Making Gin & Vodka

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Published by

Brewhaus (Canada)
P.O. Box 73161
Calgary, AB T2W 6E4
Canada

Email: gin-vodka@shaw.ca

www.brewhaus.ca

Fifth Edition

Copyright © January, 2004 by John Stone

All rights reserved. No part of this publication, printed or electronic, may be reproduced or
transmitted to a third party in any form or by any means without the prior written permission
of the author and publisher.

ISBN 0-9682280-3-8

Cover illustration courtesy Rainbow Cards Ltd., England





John Stone Ph. D

1921-2004

3

FOREWORD

Making pure ethyl alcohol at home by distillation is a satisfying and profitable
hobby for those who live in countries where it is legal to do so. Do-it-yourself types, who
currently enjoy making beer or wine, find it particularly interesting because it is a logical
extension of both these activities. There is the same fermentation stage where sugar is
turned into alcohol but then, instead of drinking the brew, it is subjected to a very rigorous
purification process. This process is fractional distillation, a scientific procedure which can
be guaranteed to produce a perfect product every time --- a sparkling, crystal clear alcohol
of pharmaceutical quality.

The pure alcohol is then diluted with water to 40% and used as such (vodka), or
flavoured with exotic herbs such as juniper berries, cardamom, orris root, coriander and
other botanicals to give London Dry Gin. Or fruit is steeped in the alcohol and sugar added
to make a pleasant after-dinner liqueur. And then, by adding a shot of vodka to soft drinks
or fruit juices, you can prepare an unlimited number of highballs for just a few cents. So the
freedom to make spirits will extend considerably the range of beverages available to the
amateur as he/she will no longer be restricted to just beer and wine.

Although it is illegal in many countries for amateurs to distil alcohol, and even
illegal to own the equipment amazingly enough, fortunately it is not illegal to write about it
or read about it. The purpose of this book, therefore, is to open up the subject to intelligent
discussion. This it will do by describing in detail how to construct the equipment, followed
by a description of how to use it to make vodka. The reader will then know, from a
complete understanding of the subject, how the present attitudes of officialdom are based on
a completely false premise. This premise is that distillation makes alcohol; it doesn’t.

It might well be asked why anyone should bother to read about a procedure which is
currently illegal, or learn how to build equipment which it’s illegal to own. The answer is
that this is the first step, the necessary step, in changing the law so that an innocent hobby
becomes as legal as making beer and wine.

New Zealand has recently (1996) legalized amateur distillation, probably as a result
of its isolated location in the south Pacific and freedom to think for itself. It does not have
to march in lockstep with the hidebound democracies of Europe and N. America. Surely the
rest of the world must soon follow New Zealand’s lead if it is not to look ridiculous.
However, governments are notoriously slow to change and it will take persuasive arguments
to overturn entrenched opinions. For those crusaders who wish to embark on such a noble
task it is imperative that they know the facts thoroughly and can dispose intelligently of the
fatuous beliefs which surround the subject of distillation. This book will provide such
persons with the ammunition they need.




4


Table of Contents


Page No

1. Foreword 2

2. Introduction 6

3. Alcoholic Beverages

Beer & wine 9
Distillation --- what is it? 10
Simple distillation --- pot stills 11
Whisky, brandy, rum, etc. 11

Fractional distillation 12
Vodka 13
Gin 14
Summary 14

4. Health & Safety 16

Poisoning oneself 16
Headaches & hangovers 17
Fire & explosions 18

5. Legality 20
Amateur distillation 21

6. Equipment
Scale of operation 24

Fermenter 26
The drain 27
The cover 27
Stirrer 28
Immersion heater 28

Fractionating still 29
Single boiler system 30
Material of construction 30
The Mexican Cactus design 31
Boiler (N. America) 33
Boiler (outside N. America) 34
Power supply 34
Soldering 35
The column 35
Thermometer adapter 35
Packing 37
The stillhead 38
5
“Mexican Cactus” model 38
The condenser 39
“Hatstand” model 41
Water supply 42
Glass still 44
Attachment to boiler 46
Support table 47



7. Fermentation
Principles 49
Procedure 50
Yeast 50
8. Distillation
Principles 53
Simple distillation --- the pot still 54
Fractional distillation 55
The alcohol-water azeotrope 56
Inside the column 57

Procedures 58
1st stage ----beer-stripping 59
2
nd
stage --- fractional distillation 60
Temperature measurement 61
Collection rate 61
Yield of alcohol 64
Water quality 64
Storage 64

9. Flavouring

Steam distillation 65
Gin recipe 66
Procedure 67

10. Summary of Procedures 68

11. Costs & Economics 70

12. Appendices

I. Conversion factors 75
II. Latent heat of vaporization 76
III. Activated charcoal 78
IV Cooling water requirements 79
V Boiling points of water & ethanol vs pressure 81
VI Steam distillation 82

The author 84

13. Latest News 85
6

INTRODUCTION

Many books are available to amateurs on the methods and equipment involved in
making beer and wine, and such books can be found in abundance in most bookstores and in
beer- and wine-making supply stores. However, when it comes to the use of a small still to
produce distilled spirits it is no use looking in bookstores. To find books on this subject it is
necessary to search the Internet for independent publishers, but then we run into another
problem. The books which are found on the Internet frequently deal with the production of
moonshine or whiskies, spirits which may be quite enjoyable when well prepared but which
also can be harsh to the point of being undrinkable.

What has been missing is a scientifically-based literature dealing with the production
on a small scale of the very pure ethyl alcohol used for making high-end vodka and gin, the
same highly-purified alcohol which is used in chemical laboratories, the pharmaceutical
industry, and in the production of perfumes and colognes, etc. This book has been written in
an attempt to rectify such an anomalous situation because the starting point for many drinks
--- vodka, gin, liqueurs, punches --- is an alcohol which can provide the “high” without
contributing any flavour of its own. Moonshine cannot do this because its own flavour is
far too harsh, and the strange little moonshine stills which are offered for sale on the
Internet will certainly lead to disappointment if pure alcohol is what you are looking for.

The four previous editions of this book have been well received, but the advantage
of short printing runs is that it is possible to make improvements with each edition. In line
with this thinking the present volume will provide some additional information on both the
theoretical and practical aspects of distillation. Certain explanations have also been
amplified and improved because feedback from readers makes it apparent that what may
have been crystal clear to the author was by no means clear to the reader.

The production of extremely pure alcohol is rather simple as it happens, far easier in
fact than making a spirit of lesser purity such as whisky, rum or brandy. It is even simpler
than making beer or wine. This should be encouraging for those who have never embarked
upon distillation and are worried that it might be a bit too technical and equipment-oriented.
The explanation as to why it is easier to make a pure alcohol than an impure one will
become apparent in the next chapter.

The book should appeal to two groups of readers: 1) those who live in countries
where it is currently legal to distil alcohol for one’s own use, New Zealand being the best
example although there may be some others in eastern Europe. Commendably, the United
States currently has a Bill before Congress to follow New Zealand’s example. And 2) the
rest of the world, particularly western Europe, Canada and Australia, where the laws
respecting distillation by amateurs need to be challenged since they are based upon a false
premise. This premise is that distillation produces a highly intoxicating alcohol, whereas
the truth of the matter is that distillation doesn’t produce any alcohol at all. This statement is
not made merely to be controversial and argumentative, it is a simple fact. Distillation does
not make alcohol. It never has, never will, and is incapable of doing so.
7
The first group will find complete details of the equipment and procedures required
to a) ferment ordinary table sugar (sucrose) to a crude “beer” using bakers’ yeast and b) the
steps involved in fractionally distilling this beer to remove all the impurities. The alcohol
so produced is a sparkling, crystal-clear vodka. Instructions follow for flavouring the vodka
with juniper berries and other herbs and botanicals to produce the well-known bouquet of
London Dry Gin. There are also suggestions for making a wide variety of alcoholic drinks
by the simple expedient of adding the appropriate flavouring agent.

The second group can use the same detailed information in its campaign to get the
law changed. Such campaigns will only succeed if they are based upon a thorough
knowledge of the subject matter, because those who embark upon it will soon realize that
legislators and officials in government are thoroughly muddled about distillation --- with
what it is and what it isn’t. They are certain, for example that distillation makes alcohol. It
doesn’t. They are equally certain that distillation is a dangerous practice which is liable to
lead to blindness. It won’t. When faced with such charges it is necessary to have all the
facts at your fingertips, to be an authority on the subject, because then you will be in a
position to counter such silly arguments in a convincing manner.

This book must not be seen in N. America and elsewhere as any sort of incitement to
break the law. Far from it. The law has to be changed, not broken, and to change the law it
is necessary to clarify in the minds of the general public, and in governments, the
misconceptions about a simple purification process which have become rooted in society as
a result of centuries of mischievous brainwashing combined with simple ignorance.

A whole chapter will be devoted to this question of legality since it is highly
important for everyone to know exactly where they stand and to be comfortable with what
they are doing. It is hoped that legislators and law enforcement agencies themselves will
read this chapter and possibly one or two others, think about it, and be prepared to be
receptive when law reformers come knocking at their doors.

There is quite a bit of repetition in several of the chapters. Thus, when describing
the equipment it has been necessary to describe to some extent just how it is used, even
though this is dealt with at length in the chapters which deal with procedures. We make no
apologies for such overlap since it helps to make the various chapters self-sufficient. Also,
repetition of the fact that distillation is simply a purification process and doesn’t make
alcohol can be excused on the grounds that repetition is not a bad thing if we wish to clear
away the misinformation hammered into people’s minds over the centuries by zealots of one
sort or another.

In writing this description of small-scale distillation for amateurs it was difficult to
decide on an appropriate amount of detail to provide. Distillation, even fractional
distillation, is really a very simple process and it might have been sufficient simply to
provide a bare outline of how to proceed, letting the reader’s ingenuity fill in the gaps. It
was decided, however, that a knowledge of why something works or doesn’t work is as
interesting to the enquiring mind as knowing how. Furthermore, it can be very useful to
know the underlying principles involved in a process if something doesn’t work out exactly
8
as expected the first time you try it, or if you have modified the equipment and procedures
described in the book (which many people do). It then becomes possible to solve the
problem through knowledge rather than by trial and error.

The units of measurement to use present a problem. It will be much easier when the
whole world uses the metric system, but many countries in the English-speaking world,
particularly the United States, is largely non-metric. In this book, therefore, we have
adopted an awkward hybrid system in which most volumes, weights, temperatures and
pressures are in metric units while some dimensions, e.g. pipe diameters, are in inches. For
convenience a table of conversion factors from one system to the other is provided in
Appendix I.

Before getting down to the details of fermentation and distillation a few general
observations will be made in the next chapter on the subject of alcoholic beverages per se
because, as we all know, they cover an extremely wide range of products from wines and
beers to whiskies, rum, brandy, gin, liqueurs, etc., and a very wide range of starting
materials, from grapes to potatoes to milk. The common denominator which ties them all
together is the alcohol itself, a pure chemical with the empirical formula C
2
H
5
OH.


9

Alcoholic Beverages

All alcoholic beverages are made by fermenting a sugar solution with yeast, a
process which converts the sugar to carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol.

C
6
H
12
O
6
+

yeast → CO
2
+ C
2
H
5
OH
Glucose ethanol

Usually one does not start with a pure sugar but with fruit juices for wine, the starch
in grains for beer and whisky, the starch in grain or potatoes for vodka, molasses for rum,
etc. Over the centuries trial and error have shown that a bewildering variety of sugar
sources can be exploited in this manner, even such an unlikely substance as milk being
usable because of the sugar lactose it contains. Regardless of the sugar source the alcohol is
the same even though the flavour and colour will be different.

In addition to the variations imposed by the source of sugar, the particular strain of
yeast and the conditions under which it is used (temperature, nutrients, etc.) also make their
contribution to the character of the final product. This is because yeasts produce small
quantities of other substances in addition to the main product --- ethyl alcohol. It is no
wonder, therefore, that the flavour, colour, aroma and general quality of fermented
beverages vary so widely and that a great deal of skill and experience is required in order to
produce an acceptable drink.

No alcoholic beverage (with the exception of certain vodkas made in N. America)
consists simply of alcohol and water with no other constituent present. If it did it would be
colourless, odourless and tasteless. And rather boring to many palates unless you mixed it
with something which had a flavour, e.g. vermouth for a martini, tomato juice for a Bloody
Mary, orange juice for a Screwdriver and so on. Liqueurs too, normally use vodka as the
alcoholic base.

The colour, aroma, and flavour of beers, wines and spirits are due entirely to the
other constituents present, the alcohol having nothing to do with it. These other constituents
are known collectively as “congeners”. Many of these congeners are relatively harmless but
there are always a few produced during fermentation, even during the fermentation of a fine
wine, which are actually poisonous. Methanol (rubbing alcohol) is one of them. Fusel oils
are another. Surprisingly enough to those of us who have been brought up to believe the
opposite, it is the congeners and not the alcohol which are responsible for headaches and
hangovers following over-indulgence. You will never get a hangover from drinking vodka,
but you will from beer, wine or whisky. More will be said about this interesting and little
known fact in the next chapter dealing with health and safety.

Beer and wine

Alcoholic beverages can be divided into two broad categories according to whether
or not there is a distillation stage following fermentation. Beer and wine fall into the non-
10
distilled category whereas whisky, rum, brandy, gin, etc. have all been distilled. The latter
are often referred to as “spirits” or “hard liquor”. Simple distillation permits the removal of
some of the more noxious congeners by discarding some of the first liquid to distil over (the
“heads”) and the last to distil over (the “tails”). The middle fraction of congener-laden
alcohol remains and is collected.

Because beer and wine do not receive any such purification treatment it is necessary
to live with whatever mixture of chemicals the fermentation has produced. It would be nice
if, after a fermentation had gone slightly wrong and the beer or wine were found to have an
unpleasant taste, the offending congeners could be removed. Alas, science has not yet come
up with a method for doing this. Which means in practice that beer- and wine-making must
be carried out extremely carefully because you are stuck with whatever you’ve produced.
Beer- and winemaking are highly skilled operations, more akin to gourmet cooking than to
science, and involve many subtleties and many opportunities for error. Which explains why
there is such a wide range of qualities and prices of wines and why amateurs have such
difficulty in producing a really first-class product.

Distillation --- what is it?

To distil a liquid one simply brings it to the boil and condenses the vapour on a cold
surface. To remove the hardness from water it is boiled in a kettle and the steam which is
produced condensed against a cold surface to give a pure water free of minerals and all
other types of impurity. The calcium and magnesium salts which constitute the hardness are
non-volatile and remain behind in the kettle. Nature carries out her own distillation in the
form of rain --- the sun evaporates water from the surface of lakes and oceans leaving salt
and impurities behind. Clouds form, condense, and a close approximation to distilled water
falls to earth.

So distillation is not a mysterious subject, nor is it threatening. Nor is it something
to be furtive about, something to discuss with your friends in hushed tones. It is as
commonplace as a rain-shower or a tea-kettle boiling and causing condensation on a nearby
window. And as innocuous. Which makes government sanctions completely ludicrous.

As you can imagine, the actual practice of distillation is a little more complicated
than this although the principle is exactly the same ----- boil the liquid and condense the
vapour --- and later chapters will provide an exact description of the equipment required and
the procedures involved. Emphasis will be placed on the production of high purity alcohol
such as used in vodka and gin, but alcohol containing congeners for providing flavour, both
good and bad, can be produced if that is what you want.

There are two different types of still, the choice of which to use depending on the
level of purity required in the product. Whisky and similar spirits use one type, rather
simple in design since only a modest level of purity is required. Furthermore, if all the so-
called “impurities” were removed there would be no taste or bouquet and you would have
produced vodka rather than whisky. The other type of still is more elaborate in design and
used for making pure alcohol in which all the impurities have been removed. A brief
11
description of the two types will be provided in this chapter dealing with beverages because
it is quite important for the reader to appreciate the differences right at the outset.

Simple distillation – pot stills

As mentioned before, the fermentation of sugars derived from grapes, barley, corn,
potatoes, molasses, milk or any other source produces a wide variety of chemicals, the
major one being ethyl alcohol (ethanol). Minor constituents will be methyl, propyl, butyl
and amyl alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, esters, and a host of other organic compounds in
small amounts. Analytical methods such as chromatography reveal that there are literally
hundreds of compounds present after a fermentation. These minor constituents are the
congeners and the amount of each will determine the flavour, bouquet and colour of a
particular beverage. They are also responsible for unpleasant side effects such as headaches
and hangovers since many of them are very poisonous, and it is only because they are
present in comparatively small amounts that nothing worse than a hangover is experienced.
The type of still used for making whiskies, brandies, rums and so on, all of which require
that a percentage of taste-giving congeners remain, are called pot stills.

To make brandy (as an example of a distilled spirit) the fermented liquor (wine in
this case) is brought to the boil and the vapours led over into the condensing section. This
section contains a cooling coil with cold water running through it where the vapours are
condensed to liquid. The first vapours to come over are richer than the mother liquor in the
more volatile components such as acetone and methanol. This first fraction is referred to as
the “heads”. There is no sharp separation so, long before the heads are completely
exhausted, the ethanol begins to appear and is collected, even though it would be somewhat
contaminated with heads. Later, when ethanol production is tapering off, the “tails” begin
to emerge. These are the least volatile components of the mixture and include propyl, butyl
and amyl alcohol. These three alcohols are known as “fusel” oils. Thus, in a simple
distillation using a pot still there are three main fractions --- the heads, the tails, and the
middle fraction of ethanol contaminated with a little heads and tails, the amount of each
depending on just where the cut-off is made.

Whisky, brandy, rum, etc.

The distiller of these products uses a simple pot still or a pot still slightly modified to
give a small amount of reflux (see next section). Such stills effect only a crude separation
of the fermented liquor into heads, tails and a middle fraction. The skill in making a
palatable whisky consists of a) fermenting the mash under a carefully controlled set of
conditions to generate a particular mixture of organic compounds, followed by b) distilling
the mixture and discarding a portion of the heads and a portion of the tails. For example,
you wouldn’t wish to drink the acetone and methanol which arrive first but you might wish
to retain some of the congeners which arrive immediately afterwards. The middle fraction,
consisting chiefly of ethanol, will also contain the retained portion of heads and tails. It is
these heads and tails which impart the characteristic flavour and aroma of each batch, and
since the amount retained is controllable, the flavour of the final whisky is affected
accordingly. At this point there is no colour and the fiery liquid will look like water.
12
Colour is imparted by storing the spirit in oak barrels for a number of years, a process which
also modifies to some extent the chemical make-up of the whisky to give the unique
characteristics of a particular brand. If insufficient colour is imparted to the whisky by the
barrel used for aging, a little caramel is added by the manufacturer.

Clearly, the manufacture of a palatable whisky is a highly skilled operation which
has taken years of trial-and-error, taste panels, and feedback from consumers to reach the
point where it is today. It has involved the production of a complex but controlled mixture
of compounds followed by the selective removal of a certain proportion of them. This
makes it easy to understand why the moonshine produced in the hills of Kentucky during
prohibition days was such a rough and even dangerous product. The fermentation carried
out under less than ideal conditions would have produced a witches brew of chemicals
while the crude pot stills used without proper controls would undoubtedly have left behind a
number of exceedingly unpleasant constituents. Additionally, in order to increase the
quantity of saleable product the moonshiners would have been strongly tempted to retain an
excessive amount of the more noxious heads and tails, or even to add some cheap adulterant
such as rubbing alcohol or gas-line antifreeze.

Similar problems, though less extreme of course, would face the amateur whisky-
maker today, so we highly recommend that you serve your distilling apprenticeship making
vodka. It is the simplest of all distilled spirits to make and the safest. Then graduate to the
far more challenging task of distilling a palatable whisky.

Fractional distillation

As mentioned above, simple distillation of a mixture of liquids does not produce a
clear-cut separation of the various components. If such a separation is required it is
necessary to resort to the use of a fractionating column. The theory and practice of this will
be described in detail in a later chapter but a few words will be said about it here. The
procedure involves the use of a vertical column attached to the top of a boiler. The column
is packed with small pieces of an inert substance, e.g. short lengths of glass or ceramic
tubing (known as Raschig rings), ceramic saddles, wire gauze, or in fact any non-reactive
material with a large surface area and a large number of small pockets where liquid can
accumulate.

The vapours from the boiling liquid rise up the column, are condensed to liquid in
the stillhead at the top, and run back down through the packing in the column to the boiler.
This is quite different from simple pot-distilling, where all the vapours are condensed and
collected with no reflux back into the boiler. This counter-current flow of vapour up and
liquid down has the effect of producing a series of mini-distillations at the surface of each
piece of glass, ceramic or metal in the column. It is equivalent to carrying out a simple
distillation in a pot still and then re-distilling the product over and over again. The final
result is an almost perfect separation of the mixture into its various components, allowing
each one to be drawn off in sequence from the top of the column in the order of its boiling
point. Thus, the most highly volatile components emerge first and the least volatile
components emerge last, with pure ethanol as the major middle fraction.
13


Vodka.

To make vodka, fractional distillation equipment along the lines of that discussed in
a later chapter must be used. A pot still will not do it. The strong (192 proof), pure alcohol
so produced is diluted with water to 40% to give vodka.

In sharp contrast to all other spirits, most vodka, particularly the vodka made in N.
America, is made from pure alcohol, i.e. alcohol from which all the heads and tails have
been removed. The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (BATF) defines vodka as
“A neutral spirit so distilled as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color”.

