You are on page 1of 12

Home Sign Up!

Browse Community Submit

All Art Craft Food Games Green Home Kids Life Music Offbeat Outdoors Pets Photo Ride Science Tech

Build a Whisky Still

by Kiteman on April 4, 2008 Table of Contents Build a Whisky Still . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Intro: Build a Whisky Still . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 1: What you need . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 2: The Vat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 3: The Column . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 4: The Condenser . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 5: Operation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 6: Poison! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Related Instructables . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 2 3 4 4 5 6 6 7 8

Author:Kiteman MakerDay Enrichment

An East Anglian Maker, who spends a lot of time in a very small shed. Interested in science, kites, beer (proper beer, not lager) and the general Maker ideal. Need help on the site? I'm a member of the Community Team, so drop me a PM. Credo: Faith, noun; Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. ''Faith is believing what you know ain't so'' - Mark Twain Science, noun; Set of processes that explain the universe and its contents through hypotheses and theories based on observable evidence. I am in the universe, a part of the universe. I was not created, I am the most recent product of several billion years' worth of random mutation selected by environmental and sexual pressures, plus a healthy dose of accidents. I am a unique individual, with my own mind, knowledge, skills, dreams. I am a husband, father, son and friend. I teach others and learn from others. No god had a part in my genesis. I have no religious faith, although I respect those that have (so long as they do not expect others to share it without question). I take responsibility for my own actions, and bear the guilt for any wrong-doings without feeling the need to confess them to a higher being. When I die, all that will remain of me will be the memories held by those that knew me. I will go to neither heaven nor hell, nor will I be resurrected. When I am gone, I am gone. To quote the famous philosophers; ''Cogito ergo sum'' and ''I yam what I yam!''. ''Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities'' - Voltaire.

''READ CAREFULLY.'' ''By reading this article, you agree, on behalf of your employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from any and all NON-NEGOTIATED agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete and acceptable use policies ("BOGUS AGREEMENTS") that I have entered into with your employer, its partners, licensors, agents and assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to my ongoing rights and privileges. You further represent that you have the authority to release me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your employer.''

Intro: Build a Whisky Still

If you're reading this, I assume you are interested in the theoretical transformation of a relatively weak alcoholic mixture into a relatively strong alcoholic mixture. That is, the distillation of whisky. If you don't know about the early stages of whisky distillation, here is a quick round-up: Take some grain, and allow it to sprout. Just as it starts to sprout, quickly kill it by drying. It is now a "malted grain". Mix the malted grain with hot water and stir until you get bored - you are dissolving the sugars from the grain into the water. Filter out the solids, and add yeast. Keep the mixture slightly warm (and sealed from the air) until the yeast has turned the sugar into alcohol. You now have a wash that is ready to be distilled. Apparently, the wash has a strength and taste similar to beer, so maybe you would like to start there. Distillation is the process of separating a mixture of liquids with different boiling points. In this case, we're trying to separate ethanol (alcohol) from water. Pure ethanol boils at 78.4o C, and pure water boils at 100o C, so heating the wash will make the ethanol boil off first.

Step 1: What you need

A still has three separate parts - something to heat the liquid, something to help water vapours condense before they escape the apparatus and something to cool and trap the alcoholic vapours. I will refer to these parts as the vat, column and condenser. You also need a thermometer with a scale that goes to at least +100o C. Legal point: It is illegal to manufacture spirits in the UK without a distiller's licence which is required under the provisions of section 12 of the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979 and this includes manufacture for "own/domestic use". For this reason, my images are a mixture of diagrams and stock photos. This goes against the usual practice here, but I kind of want to keep my job, and if I did it for real, images posted here can (in a UK court of law) be used as evidence against me. Before constructing your still, you must check local licensing laws to ensure you are not committing an offence, or obtain a distiller's license. Since this is more a guide to function than form, you may choose to use different materials to those suggested, such as paying out for all-copper fittings. This is by no means an exhaustive tutorial, so if you are planning to produce quality drinking-spirits on a regular basis (as opposed to something merely flammable), you may even want to invest in a purpose-built still. Just remember (again) that, in the majority of countries where you can read this Instructable, you need to check the legality of distilling alcoholic beverages for personal use.

