperature control when distilling, and you also have to keep an eye on the final product - the distillate - so that you can make the safest and best tasting spirit.
One trick of the experts that makes their product so good is their practiced and precise “cuts” during the still’s run. A “cut” is when you switch the containers that are catching the distillate coming out of the condenser coil. You “cut” the alcohol stream dripping from the condenser coil when switching from a jar which contains distillate to an empty one. But, the timing of when you make these cuts is very, very important in producing a spirit that anyone will want to drink.
You may have heard old legends about how moonshine will “make you go blind.” Even though this is an exaggeration, it is true that moonshine that isn’t made well can make you sick. Read our run-down on how to distill whiskey and moonshine, to get an overview of safety measures you should take throughout the run. Be aware of alcohols that are being produced during the different stages of your moonshine run, so that you can avoid earning any reputation for your moonshine as being unsafe.
You may need more than one container for each stage of the run, so make sure to label each appropriately. If you have multiple containers for each stage of the run, that’s okay. Consider only a change of containers as a “cut” if you are going from one stage of the run to another.
At each stage of the run, different alcohols are vaporized and make their way into the collection cup. The alcohol that makes fine, high-quality moonshine, is ethanol, which boils at a temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Other chemicals and types of alcohols, such as methanol, boil at lower temperatures and will be collected in your cup or jar after being condensed in the coil. These chemicals are poisonous. Not only will they ruin the taste of your moonshine (or whatever alcohol you’re distilling), if they make their way into your final product, they can make people very ill.
Generally, distillers make the first cut in the run when the temperature in the still’s pot reaches approximately 175-180 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the ethanol in the wash will begin to vaporize, and you can be sure that the distillate collected before that point contains most of the methanol and other poisonous compounds. After making the first cut, throw away the contents of your first container.
The contents of this first container of all the distillate collected before your run reaches this temperature are called the “foreshots.” The foreshots should ultimately be about 10% of the final amount of your distilling run. It is always best to make the cut a little later rather than earlier, to be sure that all the poisonous chemicals are tossed out.
As the temperature continues to increase, ethanol will boil, and you will be distilling real spirits. But, while the temperature in the still’s pot is climbing through the range of about 175 degrees Fahrenheit to about 185 degrees Fahrenheit, the distillate will still contain many traces of non-ethanol chemicals that can make your final product have a bit more “bite” and flavor if they are added to it.
For a product like whiskey or Scotch, this might be ideal, because the complexity of those alcohols comes from the combination of trace chemicals. However, for a product like moonshine or vodka, which are ideally flavorless, trace chemicals alter and affect the taste of your product negatively.
The second cut you will make in your run will be around the 185 - 190 degree temperature range. The distillate collected after the foreshots and before the second cut is called the “heads” of the run. Set the heads aside for further distillation, or to combine the right amount with your final distillate to flavor the alcohol the way you like.
The heads should total about 20-30%% of the final amount of your run. It’s always best to make this cut a little later, rather than earlier, and collect some of the hearts with your heads, instead of the other way around.
The best part of the run is the distillate that contains the most ethanol. This is called the “hearts” section of your run. Many professionals and long-time distillers agree that this is the portion of the run from about 190 degrees Fahrenheit to about 200 or 205 degrees. Of course, it depends on the still.
Although the boiling point of ethanol is 175 degrees Fahrenheit, the mash in your still is not pure ethanol. Depending on the ingredients and other factors, you should expect that most of the pure ethanol in your run is boiling off when the still’s pot shows higher temperature than 175.
The hearts will probably total to 30% or so of the final amount of your alcohol run. It is always better to make this cut early, to keep the hearts as pure as possible. It’s better to mix some hearts into your tails, than some tails into your hearts.
After the run reaches about 205 degrees Fahrenheit or so, there may be more steam that makes its way into your distillate. There may also be other chemicals that burn at a higher temperature than ethanol, which can give this portion of the distillate a flavor that isn’t quite what you’re after. This part of the run is called the “tails” and can total as much as 20-30% of your run. Set the tails aside to be further distilled.