If the BATF definition is taken literally, it would mean that there should be no
difference between vodkas made from potatoes, grains, wine, milk or any other fermentable
sugar. Why then is there so much advertising hype about the unique qualities of a vodka
from, say, Sweden, or Poland, or Russia, etc., etc.? If there’s no difference, why then all the
talk about triple distilling, carbon filtering, and so on? Or the difference between vodkas
made from potatoes and grain? The following quotation from the London Daily Telegraph
of June 14, 1997 is interesting in this connection, “Aleksander Orekhov, the Russian-born
owner of Red, a Soho bar that offers some 40 different vodkas, makes no apology for saying
that the best vodka is one that has no real flavour at all”. In line with this thinking it may be
noted that some manufacturers choose to use the lactose in milk to make vodka, not just
because it is available locally but also because it gives no flavour to the vodka.

The fact seems to be that most vodkas, at least outside N. America, do have a slight
flavour. They are lightly flavoured by the manufacturer using certain grasses or herbs, so
delicately that it can barely be detected, in which case the source of the flavouring is not
mentioned. Or glycerine is added to give the vodka a little smoothness and body. The use
of such additives is allowed to remain a subtle mystery in order to tempt the palates of
vodka aficionados around the world and to give the spin doctors in the advertising
departments something to work with. It’s difficult to rhapsodize over a beverage with no
colour, no taste and no odour. Recently, however, more strongly flavoured vodkas have
been introduced into the market, with flavours which include raspberry, strawberry, peach,
vanilla, lemon, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon, pepper, and so on. No mystery here --- they are
advertised as lemon vodka, pepper vodka, etc. Such practice makes eminent sense --- use
pure alcohol, add a natural flavouring (of which there are hundreds, if not thousands) and
you have a unique and pleasant drink with no congeners, no methanol, no fusel oils, nor (as
will be discussed in the next chapter) any headaches or hangovers.

Another, more traditional way to make a delicately flavoured vodka, is to carry out a
slightly “imperfect” fractional distillation so that very small amounts of the natural flavours
in the original source of carbohydrate --- potatoes, grain, etc. --- are retained. This is much
more tricky than making a pure, unflavoured alcohol because it involves a subjective
judgement on the part of the distiller on what constitutes a pleasant taste when traces of the
14
heads and tails are retained. It is doubtful if any commercial distilleries still use this old-
fashioned method, but we are quite prepared to learn that they do.

Gin.

Gin is really nothing more than a special case of a flavoured vodka, the flavouring
agent in this case being mainly juniper berries but also small amounts of other botanicals
such as orris root, cardamom, coriander. Different distillers use different recipes, which
accounts for the slightly different taste of different brands. In a later section of the book a
description will be given of a simple little piece of home-made equipment and the procedure
involved in steam-distilling juniper berries and other herbs to produce a flavouring essence
which can then be added to vodka to produce gin.

Summary

In terms of ease of manufacture, the production of pure alcohol is a science, not an
art, and results therefore can be guaranteed if the proper equipment is used and the correct
procedures followed. There are no subtleties involved such as quality of grapes or the type
of yeast used. The starting material can be corn, potatoes, grapes, wheat, rice, milk,
molasses --- in fact anything which contains a fermentable sugar. One hardly even needs to
worry about hygiene---- just add large amounts of bakers’ yeast to a solution of sugar and
water and stand back. The sugar will be rapidly fermented to a crude alcohol known as
“beer” in the trade, and then this “beer” is fractionally distilled to remove all the extraneous,
noxious substances to leave a clear, sparkling, pure alcohol. What could be simpler?

By comparison, the production of a fine wine, beer or whisky is much more difficult.
As we have said before, and shall no doubt say again, the quality of these beverages
depends upon the presence of compounds other than ethyl alcohol (the congeners) and it is
very difficult to ensure that these are present in exactly the right amounts and the right
proportions. The only difference between a cheap bottle of “plonk” and a vintage chateau-
bottled wine costing an arm and a leg is a very slight difference in the congener make-up,
and the only difference between a rot-gut whiskey and a single malt, lovingly produced in
the Highlands of Scotland and aged for donkey’s years, is a difference in the congeners. No
such considerations apply in the case of gin and vodka. The “beer” produced by adding
bakers’ yeast to a 20% solution of cane sugar would be completely undrinkable by all but
the most dedicated tipplers, but fractional distillation will rid the mixture of all the
congeners, all the undesirable compounds, and produce a crystal-clear, unadulterated ethyl
alcohol. Even the dregs from glasses after a party could be thrown into the pot and out will
come the purest alcohol. No aging is required --- gin and vodka are ready to drink the day
you make them.

The result will be the same every time, with no variations and no failures. The only
art involved will be in the preparation of the flavouring essence from juniper berries and
other botanicals for gin, and from various fruits and herbs for liqueurs, highballs and
punches. And this is simply a matter of personal taste and preference.

15
It is also worth mentioning that, in addition to using one’s own natural ingredients to
flavour alcohol, ready-made flavouring essences can be purchased from beer- and wine-
making supply stores. These essences cover a very wide range, from fruity liqueurs to
whisky, rum, brandy, etc. Just add the contents of the little (15-25 ml) bottle of essence to a
litre of vodka and ----- voila!

As a final word of encouragement, a litre of vodka can easily be made from 1 kg of
sugar. So, depending on the price of sugar where you live, the cost of all the ingredients to
make a litre of 40% vodka will be about $1 (U.S.), leading to a far greater saving over the
commercial product than you could possibly realize with either beer or wine. Financially,
therefore, it is a most worthwhile hobby.

16

Health and Safety


The three major concerns of people who might be interested in setting up a still at
home are 1) the question of legality, 2) the possibility of getting poisoned, specifically of
going blind, and 3) the danger of blowing oneself up. These are serious concerns, and
people take them very seriously. In the next chapter the legality question will be dealt with
at length, but for the moment the emphasis will be on health and safety.

Poisoning oneself.

The belief that there is some inherent danger in distilling one’s own spirits is
widespread and is reinforced whenever the news media report that a number of people have
been taken ill, or even died, as a result of drinking homemade spirits. People associate
“homemade spirits” with distillation, with moon-shining, but in fact there is no danger
whatsoever in drinking home distilled spirits, or even moonshine properly made. The
danger lies in buying liquor from a bootlegger because in order to increase his profits he
may top up his moonshine with rubbing alcohol (methanol), or stove oil, or antifreeze or
paint remover or any other pungent liquid he can lay his hands on. Naturally such a cocktail
is poisonous, but don’t be mislead into thinking that the toxicity is due to simple ignorance
or lack of care on the part of the backwoods distiller. It’s not. It’s due to these gentlemen
adulterating their booze and fobbing it off on an unsuspecting public.

Another possibility is that the moonshiner will use automobile radiators for cooling
the vapours rising from his boiler, and radiators frequently contain lead soldering, so lead
may get into the alcohol. Obviously there is no government supervision of a moonshiner’s
operation, so caveat emptor --- let the buyer beware!

Our recommendation is that you never buy moonshine made in an illegal and
unsupervised still, possibly adulterated with unknown chemicals. Make your own if it’s
legal to do so, in which case there will be no danger whatsoever to your health. This is
particularly true of fractional distillation, where you have removed ALL the impurities, but
also for simple distillation where you have removed at least some of them. Your equipment
will be made of glass, stainless steel or copper, and if made from copper the various parts
will be joined with lead-free solder. It would be similar to a Scotch whisky distillery where
copper stills have been used for centuries. As for dangers in the distilling operation itself,
let us follow this through. Sugar is fermented to alcohol using bakers’ yeast to make a
crude “beer”. No danger so far, right? The beer is boiled and the vapours collected. The
first liquid to come over will contain some methanol (poisonous), acetone and small
amounts of other substances which were in the original beer, the so-called congeners. They
smell like paint remover and will be discarded. So we’ve already got a purer liquid than we
started with. Then comes the potable alcohol which has no smell and is collected for use.
Finally there arrive the fusel oils with a somewhat unpleasant odour so they, too, are
discarded. This means that the original beer has had a second batch of unpleasant things
removed and in consequence is far purer than the liquid we started out with. Anyone who
17
says that distilling is dangerous because it produces toxic substances is merely indulging in
scare tactics and should be ignored. Remember, the distillation has not created anything, it
has simply separated out the noxious substances from the beer --- the heads and tails ----
and discarded them.

So, to poison oneself, it would be necessary to save the heads and tails in a bottle,
pour the purified alcohol down the drain and then, ignoring the pungent smell and sickening
taste, drink the paint remover. This is about as likely as plucking a chicken, throwing away
the meat and eating the feathers. It strains credulity to put it mildly.

Headaches and hangovers

Headaches and hangovers are well-known consequences of over-indulgence in
alcohol , but what is far less well known is that these unpleasant side-effects are largely due
to the impurities, the congeners, and not to the alcohol per se.

This interesting fact will be confirmed by many people who habitually drink gin or
vodka rather than pot-distilled spirits such as rye, bourbon, scotch, rum or even wine and
beer. More objective proof that the congeners and not the alcohol are the bad actors can be
found in the scientific literature. Numerous studies have been made and all investigators
find the same thing, i.e. that the symptoms of hangover --- headache, halitosis, gastric
irritation, fatigue and dizziness --- were far more severe when the same amount of alcohol
were consumed in the form of whisky than in the form of vodka. When you think about it,
this is hardly surprising considering the poisonous nature of some congeners.

As an example of such studies, in one clinical investigation 33 men and 35 women
were each given 2 ounces of either whisky or vodka on separate occasions. The incidence
of after-effects in the group following a single drink of 2 ounces of whisky was halitosis
27%, gastric irritation 25%, headache 9%, dizziness 7% and fatigue 6%. These symptoms
persisted during the following day. After the same amount of vodka, temporary headache
and gastric irritation were observed in only 2% of the subjects while there were no
complaints of halitosis, dizziness or fatigue in any of the cases. It should be noted that all
the subjects in this trial were light social drinkers.

The effects described above were produced by a commercial whisky in which the
congeners occurred to the extent of about 3%. As part of the study the congeners were
separated from the whisky and given to the subjects in the absence of alcohol. The effect
was the same as when the whisky itself was imbibed, proving that the congeners and not the
alcohol were responsible for the adverse reactions. The chief culprit among the congeners
was considered to be one of the fusel oils --- amyl alcohol --- and not methanol as might
have been expected.

These results are not really definitive --- for one thing the size of the sample was
rather small --- but even without such a trial it is not difficult to believe that drinking such
things as methanol and fusel oils, even in small amounts, will be bad for you. If it were a
different poison, e.g. arsenic, it would not be surprising if a 3% solution in alcohol, or even
18
in water, gave you an upset tummy. 3% is not a trivial amount when one considers that
nowadays the authorities are concerned about parts per billion of contaminants in
foodstuffs.

One of the conclusions to be drawn from such studies is that whisky production
should be handled carefully by amateurs. As mentioned in earlier sections, pot-distilled
spirits involve the retention of some of the congeners in order to give taste to the whisky,
but some of these taste-providing congeners are poisonous so don’t overdo it. It would be
wiser, perhaps, and certainly easier, to remove all the impurities by fractional distillation to
give a pure alcohol and then add a flavouring agent. The physiological effect of an
alcoholic drink, the ‘buzz’, is due solely to the alcohol, and everything else is merely
moonlight and roses!

A final comment concerns the question of alcohol concentration in beverages. In
beer the concentration is about 5%, in wine it is 8 to 13%, while in distilled spirits it is
usually 40%. Only a moment’s thought is required to appreciate that the concentration of
alcohol in a drink is irrelevant, it is the amount consumed which is the determining factor in
determining whether or not someone becomes inebriated. Drinking a bottle of beer is not
less harmful than a 1½-oz. drink of 40% scotch just because it is weaker. They both contain
identical amount of the same alcohol, i.e. 17 ml. Adding tonic water to a shot of gin dilutes
it from 40% to maybe 6% but this has not rendered the gin less intoxicating --- the amount
of alcohol has remained unchanged.

This is all so obvious that it may seem a little absurd to even mention it but, in most
countries, the concept appears to be somewhat too difficult for the official mind to grasp.
This is shown by the fact that governments put a much higher tax per unit of alcohol on
distilled spirits than on beer and wine. The reason for doing this, it is claimed (somewhat
piously) is to discourage people from drinking something which could be harmful to their
health. A more likely reason is that they see it as an opportunity to increase tax revenue. If
governments wished to base their tax grab on a rational argument they should start by
basing it on alcohol amount (so much per unit of alcohol) instead of on alcohol
concentration. And then, if health were the primary consideration as they claim, an
additional tax would be levied based on the amount of poison (congener) present. Vodka
would then attract the lowest tax of all and we would all live happily ever after!

A final note for environmentalists and watchdog groups on health matters: Is it not
time to demand that governments require all manufacturers of alcoholic beverages to list the
composition on the label? This would enable us to choose the ones with the lowest levels of
toxic ingredients. They do it for food so why not for drink, particularly for drink which is
known to contain several poisons.


Fire and explosions.

This may sound a bit melodramatic but when you are dealing with a procedure for
the first time, and know that alcohol is inflammable, you may wonder. Let’s take the
19
explosion issue first. At no time, from beginning to end, is there any pressure in the
equipment used for distillation. It is always open to the atmosphere. Fully open.
Completely open. You will see that this is so when you look at the equipment diagrams
later on and read the description of the procedures involved. So don’t worry about it --- an
explosion is impossible.

As far as fire is concerned you are dealing with an aqueous solution of alcohol
which is non-inflammable right up to the time you collect the pure alcohol dripping from
the draw-off valve. This is inflammable, but most people will be using an electrically
heated boiler so there is no open flame. Secondly, in the remote possibility that a fire
occurred, e.g. if you were smoking and dropped some burning ash into the collection bottle,
alcohol fires can instantly be doused with water because alcohol and water are completely
miscible. For this reason it is an infinitely safer inflammable liquid than gasoline, and in the
fuel alcohol industry this fact is always quoted as one of the benefits associated with ethanol
when it is used alone as a fuel --- in Brazil for example.
20

The Question of Legality

This chapter is written specifically for those readers who live in countries where it is
currently illegal for amateurs to make their own home-made spirits. This means almost all
of us. It is also written for government officials, politicians, law enforcement agencies, the
news media and any advocacy groups with an influence on public policy.

The conflict between governments and moonshiners has been going on for centuries
and the reasons are not hard to find. From the government point of view alcohol in one
form or another is in such demand that it can be heavily taxed without fear of killing the
goose that lays the golden egg. From the moonshiner’s or smuggler’s point of view the
spread between the cost of manufacture of alcohol and cost to the consumer after tax is so
great that the incentive to circumvent the law is considerable. This incentive grows greater
and greater with each tax hike until a point is reached where people are driven by taxation
policy to smuggle liquor or make their own, the net result being that tax revenues actually
decrease while crime is encouraged.

The dollar figures involved are informative. When alcohol is made on a large scale,
as it is for the fuel-alcohol industry (gasohol) its cost of manufacture is about 25 cents per
litre. This is for 100% alcohol. If diluted to the 40% commonly used for vodka, gin and
other distilled spirits a litre would contain about 10 cents (U.S.) worth of alcohol. The retail
price of a litre of vodka will lie somewhere between $10 and $20 depending on the country
and level of taxation. The mark-up is enormous. To be fair, some of the difference is due
to the scale of manufacture, the purity of the product, transportation, the profit margin, etc.,
but even allowing for these factors the tax burden on the consumer is extremely high. In an
attempt to justify their actions and to persuade consumers to accept them, governments
promote the idea that drinking is not only sinful but harmful to your health, so the tax is
made deliberately high (they say) in order to protect you! As Scrooge would say, “Bah,
humbug”.

In light of the above, is it any wonder that an unscrupulous operator will attempt to
sell his alcohol direct to the consumer, perhaps at half the normal retail price which would
still give him a very handsome profit? Or is it any wonder that the authorities crack down
hard on anyone attempting to interfere with their huge source of revenue, their milch cow?

This battle between the law enforcement agencies (the good guys) and the smugglers
and bootleggers (the bad guys) has been a perfect subject for stories and movies, and one
which turned into real life drama during Prohibition in the United States in the 1920’s.
Police and gangsters fought it out with bullets, bombs and bloody mayhem, one gang
slaughtering another to gain control of the market, and while all this was going on the law-
abiding citizens of the world sat on the sidelines, took it all to heart and shivered in their
shoes. The average person is now convinced that the production of spirits is inherently evil,
something to be tightly controlled by the authorities or blood will run in the streets.

21
Beer and wine do not suffer from such a bad press. Being of a philosophical turn of
mind the author has speculated on the underlying reasons for this. One reason may be that
beer and wine-making are traditional activities and therefore hallowed by tradition. It is an
activity which poets and shepherds and decent country folk might engage in as they play
their flutes and dance around the Maypole. Distilling, by contrast, invokes an image of
unholy forces at work --- alchemists and necromancers. Or the satanic mills of industry and
the callous face of science.

A more prosaic reason based on dollars and cents is that illegal traffic in alcohol
would be uneconomical if smugglers and bootleggers had to transport a lot of water. So
they concentrate the alcohol by distilling it and thereby reduce the weight and volume 8-
fold. In this way much more can be loaded into a ship or truck. Spirits therefore acquire
another black mark against them.

Unfortunately, the “wickedness” of home distilling is now so ingrained in the social
psyche that this alone is enough deterrent to make many law-abiding citizens not only
refuse to engage in it but even to discuss it. Thus, it has become self-policing.

Amateur distillation.

It is understandable why a government would wish to put a stop to smuggling and
moonshining for commercial purposes, that is to say in order to sell the product and avoid
the payment of taxes, but why would there be a complete ban on distillation by amateurs, on
a small scale and for their own use? And why, commercially, should a distilled spirit attract
a higher tax per unit of alcohol? At the risk of being tediously repetitious it is worth
reminding ourselves again that distillation is one of the most innocuous activities
imaginable. Unlike beer- and wine-making it doesn’t produce a drop of alcohol. Not a
drop. What it does is take the beer which you have quite legally made by fermentation and
remove all the noxious, poisonous substances which appear inevitably as by-products in all
fermentations. Strange really that the purification of a legal drug by removing the poisons
is illegal. Instead of prohibiting it, the authorities should really be encouraging distillation
by amateurs. And the general public, which is so rightly health-conscious these days, would
be more that justified in demanding the right to do so.

Governments surely wouldn’t do something without reason would they!! There
must be a reason for the ban on amateur distillation. Surely! In attempting to find this
reason the first thing which comes to mind is the potential loss of tax revenue. After all, if
everyone started making their own spirits at home the loss of revenue might be
considerable. However, this cannot be the real reason because the home production of beer
and wine for one’s own use is legal, and both are taxable when sold commercially, so the
authorities must not be all that concerned about the loss of revenue when people make their
own alcoholic beverages.

A possible, and somewhat cynical, explanation for the prohibition of home distilling
is based on the following reasoning. Home-made beer and wine are often a bit inferior to a
good commercial product, and their preparation takes quite a bit of time, so only the most
22
enthusiastic amateurs will go to all that trouble. Consequently there is no real threat to the
sale of commercial products nor to the revenues generated by taxation. If, however, home
distillation were permitted, every Tom, Dick and Harriette would be in a position to make a
gin or vodka which was every bit as good as the finest commercial product on the market,
and could make it in quantity in a short time. This could, it might be argued, make serious
inroads into commercial sales and into government revenues.

Fortunately, because of seven years experience in New Zealand with amateur
distillation, we don’t need to guess at the effect it might have on commercial sales. Spirits
consumption in New Zealand had been decreasing steadily in the 1980’s and 1990’s, as it
had in many countries, but as soon as amateur distillation was legalized in 1996 commercial
sales picked up. They increased, not decreased. The probable reason for this surprising turn
of events is that as soon as distillation was legalized it became an interesting hobby, and
amateur beer- and wine-makers took it up enthusiastically. They became fascinated by the
wide world of brandies, rums, whiskies, tequilas, vodkas and all the other spirits available in
the local liquor store, sales went up and the government, bless its heart, gathered in
additional tax revenue.

So, we have to look deeper than this in our search for a reason why governments
have such a hang-up about distillation. You see, it is not just amateurs who are penalized.
Commercial producers also feel the heavy hand of government prejudice and disapproval.
This is illustrated by several restrictions which apply in many countries. One is the fact that
the advertising of beer and wine on television is permitted whereas the advertising of
distilled spirits is prohibited. Another concerns the tax imposed on distilled alcoholic
products --- per unit of alcohol the tax on spirits is much higher than it is on beer and wine.
A third restriction on spirits can be seen in the alcoholic beverage section in the
supermarkets of some countries ---- beer and wine may be sold, and possibly fortified wines
such as vermouth, but raise the alcohol concentration to 40% and the ancient shibboleth of
‘hard spirits’ comes into play. This is grossly unfair discrimination and naturally of great
concern to distillers. As they point out over and over again, in advertisements and
representations to governments, a glass of gin & tonic, a glass of wine, and a bottle of beer
all contain similar amounts of alcohol, so it is inequitable to tax their product at a higher
level.

So why is there this blatant discrimination on the part of governments which pride
themselves on being non-discriminatory when it comes to race, religion, colour, gender, age
and so on and so forth? Irrational attitudes are always difficult to deal with but in order to
reform the law we have to deal with it, and this requires that we try to understand the
thinking behind it. The drug involved is ethyl alcohol, C
2
H
5
OH, an acknowledged mood-
modifier, and it is this drug which governments seek to control, but the alcohol in beer, wine
and gin are identical and imbibed in similar quantities will have identical effects in terms of
mood modification. So why are they taxed differently?