Step 2: The Vat

The vat is the container in which you heat your mash. I would suggest the use of an old pressure cooker, as it has a seal around the lid to keep vapours inside the system, and is large enough to hold a reasonable volume of wash.

Image Notes 1. A hole can be drilled here. 2. Don't worry if this bit gets blocked or removed.

Step 3: The Column

Alcohol and water have surprisingly similar properties - each will dissolve in the other. This means that you will get water vapours in with the alcohol vapours, but they can be reduced. A tall column above the vat gives the water vapour a chance to condense and fall back. If you can increase the surface area within the column, so much the better. Looking in my shed, I see a three-foot length of two-inch diameter tube that would be ideal it's an old bed-leg. To increase the area inside, I could hammer lots and lots of nails into the pipe, or fill it with steel wool. If I was bothered about rust, I could use a similar copper tube and fill it with broken glass. The column can be connected to the vat by drilling a suitable-diameter hole in the lid of the pressure-cooker, removing the weight-system. The gap between the column and the lid can be sealed with solder, epoxy, welded, or sealed with a compression-fitting, depending on the size of the column and the materials involved. Do not worry about removing the weights or blocking the safety-valve, as the still is never under pressure unless you do something stupidly wrong. The top of the column needs capping, with a hole in the cap to allow insertion of the thermometer. As with the joint at the bottom, this depends on the exact materials you used - it could be as basic as dropping a tin can over the top and epoxying it in place.

Image Notes 1. A convenient metal tube.

Step 4: The Condenser

When the alcohol boils off, it will be a vapour. You can't drink vapour. You need to cool it so that it condenses into a liquid. This is probably the easiest part to obtain, as coils of small-diameter copper tubing can be purchased from many DIY stores (sometimes called microbore, it is the 810mm tubing used to connect up modern central heating systems). Cut off a convenient length, and insert one end into a hole drilled into the side of the column at the top, preferably level with the bulb or sensor of your thermometer. Seal it in place (epoxy again), and set the other end low down - the alcoholic vapours will cool, condense and trickle downhill into whatever receptacle you have chosen.

Step 5: Operation
Put your wash in the vat, close it, and gently heat it (over the stove, campfire, whatever - heat is heat). Watch the thermometer rise. As previously mentioned, ethanol boils at 78o C. When the thermometer reaches this point, and remains steady, it means that the vapours surrounding it, and passing down the condenser is mainly alcohol, with some water. Catch what drips out of the end of the condenser - that is your distilled spirit. Keep an eye on the temperature. If it starts to rise above 78o C, the bulk of the water is starting to boil, and the vapours you collect will now be making your spirits weaker. You also run the risk of concentrating fusel alcohols in your sprits. (Fusel alcohols look slightly oily when they drip. If the drips from your still start to look odd, stop the process and save what you have so far.) How much can you expect to collect? If you are starting with an alcoholic content of 5% ABV (as many reasonable bitters are), then you will get only around 5% of the volume you put in the vat. That is, one fluid once per pint of wash.

Image Notes 1. Condenser 2. Column 3. Vat 4. Heat 5. Thermometer.

Step 6: Poison!
Some myths: It is a popular myth that illicitly-distilled booze makes you blind. Wrong. Methanol (wood alcohol) makes you blind. If you hear about people being blinded by illicit booze, they did not actually distil it, they made some sort of punch with denatured alcohol or antifreeze. Some people say that illicit booze gives you a bad hangover. Unfortunately, correct. Neglecting to watch the temperature, or heating the wash too quickly, can result in concentration of higher-order forms of alcohol called fusel alcohols or fusel oils (because they look oily). A small amount of fusel alcohols are naturally present in whisky, and can give a spicy, hot or solvent-like flavour. If you get those flavours in a distilled spirit, watch out for a hangover. Be aware: Very high concentrations (usually caused by incompetent distillation) can cause acute illness, including headaches, nausea, vomiting, clinical depression, or coma. Such liquor may be referred to as rotgut. If in doubt, you can always pour what you have made so far back into the vat and distil it again.