At 212 degrees Fahrenheit, water boils. When the temperature in the pot of your still reaches 212 degrees, you can go ahead and turn off the heat source for your still. The temperature inside should maintain itself for a little while longer, then the temperature at the top of the column (the “onion head”) should suddenly drop, signalling the end of your run.
You can keep collecting whatever distillate comes out of the condenser coil, but it’s not worth boiling the water to get every drop of alcohol out of the alcohol wash. You’ll end up with a lot of water in your tails, which will just be distilled out again anyhow.
Allow your still to cool before disassembling, cleaning, and storing it for your next run.
Mason jars are the traditional containers for moonshine distilling
The containers of heads and tails that you set aside are referred to as the “feints.” You have two options for these: you can add them into the wash with your next run, or you can distill them by themselves. If you don’t want to mix different recipes or flavors from various mashes, you might distill the feints in a smaller-size still after each alcohol run. Some people collect their feints for several runs, then do an all-feints run in a larger still; this is called the “queen’s share.” Just to be safe, you still throw out the foreshots in a queen’s share run.
It may take some practice before you learn the unique characteristics of your still that will tell you when to cut your alcohol run. During each run, take notes on the temperature of the still when you make your cut, you might also note observations like the color, clarity, flavor, and texture of the distillate during the different stages of a run, which can help you repeat successful runs and figure out where you went wrong in a batch that isn’t up to your standards.
Always enjoy your alcohol distilled at home safely and responsibly. Follow the law, practice safe distilling, and learn to maximize the hearts in each run, and you’ll be able to enjoy your moonshine with a smile.
Article by: Jim Thomas
Photo credit: Luann Snider Photography
There are a few methods of distilling, but the most common include pot boiling and steam distillation. The most common thing distilled around the world is water - which is used in medical facilities, laboratories, and other situations where clean water is of the utmost importance. And many types of bottled water are distilled to improve taste. However, the next most distilled thing is alcohol, or spirits. Although if you plan to distill spirits in your home in the US, you need the right permits and licenses, but anyone can own a distill and enjoy it distilling water or essential oils.
Essential oils are often distilled by steam, since their delicate plant matters cannot withstand direct boiling. And there are many botanicals that are too delicate even for steam distillation.
You should make sure to do your research on essential oils before you attempt to distill, so that you are sure to use the right method to extract the essential oil you need. Check out our beginner’s guide to essential oils to get you started.
Distilling whiskey, moonshine, or other spirits is not necessarily an easy process, but it is not difficult either. Follow a few essential steps, add your own style, and you can develop a fine distilling operation with a little practice.
After your copper still arrives, you will need to fully clean and prepare it for its first use. Cleaning a copper still inside and out is as simple as using a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and warm water, and a lot of elbow grease. You will want to rinse it well with hot water after scrubbing all parts with a new, unused toilet brush or carboy brush, and dry all parts thoroughly.
Lastly, you will perform a vinegar run to thoroughly cleanse and sterilize all parts of the copper still. While making sure to safely set up your still on its heat source, fill the pot to 20% capacity with a mix of clean water and white vinegar. Heat the still without cooling the condenser coil so that the hot vinegar and steam come out of the coil into the collection cup. Once you have reached that temperature, you know that the entire interior of the still has been thoroughly cleaned.
Allow the copper still to cool before rinsing with hot water, drying, disassembling, and storing. It is not ready to distill whatever you want.
The plant materials that are fermented to produce the final alcoholic product you are looking for is called the “mash.” If you don’t have a trusted mash recipe when you buy your still, you can choose from one of the hundreds available.
Whiskey and moonshine mashes are composed of a grain - such as oats, barley, or wheat - and something to turn the natural sugar in the grain into alcohol. Yeast, sugar, and water are often the only other ingredients. Mashes often need to sit and be mixed for 14-30 days, in a separate and sealed and vented container.
You can infuse a mash with flavors from the beginning, and some alcohols are so exclusive to their recipes that if you don’t follow the recipe exactly, you can’t call it that drink.