The only explanation which seems to fit the facts is that governments and their
officials cannot understand the difference between concentration and amount. As a matter
of fact quite a lot of people have this difficulty. Just because beer contains 5% alcohol
23
over-indulge than the beer-drinker. To believe this is to be naïve. The fact of the matter is
that anti-social behaviour such as hooliganism at sporting events is almost invariably caused
by beer drinkers. And many studies of drinking and driving have shown that the vast
majority of those pulled over have been drinking beer, not spirits. Usually they are young
men who happen to prefer beer to a vodka martini with a twist of lemon. And after the first
beer they’ll have another, and another, and another, always drinking 5% alcohol but
increasing the amount with each can. The 5% alcohol content is comparatively low (the
lowest of all alcoholic beverages) but this is irrelevant when you drink one can after
another. It is not the alcohol concentration which is the issue here, it is the amount of
alcohol. And ultimately the root cause of the problem is probably not alcohol at all, but
testosterone.

An attempt has been made by the author to bring this rather simple point about
concentration vs amount to the attention of officials in the Customs & Excise Branch but the
argument falls on deaf ears. We pointed out that alcohol is made by fermentation and that
amateurs are allowed to make as much as they like within reason for their own use. So why
not allow them to distil it? We pointed out that distillation doesn’t make alcohol, it merely
purifies it. Ah, is the reply, but it makes it stronger. So we’re back into the confusion
surrounding concentration and amount. When all else fails, the hoary old argument about
amateurs poisoning themselves and going blind is trotted out. Really!

The above discussion has been argued at some length because it is important for the
reader to feel comfortable with the “moral” aspects of distillation and with the supposed
dangers to health. There is no need for him to be furtive about it or feel like some sort of
back alley abortionist. The so-called “offence” has no moral dimension to it. It is not sinful.
But it is necessary to illustrate the difficulties which would be encountered in any attempt to
change the law. There would be no point in approaching government officials who may be
sympathetic to the arguments but are powerless to do anything about it. No, it would be
necessary to first air the subject in the news media to get the public (the voters) up to speed
and then work through politicians. The approach could be based upon two issues, both of
which are important to many people nowadays. One is the question of health ---
governments should respond favorably to any suggestion which will lead to more healthy
drinking habits (and make no mistake about it, gin and vodka are much less harmful to
health than beer and wine). The other concerns our basic rights and freedoms --- it should
be an absolute right for anyone to remove the poisonous substances from a legally produced
beverage (beer) in order to produce another legal beverage (vodka).

24

EQUIPMENT


The production of pure alcohol by distillation is not particularly difficult in principle
--- you simply have to make a batch of beer and then purify it. One cannot use a pot still
however, or a moonshine still, or any of the strange little stills being written about and
offered for sale on the Internet. This is because they do not incorporate the two essential
requirements for high-purity fractional distillation. These two requirements are a) a packed
column, and b) a stillhead containing a stream-splitter.

In the earlier chapter where we discussed alcoholic beverages it was mentioned that
simple distillation, using a pot still, can divide the crude alcohol solution (or “beer”)
roughly into three fractions --- the heads, the tails and the middle fraction. The heads are
the very volatile constituents of the beer such as acetone and methanol, the tails are the least
volatile components such as fusel oils, while the middle fraction consists of mostly ethanol
contaminated with both heads and tails. In other words the separation is far from perfect.

Theoretically, it would be possible to take this middle fraction and re-distil it,
thereby getting rid of a few more heads and tails. Then this process of re-distilling the
middle fraction would be repeated over and over again until all the heads and tails were
gone and we were left with nothing but ethanol. In practice, however, this is virtually
impossible because we would be dealing with smaller and smaller volumes of middle
fraction at each stage of purification until a negligible amount of ethanol remained. What
good is one drop of pure alcohol!

Commercial producers of vodka and other forms of pure alcohol such as that used in
colognes, cope with this problem by adopting the rather elegant procedure known as
fractional distillation. They use a counter-current flow of vapour up a tower (perhaps 100 ft
high and 12 feet in diameter) against condensed liquid flowing down, the two meeting in a
series of trays at many different levels within the tower. In these trays the rising vapour
bubbles through the liquid and there is an exchange between liquid and vapour. For small-
scale operations such as ours we use exactly the same principles as the commercial
producers but instead of using perforated trays in the column we use a packed column about
3 ft high and 1 ¼” in diameter which serves exactly the same purpose. The construction of
such a still will be discussed in detail later in this chapter.

Scale of operation.

The first thing to decide is the scale at which you wish to operate. For many people
it would be very convenient to have a small apparatus which would allow the production of
a litre of vodka whenever you felt like it. So much more convenient and cheaper than
popping down to the store and buying a bottle. Well, this would be possible because it’s the
sort of scale commonly used in laboratory distillations, which means that glass apparatus of
the appropriate size is readily available from scientific supply houses. As a matter of
25
interest, therefore, we consulting a catalogue to find the approximate cost of the equipment
you’d need. Here are the figures taken from a 1999-2001 catalogue:

Round bottom flask, 5,000 ml……………….…..$122
Heating mantle with power control……………….596
Vigreux fractionating column……………………..306
3-way thermometer adapter……………………….. 86
Spiral condenser………………………………….. 288

Total: $1,398


Not all that cheap, and it might be even more expensive today. You could buy a lot of
vodka for $1,400. Of course, costs could be reduced by using copper tubing instead of
glass, and making the whole thing yourself, but there’s something else to consider besides
cost ---- time and convenience.

Let’s consider time and convenience. Before distilling alcohol you first have to
make it by preparing a crude “beer” with sugar and yeast, a process which takes the best
part of a week whatever scale you are operating at. So if you wished to make a litre of
vodka per week you’d really be on a treadmill, constantly making batches of “beer” and
spending two days each week distilling it ---- beer stripping during the first day and then
rectifying during day two. You might also wish to add a third stage in which activated
carbon is used for polishing.

All things considered, we believe that, in order to reduce costs and the time involved
in repetitive operations, domestic items of equipment found in any hardware and appliance
store should be utilized whenever possible. Inevitably this will necessitate an increase in
size, but this is actually an advantage if you wish to avoid a treadmill situation. So,
assuming we’ve decided to scrounge around and find bits and pieces in the hardware store,
there’s still the question of size.

When you look into it you’ll find that the cost of materials for building a still is
almost independent of size. For example, in N. America the most expensive item, the
boiler, will be virtually the same price within the range 9 litres to 100 litres. But the smaller
the equipment you use the more often you will have to use it in order to produce a given
volume of alcohol. On the other hand, going up in size, you don’t want to build a piece of
equipment which would take up a lot of space, is taller than the height of an average ceiling,
or uses large amounts of electric current.

In order to have something definite to work with, the discussion of equipment and
procedures which follow are based on the fermentation of 10 kg of sugar to yield about 12
litres of vodka per batch, a batch taking about 7 days from start to finish. This is more than
the average person would need to make assuming a second batch were started as soon as the
first one were completed but remember, alcohol keeps indefinitely (providing you don’t
drink it!). So one batch every couple of months might be about right for many people,
26
providing a litre or so of vodka per week, and would be much more efficient in terms of
time and effort than constantly producing small batches.



The fermenter

Before discussing distillation we need to make the alcohol, and this is made from
sugar and yeast. Many of you who read this book will have been making beer or wine for
years and will have all the know-how and equipment you need for fermenting sugar to a
potable alcohol. There may be others who aren’t quite as familiar with the process, but
even for the beer and wine makers --- perhaps especially for the beer and wine makers --- it
is necessary to explain that fermenting for alcohol production is a somewhat different type
of operation to fermenting for wine and beer. This will be explained later on in the chapter
dealing with procedures, but for now just accept that fermenting for pure alcohol production
is a very crude and very simple operation compared with the great care required for making
a fine wine or a palatable beer. All you will be concerned with is speed, simplicity and
yield of alcohol and not at all with taste because we’re not going to be drinking the stuff.

For those who do not already have fermenting equipment, a polypropylene laundry
tub makes an ideal fermenter. A common size is 45 x 50 cm by 30 cm deep, standing on
four legs to give a total height of 85 cm above the ground. The working volume is 50 – 65
litres. A suggested arrangement is shown in Figure 1. The legs of the laundry tub have
been placed on four cement blocks in the diagram so that the beer can be drained
completely into the stripper by gravity flow following fermentation.

One can make this fermenter as simple or as elaborate as one wishes. In its simplest
form one would simply close the drain hole with a rubber stopper, add the sugar and
dissolve it in warm water, add the yeast and stir periodically. This, presumably, is how they
made “bathtub gin” in the old days, using a bathtub instead of a laundry tub. But for
convenience, for speed, and to get the best yield of alcohol a few refinements should be
added. One is a cover to keep out dust and any insects flying around, and to reduce losses
due to evaporation and oxidation. An air-lock is not necessary if your cover fits reasonably
well because a large volume of carbon dioxide is generated and this tends to block the
ingress of air. Another important accessory is an electrically driven stirrer. A third is a
heater to maintain the optimum temperature of 33
o
C. over the several days of fermentation.
A fourth is a faucet attached to the drain to permit the beer to be run directly into the still
(see Fig. 1 below) and wash water to be directed to the house drain when the fermenter is
being cleaned out and rinsed.







27

Fig. 1. The fermenter





























Drain.

The drain outlet of a laundry tub is designed to take a tailpipe for connection to the
house drain and does not match the sizes used for normal plumbing. But if you use a brass
tailpipe you can, with a little ingenuity, connect to it a ¾-inch ball valve and a hose
connector. You will then be able to transfer the “beer” to the boiler using a length of hose
with a female connection at both ends (such as used with washing machines). Also, you can
connect a length of garden hose for washing and draining the fermenter.

Cover.

A transparent cover for the laundry tub can be made out of thick sheet plastic or
plate glass. The plastic is easy to work with but suffers from the disadvantage that it tends
to bend up at the edges as the high humidity in the fermenter expands the underside of the
sheet. For clarity in viewing and stability in operation plate glass about ¼” thick is what
28
you need, even though it is a bit difficult for an amateur to work with. So have your glass
supplier cut it for you and smooth the edges. A laundry tub usually has a shoulder a few
centimeters below the top so get a piece of glass cut to a size which will rest comfortably on
this shoulder. If the tub you buy doesn’t have such a shoulder then have a larger piece of
glass cut and rest it on the rim of the tub.

Two holes should be drilled in the cover, a largish one in the centre about 40 mm in
diameter to take an immersion heater and another about 8 mm in diameter for a
thermometer. A small notch on one edge will be useful for accommodating the power
supply line if you intend to use a submersible circulating pump. Another refinement for a
few extra dollars would be four ¼” holes for attaching two handles. They make lifting the
glass cover on and off very much easier.


Stirrer.

There is little doubt that by far the best method of stirring is a submersible
circulating pump such as used in an aquarium. Stores that sell aquariums have a whole
range of sizes varying from 5 watts to 20 watts or so, and varying in price from $15 to $45.
It should be powerful enough to produce good circulation, and an 8 watt pump is usually
sufficient. Submerge the pump well below the surface so that no air can enter it through the
aeration hole on the top. Alternatively, if you mount the pump so that its upper surface is
above the water, close the aeration hole with a small plug. Aerating the water is important
for the well-being of fish but in fermenting it would simply make the yeast grow at an
alarming rate. Fermentation is an anaerobic reaction which requires the absence of air if it
is to produce alcohol.

Immersion heater.

The optimum temperature for fermentation if one is thinking of speed rather than
flavour is about 33
o
C. for the bakers’ yeast which we use, but different yeasts are likely to
have somewhat different optima. Fermentation itself generates some heat but probably
insufficient to maintain this temperature, particularly if the room is cool and particularly
towards the end of fermentation when reaction rate is tapering off. An external heat source,
therefore, should be provided and since only 100 watts or so are required an immersion
heater such as used in an aquarium is ideal. If it does not contain its own thermostat an
ordinary light dimmer switch works very well. They are inexpensive and can take up to 600
watts. The temperature is measured with a thermometer inserted through a hole in the cover.








29

The Fractionating Still


The purification of the crude beer produced from sugar and yeast is a 2-stage
process, or even three in certain cases. The first stage is known as beer stripping and,
although similar to the second high-purity stage, does not have to be carried out quite as
carefully. After all, if a few heads and tails sneak over they will be taken care of in the
second stage. The purpose of stripping the beer is to remove most of the alcohol while
leaving behind most of the water, all the yeast, and a large proportion of the contaminants.
The volume of liquid after this first stage, a liquid known in the trade as “high wine”, may
be somewhere around ten percent of the starting volume. So if we start out with 50 litres of
beer we would end up with 5 or 6 litres of high wine, and if the strength of the “beer” had
been about 10% the strength of the high wine would be closer to 90%.

In the first edition of this book, published in 1997, two separate stills were used for
the two stages, a large pot still for the rather rough beer-stripping stage and a smaller one
for the more exacting purification stage. The sequence of events is illustrated in Figure 2.
The reasoning behind the use of two boilers was the large difference in liquid volume in the
two stages. In this original system the beer-stripping boiler had a volume of 100 litres and
consequently was able to accommodate all the 50-60 litres of beer from the fermenter. The
10-15 litres of high wine being produced at that time were then purified in a much smaller
boiler of 25 litre capacity. It seemed to make sense at the time and was used for at least 10
years with excellent results.



Figure 2. Original 2-boiler system

















30
The single boiler system.

With the sacrifice of a little convenience it is possible to make do with just a single
boiler, thereby saving considerably on cost and the amount of space required for the
equipment, and when it became apparent that most readers preferred this arrangement it was
decided that for later editions of the book we would drop the two boiler system and
concentrate solely on the single boiler. We chose a boiler volume of 45 litres (12 U.S.
gallons), this being a compromise between the 100 and the 25 litre boilers used previously.
The only disadvantage of the single boiler system as described here is that it necessitates
stripping the beer in two batches because we have 50 litres of beer and this cannot be
accommodated in a 45 litre boiler. This is particularly true in view of the fact that there
should be plenty of free space above the boiling liquid. This free space is necessary to
accommodate any foam produced when the beer is boiled. Without such space the foam
might be driven up into the column and the column would “choke”. Dividing the supply of
beer into two parts provides 25 litres for each of the two strippings, a very comfortable
arrangement.

One could, of course, buy a 100 litre boiler so that only a single stripping would be
necessary, but it would be overly large for the second stage of high-purity distillation and its
height might make it difficult to mount a full-length column on top of it without touching
the ceiling.

Materials of construction.

Glass is really the best material to use for making small-scale stills, being inert,
clean and transparent. One can see exactly what is going on inside and it is aesthetically
pleasing. For those fortunate enough to have access to a glassblower, either at a university
or research institute, and are willing to pay the fairly high cost, the construction of a hobby-
scale glass still will be described later.

For the majority of people the choice will have to be metal and the only decision you
need to make is whether the metal should be copper or stainless steel. Either will do an
excellent job. In using metal the reader should appreciate that its only shortcomings are: a)
that it lacks the aesthetic appeal of glass and b) you can’t see through it. Large commercial
stills are made of metal so it is obviously satisfactory.

The advantages of using copper are that it is relatively inexpensive, it can be
purchased from any hardware store and, most importantly, it can be worked and soldered
easily by amateurs. Naturally, doing the work yourself will reduce costs enormously.
Copper also has a high thermal conductivity, a useful attribute for cooling coils. If there is
any concern about copper being attacked by the liquids and vapours involved in distillation
it is worth remembering that commercial whisky distilleries in Scotland have used copper
stills for centuries.
31

Construction.

Overview.

The essential features of a fractionating still are:

a) a boiler fitted with an immersion heater of appropriate size. Because it is never under
pressure there is no need for a pressure-relief valve;

b) a column mounted above the boiler with a diameter large enough to accommodate the
flow of vapour generated by the heating element in the boiler without choking;

c) a column height which is at least 15 times the diameter, but the higher the better;

d) a still-head at the top of the column containing a cooling coil to condense the vapour to
liquid and a system for separating the condensed vapour into two streams. These two
streams are i) a minor one connected to the outside world by a needle valve for drawing
off pure alcohol for use, and ii) a major one which is allowed to flow back down through
the column to the boiler;

e) packing material in the column to provide a large number of surfaces where rising
vapour can encounter falling liquid for vapour/liquid exchange.



The Mexican cactus design.

In Figure 3. a still is shown which, because of its offset design, we refer to as the
“Mexican cactus”. It consists of a 45 litre boiler (12 US gallons) on top of which is
mounted a 2 ½ to 3 ft. length of 1¼” copper tubing. This is the fractionating column,
packed throughout its length with a mass of stainless steel filaments. The reason for
packing the column will be dealt with later on.

A thermometer measures the temperature of the vapour above the packing, just
before it crosses over to the vapour-condensing system, this temperature being used to
control the entire purification process. The upper section where the vapour rising from the
boiler is condensed back to liquid is called the ‘still-head’. Most of this condensed liquid is
allowed to flow back down into the boiler but a small amount is drawn off through a needle-
valve situated under the horizontal section (see Fig. 3). Thus, the condensed liquid is split
into two streams, the major stream, consisting of 90% of the condensed liquid, flows back
down through the packing in the column into the boiler while the other 10% is directed to
the outside world through the needle-valve. For those of you who have been using pot
stills, where all the condensed vapour is drawn off for use, this will be quite a novel
concept. But rest assured that it is absolutely essential for fractional distillation.

32
Figure 3. Fractionating still









33
Boiler (North America)

When it comes to amateur distilling there seems to be a burning desire on the part of
the handyman to improvise a boiler out of some odd vessel which happens to be available,
and no-one should be surprised to learn that everything from pressure cookers to beer kegs
to milk churns to vacuum cleaner tanks to fire-extinguishers have been adapted by
ingenious do-it-yourself types for this purpose. However, we strongly recommend that N.
American readers save themselves a lot of time, trouble and expense by using an ordinary
domestic hot water heater. In N. America these are available in all sizes from 9 litres up to
several hundred litres, and are ideally suited for acting as the boiler in all amateur
distillation systems. They are rugged, glass lined, already have an immersion heater
installed, they are insulated, they have pipe fittings in all the right places, and are housed in
attractive white-enamel steel housings. What more could you wish for? If you had drawn
up the specifications yourself for the ideal boiler required for a still it would not be very
different from a hot water heater. They cost around $150 for the small point-of-use sizes.
We recommend the purchase of a 45-50 litre (12 US gallons) model with a 3,000 to 4,000
watt, 230 volt heating element if one is available in your local store. Used on 115 volts it
will deliver 750 to 1,000 watts. If you can only find a 45 litre hot water heater with a 115v.,
1,500 watt element installed, buy it and at the same time buy a replacement element for 230
volts and 3,000 watts. Then change the elements. It’s a simple job.

A few simple modifications to the hot water heater are required. Firstly, remove or
by-pass the thermostat. We need the contents of the boiler to boil, so a thermostat which
switched off at a temperature of, say, 75
o
C. would obviously defeat our purpose.
Removing the thermostat may seem dangerous, and it would be if we had a closed system,
but the system is open to the atmosphere at all times (see Figure 3) so there can be no
pressure build-up. You can also dispose of any pressure-relief valve installed because the
pressure inside the boiler is never above atmospheric. You don’t need to measure the
temperature in the boiler because it will always be at the boiling point of beer, i.e. about
100
o
C.

The location of pipe fittings on water heaters vary from manufacturer to
manufacturer, but whichever one you choose you’ll find a fitting at the bottom (the cold
water inlet) and one or more at the top. If you need another ¾” pipe fitting at the top you
may find one by removing the sheet metal cover and fiberglass insulation from the top of
the housing. This is where in some models the magnesium rod (anode) used as an anti-
corrosion device is installed. It can be removed because it is not essential in our application
and the ¾-inch female pipe fitting may be useful to you for mounting the column.

The lower connection, the cold water inlet when the tank is used for domestic hot
water production, will become the inlet for beer from the fermenter and also the drain for
the exhausted beer (the stillage) after stripping. Fit this connection with a ¾” ball valve and
screw into it a male adapter for connecting a garden hose or a washing machine hose with
two female ends. Use a ball valve at the drain, and not an ordinary faucet, because the yeast
in beer tends to form sticky lumps when boiled and there should be an opening wide enough
for any yeast clumps to exit to drain.
34

Boiler (outside N. America).

The type of hot water heater found in N. America does not seem to exist with the
same features elsewhere, and the ones which do exist seem to be very expensive. Also,
unlike N. America, two voltages (115v. and 230v.) are not provided in average households,
but only the standard 230 volts. In view of this you may be forced to make your own boiler
out of whatever domestic item you can find locally------ look for an item which is both
commonly available and inexpensive in your country. You will have to improvise, and it
would be presumptuous for us to suggest the best type of vessel or heating element for you
to use in your particular country. It may even be necessary for you to make or have made a
suitable boiler from sheet metal, but it will save money if you can find a common-or-garden
household item which will serve the purpose. Maybe a milk churn or beer keg will prove to
be the best solution after all. Another solution would be to use two stainless steel stockpots,
one inverted over the other and then the two rims welded together. Remember, there is
never any pressure in the boiler so the mechanical requirements will be fairly easy to meet.

As far as the heating element is concerned, try to incorporate two, e.g. two 1,000
watt elements. In series they will give you 500 watts, a single one by itself will provide
1,000 watts, while the two in parallel will give 2,000 watts. A very nice flexible
arrangement. You could use the full 2,000 watts for rapid initial heating, bringing the beer
up to the boiling point, and then switch to 500 or 1,000 watts for a slow and steady
distillation.


