Temperature control is important when distilling.
Don't lie down on the job.
Distilling alcohol at home is an exciting process that requires skill and diligence. If you want to be great at it, be aware of some important considerations about temperature. Distillation requires a lot of heat, and it’s important to control that heat, so you distill safely and end up with a high quality product (called the “distillate”).
Several factors go into producing a high quality distillate - your mash recipe, the mash’s ABV, and your still are a few important ones - but every experienced distiller knows that temperature control is key to making a fine alcohol when it’s all said and done.
Distilling alcohol uses high temperatures - generally around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. High temperatures mean opportunities for accidents, so make sure that everyone who is in your distilling environment is aware of how hot your equipment will get. Controlling and monitoring the temperature will help you keep your distillery safe.
The temperature of your still varies in different spots. There are three key places on your still where you should monitor the temperature - the pot boiler, the top of the column, and the condenser coil.
The temperature inside the pot boiler will tell you about the boiling liquid in the mash. Keep it increasing, maintaining a range of 175 - 195 degrees Fahrenheit for as long as possible. Turn off the heat when it reaches 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
The temperature at the top of the column will tell you about your alcohol vapor as it begins to condense. Monitor this temperature, watching for an excess of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If it becomes overheated, turn down your heat.
It is especially important to use a built-in thermometer
at the top of the column in a large column still
Keep an eye on the touch-temperature of your condenser coil. The coil should be kept cool to the touch, with cold running water or ice packs. If it reaches room temperature, decrease the heat on your still and pack more ice on the coil. If the condenser coil ever becomes hot to the touch, end distilling immediately.
When all the elements of your temperature control come together, the condenser coil should release a steady drip of moonshine - not a stream, but a quick and regular amount that flows without interruption.
As you begin a run, your still’s seams will tighten as the metal naturally expands with the heat. Have your homemade flour paste ready, and you can easily seal the seams with it when the temperature reaches approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you wait too long to seal the still’s seams, the metal will burn both your fingers and the dough.
Different liquids boil at different temperatures: While the boiling point of pure ethanol is 174 degrees Fahrenheit, there are other trace elements that boil at slightly lower or higher temperatures. By controlling the temperature of your still, you can collect trace elements in different cuts in your run. Experienced distillers often make cuts - separating the distillate into portions - based on the temperature of the alcohol vapor.
Water boils at a higher temperature than alcohol, and as alcohol boils off from the pot, there is more water being boiled. So, the longer you run your still and the hotter it gets, the more water there will be boiling into steam at the later stages of your run. There is no reason to let the temperature climb higher than 212 degrees Fahrenheit, because that is the boiling point of water. Many distillers will cut off their run somewhere around 205 - 207 degrees, knowing that the last 10% or so of alcohol left in the mash won’t be worth it. Letting the still heat over 212 degrees is great if you’re looking to distill water, however.
You can assume that the longer you run your distillation around 175-195 degrees Fahrenheit, the more time you will be producing a large amount of high-quality distillate. With some variations and exceptions, this temperature range produces the purest ethanol and will typically be the “hearts” cut of your alcohol run.
Monitoring the temperature of your still, in addition to recording the mash recipe, type of still, a description of the distillate, and other details about the run, helps you repeat batches that were amazing, and avoid repeating mistakes in the future. Make the most, and the best, out of your moonshine still every time.
Article by: Jim Thomas
Photo credit: Eli Christman
There are several designs of high quality stills used since ancient times. Depending on your needs and your final product, a Bain-Marie still - also called a “double boiler” or a “water bath” - might be the answer.
The ancient design of the Bain-Marie still uses the method of insulating the product that is being distilled by heating it through a layer of water. As the water heats, it will create steam, and the heat is applied to the distilling substance slowly and indirectly.
The Bain-Marie double-boiler design is used in cooking foods and sauces, as well as in distilling. There are many Bain-Marie method kitchen items. Chefs generally use water baths to melt chocolate or cheese, and double-boilers are commonly used to maintain the temperature of heated foods.
Literally translated, “Bain-Marie” means “Mary’s bath.” Although scholars debate which Mary the design is named for, they generally accept that this bath technique is superior for certain types of distilling. It was used for centuries to slowly melt metals during experiments in alchemy.
The large pot of a Bain-Marie still is filled with water in its larger chamber. The Bain-Marie still design has an interior pot chamber that sits at the top of the large pot and is somewhat submerged in the water. The water’s insulation causes the mixture in the interior pot to heat slowly, and generally very evenly, which prevents the materials from scorching.
Depending on what you are distilling, the Bain Marie’s double-boiler design can be the most efficient. You can use a Bain-Marie to distill anything, but most commonly, the design is best for refined spirits, grappas, and essential oils.
The substance you’re distilling also has a different name depending on what ingredients you use and your desired final product - it is called “mash” in the case of spirits, “marc” in the case of grappas, or “botanicals” in the case of essential oils.
After filling the large chamber of the pot of a Bain-Marie still about 50% with water, place your mash, marc, or botanicals in the smaller interior chamber of the Bain-Marie still. Continue with the distillation process as you normally would.
In a Bain-Marie still, the interior chamber will be slowly heated as the heat is transferred from the copper still, through the boiling water and the steam it releases, and into the mash, marc, or botanicals.
Hands-down, experts agree that the double-boiler method of distilling works best for wine, grappa, and other alcoholic spirits distilled from fruit. It is also an excellent design for distilling certain essential oils that are delicate and require a slow increase in temperature and specific thermal control.