Scotch, for example, has to be 100% from Scotland, made in Scotland using Scottish ingredients. It also includes a recipe where the oats are dried and smoked over an open peat-moss fire - that is what gives Scotch its unique flavor and uniquely qualifies a drink as true Scotch.
When you’re getting ready to distill alcohol, water, or essential oils at home, you need to be aware of the safety concerns, and the risks of working with high heat and alcohol vapor, and the importance of never using plastic tools and materials.
You might want to consider having a fire extinguisher at hand. You definitely need plenty of cold water or ice packs for your condenser coil, and make sure to have at least one thermometer to help you control the temperature of your distillation. You will also want to have thermal gloves, and might even consider eye protection. See our list of 7 Safety Tips for Distilling at Home for more.
You will make a flour paste to keep the alcohol vapor in your still from escaping through the seams during the distillation process. This is a huge safety concern, because alcohol vapors can be flammable and you can create a potentially explosive environment if they escape. It is also a huge concern for maintaining the quality of your final distillate. In order to keep your final whiskey or moonshine at its best quality, you want all the seams to be sealed shut. See our recipe for an easy do-it-yourself flour rye flour paste that will help you run all your distillations at peak performance.
The day you perform your actual distillation run has come and you’re ready to make some moonshine. Grab your mash, and follow these instructions:
Begin by setting your clean still equipment up on your heat source in a well ventilated area, with all your safety tools at hand. Make sure your still is secure and your condenser coil prepped with a coolant system of packed ice, running cold water, or frozen water bottles. You want your collection container on a flat surface, if possible, and you never want to use plastic. Mason jars, ceramic or metal containers are all traditional collection cups for moonshine distilling.
Pour the mash into the pot of the still, leaving space at the top. We recommend about 4 inches for a 10 gallon copper still. You will not need to apply flour paste yet, but have it ready. Pour your mash into your copper moonshine still, leaving space at the top.
Turn on the heat source and increase until you can hear the mash boiling or the pipe connecting the still’s onion head and condenser is hot to the touch. When the temperature reaches about 100 degrees in the still pot and the copper has begun to get warm to the touch, apply the flour paste to the seams between the pot, the column, and the condenser coil (if there is one). If you notice any other small leaks you might try using some flour paste to seal them, but if there are any large cracks or problems with steam and escaping, stop distilling immediately and have the still inspected by a coppersmith.
Many old-time moonshiners know when the still has reached the right temperature by watching the amount of the distillate. You want to see a steady flow into the collection cup - not a stream or a slow drip, but a steady drip of 1-2 drops every second or two. It is most helpful to have two thermometers to monitor the temperature in both the still pot and at the top of the column or in the onion head, just before the condenser coil. You can monitor the temperature of the condenser coil by touch - it should always be cool while the still is running. If the coil reaches room temperature or gets warm, immediately cool it with cold running water or ice packs. If it gets hot to the touch, stop distilling immediately.
Start applying high heat to your copper whiskey still, Lower the heat, and monitor the temperature at the top of the onion head. Keep it between 174 Fahrenheit and 190 Fahrenheit by adjusting your heat source.
In addition to taking note of the temperature of your run in order to tell about its different stages, you will also want to pay attention to the look, feel, and smell of your moonshine or other final product. Using a notebook or other recording device to document what the distillate was like at different temperatures in the run can help you know how to make better cuts in the future, as well as get more familiar with what a “successful” run looks like for your still. (Each still has its own personality, and it may take a few times of using it before you realize any peculiarities in its temperament. Like a fine car or a well-loved tool, be patient and you will be able to learn what you need to know to make each run successful.)
Continually check the still for vapor leaks and patch your flour paste as needed. Be careful not to burn yourself on the hot metal or any steam from the condenser coil or unsealed seams.
For safety reasons, as well as practical ones, you can’t collect everything from your moonshine run into one container. Make sure you become familiar with what it means to “cut” your run while distilling, so that you can produce high-quality, enjoyable moonshine and whiskey.