Some people distil the wash twice. They throw away the residue of the first batch, and put the spirits through again. Second distillations should be done more slowly, and greater care taken to watch the temperature, as the temperature of the vapours will change more quickly. Home-made still tend to explode. No, they don't. They are open systems, there is nowhere for pressure to build up.

Disclaimer: I have not actually distilled alcohol for quite some time, and then I used proper glassware. I used to work in a lab with a license to distil one litre per year, and not for human consumption. Do not rely solely on this Instructable to inform your distilling activities - do some research of your own, check the local licensing laws, and remember to take it easy if you actually dare to drink the resultant liquor. Take plenty of water with it, and do not even think about driving or operation hazardous machinery, even after a small snifter or two, since you will not know the exact amount of alcohol you have consumed.

Related Instructables

distilling basics by pdub77

How to make a still by lemonie

Building a Whiskey still by densad

Understanding: Drinking Alcohol by )(angman

How to Properly Identify Hillbillies by skunkbait

How to make moonshine by pdub77

50 comments Add Comment view all 212 comments

cbs2018 says:

Apr 21, 2011. 8:55 PM REPLY

canadachris says:

Jul 26, 2010. 8:21 AM REPLY if anyone needs any information about how to make your own homemade alcohol safely, Id be glad to help out, my grandfather owns vineyards in leamington, Ontario Canada and we have been making wine and all sorts of spirits for over a decade, its a simple process and Id hate to see someone get ill because of mistakes that could have been easily avoided,

georogers says:

Mar 18, 2011. 5:02 AM REPLY I have a copper still it lacks a "worm",however I'd like to know how to make brew and distill a clear potable spirit.For my first run I'd like to keep the process as simple as possible.Thanks , George Rogers

Jyssa says:

Jan 13, 2011. 3:23 PM REPLY I want to make a liquor out of the plums that grow in my backyard. I'm from NZ so it's perfectly legal to do it here, but I just don't know how!

snakeeyes101 says:

Dec 3, 2010. 12:29 PM REPLY

When first using my still, how do I calibrate the amount of methanol that will come off before I reach the ethanol? Thanks for your help.

Bearcat_Welding says:

Aug 6, 2010. 11:17 PM REPLY I'm a first time starter and im wanting to do Wines and Brandies, My wife and I love the great fruit flaviors in both. I'm going to be doing every bit of it at home and i would like to know what you would recommand from start to end and the process, what is the best things to use not only in fruit but materials.. I would like to use, of course grapes,razzbries, and maybe oranges. If you have any other suggestions on fruit, please let me know. If we need to do this at a more private setting let me know and we will set-up something with e-mails Thanks Bearcat

zhenpenthaye says:

Oct 14, 2010. 10:21 AM REPLY Rectifier: I'm not sure about what you call the "Acetone" coming out of the still after the main product:) Acetone has a boiling point of 58 degrees C, so you should have cleared all of it in the headings.

MT-LB says:
Hey and if its undrinkable you could always use it as grease cutter

Oct 12, 2010. 7:21 PM REPLY

Rectifier says:

Apr 5, 2008. 11:06 PM REPLY Never use steel wool. It will rust away immediately and ruin everything. Copper only, fastened with lead-free solder, or brazed, if you want a drinkable product. Lee valley sells a copper mesh for keeping slugs out of the garden that makes an excellent column packing. Packing is not necessary for a whiskey still, by the way.

seamaas says:

Sep 17, 2010. 1:53 PM REPLY also don't use glass use quartz sand ,sweaty gym sock (from the TV show M*A*S*H),activated charcoal (from a BRITA filter),or combination of quartz sand and activated charcoal Apr 6, 2008. 3:42 AM REPLY The rust would not carry over into the final product, since the compounds are non-volatile - they would only drip back into the vat, the contents of which you're going to throw away anyway. I know the packing isn't necessary, but is discourages water vapours diluting the final product, reducing the need for a second distillation.