Power supply.

The packed column which will be mounted above the boiler (see later) has only a
limited capacity to allow vapours to rise up through the packing against the downward flow
of condensed liquid so the boil-up rate must not be too great or the column will choke
(flood). The 1,500 or 3,000 watt heater supplied with these boilers is, in fact, unnecessarily
large and we need to reduce this wattage to about 750 in some way. Several methods for
doing this suggest themselves. One would be to buy and instal a 750 watt immersion heater
from a manufacturer of heater elements but this would be costly and time-consuming. We
are not even certain if a 750 watt immersion heater exists. Another would be to buy a step-
down transformer, either fixed or variable, but this would be even more expensive. A very
simple and inexpensive solution to the problem for residents of N. America is, as mentioned
above, to buy a water heater with a 3000 watt, 230 volt element already installed and use it
on 115 v. Or, if the boiler is fitted with a 115 volt, 1,500 watt element remove it and
substitute a 3000 watt, 230 v. element. Such replacement elements are very inexpensive.
When you cut the voltage in half the current is also cut in half, so the wattage will be
reduced by a factor of 4, i.e. ½ x ½ = ¼ and 3000 x ¼ = 750 watts.

For the electricians among you another solution would be to carry out half-wave
rectification of the electricity supply using a diode. This will cut the wattage in half. If you
want continuous, variable control you could use a triac, but unfortunately the inexpensive
35
household variety (a light dimmer switch) has a capacity of only 500/600 watts. A 1,000
watt dimmer can be purchased for about $40 (US) and a 2000 watt model for perhaps $150.

You do not need to continuously vary the wattage input to the boiler and we
recommend that you avoid this unnecessary complication and expense. Rather, arrange by
one means or another to use the appropriate wattage for the column you are using (e.g. 750
watts for a 1 1/4” column) and stick to it. As mentioned previously, you do not need to
measure either the temperature or the pressure in the boiler ---- the pressure is atmospheric
and the temperature is the boiling point of beer, i.e. about 100
o
C.


Soldering.

Before discussing the construction of the column and stillhead a word should be said
about soldering. There are two solders in common usage --- the low temperature lead-free
solder which melts at around 350
o
C. and silver solder which melts at about 1300
o
C. It is
possible to manage with just the low temperature solder, but there are situations where a
small joint needs to be made close to an adjacent one, or close to a larger one which needs a
large flame, and in such situations there is a danger of one joint melting while the other is
being made. By using silver solder for the small pieces this can be avoided.

The column

The fractionating column consists of a 2 ½ to 3 ft. length of 1¼” tubing. The rule of
thumb is that the height of a column should be at least 15x its diameter, which would mean
a column height of 19” minimum, but why not be generous and add a few more inches. The
higher the column the better (within reason), because it provides a larger number of
solid/vapour interfaces up and down the length of the column and therefore more re-
distillations. Two and a half to three feet is a convenient length but you won’t wish to go
much over 3 ft. or you will hit the ceiling!

At the top of the column (see Figure 3) an elbow is provided for the passage of
vapour across to the stillhead condenser and for a thermometer to measure the vapour
temperature. At the base of the column there is a series of adapters, including a 1¼” union,
to go from the 1¼” diameter of the column to the ¾” pipe fitting on the top of the boiler.

The column should be well insulated to ensure a stable temperature regime up the
full length of the column while it is refluxing.


Thermometer adapter.

In both stages of distillation it is necessary to know the temperature of the vapour
stream at the top of the column in order to know what’s going on, since temperature and
composition are closely related, and the simplest method for introducing a thermometer
36
would be to use a cork. But there is a better method. Nowadays we use a brass
compression fitting and teflon seal for all thermometer inserts into metal columns.

The construction of the thermometer adapter is shown in Figure 4. Use a ” x ¼”
compression fitting. There is a shoulder inside these fittings at the mid-point and you will
need to drill away this shoulder to let the glass thermometer pass right through. Use a
17/64” bit and drill from the ” end, trying to avoid going right through and damaging the
seat for the ferule at the ¼” end. If you use a digital thermometer, which usually has a -
inch probe, the ¼-inch compression fitting is large enough as is without removing the
internal shoulder.

Solder a short length of ” copper tubing vertically to the elbow at the top of the
column and attach the compression fitting. Slip the compression fitting nut on to the
thermometer and wind a couple of turns of teflon plumber’s tape around the thermometer
stem about 3” above the bulb. When the nut is tightened the teflon is compressed between
the stem and the brass fitting and makes a perfectly good seal. There is no pressure in the
apparatus and no leakage. The bulb of the thermometer should be at the mid-point of the
elbow so that it is in the main stream of vapour flow.



Figure 4. Thermometer attachment



Note 1. Some thermometers have stems which
are slightly too large in diameter to go through a
17/64” hole. Be careful, therefore, to choose a
thermometer which will go through. Or, drill a
slightly larger hole.

Note 2. A glass thermometer in such a rigid set-
up is very vulnerable to breakage. The slightest
touch and ……..! It is prudent, therefore, to
remove it while working round the still.

Note 3. Some of you may wish to use an
electronic digital thermometer. They usually
have 1/8” diameter probes. They can be sealed
into the system in the same way as a glass
thermometer, using either a small teflon plug with
a 1/8” hole drilled through it or simply by
winding more teflon tape around the stem.



37
The packing.

The packing inside a fractionating column is very important and many articles in the
scientific literature are devoted exclusively to this topic. Everyone has his own ideas on
what constitutes the ideal packing and the writer is no exception. Unlike scientific texts,
however, cost is a consideration here. What is needed are pieces of glass, ceramic or metal
which are inert to the liquid being refluxed and which have the following characteristics:

a) they should not pack tightly and should be of such a shape that they leave plenty of
free space for vapour to rise up against a descending flow of liquid;
b) they should pack uniformly in order to avoid channeling, and
c) they should have a large surface area and crevices where liquid can be trapped.

Scientific glass columns frequently use short, e.g. 6 mm lengths of 6 mm glass or
ceramic tubing called Raschig rings. Ceramic saddles are another popular shape. Glass
marbles might be used in large diameter columns but do not have sufficient surface area for
a small diameter column such as ours and lack interstices where liquid can be trapped.

The packing which we recommend has a very domestic origin but is cheap and
highly effective. It consists of the scrubbers or scourers used for cleaning pots and pans and
found in any supermarket. These are not the fine steel wool pads impregnated with soap but
the much coarser scrubbers made from lathe turnings which usually come in a ball. They
are available in copper, brass and stainless steel. Use stainless steel. Several will be
required for the column. Commercial packings using the same principle are available (at a
price), and are very neat and uniform in surface distribution because the stainless steel
filaments are woven into a blanket and the blanket is then rolled into a cylinder to exactly fit
the inside of the column.

There have been suggestions that packing made from stainless steel filaments will
become contaminated during distillation and consequently will require constant removal for
cleaning. It has further been suggested that stainless steel scrubbers may contain lead. As a
result of these concerns, Raschig rings have been recommended. All we can say in this
regard is that a) we have used the same s/s packing for 17 years, never removed nor cleaned
it, and it is as shiny today as the day it was purchased, and b) the possibility that stainless
steel might contain lead is too absurd to require comment. It has also been suggested that
copper scrubbers be used since they could mop up any sulphur compounds which may be in
the system. This is unnecessary. Any brown coating found on the cooling coil after
extended use is due to the formation of copper oxide, not copper sulphide.

However, as a result of such statements we made a comparison. We found the
following: Raschig rings for this column would cost $150 at a scientific supply house. The
s/s filaments cost $3 at a supermarket. The solid content of Raschig rings occupied 26% of
the free space in the column whereas the filaments occupied only 2.2%. This means that
there is far less danger of flooding with the latter. The filaments also have a very much
larger surface area available for vapour/liquid interchange and consequently are much more
38
efficient in separating the components of a mixture. It’s no wonder that filamentous
packing is so widely used in small commercial distillation systems.

Packing the column is relatively simple if you use a 1¼” union to join the base of
the column to the boiler because then there is no bottleneck and you have the full width of
the column to work with. Pull out the balls of tangled filaments into sausage shapes, dip
them in soapy water to reduce friction, and carefully shove them up the column with a
minimum of compaction. A ¼” wooden dowel rod pushing against the leading edge of the
“sausage” works very well and avoids the compaction which occurs when you push from
the back with a 1” rod. Wash out the soap solution afterwards.

The stillhead

The purpose of the stillhead is to divide the vapour emerging from the top of the
column into two streams. This it does by first condensing the vapour to liquid in a heat-
exchanger and then, as the liquid starts to run back down towards the boiler, divert a portion
of it to the outside world via a small valve. This valve has only a small volume of liquid to
handle so, for fine control, choose a needle valve.

Two different designs for a stillhead made out of copper are shown. The first, an offset
design which was shown in Figure 3 and which for obvious reasons we whimsically refer to
as the “Mexican cactus”, has the stillhead shown in more detail in Figure 5. The second,
again because of its shape, we refer to as the “Hatstand”, and is shown later in Figure 6.
They both work very well --- it’s simply a matter of appearance and ease of construction.

Figure 5. The “Mexican Cactus” stillhead







The diagram is more-or-less self-
explanatory. The alcohol vapours rising
up the column move horizontally along
the 1 ¼” copper tube (length not critical)
and then vertically into the condenser
where they are condensed into liquid by
the cooling coil.
39
The condenser.

The alcoholic vapours are condensed by means of cold water running through a coil
of copper tubing inserted in the stillhead. To make this coil use 16 feet or so of 3/16”
flexible copper tubing**. Such tubing is not usually stocked in the plumbing section of a
hardware store but may be found in the automotive supply section since it is used for fuel
lines. It is also widely used in refrigeration and air-conditioning so you can certainly get it
from an appropriate dealer. Even 1/8” tubing can be found if required, so don’t be fobbed
off by a salesman saying that ¼” tubing is the smallest made.

Now you have to wind it into a coil which will fit inside a 1 ¼” tube. Use a short
length of ¾” copper tubing as a mandrel and grip it vertically in a vise. Make a hairpin from
the 3/16” tubing about 14” from one end and shove the short end up inside the ¾” tube. Jam
it with a piece of wood to stop rotation and now wind the remainder of the 3/16” tubing
around the outside. Solder a couple of inches of ¼” tubing onto both ends of the coil to
provide a more convenient diameter for the plastic tubing which is used for the water inlet
and outlet to grip.

Note that the cooling water enters at the top of the coil in order to provide
countercurrent flow of water and vapour. All heat exchangers work in this fashion and are
much more efficient than when used with concurrent flow.

Several readers have asked about the top of the stillhead being open to the
atmosphere. Shouldn’t it be closed, they ask, to prevent vapour escaping? The answer is
“no”. The vapour rising up the column should be totally condensed to liquid, leaving
nothing to escape through the top. If any vapour does manage to by-pass the cooling coil
(detectable by putting your nose over the top and sniffing) then the coil hasn’t done its job
properly and you need more cooling surface. This could be provided by using more 3/16”
tubing to produce a longer coil, or possibly by shoving a copper mesh scrubber down inside
the coil in order to create turbulence in the vapour stream.

The draw-off needle valve is attached to the underside of the horizontal portion of
the stillhead by means of a short length of 1/4” tubing soldered to the stillhead, with the
valve being attached to this tube by means of a compression fitting. By using a compression
fitting you avoid the necessity of having to heat the valve itself during soldering. In order
to ensure a clear passage for the exiting liquid, and also to strengthen the joint, a useful tip
is to attach it where the elbow overlaps the 1 ¼” tube (see Fig. 5). Before soldering the
elbow in place drill a 1/4” hole in it on the underside where it will overlap the inside tube.
Then solder the elbow in place. Position the short length of 1/4” tubing in this hole in the
elbow, butting it up against the tube inside. Solder in place. Then drill right through the
short length of tubing, penetrating the inner tube. This ensures that the draw-off tube is
flush with the inside surface. If it stood proud, i.e. protruded above the floor of the elbow,
the condensed liquid would flow around it instead of going down the hole.



40
The exit tube of the draw-off valve is shown in the diagram as being very short. The
condensed alcohol emerging from the valve is quite hot, hot enough, in fact, for some
people to consider putting a small heat-exchanger on it to cool the alcohol before it falls into
the collection bottle. A simpler, and perfectly adequate method is to place a length of 3/8”
copper tubing below the needle valve, down which the hot alcohol flows en route to the
collection bottle. Apart from its value in cooling the alcohol, it also makes it easy to use
different height collection bottles. Use a small clamp (a clothes pin works very well) to grip
the tube and let it rest on the rim of the bottle. DO NOT use a length of plastic tubing for
this purpose. Hot alcohol is a very aggressive solvent and will attack the plastic and make
your alcohol cloudy.

** Note. If you cannot find any 3/16” copper tubing for the cooling coil you could use 1/4”
tubing, a more common size. But if you do you will need to use 2” diameter copper tubing
for the condenser housing since ¼” tubing would flatten if you tried to wind it more tightly.


41

The “Hatstand” model

When faced with the problem of how to condense a stream of vapour to liquid and
then split the liquid stream into two parts, everyone has his own idea of how to do it better,
easier, more cheaply and more beautifully than the “Mexican cactus” design shown above.
We, too, have played around with dozens of different ideas, and the conclusion reached is
that there isn’t anything too much wrong with the Mexican cactus. It has a lot going for it.
But, to demonstrate that there are different designs, a linear rather than an offset model is
shown in Figure 6. We call it the “Hatstand” model.

Figure 6. The Hatstand model.


42
The same boiler and packed column are used, but as will be seen from Figure 6, the
column and stillhead are in line with one another and there is no jog as there is with the
Mexican cactus. Its features are:

1). The thermometer is set in at a 45
o
angle to the column using a compression fitting and
with the thermometer bulb just above the packing.

2). A collection “cup” is made from a ¾” copper pipe cap. In the centre of the cap a short
length of ¼” copper tubing is silver-soldered in place with about 3/8” standing above the
bottom of the cap to act as overflow, this tubing extending far enough below the cup to
convey the overflow of liquid to the top of the packing while by-passing the thermometer
bulb. If you wish, the overflow tube can be closed at the top and a hole drilled in the side of
the tube just below the top. This will prevent condensed liquid falling straight down
through the overflow to the packing.

3). A second short length of copper tubing connects the bottom of the cup to the outside
world where the flow is controlled by a needle valve. In use it will be seen that, when the
valve is completely closed, all the liquid falling into the cup will overflow on to the
packing. When the valve is completely open all the liquid will exit the column and none
fall onto the packing.

4). To ensure that all the vapour condensed by the cooling coil runs down into the
collection cup, a 1¼” x ¾” adapter is soldered, upside down, to the top of the column. The
¾” end points downwards and is cut at a 45
o
angle to give a drip-tip so that all (or at least
most of) the condensed liquid falls into the cup. Without this arrangement, for example if
the 1¼” x ¾” adapter were omitted, some liquid would miss the cup altogether.

Water supply.

It is worth mentioning that there is considerable resistance to the flow of water
through a 16 ft length of 3/16” copper tubing and you may find that friction alone will be
insufficient to hold in place the plastic tubing leading from the water supply in the house.
There is nothing worse than having the water line blow off in your absence and finding your
workshop flooded when you return. So play it safe. Use a length of ¼” high-density
polyethylene (HDPE) tubing and connect it to the cooling coil and the household water
supply using ¼-inch brass compression fittings. Use the little metal inserts which are
available to prevent the HPDE tubing collapsing when the ferule is tightened.

The line leading from the cooling coil to drain involves no pressure so any type of
tubing will do.

If you smell alcohol fumes as soon as distillation starts it means that there is
insufficient cooling. Test the cooling water leaving the condenser and, if it is warm, you
should increase the flow-rate. If it is cool then there is no point in increasing the flow of
cooling water because the problem is insufficient cooling surface. This is unlikely to be the
case if you are using a 750 watt heater in the boiler because the cooling coil as described
43
can easily handle this amount of heat input, but with a higher wattage heater you should not
take it for granted. If you find you need more cooling surface then you’ll be forced to use a
longer length of 3/16” copper tubing. 16 ft is only just sufficient for a 750 watt heater so
you might wish to consider going to 18 ft at the outset.

The volume of water you are likely to be using during the course of a distillation is
discussed in Appendix IV. If water is a problem you could experiment with air cooling,
circulating the cooling water through an automobile radiator with a fan blowing air through
it.


The glass still.

The advantage of a glass still is that you can see exactly what is going on inside.
Not only does this greatly increase the pleasure of distilling but people find that they
actually seem to do a better job. It also becomes a conversation piece which your friends
will love to watch in operation. Having seen with their own eyes just how the sparkling
liquid inside is being separated into a high-purity fraction, they will be much more confident
when sampling the vodka highball you hand to them than they would have been if the
product had emerged from a metal tube. The disadvantage of glass is the cost and the
problem of having to locate a glassblower who is prepared to make it for you.

The still which is shown on the next page (Figure 7) is essentially the same as the
hatstand model discussed above, but is made from glass by a glassblower instead of being
made by you from copper. All dimensions are given in the diagram and the description
which follows so you can take it along to a glassblower and he will know exactly how to
make it for you.



















44




Figure 7. All-glass still
45

The column and stillhead are made from 38 mm O.D. glass tubing, joined by means
of a 34/45 drip-tip standard taper joint. A teflon sleeve is placed between the male and
female halves of this joint in order to avoid “freezing”. Normally the joint could be greased
but hot alcohol would soon flush this out leaving a dry glass-to-glass joint which would
“freeze” and be very difficult to separate if you ever needed to. Hence the teflon sleeve
which the glassblower will supply.

The cooling coil is made of copper rather than glass because a glass coil would have
insufficient cooling capacity to condense the alcohol vapours effectively. As with the
copper hatstand model, all the condensed vapour, from both the cooling coil and the interior
walls of the stillhead, falls into the collection cup, the drip-tip being located inside it. This
collection cup has two outlets, i) a tube at the bottom-side leading to the draw-off valve on
the outside of the column, and ii) a central tube which acts as overflow when the draw-off
valve is closed sufficiently. The draw-off valve, therefore, has the ability to change from
zero to 100% the ratio of condensate drawn off to the outside world to that which is returned
back down through the column to the boiler.

Normal teflon stopcocks are not easy to adjust for fine control of liquid flow, so a
fine control has been added and is shown in Figure 7a. To make this modification a hole is
drilled and tapped from one end of the teflon plug and a small brass bolt introduced which
can close completely the hole supplied by the manufacturer. With a fine thread on this bolt
and a knurled knob to turn it, very precise control is possible. A particularly nice feature of
this design is that the teflon stopcock can be turned to the closed position for total reflux
while equilibrating the column, and then turned 90
o
to the open position where the pre-set
fine control will immediately provide the 10:1 reflux ratio for product withdrawal. Note.
This will become understandable after you have read the operating procedures and the
principles of fractional distillation a bit later on.

Figure 7a . Stopcock modified for fine control.
















46
The thermometer is introduced on the opposite side of the column to the draw-off
valve, and slightly offset so that it avoids the down-comer from the collection cup. If
temperature is to be measured with a digital thermometer then a small teflon plug can be
inserted in the 10/30 joint.

Attachments to boiler (glass column)

At the base of the column there is the problem of joining a glass column to the ¾”
pipe nipple on the boiler and you will require the services of a machinist to solve this
problem for you. Glass-to-metal joints are always tricky, so four different arrangements are
shown in Figures 8 (a), (b), (c) and (d).



47
In the first case (a) a teflon O-ring makes the seal between the base of the column
and a brass adapter specially made with a groove on the top plate to match the groove on the
end of the glass column. A clamp is necessary to hold the two halves together, the top one
being a ring which the glassblower must include before he fuses on the O-ring joint.

The next (b) requires the glassblower to fuse a 34/45 standard taper joint to the
bottom of the column and the machinist to make a corresponding female half of the joint
from brass. The angle of the taper is 2 ½ degrees. A thin teflon sleeve should be used
between the metal and glass in this joint, identical to the one between the top of the column
and the stillhead.

The third (c) glass-to-metal joint uses a glass ball at the base of the column (size
50/30) which nests in a brass socket, made by your obliging machinist. If the machining is
sufficiently precise, no gasket is needed, the weight of the column producing a good seal. A
ball-and-socket joint such as this has the distinct advantage of being flexible, allowing the
column to “float” on the socket and thereby eliminating the danger of the column being
jogged and broken.

The fourth and last adapter (d) uses a specially made compression fitting. It has the
advantage of being able to use a glass column cut off square at the bottom, which is much
cheaper than using a glass standard taper or ball joint. The compression fitting, which is
similar in size and principle to the sort used to attach the tailpipe under a sink, must be made
by a machinist.

The chances are, after reading the above, and after hearing that the cost might be
around $500 for a glass column, you will opt for one of the metal designs. For this reason
we have not gone into more detail.


Support table

A fractionating still is rather tall and needs some support. Some people build their
still close to a wall so that they can use brackets to support the column and the collection
bottle. Another method is to make a table 30 to 36 inches high, put the boiler underneath
and bring the column up through a hole in the tabletop. The hole should be large enough to
accommodate both the column and the insulating sleeve around it. Use a spirit level to
ensure that the column is upright. Not only does the tabletop support the column very
firmly but it can also support the stand on which you place the collection bottle.
Additionally, a table is useful for holding a digital thermometer and for writing up your
notes. A support such as this would be particularly effective for a glass column having a
ball-and-socket joint attaching it to the boiler.