A Bain-Marie can also be run continuously. Because of the double-boiler design, the still needs very little “down-time” to be cooled, emptied, cleaned, and begin the next run.
The water does not need to be replaced often. Steam is purified by the still’s copper, condenses and falls to the large pot, and is re-used in the boiler for multiple runs. However, if leaks occur from your mash, marc, or botanicals into your water, you will want to empty and thoroughly clean the still as much as possible.
Lastly, because of the reflux and natural refining of the distillate you produce, you may have fewer cuts to make if you are distilling moonshine, whiskey, or some other spirit. The “heads” and the “tails” of your run will be a lower percentage of your product and may be cut from your run entirely.
Bain-Marie still designs are one of the most classic, easiest-to-use, and convenient. They are not necessarily for the faint of heart, as they are serious pieces of equipment, but their premium design and advanced features are unbeatable for certain distilled products.
Article by: Jim Thomas
Image credit: Wikipedia
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
There are many high-quality whiskey stills for sale online - some already built and some delivered in assembly kits for you to put together yourself. For many reasons, the best stills are copper, without question.
Regardless what you are planning to distill, copper will improve your distilled water, essential oils, or spirits (the “distillate”) at an atomic level. Besides that, it’s a metal that glows and beautifies any room. Copper is easy to clean and easy to repair. What more could a distiller want?
Experienced distillers know: choose a copper still every time.
Although many stills are made of stainless steel, copper has better natural temperature control and antimicrobial properties.
Copper has been used for centuries in cooking equipment because of how evenly it heats. It is easy to reach the right temperature and maintain it, which is essential for crafting the best distillate. Copper can be heated to temperatures up to nearly 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, so there is never any question of possibly overheating your copper whiskey still.
Centuries ago, people observed that water stored in copper tasted better than water in other containers. Now, science has shown copper’s dramatic anti-microbial effects. It destroys micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungus spores.
Generally known as a “touch surface,” copper’s effects are so powerful that being in contact with the metal for an hour can purify some liquids of up to 99% of micro-organisms. This means a cleaner, more purified, healthier product from a copper whiskey still than a stainless steel one.
At the atomic level, a copper atom is shaped in a crystal. The shape of its atom makes copper’s electrons less stable, and copper atoms frequently gain and lose electrons. The changeable nature of copper atoms also means that they easily disconnect from bonds to one another sometimes, but strengthen their bonds under certain conditions.
The shape of the copper atom means that the overall metal is malleable and can be reshaped into a reliable copper still. The atomic shape is also what makes copper energy efficient and able to spread heat through the individual atoms quickly, then maintain the spread of that heat evenly.
Because copper interacts so much with the other elements it comes into contact with, it causes several quick reactions in those elements. When copper atoms come into contact with the oxygen in organic cells - like in a bacterium or a fungus - the copper basically causes a small rust hole in the cell’s wall, which begins to leak and ultimately kills the bacteria or fungus.Copper is a natural wonder that can never be duplicated. No other metal will provide the same purification and health benefits to your distillate as a top quality copper whiskey still.
Copper also has three very practical reasons why it is the best material for a whiskey still: copper is easy to clean, beautiful, and easy to repair.
To keep copper glowing its distinct red-golden shade, still owners can clean a copper still inside and out with recipes using nontoxic household items such as white vinegar. Copper develops a natural discoloration called a “patina” if left uncleaned, which helps protect the metal from further damage. A patina is especially helpful for large stills that remain outdoors, exposed to weather elements.
Any surface that comes into contact with the distillate needs to be kept a purifying “touch surface” and should be cleaned after every still run. But the exterior of the still can be left to develop its natural patina. Smaller stills kept indoors can be polished or left to patina, according to what the owner wants. Copper lets you choose how to clean your still to have it develop the look you like.
Copper stills are simple to repair when damaged. Hire a professional coppersmith, because soldering, patching, or melting can require expensive and dangerous equipment, as well as specific knowledge and skills. Always make sure that the materials used in any repair work for your copper still are 100% lead free.
There’s no question that a copper whiskey still is the best choice, considering that is offers health benefits stainless steel can’t match, and is also easy to clean and to repair. In order to distill high quality water, essential oils, whiskey, moonshine, or other spirits, you have to start with the best still. The best copper whiskey still.
Article by: Jim Thomas
Photo credit: "Copper" by fdecomite
Becoming an expert at distilling your own alcohol, water, or essential oils at home means that you need to become familiar with every part of your copper still. Moonshiners run into all kinds of problems, and many distillers over the years have had to learn what to do on the go. Take advantage of their wisdom and become familiar with your copper still, so you can avoid making their mistakes.
Whether you call it a “moonshine still”, a “whiskey still,” or just a plain old “still,” you want a copper still. Many stills are made of stainless steel and then offer copper mesh to help filter your spirits, but an all copper still is generally better.
Moonshine stills come in a variety of designs and sizes. The two main designs are the pot still and the column still. Each design is used to distill different products, and a flip top column still might be one of the best stills for sale, because it gives you the versatility to distill practically anything you want.
You will also need a good place to dump out the vinegar, mash, or water that you use in your copper whiskey still pot when cleaning it, making moonshine, or distilling essential oils. Since these materials may be harmful to plant life, choose a site where they won’t do too much damage, or where you aren’t concerned about the damage they cause. Never dump your materials directly down a drain or into an outside water source.