Kiteman says:

triggernum5 says:

Apr 13, 2008. 9:28 AM REPLY Actually the packing essentialy performs extra distillations in the column.. HETP = Height Eqv to Theoretical Plate.. The vapur condenses in the column and redistills on further evaporation.. Actually the same effect can be had with a pot-still + thumper.. That would also allow you to reduce the stupid materials that could make it into your product without much for additional supplies.. If you build the thumper safely, then I'd only be concerned with solvents coming through.. You're right that heavy metals tend to fall back, but I know from experience that crap ends up in the down side.. Perhaps because of tilting/moving the still etc, but the end result is contamination of the downward slope.. The thumper would be easy to keep clean, and would trap any heavy impurities..

Kiteman says:
Pot stills I know, but "thumper" is a new term to me. What is it?

Apr 13, 2008. 9:34 AM REPLY

seamaas says:

Sep 17, 2010. 1:58 PM REPLY a thumper is a vessel filled with water which is between the vat and the condenser which catches any of the mash that is carried with the alcohol vapors. it is sort of like how a bong works or water pipe Aug 4, 2008. 4:43 AM REPLY They also have a habit of making thumping noises (probably through the same principle as the clicking noises cars make when they are parked and turned off after a long run). Quietly, but loud enough to be unnerving if you think there's ATF in them thar hills. Apr 20, 2008. 8:45 PM REPLY A thumper is a midway redistillation.. From your still, a short, (insulated?) copper line runs into a sealed collector jar or whatever (but it can get really hot), and the line should run to nearly the bottom of that vessel.. Another line is attached to the lid of that vessel to accept vapor to the condenser.. You fill the thumper with already distilled liquor, and the heat from the new distillate going into the thumper boils the thumper.. What comes out of the thumper will be higher abv than a single distillation as long as the liquid in the thumper is stronger than your actual wash.. Its also a good way just to reduce the condenser length, since your actually putting the heat to work..

Rishnai says:

triggernum5 says:

Kiteman says:
Oh, thank you.

Apr 21, 2008. 5:37 AM REPLY

RFilyaw says:
Also, stainless steel wool is available, and is cheap. It will not rust.

Apr 7, 2008. 3:06 PM REPLY

brickb says:

Sep 6, 2010. 8:03 PM REPLY No plastics, no lead, no cadmium, chuck out the first 200ml, taste it, smell it . Use a reflux still. be safe have fun, REAEARCH!!!!

canadachris says:

Jul 26, 2010. 6:04 AM REPLY well I drank the stuff I made, its got a nice taste and a hell of a kick, making spirits is easy and completely safe as long as you do it right, i noticed though that most people use too many chemicals when making homemade wines, beer and alcohol, i tend to lean toward different approach example: most would argue to use a chemical to make sure your bottles dont explode after bottling, hmm... lets look at this a bit, camden in use with a few other products most high in sodium and the other forms being toxic in some sort of way, although minute still toxic, well my grand father always taught me to just freeze your batch for A COUPLE DAYS in 2 liter pop containers once thawed it will promote any debris left in it to drop so the wine can be racked and it will also kill any yeast left over wow thats a simple chemical free solution..... i guess theyll do anything to push a market for something most things are free and poeple still pay another tip... when making your mash crush up and use a third of tablet of non flavored tums per quart or liter this will lower your acidity for pennies too and gives it a shelf taste

alex-sharetskiy says:
So, can you legally distill 95% rubbing alcohol? (not for human consumption)