There are many refinements you can make to this set-up. For example, a set of
built-in drawers is very useful. Then, if you put the whole thing on castors, with the boiler
resting on a shelf close to the ground, you can wheel the still from one part of the room to
another or even into a closet. A suggested arrangement is shown on the next page.
48


Figure 9. Suggested arrangement for cabinet-mounted still

49



Fermentation


Principles

The biochemical reaction which converts sugar to ethanol is depicted below:

C
6
H
12
O
6
+ yeast 2 C
2
H
5
OH + 2 CO
2
glucose ethanol carbon dioxide

This equation tells us that one molecule of sugar (glucose) in the presence of yeast
produces two molecules of ethyl alcohol and two molecules of carbon dioxide. The yeast
itself, which is a living organism, is not consumed in the reaction but merely acts as a
catalyst. The yeast cells die, however, and in the absence of oxygen will not replenish
themselves, so eventually the yeast becomes inactive.

The atomic weights of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are 12, 1 and 16 respectively,
and when these weights are applied to each of the atoms in the above equation we find that
180 parts of glucose will lead to the production of 92 parts of ethyl alcohol and 88 parts of
carbon dioxide. As a close approximation, therefore, a given weight of sugar will produce
about one-half its weight of alcohol, i.e. 1 kg of sugar should give about 500 grams of
alcohol. Because the specific gravity of ethyl alcohol is 0.8 the 500 grams represent 625 ml
of absolute alcohol or 1½ litres of 40 per cent alcohol, the normal strength of vodka and
other spirits.

It should be understood that the above figures represent the ideal situation, the
theoretical yield. Such yields are approached very closely in commercial practice and in
well-equipped laboratories, but in the hands of amateurs the yield is unlikely to reach more
than about 70 to 80 per cent of theory. There are two main reasons for this, one being the
occurrence of side reactions which convert the sugar into a whole range of unwanted
organic compounds such as methanol, acetic acid, fusel oils, etc. The second would be a
failure to recover all the alcohol from the fermentation broth during beer stripping. Losses
such as these would not be tolerated in a commercial operation but are acceptable for the
amateur. After all, even with a recovery as low as 70% of theory a kilogram of sugar valued
at a dollar or so would produce over a litre of gin or vodka.

The conversion of sugar to alcohol by means of yeast is an anaerobic reaction; that is
to say it occurs in the absence of air. If air is present the yeast, instead of producing
alcohol, will multiply and grow. Wine-makers habitually buy a small quantity of an
expensive, specialty yeast and let it grow in the presence of a little air and nutrients until
they have the quantity they require. Then they cut off the air supply and the yeast starts
making alcohol instead. In our situation such refinements are unnecessary because we use
massive quantities of cheap baker's yeast which generate high yields of alcohol and large
50
quantities of carbon dioxide. The CO
2
is quite effective in excluding air without the use of
air-locks.

Under such crude conditions the yeast and sugar will produce a wide range of
organic compounds in addition to ethanol, a situation which would be unacceptable if we
were making wine or beer and had to drink these unpleasant and even harmful substances.
However, the presence of such impurities is of small concern to us because they will all be
removed during distillation.

The production of extraneous compounds will be aggravated by sloppy practices so,
although it is not as necessary to be as careful as it would be during wine-making,
reasonably hygienic conditions should be maintained at all times. Otherwise one is simply
wasting sugar.

Procedure

Those of you who are familiar with the making of beer and wine will find the
fermentation of supermarket sugar with baker's yeast in a laundry tub a rather simple and
crude procedure. Don't be disconcerted by this. All we are doing at this stage of gin- and
vodka-making is producing the alcohol we need. Not being the final product, and not being
intended for drinking, our concern is simply to make the alcohol as rapidly and as cheaply
as possible. Taste is of no importance. The sophistication comes later on when we take this
noxious beer and purify it by distillation.

The laundry tub fermenter described in the equipment section is washed with soapy
water and then rinsed. Also wash the accessories such as circulating pump, immersion
heater, thermometer and glass cover. Avoid the use of scouring powders as they tend to
mar the polished surface of the polypropylene tub.

After rinsing, close the drain valve and insert a rubber stopper in the drain hole of
the laundry tub. This is to stop sugar falling down the hole where it will have difficulty
dissolving. Add 10 kg of sugar, place your hydrometer on the pile of sugar, add about 50
litres of warm water, stir with a wooden spoon to help the sugar dissolve and then start the
circulating pump. The pump should be positioned below the surface of the sugar solution in
order to avoid sucking in air, and above the bottom so that it does not suck in grains of
sugar and damage the rotor. Then add the yeast, cover with the glass plate, install the
immersion heater and thermometer in their respective holes in the cover, and switch on the
heater. The reason for adding the yeast before the sugar has dissolved completely and the
water warmed up is to avoid too vigorous a reaction at the start. If the yeast is added to a
strong sugar solution at, say, 30
o
C., the reaction might be vigorous enough to raise the
temperature and harm the yeast. There can also be excessive foaming.

Yeast

There are two forms of active yeast …... the instant, dry, powdered type and the
active, moist variety which comes in blocks. Either one sort or the other will be obtainable
51
from the baking section of your local supermarket or perhaps from a delicatessen or health
food store and it makes little difference which you use. The powdered yeast is about three
times as active, pound for pound, as the moist yeast in block form, so work out which of the
two sorts is the best buy. If there isn't a great deal of difference in price choose the dry type
because of its much longer shelf life but do check the "use-by" date to ensure that it is fresh.
Dry yeast which has been in storage for several months without refrigeration and without
being vacuum-packed could be useless and you can’t tell by looking at it. Of all the
enquiries received from readers the most prevalent concern a failed fermentation or one
which refuses to go to completion. In most cases the cause of the problem has been traced
to the yeast having lost its activity due to poor storage, and this is really self-evident
because we only have yeast and sugar and there can be nothing wrong with the sugar.

To ferment 10 kg of sugar use 450 grams (1 lb) of the moist yeast in block form or
150 grams of the dry, powdered variety. In the first case, to prepare it for use you will need
to make it into a cream. Use a stainless steel bowl and two wooden spoons. Break the
block into walnut size pieces and let them stand for about 15 minutes in a small amount of
water before attempting to cream them. The chunks of yeast will swell in the water and be
far less sticky as a result. Work at it gently until a lump-free cream is produced and then
pour the cream into the sugar solution. The dry powdered yeast can simply be sprinkled
slowly on to the top of the sugar solution where it will disperse and sink.

With this amount of yeast and the time being allowed for fermentation (5+ days) it is
not essential to add nutrients, but a teaspoonful of a yeast nutrient such as Fermaid K will
invigorate the yeast cells and thereby reduce the time required to convert all the sugar to
alcohol. Do not be seduced by claims that special yeasts will produce alcohol solutions of
15% strength or more, the implication being that you will get more alcohol from a given
weight of sugar. This is completely incorrect. The amount of alcohol you get is determined
by the amount of sugar you have used and not by the type of yeast. Special yeasts may
reduce the fermentation time from 5 days to 3 days but it is scientifically impossible for a
yeast, any yeast, to produce more alcohol than allowed by the equation at the start of this
chapter. Using these special yeasts does allow you to use less water and produce a more
concentrated alcoholic solution, but the amount of alcohol remains the same.

When the temperature in the fermenter has reached 30 deg. to 35 deg. C. adjust the
thermostat or light dimmer control to hold it in this range. For the next five days or so the
only attention required is a periodic check of temperature.

The completion of fermentation can be judged in several ways. One is the absence
of foam on the surface of the solution which may be quite vigorous at first but diminishes
steadily with time until eventually the fermentation ceases and the beer looks dark and still.
To confirm that it is complete, switch off the pump and look at the hydrometer. The
original sugar solution will have had a specific gravity of about 1.06 and the hydrometer
will be bumping up against the underside of the glass cover, but as the sugar is converted to
alcohol the hydrometer will sink lower and lower as the S.G. falls to about 0.99 ---- below
1.00 because of the presence of alcohol with a S.G. of 0.8. With a little experience you will
52
know exactly when to expect the fermentation to be complete (e.g. 5 days) and can make a
closer examination at that time.

When fermentation is complete, switch off the pump and heater and remove them
for washing. Reach down into the beer and remove the rubber stopper, substituting a short
(perhaps 1/2-inch) length of 1 1/2-inch copper tubing in the drain-hole. This will act as a
dam and help to hold back some (but not all) of the yeast when you transfer the beer to the
still. It helps to cut a narrow slot in this copper dam because it allows you to squeeze it
slightly smaller before inserting it into the drain hole. The slot also provides a passage for
the last remnants of beer to flow from the fermenter into the boiler.

Allow the beer to stand for several hours or preferably overnight in order to give the
yeast a chance to settle to the bottom of the fermenter. At the end of this settling period,
connect a hose between the ball-valve under the fermenter and the inlet at the base of the
boiler. Assuming that you are stripping the beer in two batches of about 25 litres each,
make a dipstick marked at the appropriate level and use it to gauge when half the beer has
flowed into the still.

Note: Some yeast will inevitably get into the beer-stripper. It will do no harm, but be
conscientious about flushing the boiler with fresh water after each use.

53

Distillation


Principles

Some of what needs to be said about the principles of distillation was covered in the
chapter on beverages, and it was also mentioned in the chapter dealing with the construction
of a still. In both these places, the distinction was made between the comparatively simple
pot stills used in the manufacture of whisky and the more elaborate still with fractionating
column used to remove all the impurities and leave a pure alcohol, as in the manufacture of
gin and vodka. The present chapter will explain just what is involved in carrying out a
fractional distillation and how you go about it, but first a few words about principles. These
will let you know just why a certain procedure is being followed and, if something goes
wrong, what you can do about it. There is nothing more irritating in an instruction manual
than to be told arbitrarily to do something without an explanation as to why it is necessary.

At the outset it will be useful to dispose of a myth concerning distillation which is
quite prevalent, so prevalent in fact that it is the basis of several small-scale stills being
offered for sale. The myth goes as follows: If you have a mixture of three liquids with
different boiling points, e.g. methanol (64.7
o
C.), ethanol (78.4
o
C.) and water (100
o
C.) it is
believed that, if you raise the temperature to 64.7
o
C. and hold it there the methanol will boil
off. Then, if you raise the temperature to 78.4
o
C. the ethanol will boil off. This is
completely untrue. It might be approximately true for liquids which do not mix with one
another, such as gasoline and water, but is totally untrue for the lower alcohols which are
completely miscible with water. Being miscible they associate with one another at the
molecular level and no longer act independently as individuals.

Having expunged this fallacy from our minds let’s take a look at what really
happens. Some of the more important chemicals we are dealing with, together with their
boiling points, are shown in the table below.

Compound Boiling Point,
o
C.

Acetone 56.5
Methanol 64.7
Ethyl acetate 77.1
Ethyl alcohol (100%) 78.4
Ethyl alcohol (95%), the azeotrope 78.1
Propyl alcohol 97.2
Water 100.0
Butyl alcohol 117.5
Amyl alcohol 137.8
Furfural 161.0

54

Chemicals of different volatility such as those in the table above have different
vapour pressures, the most volatile with the lowest boiling point having the highest vapour
pressure at any particular temperature. A liquid boils when its temperature is raised to the
point where its vapour pressure equals atmospheric pressure. When a mixture of liquids of
different boiling points is heated the vapour contains all the compounds which are in the
liquid but is slightly richer in the more volatile components. This will be found by
condensing the vapour to liquid and analysing it. It is the basis of all distillations --- the
vapour is richer than the liquid in volatile constituents.


Simple distillation. The pot still.

First let’s take a look at the simplest situation --- the events taking place in a pot still
when beer is distilled. The vapour is richer than the liquid in the most volatile constituents,
i.e. the ones with the lowest boiling points such as acetone and methanol in the above table.
When they distil over they are referred to as the "heads". There is no clear-cut separation of
the various compounds so the heads will still be coming over when the ethanol starts to
appear. Similarly, before all the ethanol has distilled over, the "tails" will begin to appear in
the distillate. These tails are the compounds at the lower end of the above table, i.e. those
with the highest boiling points such as propyl, butyl and amyl alcohols. These alcohols are
known collectively as "fusel oils" and, like methanol and some of the other compounds, are
quite poisonous. And don’t forget the water! Water is another of the constituents with less
volatility than ethyl alcohol so it, too, will be left behind with the tails.

In such a system there is never a fraction which is pure ethyl alcohol, all fractions
containing a certain amount of heads or tails. One could possibly discard the first heads and
the last tails and re-distil the middle fraction, repeating this process over and over again
until the last of the impurities had been wrung out of the ethanol. Unfortunately, as
mentioned before, apart from being very time consuming, the loss of ethanol on repeated re-
distillation would be such that the final yield of pure alcohol would be virtually zero.

The retention of some of the “impurities” in the original beer when carrying out a
distillation with a pot still does not bother many people because they have grown (or have
been taught) to like the taste of these impurities. They are considered to add character to the
alcohol. They certainly add flavour, because although some of the impurities are pretty vile
some are quite pleasant. By playing around with the distilling conditions it is possible to
retain more or less of these impurities, or “congeners” as they are called, the manufacturers
then referring to their product as whisky, brandy, etc., etc.

For those who wish to drink vodka or gin, however, or to obtain pure alcohol in
order to make liqueurs, it is necessary to get rid of all the congeners and the multiple
counter-current distillation procedure described below must then be resorted to.
55
Fractional distillation.

This is the most important step in the whole process of producing pure alcohol from
sugar. And an essential step. Any description of alcoholic beverage production which does
not include it is describing the production of an impure product, a type of whiskey or
moonshine. It may be palatable if carefully prepared but it certainly will not be pure
alcohol.

Because of its importance it will be described in some detail, a detail which
unfortunately may be intimidating to some and boring to others. To those in the first
category we say this: Once you have assembled the equipment and made a few runs it will
all become incredibly routine. It's like riding a bicycle .... a lengthy description of how to
do it would probably decide you to take up walking instead, but once you've set off down
the road there's no looking back. It's easy!

In fractional distillation the vapours emerging from the boiling mixture are passed
up a column packed with small pieces of glass, ceramic, stainless steel, or other inert
material. Each of these pieces can hold a small amount of liquid, either internally (if they
have internal crevices) or in the interstices between adjacent particles. At the top of the
column the emerging vapour is condensed into a liquid by means of cold water running
through a heat exchanger. The condensed liquid runs back down the column until it reaches
the boiler where it is reheated, converted into vapour once more, and once again moves up
the column.

At equilibrium, which may take several hours to achieve, the system consists of
vapour rising up the column meeting a flow of liquid running down the column. At each
interface on the packing material there is an exchange between liquid and vapour, the
vapour giving up its latent heat to the descending liquid. Thus, the liquid is turned into
vapour while the vapour is condensed back to liquid. The newly-formed vapour rises and
the same exchange takes place on the next surface it meets up the column. Similarly, the
descending liquid meets rising vapour at an interface in the packing further down the
column. These are mini re-distillations, one after the other, throughout the length of the
column.

The more volatile components of the mixture which have entered the vapour phase
rise to the top of the column while the less volatile components which have gone into the
liquid phase flow down into the boiler. This includes water. At equilibrium, the many
components in the mixture become stacked up in the column in the order of their boiling
points, the most volatile at the top and the least volatile at the bottom. It is not too
dissimilar to what is happening in the heat exchanger in the still-head where we also have
counter-current flow --- the cold water is being warmed by the hot vapour while the hot
vapour is being progressively cooled to lower temperatures by the flow of water in the
opposite direction.

In a commercial operation, which runs continuously, the different components of the
mixture are concentrated at various heights within the column, and can be drawn off, and
56
this continues indefinitely. Methanol, for example, would be continuously withdrawn from
the top of the column while ethanol would be continuously removed from a point a little
further down. The chemicals in each draw are not completely pure, but are much purer than
they were before.

Very small operations such as we are concerned with here do not employ a
continuous system. Rather, fractional distillation is carried out batch-wise. After column
equilibrium is established, with acetone and methanol at the top and fusel oils and water at
the bottom, we start to progressively draw off condensed vapour from the top of the column.
First come the acetone and then the methanol and any other low boiling point compounds.
They are discarded. Then the ethanol starts to appear, and when it does a portion of it is
drawn off and bottled for use. The remainder is allowed to run back down the column to
continue the counter-current flow and the purification process. Eventually the ethanol will
be exhausted and the higher alcohols, the so-called fusel oils, will start to emerge. At this
point (or in practice somewhat before) the boiler is switched off.

The alcohol-water azeotrope.

Water is an important constituent of the fermentation broth and with a boiling point
of 100 deg. C. lies intermediate between the least and the most volatile components of the
mixture. It has one important difference from the other components, however, in that it
forms an azeotrope with ethanol. An azeotrope is a mixture of two liquids with a boiling
point lower than either constituent. In the case of ethanol and water the azeotrope occurs at
a mixture of about 96** percent ethanol (v/v) and 4 percent water. The boiling point of this
azeotrope is 78.1
o
C. whereas the B.P. of 100% ethanol is 78.4
o
C. As far as the system is
concerned it "thinks" that this mixture of ethanol and water is a single liquid with the lower
boiling point of 78.1
o
C. and proceeds to separate it on that basis. The ethanol which is
purified by a fractionating column is not, therefore, pure 100 percent ethanol but pure 96
percent, the "impurity" being pure water. No amount of re-distillation under the conditions
we are using will influence this percentage.

If it is absolutely essential to remove all the water, for example if it is to be mixed
with gasoline to produce gasohol, then special methods are available to accomplish this.
For our purposes, however, where we are going to dilute the alcohol with water to 40
percent anyway, the presence of 4 percent water is of no consequence.

**Footnote. In the literature you will find slightly different values for the azeotrope
composition, all hovering around 96%. One reason for this is that the percentage can be
expressed either volumetrically (v/v) or by weight (w/w). There is a difference because
ethyl alcohol has a specific gravity of 0.8 compared to 1.0 for water. For example, 96%
ethanol v/v works out to 95% w/w. If so inclined you may worry about this, but a more
important question is --- should a good martini be shaken or stirred!
57


Inside the column

It is useful to have a feel for what is happening inside the column. It’s not
immediately obvious so here are a few general comments. There is no water up in the still-
head (apart from the 4% contained in the azeotrope). This means that all (96%) of the water
which has been vapourized in the boiler returns to the boiler, taking with it its heat of
vapourization. The only work required of the heating element, therefore, is to supply the
small amount of energy drained off by the condensation of alcohol vapour. This is why a
small amount of energy like the 750 watts we recommend can handle such a large amount
of liquid, i.e. 25 litres or so of a liquid which is mostly water. It is not actually handling the
water, because all the energy poured into it to make it boil is recovered when it condenses.
It would be different if you were making distilled water because, in that case, all the energy
used to bring the water to the boil and then evaporate it would be lost to the cooling water
on the downstream side of the still.

There will be some energy lost from the system through conduction, convection and
radiation to the surroundings, particularly if thermal insulation is inadequate, so do your
best to insulate the column and any parts of the system which get hot. The boiler is one such
location, but if you have purchased a commercial hot water heater to use as boiler there’s
not much you can do about this. If you make your own boiler, however, provide good
insulation or 750 watts will be unable to keep up with the heat loss. The situation would be
aggravated by using a hotplate to heat the boiler contents ---- an immersion heater is far
more efficient.

The temperature profile up the column is interesting. At the bottom, the
water/alcohol vapour will be at about 100
o
C. because there is boiling water just below it
whereas at the top the temperature is ca. 78
o
C. (We know this because we’ve got a
thermometer stuck in there). So from the bottom of the column to the top there will be a
temperature gradient varying from 100
o
to 78
o
C. The shape of this temperature profile will
vary with the type of packing and the amount of insulation.
58
Procedures

The purification of beer by distillation requires at least two stages if all traces of
impurities are to be removed. The first stage is known as beer stripping and consists of a
slightly less-than-perfect separation which removes most of the water, most of the
impurities and all the yeast. The second stage continues and completes the purification
process, and with less volume to handle and with fewer impurities it can be carried out a
little more slowly and carefully.

The purer and simpler the mixture of chemicals associated with the alcohol the purer
the final product, so the more rubbish one can get rid of during beer stripping the better. An
analogy would be cleaning up a room after a party: You first get rid of the dirty plates,
bottles, napkins, etc., clearing the decks for action as it were, and then you get down to
removing the lint from the carpet and the peanuts from behind the cushions. You may even
have to go over it a third time if you want a really spotless room. It is significant that two
or even three stages of distillation are always carried out in commercial distilleries.

The boil-up rate must not be greater than the column can handle. A packed column
provides only a limited path for liquid to flow down against a rising stream of vapour so, if
the boil-up rate is excessive, the column will choke with liquid and become ineffective.
This is unlikely to be a problem with the 1¼-inch diameter column and the type of packing
described in the equipment section, especially if the heat input is reduced to 750 watts by
changing the immersion heater in the boiler as recommended. With a glass column choking
is easily detected because liquid can be seen bubbling away in the packing, but with a metal
column this is not possible. So listen. Choking or flooding may be detectable by a slight
rumbling noise. The other method of detection is to look at the thermometer. Liquid rising
from the boiler is much hotter than the vapour so, instead of registering 70+
o
C. the
thermometer may register 80+
o
C. If this happens, switch off and try again. It is somewhat
like a smoking chimney --- once the chimney is warmed up the smoke stops billowing into
the room. If this doesn’t work reduce the heat input.