The most important cut in your run is the first one - always collect the “foreshots” in a separate container. Because methanol boils off at a lower temperature there is a lot of it in the early part of your run. Methanol is poisonous and should not be consumed by people. By collecting all the foreshots in one container, you can be sure to keep the methanol out of your moonshine, keeping it safe for anyone who drinks it. Always throw out the foreshots once you have made your first cut.
When the run is over, the temperature in the onion head will suddenly drop, and the condenser will stop dripping alcohol. Although there may still be some alcohol left in the mash in the still pot, the effort that it would take to get the alcohol out isn’t worth it. You can run the still a little longer, but all the portions of your tails will be added to a future distilling run so you can further purify them and turn them into hearts.
After the run is complete, let your still cool completely before disassembling and cleaning it. You should be able to chip the dried flour paste off the seams easily, but it will dissolve fully once the still is washed.You will want to empty the mash carefully outdoors - choose a spot in your yard where you don’t mind if the grass turns brown, as the mash will likely kill it quickly.
To wash and fully clean your copper still, use a mixture of hot water and white vinegar, and make sure to scrub all surface areas on the interior. Rinse the still and dry it before storing for your next distillation.
Making alcohol can be both fun and challenging, and there are several ways to get the formula right. Whether distilling whiskey, moonshine, vodka, or some other spirit, a good distillation run always results in a toast to a job well done.
Article by: Jim Thomas
Photo credits: Leslie Kalohi
Make your own rye flour dough to use in distilling
Distilling alcohol can be fun, but it can also be dangerous. One of the most important considerations to make is that when you heat alcohol, you deal with flammable alcohol vapors. In addition to making your distilling environment unsafe, these alcohol vapors are what condense back into the moonshine or whiskey you have so-painstakingly been producing. So, it’s essential that these vapors don’t escape from your still during the distilling process.
The main way that distillers lose these vapors is through leaks at the seams between the parts of a still. If the onion head is not properly sealed to the pot or to the column, alcohol vapor will escape. Luckily, it is easy to seal these seams using common household ingredients: flour and water.
There are many different recipes for flour paste that can be used to seal the seams of a still. Some distillers claim that store-bought dough will work just as well as the paste you make yourself at home, but opinions vary.
Rye flour holds moisture differently than wheat flour, and is a tried-and-true ingredient in most flour paste recipes. However, if you don’t have rye flour available and you’re going to try using wheat flour, that’s fine. You can also try adding a small amount of oatmeal to the wheat flour paste to achieve a thicker texture and better seal.
You will need:
Mix the water into the flour until the texture begins to resume window putty. You don’t want it too flaky or too tacky, so continue mixing until the paste is moldable into different shapes. Roll the putty into long strips, like snakes, and use them to seal the seam between the onion head and the pot, as well as along the condenser coil if need be. You can apply several layers if you need to.
Place the flour paste on the copper still as it is heating. Generally, applying it before the temperature reaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. The paste will harden as the copper heats, but it should retain moisture on the inside of the still, causing an insulating effect. Don’t worry if some of the flour paste goes inside the still’s seam - it shouldn't affect the taste or quality of your final distillate.
After running your still, allow all the copper to cool before disassembling and cleaning it. Your dried flour paste should easily flake off the copper still, but use a mild soap and water mix on a sponge or washcloth to remove all residue.
If you make more flour paste mix than you need to seal your still for this moonshine run, keep the remainder in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. It may dry out slightly, but adding some water and re-mixing it before your next run should bring it back to life. Unused flour paste can be stored for approximately 30 days, but always follow any recommendations on the packaging.
Making a flour paste to use in distilling is a simple, but important, part of running a safe and efficient moonshine still. With common ingredients and a little elbow grease, you will run your still at ideal conditions.
Photo by: Shawn
When you purchase your copper whiskey still, you will be struck by its beauty, shine, and sturdy design. As striking as it looks, what a copper still was made for is making fine distilled products.
Whiskey and moonshine stills for sale online typically arrive at your home in pieces, ready to be assembled and to begin producing the finest spirits, distilled water, and essential oils. Or so you might think.