Jun 15, 2008. 3:56 PM REPLY

canadachris says:

Jul 21, 2010. 9:14 AM REPLY

Rishnai says:

Aug 4, 2008. 4:42 AM REPLY You would have to poison the mash, too, if you are underage to drink. Otherwise, you are making beer, and that should be legal in all 50 states now, if I remember ocrrectly. You will either need to keep the first and last bits of the distillation (where most of the methanol and fusel oils are) if you want "poison," which is what your not-for-human-consumption rubbing alcohol would have to be to avoid liquor taxes. Make sure you put coloring agent in your distillate, too, jsut in case. To really make sure the government won't crawl up your rear end about it, you might want to pour (pure, not premix) antifreeze in the mash. Then at no step would the product be fit for human consumption, and you could theoretically do it all you want, as a minor. But don't quote me on that. That's just my been-up-for-18-hours on the fly translation of secondhand legalese.

alex-sharetskiy says:
i wanted to distill 70% rubbing alc. to 95%+

Aug 4, 2008. 2:54 PM REPLY

canadachris says:
No rubbing alcohol isnt ingestable, its toxic. Drinking it will make you ill.

Jul 21, 2010. 9:16 AM REPLY

alex-sharetskiy says:
i know

Jul 24, 2010. 2:25 PM REPLY

alex-sharetskiy says:
Don't you mean illegal?

Aug 4, 2008. 1:33 PM REPLY

Kiteman says:
I don't know - you need to check local laws.

Jun 16, 2008. 5:24 AM REPLY

codwithchips says:

Sep 3, 2008. 8:57 AM REPLY hi would it be a lot cheaper to just buy your alchohol and spend your money&time doing something better like building a rocket to the moon or maybe a time machine then you could travel back in time and change the tax laws before they come into being

canadachris says:

Jul 21, 2010. 9:13 AM REPLY I live in Canada and..... Bottomline is it costs me $1 a gallon for exceptional homemade spirits. (Vodka, Gin, Rum, Whiskey even Cogniac from frozen grapes) (The most expensive to make is tequila because it doesnt grow natively and I have to order aguaves and nectar.) This same gallon would cost me $60 at the store. You do the math... Im sure people who have made enormous profits including the government would do anything to keep the mula pouring in including suggesting that it cant be done, is to dangerous or impractical but actuality it is cheap, easy and beneficial pocketwise and creatively. Who knows what you might come up with...... Do your research and brew on.....

tyler24ccm says:
does anyone know if this will work as a still for reusing acetone or paint thinner from soaked rags?

Jul 20, 2010. 6:11 PM REPLY

Kiteman says:
Possibly, but there is probably a greater risk of fire or explosion, so I wouldn't.

Jul 21, 2010. 3:59 AM REPLY

seamaas says:
it's called wort not wash

Jul 5, 2010. 2:20 PM REPLY

Kiteman says:
Actually it's "mash" - thanks for spotting the typo. (Wort is part of the beer-brewing process.)

Jul 5, 2010. 2:33 PM REPLY

seamaas says:
you're right I forgot. i am an amateur brewer do i should now by now

Jul 5, 2010. 11:04 PM REPLY

foo23220 says:
All liquors taste the same until they are aged. Whiskey gets its flavor from some kind of wooden barrel.

Nov 18, 2008. 8:09 AM REPLY

LoTriMouS says:
The barrel has to be charred (scorched on the inside), and generally is made of oak.

Jan 26, 2010. 1:15 AM REPLY

brb112988 says:

Oct 14, 2009. 10:51 AM REPLY i recentlly fallowed this and made one i dident use the same materialsbut it seemed to work good for me i dident drink the product i wouldnever trust myself enough for that so i dumped it into the gas tank fora 5 hourse snowblower with a bit of gas seemed to work pretty well ranjust like it had a ful tank of gas in it

Kiteman says:
Woah, DIY biofuel!