The next hour or two are spent equilibrating the column. This is the period during
which the various components of the mixture sort themselves out with the more volatile
components moving to the top of the column and the least volatile moving to the bottom.
To understand why this takes time consider the following homely analogy. A long corridor
is packed with people of different heights waiting to get through a door at the end in order
to enter the store. The store manager announces that before he lets anyone in he wants
everyone to sort themselves out by height, the short people at the front and the tall people at
the rear, with a uniform height gradient between. There is a lot of shuffling about and it
takes quite a while for a perfectly even gradient from shortest to tallest to be established.
The same is true of a mixture of liquids of different B.P. in a packed column.

The progress of equilibration can be followed by watching the temperature of the
vapour at the top of the column. Ethyl alcohol has a boiling point between 78 and 79 deg.
C., the exact figure depending on the atmospheric pressure (see Appendix V), while the
heads such as acetone and methanol have a lower B.P. The thermometer will register this
59
and, although a temperature of 78
o
C. might be registered at first it will slowly fall a few
degrees as the acetone and methanol find their way to the head of the queue. Periodically
crack open the valve in the stillhead a fraction to bleed off these heads into a spoon, leaving
room for the ethanol to rise a bit higher in the column. Referring back to the analogy of
people of different height shuffling about, if you let some of the shorter people through the
door, even if the sorting out isn’t quite complete, you will make it easier for the remainder
to get organized. A suitable withdrawal rate would be 2 or 3 drops per second.

These heads not only have a strong smell (test them with a spoon) but also a terrible
taste so you can congratulate yourself that you’re getting rid of them and not drinking them.
They are highly inflammable and make an excellent fondue fuel or starter fluid for the
barbecue. As the heads are bled off the temperature will slowly rise to 78+ deg. C.
indicating that most of the heads have now been drawn off and ethyl alcohol is beginning to
appear.

First stage --- beer stripping

We have 50 –60 litres of beer which need purifying and the boiler of the still has a
volume of about 45-50 litres. It is important not to put too much beer in the boiler because
it foams quite a lot and foam might enter the bottom of the column and be swept over into
the collection bottle by the rush of vapour. Half full would be satisfactory, so we have to
strip the beer in two separate 25 litre batches.

Proceed as follows: Run half your beer (about 25 litres) into the boiler, start the
flow of cooling water, switch on the boiler and close the collection valve. With only 750
watts it will take a couple of hours to come to the boil, at which point it should be allowed
to reflux for 30 minutes or so to allow the volatiles to rise to the top and the foam to break.










There is no absolute necessity to remove these volatiles because they could be left
until stage 2, but why not get some of them out of the system at as early a stage as possible?
So crack open the draw-off valve and collect several teaspoonsful, one after the other every
few minutes, sniff them to detect the pungent odour of volatile impurities and pour them
down the drain. When you can no longer detect a pungent odour, put a collection bottle
under the spout and open the draw-off valve to the point where you are operating at a reflux
ratio of about 10:1. With 750 watts the boil-up rate will be about 45 ml/min so the draw-off
rate should be about 4.5 ml/min. The vapour temperature in the still-head will be close to
78
o
C. You can try opening the draw-off valve a little in an attempt to speed up the process,
Note. If your boiler has a 3,000 watt, 230 v. heating element and you have
handy access to 230 volts, e.g. an electric baseboard radiator, you can reduce
the heating-up period four-fold by using 230 volts. Then, just before the beer
comes to the boil, immediately switch to 115 volts and 750 watts. Which
means you have to stick around! Don’t walk away while the input is 3,000
watts or your column will choke --- it can’t handle such a volume of vapour.
60
but if the vapour temperature starts to rise you should close the valve slightly to bring the
temperature back down again. The reason the temperature may rise when you start
collecting faster is that insufficient condensate is running back down through the packing to
give complete separation of the various components.

When the temperature starts to rise above 78
o
C. and there’s nothing you can do to
bring it back down again it means that all the ethyl alcohol has been stripped off and tails
are beginning to rise up into the still-head. Switch off, allow to cool somewhat, and then
drain the contents of the boiler. While the boiler is draining, it’s not a bad idea to close the
draw-off valve and direct your cooling water into the top of the still-head where it will run
down through the packing and flush out the tails.

Add the second 25 litres of beer to the boiler and repeat the process. After the
second batch is complete, allow cold water to run down through the packing into the boiler
for a little extra time to dilute the stillage which is still sitting in the boiler below the drain
valve. It contains a lot of impurities and you may as well get rid of most of them before the
second stage of high-purity distillation. The total volume of “high wine” obtained in this
first stage should be about 4 litres and the alcohol strength close to 90%.

You are now ready to proceed to stage-2, the high-purity distillation. Pour into the
boiler the high wine produced by beer stripping and add maybe 10 litres of water (approx.).
There are two reasons for doing this: one is to ensure that the heating element is still
covered with liquid at the end of distillation (it mustn’t run dry), while the second is that a
purer alcohol is obtained when distilling from a dilute alcohol solution than from a
concentrated one. There’s more water for the impurities to hide in!


Second stage ---fractional distillation

In the equipment section we have illustrated and discussed three different types of
stillhead, two in copper and one in glass. For simplicity, the following discussion will be
restricted to the model shown in Figures 3 and 5, the one we call the “Mexican cactus”.

The procedure is almost identical to that during beer-stripping. The chief differences
are that in the case of stage 2: i) total reflux is continued for a longer time (at least an hour)
to obtain a more complete separation of the sheep from the goats; ii) the first 250 ml or so of
product are put to one side for later re-distillation in case they contain traces of heads; and
iii) towards the completion of distillation the collection bottle is switched to a fresh one
every now and then so that only the last one is contaminated by tails when the temperature
starts to rise above 78
o
C.

You will appreciate that we use the figure 78
o
C. to mean the steady temperature
close to this figure which is the B.P. of the azeotrope (96% ethyl alcohol) at the
atmospheric pressure prevailing on that particular day.
.

61



Temperature measurement

A word must be said here about the accuracy of thermometers. A thermometer
purchased from a scientific supply house should be accurate to 0.1 deg. C. but don't count
on it. Thermometers purchased at a drugstore or a winemaker's supply store can be off by
as much as 2 degrees. We recommend that you always check the accuracy of a thermometer
by placing it in boiling water and recording the temperature. Take a look at your barometer
to find the atmospheric pressure and then take a look at the table in Appendix V to see what
the boiling point of water should be. Let’s assume that the atmospheric pressure happens to
be 1031 millibars on that particular day so that the boiling point of water should be 100
o
C.
You may be lucky and find you have purchased a thermometer which reads 100 deg. C. but
if it doesn't, simply make a note of the deviation and apply the appropriate correction
whenever you use it to read a temperature. Digital thermometers may be much more
expensive than mercury/glass ones but they may also be more accurate. They are certainly
easier to read than the glass type as they can sit right in front of you on the bench.

Fortunately for us it is not necessary to rely on the exact temperature during a
fractional distillation in order to indicate when the heads have finished coming over and it is
safe to start collecting ethanol. For one thing the temperature is influenced markedly by
atmospheric pressure (see Appendix V). Constancy of temperature is sufficient and is what
we are looking for. Thus, if the temperature has risen to just over 78 deg. C. and has stayed
there for 15 minutes or so, regardless of the exact temperature, you can be fairly sure that all
the heads are gone. and you are in the regime of pure ethyl alcohol.

Briefly then, proceed as follows: Operate under total reflux for an hour or two to
equilibrate the column, bleeding off a teaspoonful of heads periodically and sniffing them
until there is no discernible smell and the temperature is remaining constant at just over
78
o
C. Then start to collect the distillate at a suitable rate by opening the valve in the still-
head. Put aside the first 250 ml or so and then start collecting in earnest.

Collection rate

In simple distillation you collect everything which vaporizes from the boiler, but in
fractional distillation you collect only about 10% of it. The reason for this is as follows:

The efficiency of a fractionating column in separating liquids of different boiling
points is dependent upon two factors. One is the length of column and the type of column
packing, i.e. its physical characteristics. The second is the reflux ratio, i.e. the way in which
the column is used.

The principle of fractional distillation requires that the vapours rising up the column
encounter the condensed liquid running back down the column. If, in the extreme case, all
the vapour rising up the column were drawn off at the top via the collection valve there
62
would be no liquid left for flowing back down the column. So there would be no counter-
current flow and very little separation. It would be like a pot still. At the other extreme, if
the collection valve were closed and all the condensed liquid flowed back down the column
(total reflux) the separation would be excellent but no product would be obtained.
Obviously there has to be a compromise and this is achieved at a reflux ratio of about 10:1.

This ratio refers to the volume of liquid flowing down the column at total reflux
compared to the volume drawn off through the collection valve. Thus, if the heat input to
the boiler were causing the liquid to reflux at a rate of 1000 ml per hour (for example), 100
ml per hour of distillate could be drawn off as usable product. The balance of 900 ml per
hour would be flowing back down the column to provide the multiple mini-distillations on
the surfaces within the packing required for the separation. It will be appreciated that the
10:1 ratio is not critical ... 8:1 would be acceptable and 12:1 even more so. The 10:1 figure
is simply a reasonable value which is known to give good results with this type of packing.

So the first step involved in determining just how much alcohol can be drawn off per
minute or per hour is to find out the rate at which vapour is arriving in the still-head, i.e. the
boil-up rate. When we have this figure we divide by ten and this is the volume of 96%
alcohol which can be drawn off through the collection valve. There are two ways of doing
this, one by calculation from the wattage input to the boiler and the other by direct
measurement. First by direct measurement using the Mexican cactus still-head.

With a known wattage input establish steady refluxing conditions and then open the
collection valve WIDE for one minute. Use a stopwatch. It helps to tilt the column slightly
to prevent condensate from running back down into the boiler. Measure the output per
minute, either in terms of volume using a graduated cylinder or, more accurately, by weight
using a sensitive scale. Take as small a sample as you can reasonably measure so as not to
unbalance the system. You may wish to repeat with other wattage inputs. The same
procedure can be used with either the metal or the glass “Hatstand” design of still.

You can also calculate the rate at which a 750 watt (or any other wattage) heater will
boil an alcohol/water mixture. The method of making this calculation is explored in
Appendix II, which also explains a little more about the mechanism of fractional distillation.
Or, you may wish to accept the figures we provide below.

We found that with 750 watts input to the boiler the rate of reflux was about 45 ml
per minute. Other wattage inputs gave proportional volumes. This means that with 750
watts input and a reflux ratio of 10:1 we can draw off 4½ ml of 96% ethanol per minute. In
practice we draw off about 4 ml to be on the safe side.

With slight variations in the construction of your column, in the way you have
packed it, the amount of insulation you have used, the true wattage of your heating element,
etc. you’ll probably get slightly different results from the above, so do measure the rate of
reflux for yourself. It’s simple and informative.

63
It is not very convenient to set the collection valve each time you carry out a
distillation by using the volume which flows out in one minute. It is too cumbersome. A
better method is to laboriously find a needle-valve setting which does deliver 4 ml per
minute and then count drops using a stopwatch. Thus, 4 ml per minute might represent, say,
30 drops in 10 seconds. Knowing this you can quickly adjust the collection valve to the
right setting by counting drops with a stopwatch.

Collect at least 250 ml of this first distillate and put to one side for future processing
and then start to collect the purest alcohol in a clean receiver. Throughout this early phase
test the distillate with your nose to see if you can detect any trace of heads.

The 250 ml or so of early distillate which have been put aside may be perfectly pure
but the nose and the palate are extremely sensitive organs, particularly the palate, (and
particularly your wife’s palate!), and you would quickly detect an off-flavour if it got
through into your final drink. Even commercial producers, with a laboratory full of
sophisticated analytical equipment such as gas chromatographs, rely on taste panels to judge
the quality of their product. It is called “organoleptic” testing and is the ultimate in testing
for palatability. Play it safe, therefore, and put aside a generous portion of the initial
distillate, even as much as 500 ml. It will not be wasted because, in a few weeks time, when
a number of distillations have been completed and several litres of doubtful distillate
accumulated, it can all be redistilled and exceptionally pure alcohol recovered from it. It
will have amounted to a triple distillation.

When all the ethyl alcohol has distilled over, which may take as long as 16 hours,
the temperature will start to rise as the higher boiling point "tails" appear. Without
automatic sensors and controls you will have to be present during this event so try to
arrange things so that it doesn’t occur in the middle of the night. Experience will tell you
when to expect the end-point to occur and you should start switching receivers well ahead
of this so that only a small volume of alcohol in the last bottle will be contaminated. The
last receiver containing a trace of tails can be added to the discard bottle for later
purification. There is no point in collecting extra tails for re-distillation because they contain
negligible amounts of ethanol.

When the fractional distillation is complete the packing in the column will be
flooded with tails. These should be thoroughly washed from the column by running
generous quantities of water down from the top.

When carrying out a fractional distillation for the first time the rate of production of
pure alcohol will seem to be extremely slow. At a few drops per second one can believe
that it will take forever to produce a reasonable amount and there will be a tendency to open
the collection valve a little wider to increase the flow. Resist this temptation and be patient.
The apparatus requires no attention and it is surprising how much alcohol is produced at a
flow rate of 2 or 3 drops per second for several hours. Thus, at 750 watts input to the boiler
and a draw-off rate of 240 ml. per hour, about 3 litres of pure, 96% alcohol would be
obtained in a 12 hour day. It could even be left running overnight. This, when diluted to
40% with water will provide over 7½ litres of vodka
64

Yield of alcohol

In the chapter on fermentation it was explained that the theoretical yield of pure, 100
percent alcohol from 10 kg of cane sugar is 6.25 litres. This is equivalent to 6.58 litres of 96
percent alcohol or 15.63 litres of 40 percent alcohol. While it is possible to approach such a
yield you will find in practice that you only reach 70-80% of this value due to various losses
along the way. One place where you can expect losses to occur is in the fermentation
process ----for example, you may not have left the brew long enough for all the sugar to
have been completely used up. Or the yeast may have lost some of its activity. And then
there are all those unwanted side reactions which produce the congeners such as methanol,
fusel oils, etc., instead of ethanol. As a result, the practical yield of 96 percent alcohol is
likely to be no better than about 5 litres which is a yield of 73% of the theoretical value.
This is equivalent to 11½ litres of vodka or gin, which is not too bad.

In commercial practice such a low yield would not be tolerated, but for us it should
be quite acceptable, particularly on economic grounds. Higher yields, which are certainly
possible, offer an interesting challenge to the dedicated amateur.

Water quality

A word must be said about the quality of water used to dilute pure 96 percent
alcohol to the 40 percent which is characteristic of most spirits. Unless the water is very
soft, hardness will precipitate out when water is added to alcohol 96% alcohol because the
calcium and magnesium salts which constitute the hardness are less soluble in an alcohol-
water mixture than they are in water alone. Depending upon the degree of hardness the
effect will vary from a cloudiness to a white precipitate which falls to the bottom of the
bottle.

The effect described above is perfectly harmless, the white precipitate being nothing
more than the hardness present in the original water before the alcohol had been added. It is
actually quite good for you. However, it is aesthetically unpleasing and should be avoided
by using distilled or demineralized water obtainable very cheaply from supermarkets and
from certain stores which make distilled water on the premises. Ordinary household water
which has been through a water softener will almost certainly be satisfactory. City water
which contains a lot of chlorine should be avoided since it might interfere with the delicate
flavour of a good gin or vodka.

Storage

Store your pure 96% alcohol in glass, not in plastic. A few 1½ litre wine bottles with
screw caps are ideal. There is, of course, no need to "mature" gin and vodka; it is ready for
drinking the day you make it.
65

Flavouring


The flavours used for converting vodka to gin are contained in a number of herbs,
berries and fruits, collectively known as “botanicals”. The preferred method for extracting
these flavours is to use steam distillation, a method which is commonly used for extracting
the essential oils from many plant materials involved in the production of liqueurs. A brief
discussion of the principles of steam distillation will be found in Appendix VI.

Steam distillation

Steam distillation requires the use of a simple pot still, and an example of such a
still, improvised from a coffee pot, is shown in Figure 10 to illustrate the principle.
Depending on how much steam distilling you are thinking of carrying out you may wish to
devise and make a much larger and better one. One requirement is that it must have a large
opening for introducing and removing the botanicals, these botanicals either being used
loose or contained in a muslin bag for easy removal. A pressure cooker with a steam
condensing system silver-soldered to the lid would work very well, the only disadvantage
being that they are somewhat expensive.


Figure10. Simple coffee-pot steam distiller



66

The condenser is made from a short length of ¾-inch copper tubing acting as a cold
water jacket around an internal ½-inch copper tube. Adapters for connecting ½-inch to ¾-
inch tubing are standard items and are used for sealing the jacket to the inside tube. Cold
water inlet and outlet tubes are soldered to the jacket as shown. A large cork, obtainable
from any wine-maker’s supply store, is used as lid and has a hole drilled in the centre to
take the ½-inch copper tubing from the condenser. It looks crude, and it is crude, but its
saving grace is that it works and is very cheap. In operation there is very little pressure in
the apparatus and no problems are encountered with steam leakage.

The botanicals and water are placed in the flask and the water brought to the boil.
The steam generated releases the flavouring constituents from the herbs and carries them
over into the condenser in the form of oily drops suspended in water.



Gin recipe

In order to illustrate the use of steam distillation for extracting essential oils from
botanicals we’ll take a look at gin.

As is rather well known the major flavouring ingredient in gin is juniper berries.
There are other ingredients, however, and lists of such ingredients can be found in
encyclopaedias and sometimes on the labels of commercial gins. Among the more
important listed will be found:

Coriander Cassis bark Cardamom Anise
Orris root Ginger Lemon peel Cinnamon
Angelica Nutmeg Bitter almonds

What is never mentioned is the quantity of each ingredient used in a particular
brand, nor the exact method by which the flavour is extracted from the herb. These are
closely guarded secrets of the manufacturer and the reason why amateurs have difficulty in
duplicating a commercial gin.

Articles on gin-making stress the point that the country of origin of the juniper
berries is important in determining flavour, as is the time of harvest and the weather
prevailing during the growing season. The juniper berries are supposed to mature for 18
months or so after harvest and then used within a critical period of one week! It is all very
reminiscent of wine-making. The amateur cannot possibly cope with such stringent
requirements, but one is led to wonder just how much of these stated conditions is fact and
how much merely folklore and a deliberate attempt to introduce a mystique into the
operation. And if so, who can blame a manufacturer for so doing?

The amateur gin-maker is obviously on his own when it comes to flavouring, and it
has to be admitted that we have never duplicated exactly the flavour and bouquet of a
67
commercial gin. However, what we produce is very pleasing and there is the satisfaction of
knowing that we have made it ourselves from authentic ingredients, so why worry? And
then there is the continuing challenge of modifying the flavour by ringing the changes on
the quantities of the various botanicals used.

The flavouring step is the only one in gin-making which involves art rather than
science and where there is scope for imagination, so the absence of a commercial recipe
may not be such a bad thing after all.

Procedure

The following recipe has been found to give a pleasant flavour:

Juniper berries 35 grams
cardamom 1 "
orris root 1 "
coriander 1 "


Place the above ingredients in the flask (the coffee pot), add about 350 ml of water
and install the cork and condenser. Start the cooling water and bring to the boil. The steam
generated will carry over the oils contained in the botanicals. These oils can be seen as little
droplets or globules in the collection bottle. Collect about 75 ml of condensate in one bottle
and a second 75 ml in another. The flavour is slightly better in the first bottle. Switch off
and discard the contents of the flask.

To each bottle containing 75 ml or so of distillate add an equal volume of 96 percent
alcohol. This will dissolve the globules of oil and will also act as a preservative. To use
this flavouring essence, add about 10 ml to each litre of 40 percent alcohol

There is unlimited scope for trying to improve on this procedure and on the recipe
given above. Using other botanicals in quite different amounts is one obvious way to get a
different flavour.

Once pure alcohol is available there are many things you can do with it to prepare a
pleasant drink. One is to mix it with fruit juices and make a tropical punch. Another is to
prepare a liqueur by steeping fruit in an alcohol-sugar solution, a procedure which is fully
explained in a number of books on the subject.

A third option is to purchase flavouring essences from a winemaker's supply store.
These little bottles of essence come in a wide variety of flavours (one manufacturer
provides a list of about 160) including rum, scotch, brandy, gin, etc. and most liqueurs such
as the various fruit brandies, crème-de-menthe, etc. The fruit essences produce very
pleasant liqueurs, and the rum is very good, but the whiskies, brandies and other spirits have
a somewhat artificial flavour and are a bit too sweet. You would never mistake them for the
commercial product, but does it matter?
68

Summary of Procedures

The detailed explanations provided in the previous pages are likely to give the
impression that making alcohol is a pretty complicated business. But all it really consists of
is adding yeast to sugar and distilling the resulting brew. Nothing to it. So let's just run
over the procedures again, but as briefly as possible.

Materials
Sugar and yeast. Flavouring herbs.

Equipment
Fermenter (laundry tub with heater, circulating pump, cover plate).
Fractional distillation apparatus (boiler, column and still-head).
Simple pot still for extracting flavour from botanicals.

Fermentation

1. Clean the fermenter and accessories with soapy water and rinse.

2. Close valve under fermenter and place a rubber stopper in drain hole. Install circulating
pump and add 10 kg of sugar and the hydrometer.

3. Run in warm water while stirring with wooden spoon to partially dissolve sugar. When
water level is above the circulating pump start the pump, being careful to avoid any
undissolved sugar crystals getting into the pump inlet.