After manufacture, copper stills are not always cleaned. In addition, a still may come into contact with dust on the road while being shipped to you, which will contaminate your whiskey production. Even if your still was sterile when made, it is probably not sanitary when it arrives to you. Before you begin using it to produce any consumer products, you will want to thoroughly wash, clean, and prepare your moonshine still.
After you order the copper whiskey still that’s the right size and design for your needs, take a trip to the store to pick up some white vinegar. A lot of it. About as many gallons as your still’s capacity - so, buy 10 gallons of white vinegar if you bought a 10 gallon whiskey still. You may not need it all at once, but the investment will be worth it in the long run.
Once your whiskey still arrives, and you have checked all the pieces thoroughly for defects or anything questionable, you want to clean each piece before assembling the still.
Mix a solution of 50% hot water and 50% vinegar. Fill the pot still approximately half-way with this mixture, and use a brand-new, never-before-used toilet brush to scrub the inside entirely. Use additional water-vinegar mixture and a carboy cleaning brush to scrub the condenser coil and onion head, as thoroughly as possible. Rinse clean.
After this initial cleaning, set everything aside to dry thoroughly. You are now ready for your vinegar run.
Performing a vinegar run on the still before actually running any product through it is the best way prepare all the inner surfaces of your still. Make sure they are clean and ready for use, or your final distillate will end up with microorganisms and trace materials that cause off-flavors or strange scents.
Fill the pot of your still to about 20% capacity with a mixture of 50% white vinegar and 50% clean water. That’s about 1 gallon of the mixture in a 5 gallon still, or 2 gallons in a 10 gallon still. Use distilled water for this mixture, if you have some available.
Set up your whiskey still on its heat source. Assemble your still as if you were going to make a moonshine or whiskey run. Seal the seams with your flour-paste mixture, so you can observe your paste’s durability and fine-tune that recipe if you need to. This will also help you check your seals for leaks, which you should be prepared to take care of before you start distilling any product. Set up the collection container, although you won’t be keeping any of the liquid from the vinegar run.
For your vinegar run, you do not want to set up your cooling system for the condenser coil. You want the hot vinegar to run through the coil so that it cleans as much of the interior of the coil as possible.
Turn on the heat and bring the water and vinegar mixture to a boil. Keep an eye on the thermometer and adjust the temperature as needed. You may see steam come out of the condenser coil and liquid begin to collect in the collection cup when the onion head reaches around 170 degrees Fahrenheit. However, you can take the temperature up to a level where the water will boil, when the onion head reads about 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Keep in mind, at that temperature your copper moonshine still will be extremely hot, and the steam can cause substantial burns. Be sure to always use proper safety equipment.
Once the onion head thermometer on your still has been at a temperature over 170 degrees Fahrenheit for about 5 minutes, and hot steam and water-vinegar mixture have been coming out of the condenser coil, you can turn off the heat. Keep a large container available to continue to collect any liquid which drips from the coil, but you should see less as the temperature in the still gradually decreases.
Allow the entire still to cool before disassembling, to avoid serious injury. Empty the water-vinegar mixture and towel-dry the interior of the still’s pot and onion head as much as possible. You might run some cool, clean water through the condenser coil as well, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.
Your copper moonshine still is now be ready to produce the fine products you have been looking forward to.
You can perform a vinegar run as often as you want, but most distillers use it as a deep-clean on their most used stills about twice per year. Set a date on your calendar to regularly clean your still with a vinegar run if you will be using your still to regularly produce the same product.
If you are using the same still to produce multiple distillates, you might complete a vinegar run before switching between products. So, if your last run was a peach moonshine and your next run is going to be a hearty whiskey, you might do a vinegar run between the two so the flavors don’t get mixed. This is especially important if you will be using your still for multiple essential oils, as the delicate scents and flavors of an oil can be easily affected by residual oils left over from previous runs.
Lastly, consider doing a vinegar run any time you move your still from one location to another, or if it sits out of use for a long time. A still that is used for decoration for years and then put to work may be contaminated with any number of dust particles, pet hair, or insects, and a vinegar run will remove all of that.