Oct 14, 2009. 12:57 PM REPLY

Rectifier says:

Apr 5, 2008. 11:04 PM REPLY You didn't mention, but you want to discard the first 100ml (at least!) of your run. That will contain almost all the methanol/formaldehyde/acetaldehyde content and most of the ethyl acetate. This will cut down on that "moonshine smell" and greatly diminish the hangover. I segmented my runs into 500mL jars and blended based on smell/taste as well as %ABV as a guideline. That avoids contaminating a larger batch with rotten fusel oils, because a little of them go a long way! I generally pitched the first 250mL, kept a few litres to drink, and kept the rest to redistill when I got enough of them. I don't distill anymore because I now live in a small apartment. :( However, maybe I should have tried to write an instructable on it! I've built both a potstill (rum and whiskey), reflux column (neutral spirits, aka vodka, as a feedstock for gin) and a continuous-feed reflux column (an attempt to produce fuel - wasn't economical but sure was neat to run) Nah, too busy this week.

Kiteman says:
The presence of methanol etc in moonshine is a common (and largely American) myth.

Apr 6, 2008. 3:58 AM REPLY

Methanol is formed naturally by fermentation processes, but in incredibly small, trace amounts, well below levels where their effects can even be felt, let alone harmful. There is no formaldehyde, acetaldehyde or ethyl acetate formed in fermentation. The myth hangs over from the days of prohibition, when unscrupulous "whisky" makers would add all sorts of unpleasant chemicals to try and disguise the alcohol content to the authorities, or make their product taste like "real" whisky, rum or whatever. You will note that, although there have been illicit stills in the UK and Europe for as long as in the US (for as long as governments have tried to tax spirits), there are no associated stories of blindness etc caused by the strange things made in the still, because the illicit stills were not driven so far "underground" as they were in the US. In fact, I was just recently reading about a distiller of illegal whisky who based himself in the slate mines of Honister Pass as a "front". His product was of such high quality that local dignitaries and police colluded to hide him and his activities from the Excise. Modern instances of poisoning by non-ethanol compounds in illicit booze have been mis-reported as being from stills; they are from "punches", made up of fruit juices made intoxicating by the addition of cheap denatured alcohol, white spirits or antifreeze (do you remember the scandal involving french wines some years ago, where a vineyard had added antifreeze to its wines to make them palatable?).

JakeNotCliff says:

Aug 12, 2009. 4:57 AM REPLY Methanol poisoning can easily be avoided here. Methanol boils at 64.7 C, or 148.4 F. Ethanol boils at 173 F. Simply throw away any product that evaporates (and recondenses) before roughly 160F. Doing so closer to 173F will yield even purer shine, though you will have less product in the end. Also, promptly remove the wash from heat after the temperature rises above 200F (after plateauing at 173ishF for however long it takes to distill roughly 40% of the wash's original volume). Anything that evaporates at over 200F is either water or toxic. Either way, it pollutes your shine and makes for a brutal hangover. Aug 4, 2008. 5:11 AM REPLY It was not a myth during Prohibition, as you point out. It still isn't a myth nowadays with unscrupulous moonshiners. Denatured alcohols are so much cheaper, so cutting the product would not suprise me. Even if they're not cutting, but aren't throwing out the heads, either, it wouldn't be fun to drink. There's one guy I met on a road trip once whose 'shine I wouldn't even be willing to pour in my tank, let alone drink. I made a point of getting the heck out of there and avoiding him! If I were to even consider drinking moonshine, I'd want to make sure I really know and trust the guy who made it. Too many ways to screw up, even if you're well-intentioned. Like using anything galvanized. Heating that stuff for soldering or welding is not fun, and quite bad for you if you inhale too much. I wouldn't want to try ingesting it... Apr 7, 2008. 3:04 PM REPLY You're absolutely right about the true nature of poisoning, that is, using crap like denatured alcohol (purposely poisoned for legal reasons) and antifreeze to get a legal, yet illegal buzz. The fact of the matter is that as soon as the fermentation process is complete, you have beer/wine. Everything is in there, both the ethanol and the non-ethanol. distilling it doesn't change the chemical makeup, it simply separates the alcohol from the non-alcohol. Apr 6, 2008. 11:01 PM REPLY Also, those other compounds are present in fermentation. Just here is a link to an abstract describing a solution to the problem of ethyl acetate as a fermentation byproduct: "Ethyl acetate is the most abundant ester produced by yeasts and is particularly difficult to separate from ethanol by distillation"