4. Sprinkle 150 g. of dry, active baker’s yeast onto the sugar solution. Close fermenter with
glass cover-plate and install immersion heater and thermometer.

5. Switch on heater and raise temperature of sugar solution to 30-35 0 C. Maintain this
temperature for 5 days or until fermentation is complete.

6. When fermentation is complete (S.G. 0.98), switch off pump and heater, reach down into
the beer and replace the rubber stopper with the copper dam. Allow to stand for several
hours (overnight?) to let yeast settle to bottom.

7. Run sufficient beer into the boiler to fill it no more than a half to two-thirds full.


Beer-stripping

8. Switch on the boiler. It will take a couple of hours to come to the boil. Run cooling water
through the condenser. When the temperature in the still-head reaches 78+ deg. reflux for
30 minutes under total reflux (no draw-off). Then open draw-off valve to the point where a
69
10:1 reflux ratio (approx.) is achieved, bleed off a few heads and discard, maintain
temperature at 78+
o
C. and collect the “high wine” until temperature starts to rise into the
low 80’s. Switch off. Discharge the spent stillage in the boiler to drain.

Repeat the stripping with the remaining beer and combine the two batches of high wine.

Fractional distillation

9. Transfer the high wine back into the empty and flushed boiler and add sufficient water to
give a total volume of about 16 litres. Close the draw-off valve in the still-head, run cooling
water through the condenser and switch on the boiler.

10. Reflux under total reflux for an hour or so to equilibrate column. Check temperature.
Periodically draw off a few ml. of distillate and sniff it to detect presence of "heads". Put
aside for future use as fondue fuel or discard. Establish a reflux ratio of 10:1.

11. When no more heads can be detected and temperature is staying completely constant in
the 78 – 79
o
C. range, collect 300 ml. or so of distillate (at the pre-determined rate of 1/10th
total reflux) and put to one side for future re-distillation.

12. Start collecting product until you know from previous experience that ethanol
production will soon stop. This collection may last 12 to 15 hours so time it so that you’ll
be present at the end. Switch receivers towards the end and put aside for re-distillation any
receivers contaminated with tails.

13. Switch off, drain boiler, and flush out column from the top down with water.


Re-distillation

14. When sufficient discard ethanol has been accumulated, about 5 litres or so, pour it into
the boiler of the fractionating still and add at least an equal volume of water, sufficient to
cover the immersion heater at the end of the run. (Remember, your discard alcohol has only
4% water in it. Also, it will take at least 8 litres of liquid to just cover the element). Then
proceed exactly as in steps 9 to 13 above.


Flavouring

15. Put the selected botanicals into a flask with about 350 ml of water, bring to the boil and
collect the condensed steam and oily essence. Add an equal volume of 96% ethanol to the
distillate to dissolve the flavoring oils and to preserve them from mold growth. Use about
10 ml of this essence per litre of 40% alcohol.



70


Costs & Economics


What does it all cost you ask? All that equipment and those elaborate procedures!
The answer is --- quite a lot, $500 to $600 in fact if you start from scratch. Is it worth it?
Well, that is a very individual decision and to help you decide, an estimate has been made of
all the major costs involved, and also some of the minor ones. Prices vary from country to
country of course, and it’s always possible to make shortcuts, but we feel it’s best to be
realistic and not pretend that these things can be done for nothing.

The costs provided below refer to the United States, even though none of the
experimental work and none of the purchases were made there. It is simply a shopping list
of the things you will need with a rough idea of what you may have to pay. Undoubtedly in
your own country you will find that some things are cheaper and some more expensive than
they are in the United States. Even within a country prices can vary widely so it is up to you
to shop around for the best deals. Other variables are: i) the number of items you already
have such as fermentation equipment, thermometers, hydrometer, plastic tubing, solder, nuts
and bolts. ii) whether you choose to make a boiler or buy one, iii) the type of support stand
you choose to use. And so on and so forth.

Costs can be reduced by using, as far as possible, common domestic articles made
for the mass market. For example, an ordinary light dimmer switch good for 600 watts is
about $4 whereas a 1,000 watt dimmer is likely to cost $40 and a 2,000 watt dimmer $140.
Quite a difference! A sensitive domestic kitchen scale, graduated in 5 gram divisions, can
be found if you shop around a bit and at $10 to $15 will be a tiny fraction of the cost of a
scientific balance.

As in any manufacturing operation, even if it is only a hobby, the costs involved can
be broken down into three main categories. They are:

CAPITAL
MATERIALS & SUPPLIES
LABOR

Such a listing seems a little formal for a simple hobby so the same items can be re-
worded as:

Equipment required
Cost of sugar, yeast, etc.
Time occupied by the hobbyist
71


Equipment

Only the costs of major items are listed below. Minor things like nuts and bolts,
electric wiring, corks and stoppers, bottles for containers, plastic tubing, etc. are listed as
miscellaneous and an estimated lump sum provided.

The two major equipment items are the fermenter and the fractional distillation
apparatus including boiler. The little pot still for producing flavouring essence can be
homemade for $50 or less so hardly warrants being considered a major item.

Fermenter

Laundry tub $20.00
Glass cover $30.00
Circulating pump, $35.00
Electric heater $15.00
Light dimmer $4.00
Thermometer $10.00
Copper pipe, elbows, etc. $10.00
Miscellaneous $20.00

Total: ……………………………… $144.00


Fractional Distilling System

Boiler

Water heater, 45 litres. 1650 watts, 115 volts $150.00
Replacement heater for 3,000 watts, 230 volts $15.00
Miscellaneous, e.g. ¾” ball valves $30.00

Total for boiler ……………………………….. $195.00


Column & Still-head:

Copper column with joints top and bottom,
still-head, cooling coil, needle valve, etc. $150.00
Miscellaneous 30.00

Total: …………………………. $180.00


72


Instruments:

Volt-ammeter $45.00
Sensitive kitchen scales $15.00
Measuring cylinders (0 - 10 ml),(0 - 100 ml) $20.00
Hydrometer 6.00
Thermometer $10.00

Total: ……………… $96.00


Total for all Equipment………….. ………………………. $615

Materials & Supplies

The following figures are based on the production of 11 one-litre bottles of gin or
vodka from 10 kg of sugar.

Sugar. 10 kg @ $1.15/kg $11.50
Yeast. 150 g. @ $8.25/kg $ 1.24

Flavouring ingredients - negligible cost
Total:… $12.74
Electricity
Fermentation.......... . negligible
Beer-stripping......... 8 kWh
Fractional dist'n..... 10 kWh

Total: 18 kWh @ 7 cents/kWh ……… $1.26

Total for Material and Supplies $14.00
73

Labour

It takes about 7 days from the time the fermentation starts to the time the collection
of the pure alcohol is complete. During this period the amount of time involved in actually
doing something with one's hands is probably no more than 3 or 4 hours. Periodically it is
necessary to check a temperature or change a collection bottle but, to a large extent, the
operation carries on quite happily by itself. It is not possible, therefore, to assign a cost to
labour and we shall not attempt to do so here. In any case, being a hobby, it should be a
labour of love!

Economics

So now we know what it all costs. The next question is ---- is it worth it? Well, we
have made 11 litres of vodka from $12.74 worth of sugar and yeast and $1.26 worth of
electricity, so that works out at $1.27 per litre. Not bad.

But how about all that equipment? Let’s assume a figure of $600 for its cost and see
how long it would take to pay this off from the savings we realize on making our own
vodka instead of buying it. If we produce and consume 1 litre of vodka per week it has cost
us $1.27 against maybe $20 if we'd bought it at a liquor store. So we save about $18.75 per
week. At that rate it will take us 32 weeks to break even. After that the equipment is free
and the cost of the gin would simply be the cost of the ingredients, $1.27/litre, in perpetuity.
A payback period of 8 months would be considered extremely good in industry where 5 to
10 years is much more normal.

Another way of looking at the economics of investing in the equipment is to
compare it with the investment required to purchase the vodka commercially instead of
making it. At a commercial price of $20 per litre and a consumption of one litre per week
the annual expenditure will be $1040. It would require a bank deposit of $30,000 to
generate this $1040 assuming a 5% interest rate and taxation on the interest of 30%. So
what it would boil down to is the question ---- would one rather put aside $30,000 in a
savings account, earn $1500 in interest, pay $450 in tax and buy commercial vodka with
what is left or would one rather lay out $600 on equipment and use the $30,000 in some
other way?

A considerable reduction in equipment costs will be possible if you already have
facilities for carrying out a fermentation and if you already have various instruments and
measuring devices. Under these conditions you should be able to bring the costs down
below $400.

The figures used above are simply an example of how to look at the costs and
benefits of making your own spirits. In the United States, for example, where vodka is
relatively cheap, the savings would be less and the pay-back period that much longer.
Using figures appropriate for where you live ----i.e. the cost of making the equipment and
the local price of vodka, sugar, etc. --- you can work out the savings for yourself.
74

To allay the concern of tax authorities who may fear that the equipment and process
under discussion might be used for illicit commercial production of distilled spirits, consider
the following: A full-time operation with this equipment could only produce 500 litres per
year and would generate only $10,000 if each bottle were sold for $20. Being illicit, the
selling price would likely be no more than $10, leading to total sales of $5,000. From that
must be subtracted the cost of materials and the labour involved, suggesting that anyone
considering going into the moonshining business would be well advised to take up some
other line of work.
75
APPENDIX I

Conversion Factors

Throughout the text you will find an awkward mixture of metric units and the
foot/pound/gallon system still used extensively in N. America. Different individuals,
depending on age, occupation and whether they live in Europe, a British Commonwealth
country or the United States, will use a different mixture of the two systems. So, for
everyone's convenience, a brief list of conversion factors is provided below.

Volume
1 Imperial gallon = 4.55 litres
1 U.S. gallon = 3.78 "
1 U.S. quart = 0.946 “

1 litre = 35 fluid ounces
= 0.22 Imp. gallons
= 0.26 U.S. gallons
= 1.04 U.S. quarts
Weight
1 pound (lb) = 454 grams
1 ounce (oz) = 28.4 "
1 kilogram (kg) = 2.2 pounds
1 gram (g) = 0.035 ounces

Length
1 inch = 2.54 centimeters (cm)
1 foot = 30.48 "
1 centimeter = 0.39 inches
1 meter = 39.37 "

Temperature
32 deg. Fahrenheit (F) = 0 deg. Celsius (C.)
212 deg. " = 100 deg. "
General:
[deg. F. - 32] x 5/9 = deg. C.

Pressure
1 atmosphere = 14.7 lbs/sq.in. (psi)
= 29.9 inches of mercury
= 760 mm " "
= 101.3 kilopascals (kPa)
1 psi = 6.9 kPa

76
Appendix II

Latent heat of vaporization

In order to know how much pure alcohol can be produced per minute or per hour by
a 750 watt immersion heater we first need to know the rate at which the alcohol in the boiler
is being vaporized and condensed in the stillhead, i.e. the boil-up rate. When we know this
volume we take 10 percent of it. That is the amount we can draw off and put into our
martinis.

As discussed in the text, there are two methods of determining the rate of
vaporization from the boiler --- by direct measurement and by calculation. The calculation
method is outlined below.

The rate at which liquid is vaporized is dependent upon two quantities; a) the energy
input to the boiler, and b) the latent heat of vaporization of the liquid in the boiler (LHV).
The LHV is the amount of energy required to convert a boiling liquid into vapour at the
same temperature, and it is a surprisingly large quantity. The reason why energy is required
to convert a boiling liquid into vapour without any rise in temperature is that molecules in a
liquid are much more closely packed than in a vapour, and to convert one into the other the
molecules must be wrenched away from the clutches of their fellows and push against the
atmosphere. It takes energy to do this.

The energy required to vaporize water, i.e. the latent heat of vaporization (LHV), is
540 calories per gram. For ethyl alcohol the energy required is 220 calories per gram, the
lower value being a reflection of its greater volatility. The composition we are involved
with is 95% alcohol w/w. Simple arithmetic gives 236 calories per gram for the LHV of the
95% w/w alcohol azeotrope.

Why, you might ask, are we concerned with the energy required to vaporize 95%
alcohol when we know very well that the contents of the boiler are mostly water and this
water is being vaporized along with the alcohol? The explanation is this: 95% of the water
vapour going up the column, carrying with it its latent heat of vaporization, is condensed in
the column by the descending flow of liquid from the stillhead. The 5% water which does
get through only does so because it is associated with ethyl alcohol in the azeotrope. When
the 95% water condenses in the column it gives up its energy, this energy being known as
the latent heat of condensation (LHC). It has the same value as the latent heat of
vaporization. Therefore, the only energy escaping into the stillhead is the latent heat
contained in the 95% alcohol and the 5% water. That’s all there is in the stillhead and all
that is being condensed by the cooling coil. Most of the water never gets there.

It is known that 860,000 calories/hour = 1 kilowatt. Therefore 860 calories/hour =
one watt and 236 calories/hour = 0.27 watt

77
What this means is that 0.27 watts of electric power are required to vaporize 1 gram
of a 95% alcohol/water mixture in one hour, so 750 watts would vaporize 2778 g/hr. or 46
g/minute. Ethanol having a S.G. of 0.8 the volumetric figure for the total reflux rate is 58
ml/minute.

When we measured the rate of reflux at total reflux with 750 watts input to the boiler
we found a value of 45 ml per minute. This is less than the calculated value of 58 ml per
minute because of heat loss due to imperfect insulation. This loss is equivalent to 168
watts.

If you cannot or do not wish to measure the rate of reflux yourself, you could use
our figure of 45 ml. The insulation used for your boiler and column may be better or worse
than ours, but is unlikely to differ very much, so you’d be pretty safe to use this figure of 45
ml. This would mean that you could draw off 10% of this, or 4.5 ml per minute, as usable
192 proof alcohol. This is particularly true since it is unlikely that you will have an exact
reflux ratio of 10:1.

A footnote to this discussion is that the rate of reflux does not change during the
course of a distillation, even though alcohol is steadily leaving the boiler and changing the
composition and the boiling point of the liquid in the boiler. The composition of alcohol
vapour in the stillhead remains constant from the time the heads are finished until the arrival
of the tails, and that’s all that matters; the composition of the liquid in the boiler is
irrelevant.
78


Appendix III

Activated charcoal

Most amateur distillers are familiar with activated charcoal, using it to remove some
of the more noxious substances present in their crude spirit. An ordinary pot still, the
standard type of equipment used by amateurs, produces moonshine, and this contains some
pretty unpleasant things, so activated charcoal remains the only hope of removing some of
the worst of them and producing a palatable beverage. By contrast, the alcohol produced by
the equipment described in this book should not require “cleaning up” because all the
unpleasant things have been removed in the distillation process. Mistakes can happen,
however, particularly in the early days before experience has been gained, and when it does
one may be faced with a batch of alcohol which is a bit “off”. In such cases a polishing
with activated charcoal will be beneficial.

Activated charcoal is used in gas masks, in water purification and in many other
areas where small quantities of an adulterant need removal. Its effect is a physical one, not
chemical. The adulterant is adsorbed on the enormous internal surface area available. This
surface can amount to 1000 m
2
/gram and is produced in a number of ways but often through
the use of superheated steam on ordinary charcoal. The cheapest source is a water treatment
company.

To use it, first dilute the alcohol from 96 to 40% (vodka strength). The amount of
charcoal to use will depend upon the amount of trace impurities which require removal, but
30 to 100 grams per 4 litres of 40% ethanol should be sufficient. Put the alcohol and
charcoal into a large glass bottle, stir occasionally over a few days, allow to settle and then
filter. It can be a messy and time-consuming business because the filter paper tends to get
clogged with very fine particles of charcoal, so save time by decanting as much of the vodka
as possible before the charcoal at the bottom of the bottle starts to spill over. Then filter the
remainder. You may find it more convenient to use a continuous charcoal treatment.
Clamp filter paper over the end of a 1½-inch pipe, add charcoal to a depth of 12 inches or
so, and then pour the alcohol through. It should be fairly pure when it emerges.

The best method of obtaining pure alcohol is to distil it so well that no charcoal
treatment is necessary. It is cheaper and saves a lot of time and trouble. Over the last 15
years we have rarely found it necessary, but it is an excellent way to avoid having to resort
to a third distillation when you detect traces of impurity.

79

Appendix IV

Cooling water requirements


A number of people have expressed concern about the volume of cooling water
required to condense the vapour from a 750 watt heater operating over many hours. It is not
all that great, but if water is scarce or expensive where you live you will be interested in the
following calculations.

The calculations cannot be exact because there are many imponderables. For
example, the temperature of the cooling water, the permitted rise of cooling water
temperature, the desired drop in the temperature of condensed alcohol, the rate of heat
transfer between the cooling water and the alcohol (affected by thermal conductivity of coil
material, e.g. copper, stainless steel, glass, and the thickness of the coil walls), so please
read the following with these things in mind.

We are going to assume the following: The cooling water enters the coil at 10
o
C.
and leaves it at 30
o
C., a 20
o
rise in temperature. By increasing the flow of cooling water
you could decrease this rise in temperature, and by accepting a greater temperature rise you
could reduce the flow of water. We also assume that the alcohol vapour is condensed in the
stillhead and, following condensation, is cooled from 78.1
o
C. to 68.1
o
C., a drop of 10
o
C.,
before withdrawal.

The cooling water in the stillhead is condensing 45 g/min of a 95% w/w alcohol-
water mixture (see Appendix II). The latent heat of this mixture is such that 10,856 calories
per minute of energy must be drained off by the cooling water. The latent heat of
vaporization of the cooling water is not involved, only its sensible heat, and this is 1 calorie
per gram per degree C., the specific heat of water. So, just to condense the vapour without
changing its temperature we require 10860 grams of water per degree C. per minute. Let’s
call it 10 litres. The collection of alcohol from a particular run will occupy (let’s say) 20
hours. So the number of litres of cooling water would be 20 x 60 x 10 litre = 12,000 litres.
This is just to condense the alcohol, not cool it. If we decrease cooling water flow so that its
temperature rises, not by 1
o
C. but by 20
o
C. then the volume of water would be reduced to
12,000 ÷ 20 = 600 litres.

You might wonder why the stillhead doesn’t cool the alcohol to room temperature. It
is a matter of experience that, using the type of stillhead with cooling coil described in this
book the alcohol vapour condenses on the lower turns of the coil, turns into liquid, and
immediately drops off, avoiding further cooling. It is so hot, in fact, that some people
suggest cooling it further by having the condensed liquid flow through a secondary heat
exchanger before dropping into the collection bottle. Otherwise, they say, a lot of alcohol
will be lost by evaporation. There is some truth in this but we have found it sufficient to
80
draw off the hot alcohol and let it fall through a copper tube before entering the collection
bottle. In effect, this is an air-cooled condenser.

We have calculated that 600 litres of cooling water are required just to condense the
vapour. Now let us assume that the condensed liquid, before dropping off the bottom turns
of the cooling coil, is further reduced in temperature by 10
o
C., i.e. from 78.1
o
C. to 68.1
o
C.
This will require additional cooling water as follows:

We are concerned here with, not latent heat of condensation but the specific heat of
alcohol. This varies a bit with temperature but is about 0.6 calories per gram per degree C.
So the number of calories to be withdrawn for a 10
o
C. drop in temperature is:
10 x 0.6 x 46 grams per minute = 276 g/min or 330 litres of cooling water over a 20 hour
distillation period.

Therefore, 600 + 330 = 930 litres of cooling water are required in toto. To this, of
course, must be added the water consumed while the column is being equilibrated. And
then there’s the water consumed during beer stripping. Whether or not you consider this a
lot of water depends on your particular circumstances. If you feel it is a lot then you might
wish to try air cooling by circulating the cooling water through a car radiator and blowing
air through it. This would also avoid the need for a drain. And if you wished to get really
fancy you could experiment with circulating freon through the cooling coil and refrigerating
it.



81


Appendix V

Effect of pressure on boiling points


The boiling points of liquids quoted in reference books refer to the values measured
at a standard atmospheric pressure of 760 mm mercury. As we all know, atmospheric
pressure changes, varying considerably from day-to-day as weather patterns change and
cold or warm fronts cross the region. Atmospheric pressure also changes with elevation.
Not everyone lives at sea level under a stable air pressure of 760 mm Hg so the following
table will allow you to interpret any temperature readings you might get in terms of ambient
atmospheric conditions.

Pressure Elevation Boiling point
Ethanol Water
_________________________________________________________________________
psi mm Hg inches Hg kPa millibars Feet
o
C.
o
C

16.5 853 33.6 113.7 1137 - 3280 81.5 103.3

15.6 806 31.8 107.5 1075 - 1640 79.9 101.7

14.7 760 29.9 101.3 1013 Sea level 78.4 100.0

13.9 716 28.2 95.4 954 1640 77.0 98.3

13.0 674 26.5 89.8 898 3281 75.6 96.7

12.3 634 25.0 84.5 845 4921 74.2 95.0



Not too many of us live below sea level but quite a few must live at elevations of
several thousand feet, and it will be seen from the above table that the effect on the boiling
point of ethanol is far from trivial. The same holds true of changes in atmospheric pressure
at a fixed elevation, due in this case to the movement of air masses.

You will recall from the discussion of temperature changes during fractional
distillation that, after the column has reached equilibrium, the heads are bled off until the
temperature remains constant, indicating that pure ethanol is now distilling over. Clearly, to
avoid being misled, it is useful to have some idea of what the boiling point of pure ethanol
is on that particular day. The table will help in this regard.
82
Appendix VI

Steam distillation


A brief description of steam distillation was given in the chapter dealing with
flavoring, where we showed how to extract the essential oils (chiefly -pinene) from juniper
berries and other botanicals. But steam distillation is not, of course, restricted to juniper
berries and gin flavoring --- there is a whole world of plant materials out there containing
aromatic and flavorsome oils, and many readers have expressed a wish to know more about
the extraction process. At some later date we may write a “how to” book on the subject, but
for the time being a few words attached to the present book could be of interest.