Vinegar runs are simple, effective ways to keep your copper still performing at its best for years to come. There’s no such thing as too many vinegar runs, so don’t worry about overdoing it. Keeping your whiskey or moonshine still clean and operational shows that you’re serious about the quality of products you make, and that you are always dedicated to making your at-home essential oils, distilled water, or alcohol responsibly.
Article by: Jim Thomas
Photo Credit: "Heinz White Vinegar" by Mike Mozart
There's always a right way, and a wrong way, to go about distilling at home
"Making Moonshine in Kentucky"
Moonshiners know that there will always be some safety hazards when working with a heat source, hot metal, and flammable vapors - and distilling includes all of those dangers. Before you mix up the mash for your first run, before you turn on the heat, stop and prepare yourself to avoid a serious consequence you could later regret.
Here are our top 7 Tips for Safe Distilling:
While federal law states that it is legal for anyone to own a still of any size for decorative purposes, or to distill water or essential oils legally, people who want to distill alcohol at home need to apply for the proper license. Federal licenses include a Federal Distilled Spirits Permit , which allows distillers to produce consumable (drinkable) alcohol, as well as the Federal Fuel Alcohol Permit, which allows distillers to produce non-consumable alcohol to be used as ethanol fuel.
In addition to these federal laws and licenses, there may be state, county, city, or other local measures that someone who distills alcohol at home may need to take in order to be in compliance with the law. We always recommend you purchase and use one of our copper whiskey stills for sale responsibly.
When the grain mash is heated in the pot still, the steam includes not only water vapor, but alcohol vapor as well. Although you should seal any leaks in your still to prevent a build-up of alcohol vapor leaking from any joints, there will still be flammable vapors that may escape the condenser coil.
The bottom line is: for safety’s sake, always distill in a well-ventilated area. Outdoors is generally preferred.
Copper whiskey stills distribute heat very efficiently, and if not properly monitored, a distiller can suffer serious burns as well as ruin the moonshine in the run. Use a controllable heat supply, so that you can increase or decrease it whenever you need. Get a thermometer to always monitor the temperature in the onion head, or better yet, choose a moonshine still design with a built-in thermometer. Lastly, always make sure that you have a controlled method to keep the temperature of your condenser coil cooled, so that you will not risk ruining your distilling efforts.
Because of the flammable vapors and the possibility of a fire starting, you should always have a fire extinguisher within arm’s reach any time you are distilling alcohol.
You may feel like a bit of a chemistry or science nerd, but it can be well worth it to invest in some high-temperature insulated gloves and some heat-protective eye gear. When handling a still during a run, it is easy to get burned. Many people forget how hot steam is, and how serious steam burns can be.
The vapors that are released when distilling certain essential oils may also be damaging to soft eye tissues as well, and eye protection can be especially important when dealing with botanicals.
Of course it’s tempting. You wouldn’t be distilling your own alcohol if you weren’t a fan of alcohol in general. But, you should never, never drink while operating a whiskey or moonshine still, and you should not let others who have been drinking come in near an operating still.
Likewise, remember all the signs at the pool when you were a kid? Adopt the same rules when you distill. Don’t allow anyone to endanger injuring themselves. No running, jumping, messing around with the tools, or otherwise playing that could get someone hurt.
Making moonshine is both an art and a science. As the run progresses, an experienced distiller begins to learn when to “cut” the run - when to switch the containers collecting the distillate. The first cut is after the “foreshots” are completed. Foreshots go straight into the trash. Foreshots generally make up about the first 5% or so of the run, and the first cut to the run is typically made after the onion bulb temperature reaches 174 degrees.
The foreshots are trash because they are high in methanol. Methanol is poisonous and should not be included in your final product. It burns off from your alcohol mash and makes its way to the collection cup at lower temperatures than other alcohols. Know when to cut your run, including the foreshots, and always throw them out.
Follow these 7 tips to ensure that every time you’re using your best copper moonshine still, you are doing it safely. Never put yourself or another person in danger. Following these and other simple basic safety rules will keep you enjoying your copper whiskey still for years to come.
Article by: Jim Thomas