Rishnai says:

RFilyaw says:

Rectifier says:

Kiteman says:

Apr 7, 2008. 10:42 AM REPLY However, if you read the paper further, the high levels of ethyl acetate are produced by fermentation of sugars by genetically-modified E.Coli bacteria. The clue is in the title: Decreasing the Level of Ethyl Acetate in Ethanolic Fermentation Broths of Escherichia coli KO11 by Expression of Pseudomonas putida estZ Esterase The paper also states that ...many of these products are desirable as organoleptic agents and congeners in beverage alcohols... .

Rectifier says:

Apr 6, 2008. 10:55 PM REPLY True that nobody gets methanol poisoning anymore - however, it's also true that any fermented mash will contain a very small percentage of methanol created by pectin fermentation. This methanol is present mainly in undistilled fruit spirits - I think red wine is particularly high in it. This methanol will be concentrated in the "foreshots", or first ~100ml of an ordinary potstill batch, along with other compounds of lower boiling points. If you've ever sniffed foreshots, you know they contain many things that are NOT ethanol and even slightly tempting to drink. What little methanol is in the mash will not end up in the "moonshine", but it will end up in the "foreshots". This is why good moonshine contains so little methanol - it has been separated and thrown away by the distiller!

Kiteman says:

Apr 7, 2008. 11:20 AM REPLY I've just thought - we may be at odds over volume - I've been discussing small-volume distillation (a gallon or two of wash, down to a half-bottle equivalent of spirits). Are you talking about large volumes (barrels)? BTW - Distilled French brandy has up to 750mg methanol per 100ml pure ethanol. Scotch whisky contains up to 26mg/100ml Plenty of safety margin on the whisky, yes?

Rectifier says:

Apr 8, 2008. 1:15 AM REPLY Not barrels, but a bit larger - I'm talking about 20L of wash here, that's the largest capacity still I ran (a potstill made of an old corny keg with a heating element brazed into the base, and a liebeg condenser arm). I would tend to run off about a gallon jug of 60% product per batch, at a cost of about $3/gallon for rum (the easiest wash by far, molasses and sugar) - which was then watered down to 40%, yielding about a gallon and a half drinkable product. I did a few whiskey batches but the effort in making a wash is so much higher, and aging time so much longer to get good whiskey, that I did mostly rum. I never stilled for anyone but myself (and friends, not like anyone can drink a gallon of rum to themself!), but figured that controlling a larger still would be easier and less work per liter of booze (and it is, due to higher thermal mass and greater volumes involved). Also, I'll admit to having been ...a bit of a drunk at a few times in the past. I agree that whiskey is very safe , as are rum, vodka and gin (oh, I would love to make gin!) and for that matter most of the "ordinary" spirits. WRT brandy though - When I was doing research on methanol before getting into the hobby (seems we all have to do it to feel safe) - the only recorded cases of beverage alcohol methanol poisoning NOT involving adulteration of spirits were involving homemade brandy (particularly plum brandy), so it may be a genuine risk to make your own brandy. This discussion is making me want to fire up one of my stills again. It's a real shame - I now share a 450sq ft apartment with my girlfriend while going to school - and there is no room for buckets of wash and huge kettles. :(

Rectifier says:

Apr 8, 2008. 1:18 AM REPLY By the way, if anyone is wondering, I talk openly about this because I am not in the USA. It... may not be a good idea for people there to openly chat about personal distilling.

view all 212 comments