Principles of steam distillation.

Whereas ordinary distillation deals with the separation of miscible liquids, e.g.
water, ethanol, methanol, etc., steam distillation deals with the separation of immiscible or
partially miscible liquids, e.g. oil and water. When two immiscible liquids are heated, each
exerts its own vapour pressure independently of the other. When the sum of the vapour
pressures of the two liquids becomes equal to the atmospheric pressure, the two distil over
together, and the temperature of distillation and the composition of the distillate remain
constant until one of the liquids is entirely evaporated.

An example of how steam distillation works will be given, drawn from the literature,
using water and chlorobenzene as the two liquids. A mixture of these two liquids was
distilled when the atmospheric pressure was 740.2 mm of mercury. The mixture boiled at
90.3
o
C. At this temperature the vapour pressure of water is 530.1 mm Hg while that of
chlorobenzene is 210.1 mm, making a total of 740.2 mm. Chlorobenzene has a boiling
point of 132
o
C., yet when distilled with steam at a temperature 42
o
C. lower, the distillate
contained over 70% of the organic compound.

Another example is aniline and water. Under the standard atmospheric pressure of
760 mm Hg a mixture of these two liquids boiled and distilled over at 98.5
o
C., at this
temperature the vapour pressures of aniline and water being 43 mm and 717 mm
respectively, for a total of 760 mm.

Steam distillation --- practice
Many people who read this book will be interested in the steam distillation of plant
materials in order to isolate the essential oils contained in the leaves, needles, berries, etc.
One could build a steam generator and conduct the steam through a bed of plant material
83
contained in a kettle, which is the method used commercially, but a simpler system consists
of a kettle containing water at the bottom and a grid just above the water holding the plant
material. When the water is boiled the steam carries over the essential oils into a cooling
condenser where the two liquids collect and separate out into two layers.
Unlike the boiler which is used for distilling alcohol, where a mixture of miscible
liquids is being distilled and where liquids can be introduced and removed through ¾”
piping, for steam distilling plant materials it is necessary to have a large opening in the
boiler (kettle) to add and remove solids. It would be difficult to adapt a hot water heater for
this purpose because the boiler is usually glass-lined and you could not cut a large hole in
the top without causing considerable damage.


84
The Author


The author earned a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of London,
England, and has published over eighty scientific papers. Many of these publications are
concerned with the chemistry of plant materials and with the production of fuel alcohol
from agricultural residues. Among other senior appointments he was the Director of the
Forest Products Laboratory in Ottawa and the Director of Research Services at the
University of Ottawa. He is now spending his retirement years in a small village in eastern
Canada on the shores of The Lake of Two Mountains.

His interest in the theory and practice of small-scale distillation stems from a
botched attempt at making wine many years ago. It was so awful that it should have been
poured down the drain. However, he decided to try and recover the alcohol by distillation
and found to his chagrin that it was not as simple as it seemed. This “how-to” book, like its
predecessors, is the result.

85
Latest News

Since publication of this book, several things have changed. Here is an update.

Essences
An amazing improvement in essence-making technology has (and still is) taking place. A
few years ago, commercial essences were nowhere near as good as they are today. In fact,
today, the top-grade essences produce results that are every bit as good as commercially-
made liquor.

Essences that we previously identified as “Royal Piper” and “Noirot” have gone off the
market but the “Artisan” and “Prestige” brands of essences have more than filled the gap.
They are made from natural and nature-identical extracts and are highly recommended for
flavouring the home-made vodka you produce, to give you an immense variety of options!

Get more information at;













www.brewhaus.ca

Published by Brewhaus (Canada) P.O. Box 73161 Calgary, AB T2W 6E4 Canada
Email: gin-vodka@shaw.ca

www.brewhaus.ca
Fifth Edition
Copyright © January, 2004 by John Stone All rights reserved. No part of this publication, printed or electronic, may be reproduced or transmitted to a third party in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author and publisher. ISBN 0-9682280-3-8
Cover illustration courtesy Rainbow Cards Ltd., England

John Stone Ph. D 1921-2004

2

FOREWORD
Making pure ethyl alcohol at home by distillation is a satisfying and profitable hobby for those who live in countries where it is legal to do so. Do-it-yourself types, who currently enjoy making beer or wine, find it particularly interesting because it is a logical extension of both these activities. There is the same fermentation stage where sugar is turned into alcohol but then, instead of drinking the brew, it is subjected to a very rigorous purification process. This process is fractional distillation, a scientific procedure which can be guaranteed to produce a perfect product every time --- a sparkling, crystal clear alcohol of pharmaceutical quality. The pure alcohol is then diluted with water to 40% and used as such (vodka), or flavoured with exotic herbs such as juniper berries, cardamom, orris root, coriander and other botanicals to give London Dry Gin. Or fruit is steeped in the alcohol and sugar added to make a pleasant after-dinner liqueur. And then, by adding a shot of vodka to soft drinks or fruit juices, you can prepare an unlimited number of highballs for just a few cents. So the freedom to make spirits will extend considerably the range of beverages available to the amateur as he/she will no longer be restricted to just beer and wine. Although it is illegal in many countries for amateurs to distil alcohol, and even illegal to own the equipment amazingly enough, fortunately it is not illegal to write about it or read about it. The purpose of this book, therefore, is to open up the subject to intelligent discussion. This it will do by describing in detail how to construct the equipment, followed by a description of how to use it to make vodka. The reader will then know, from a complete understanding of the subject, how the present attitudes of officialdom are based on a completely false premise. This premise is that distillation makes alcohol; it doesn’t. It might well be asked why anyone should bother to read about a procedure which is currently illegal, or learn how to build equipment which it’s illegal to own. The answer is that this is the first step, the necessary step, in changing the law so that an innocent hobby becomes as legal as making beer and wine. New Zealand has recently (1996) legalized amateur distillation, probably as a result of its isolated location in the south Pacific and freedom to think for itself. It does not have to march in lockstep with the hidebound democracies of Europe and N. America. Surely the rest of the world must soon follow New Zealand’s lead if it is not to look ridiculous. However, governments are notoriously slow to change and it will take persuasive arguments to overturn entrenched opinions. For those crusaders who wish to embark on such a noble task it is imperative that they know the facts thoroughly and can dispose intelligently of the fatuous beliefs which surround the subject of distillation. This book will provide such persons with the ammunition they need.

3

Table of Contents
Page No 1. Foreword 2. Introduction 3. Alcoholic Beverages Beer & wine Distillation --- what is it? Simple distillation --- pot stills Whisky, brandy, rum, etc. Fractional distillation Vodka Gin Summary 4. Health & Safety Poisoning oneself Headaches & hangovers Fire & explosions 5. Legality 6. Equipment Amateur distillation Scale of operation Fermenter The drain The cover Stirrer Immersion heater Fractionating still Single boiler system Material of construction The Mexican Cactus design Boiler (N. America) Boiler (outside N. America) Power supply Soldering The column Thermometer adapter Packing The stillhead 9 10 11 11 12 13 14 14 16 16 17 18 20 21 24 26 27 27 28 28 29 30 30 31 33 34 34 35 35 35 37 38 2 6

4

“Mexican Cactus” model The condenser “Hatstand” model Water supply Glass still Attachment to boiler Support table 38 39 41 42 44 46 47 7. Latest News 49 50 50 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 61 64 64 64 65 66 67 68 70 75 76 78 79 81 82 84 85 5 . Appendices I. Conversion factors II. Summary of Procedures 11. Latent heat of vaporization III. Fermentation Principles Procedure Yeast 8. Distillation Principles Simple distillation --.fractional distillation Temperature measurement Collection rate Yield of alcohol Water quality Storage 9. Flavouring Steam distillation Gin recipe Procedure 10. Activated charcoal IV Cooling water requirements V Boiling points of water & ethanol vs pressure VI Steam distillation The author 13. Costs & Economics 12.the pot still Fractional distillation The alcohol-water azeotrope Inside the column Procedures 1st stage ----beer-stripping nd 2 stage --.

far easier in fact than making a spirit of lesser purity such as whisky. gin. the same highly-purified alcohol which is used in chemical laboratories. It is even simpler than making beer or wine. and in the production of perfumes and colognes. To find books on this subject it is necessary to search the Internet for independent publishers. the pharmaceutical industry. etc. and the strange little moonshine stills which are offered for sale on the Internet will certainly lead to disappointment if pure alcohol is what you are looking for. and such books can be found in abundance in most bookstores and in beer. And 2) the rest of the world. Moonshine cannot do this because its own flavour is far too harsh. rum or brandy.is an alcohol which can provide the “high” without contributing any flavour of its own. never will. The four previous editions of this book have been well received. whereas the truth of the matter is that distillation doesn’t produce any alcohol at all. particularly western Europe. This statement is not made merely to be controversial and argumentative. the United States currently has a Bill before Congress to follow New Zealand’s example. Distillation does not make alcohol. This book has been written in an attempt to rectify such an anomalous situation because the starting point for many drinks --. Canada and Australia. but the advantage of short printing runs is that it is possible to make improvements with each edition. where the laws respecting distillation by amateurs need to be challenged since they are based upon a false premise. The books which are found on the Internet frequently deal with the production of moonshine or whiskies. However. punches --. spirits which may be quite enjoyable when well prepared but which also can be harsh to the point of being undrinkable. Commendably. In line with this thinking the present volume will provide some additional information on both the theoretical and practical aspects of distillation.INTRODUCTION Many books are available to amateurs on the methods and equipment involved in making beer and wine. This premise is that distillation produces a highly intoxicating alcohol. Certain explanations have also been amplified and improved because feedback from readers makes it apparent that what may have been crystal clear to the author was by no means clear to the reader. The explanation as to why it is easier to make a pure alcohol than an impure one will become apparent in the next chapter.and wine-making supply stores. 6 . and is incapable of doing so. The production of extremely pure alcohol is rather simple as it happens. It never has. New Zealand being the best example although there may be some others in eastern Europe. liqueurs. This should be encouraging for those who have never embarked upon distillation and are worried that it might be a bit too technical and equipment-oriented. but then we run into another problem. it is a simple fact.vodka. when it comes to the use of a small still to produce distilled spirits it is no use looking in bookstores. The book should appeal to two groups of readers: 1) those who live in countries where it is currently legal to distil alcohol for one’s own use. What has been missing is a scientifically-based literature dealing with the production on a small scale of the very pure ethyl alcohol used for making high-end vodka and gin.

When faced with such charges it is necessary to have all the facts at your fingertips. A whole chapter will be devoted to this question of legality since it is highly important for everyone to know exactly where they stand and to be comfortable with what they are doing. They are equally certain that distillation is a dangerous practice which is liable to lead to blindness. Far from it. it can be very useful to know the underlying principles involved in a process if something doesn’t work out exactly 7 . It won’t. even fractional distillation. Also. Such campaigns will only succeed if they are based upon a thorough knowledge of the subject matter. when describing the equipment it has been necessary to describe to some extent just how it is used. Distillation. the misconceptions about a simple purification process which have become rooted in society as a result of centuries of mischievous brainwashing combined with simple ignorance. repetition of the fact that distillation is simply a purification process and doesn’t make alcohol can be excused on the grounds that repetition is not a bad thing if we wish to clear away the misinformation hammered into people’s minds over the centuries by zealots of one sort or another. They are certain. The second group can use the same detailed information in its campaign to get the law changed. not broken. It is hoped that legislators and law enforcement agencies themselves will read this chapter and possibly one or two others. It doesn’t. to be an authority on the subject. It was decided. because then you will be in a position to counter such silly arguments in a convincing manner. The law has to be changed. and be prepared to be receptive when law reformers come knocking at their doors. crystal-clear vodka. Thus. that a knowledge of why something works or doesn’t work is as interesting to the enquiring mind as knowing how. and in governments. think about it. for example that distillation makes alcohol. even though this is dealt with at length in the chapters which deal with procedures. The alcohol so produced is a sparkling. America and elsewhere as any sort of incitement to break the law. There are also suggestions for making a wide variety of alcoholic drinks by the simple expedient of adding the appropriate flavouring agent. is really a very simple process and it might have been sufficient simply to provide a bare outline of how to proceed. There is quite a bit of repetition in several of the chapters. This book must not be seen in N. letting the reader’s ingenuity fill in the gaps.The first group will find complete details of the equipment and procedures required to a) ferment ordinary table sugar (sucrose) to a crude “beer” using bakers’ yeast and b) the steps involved in fractionally distilling this beer to remove all the impurities. We make no apologies for such overlap since it helps to make the various chapters self-sufficient. and to change the law it is necessary to clarify in the minds of the general public.with what it is and what it isn’t. Instructions follow for flavouring the vodka with juniper berries and other herbs and botanicals to produce the well-known bouquet of London Dry Gin. because those who embark upon it will soon realize that legislators and officials in government are thoroughly muddled about distillation --. Furthermore. however. In writing this description of small-scale distillation for amateurs it was difficult to decide on an appropriate amount of detail to provide.

they cover an extremely wide range of products from wines and beers to whiskies. brandy. therefore. are in inches. e. as we all know. For convenience a table of conversion factors from one system to the other is provided in Appendix I. The common denominator which ties them all together is the alcohol itself. The units of measurement to use present a problem. a pure chemical with the empirical formula C2H5OH. liqueurs. rum. weights. and a very wide range of starting materials. etc. but many countries in the English-speaking world. It will be much easier when the whole world uses the metric system. particularly the United States.g. from grapes to potatoes to milk. Before getting down to the details of fermentation and distillation a few general observations will be made in the next chapter on the subject of alcoholic beverages per se because. gin.. pipe diameters. temperatures and pressures are in metric units while some dimensions. In this book.as expected the first time you try it. is largely non-metric. 8 . It then becomes possible to solve the problem through knowledge rather than by trial and error. or if you have modified the equipment and procedures described in the book (which many people do). we have adopted an awkward hybrid system in which most volumes.

odourless and tasteless. e. it is the congeners and not the alcohol which are responsible for headaches and hangovers following over-indulgence. the particular strain of yeast and the conditions under which it is used (temperature. molasses for rum. America) consists simply of alcohol and water with no other constituent present. Beer and wine Alcoholic beverages can be divided into two broad categories according to whether or not there is a distillation stage following fermentation. even such an unlikely substance as milk being usable because of the sugar lactose it contains. colour. aroma and general quality of fermented beverages vary so widely and that a great deal of skill and experience is required in order to produce an acceptable drink. a process which converts the sugar to carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol. Surprisingly enough to those of us who have been brought up to believe the opposite. orange juice for a Screwdriver and so on. It is no wonder. tomato juice for a Bloody Mary. No alcoholic beverage (with the exception of certain vodkas made in N.ethyl alcohol. C6H12O6 + yeast Glucose → CO2 + C2H5OH ethanol Usually one does not start with a pure sugar but with fruit juices for wine. This is because yeasts produce small quantities of other substances in addition to the main product --. nutrients. Many of these congeners are relatively harmless but there are always a few produced during fermentation. Over the centuries trial and error have shown that a bewildering variety of sugar sources can be exploited in this manner. The colour. wines and spirits are due entirely to the other constituents present. Fusel oils are another. aroma. wine or whisky. but you will from beer. etc. Regardless of the sugar source the alcohol is the same even though the flavour and colour will be different. If it did it would be colourless. the alcohol having nothing to do with it.g.Alcoholic Beverages All alcoholic beverages are made by fermenting a sugar solution with yeast. even during the fermentation of a fine wine. that the flavour. the starch in grains for beer and whisky. Methanol (rubbing alcohol) is one of them. Liqueurs too. vermouth for a martini. More will be said about this interesting and little known fact in the next chapter dealing with health and safety. normally use vodka as the alcoholic base. the starch in grain or potatoes for vodka. In addition to the variations imposed by the source of sugar. You will never get a hangover from drinking vodka. therefore. Beer and wine fall into the non9 . and flavour of beers. And rather boring to many palates unless you mixed it with something which had a flavour. These other constituents are known collectively as “congeners”. etc.) also make their contribution to the character of the final product. which are actually poisonous.

science has not yet come up with a method for doing this. both good and bad. have all been distilled. And as innocuous. the actual practice of distillation is a little more complicated than this although the principle is exactly the same ----. rather simple in design since only a modest level of purity is required. So distillation is not a mysterious subject. nor is it threatening. Whisky and similar spirits use one type.distilled category whereas whisky. Nor is it something to be furtive about. As you can imagine. if all the socalled “impurities” were removed there would be no taste or bouquet and you would have produced vodka rather than whisky.boil the liquid and condense the vapour --. It would be nice if.and wine-making must be carried out extremely carefully because you are stuck with whatever you’ve produced. can be produced if that is what you want. The latter are often referred to as “spirits” or “hard liquor”. more akin to gourmet cooking than to science. The calcium and magnesium salts which constitute the hardness are non-volatile and remain behind in the kettle. Nature carries out her own distillation in the form of rain --. gin. and involve many subtleties and many opportunities for error. the choice of which to use depending on the level of purity required in the product.and winemaking are highly skilled operations. Simple distillation permits the removal of some of the more noxious congeners by discarding some of the first liquid to distil over (the “heads”) and the last to distil over (the “tails”). The middle fraction of congener-laden alcohol remains and is collected. but alcohol containing congeners for providing flavour. Emphasis will be placed on the production of high purity alcohol such as used in vodka and gin. To remove the hardness from water it is boiled in a kettle and the steam which is produced condensed against a cold surface to give a pure water free of minerals and all other types of impurity. A brief 10 . Which makes government sanctions completely ludicrous. There are two different types of still. The other type of still is more elaborate in design and used for making pure alcohol in which all the impurities have been removed. Furthermore. and a close approximation to distilled water falls to earth.the sun evaporates water from the surface of lakes and oceans leaving salt and impurities behind. Alas. condense. Because beer and wine do not receive any such purification treatment it is necessary to live with whatever mixture of chemicals the fermentation has produced. Which explains why there is such a wide range of qualities and prices of wines and why amateurs have such difficulty in producing a really first-class product. It is as commonplace as a rain-shower or a tea-kettle boiling and causing condensation on a nearby window. something to discuss with your friends in hushed tones. Beer. Which means in practice that beer. the offending congeners could be removed. Clouds form.and later chapters will provide an exact description of the equipment required and the procedures involved. brandy. after a fermentation had gone slightly wrong and the beer or wine were found to have an unpleasant taste. Distillation --. etc. rum.what is it? To distil a liquid one simply brings it to the boil and condenses the vapour on a cold surface.

brandies.the heads. corn. brandy. even though it would be somewhat contaminated with heads. At this point there is no colour and the fiery liquid will look like water. and the middle fraction of ethanol contaminated with a little heads and tails. aldehydes. This first fraction is referred to as the “heads”. butyl and amyl alcohol. These minor constituents are the congeners and the amount of each will determine the flavour. consisting chiefly of ethanol. potatoes. butyl and amyl alcohols. esters. rums and so on. and since the amount retained is controllable. are called pot stills. They are also responsible for unpleasant side effects such as headaches and hangovers since many of them are very poisonous. milk or any other source produces a wide variety of chemicals. and a host of other organic compounds in small amounts. Simple distillation – pot stills As mentioned before. The first vapours to come over are richer than the mother liquor in the more volatile components such as acetone and methanol. and it is only because they are present in comparatively small amounts that nothing worse than a hangover is experienced. The middle fraction. To make brandy (as an example of a distilled spirit) the fermented liquor (wine in this case) is brought to the boil and the vapours led over into the condensing section. will also contain the retained portion of heads and tails. These are the least volatile components of the mixture and include propyl. tails and a middle fraction. long before the heads are completely exhausted. ketones. in a simple distillation using a pot still there are three main fractions --. barley. the ethanol begins to appear and is collected. bouquet and colour of a particular beverage. etc. 11 . The type of still used for making whiskies. rum. Minor constituents will be methyl. the fermentation of sugars derived from grapes. the major one being ethyl alcohol (ethanol). propyl. It is these heads and tails which impart the characteristic flavour and aroma of each batch. This section contains a cooling coil with cold water running through it where the vapours are condensed to liquid. the tails. The distiller of these products uses a simple pot still or a pot still slightly modified to give a small amount of reflux (see next section). molasses. the amount of each depending on just where the cut-off is made.description of the two types will be provided in this chapter dealing with beverages because it is quite important for the reader to appreciate the differences right at the outset. These three alcohols are known as “fusel” oils. Analytical methods such as chromatography reveal that there are literally hundreds of compounds present after a fermentation. the “tails” begin to emerge. Whisky. when ethanol production is tapering off. Such stills effect only a crude separation of the fermented liquor into heads. Thus. you wouldn’t wish to drink the acetone and methanol which arrive first but you might wish to retain some of the congeners which arrive immediately afterwards. all of which require that a percentage of taste-giving congeners remain. followed by b) distilling the mixture and discarding a portion of the heads and a portion of the tails. For example. There is no sharp separation so. the flavour of the final whisky is affected accordingly. Later. The skill in making a palatable whisky consists of a) fermenting the mash under a carefully controlled set of conditions to generate a particular mixture of organic compounds.

It is the simplest of all distilled spirits to make and the safest. allowing each one to be drawn off in sequence from the top of the column in the order of its boiling point. though less extreme of course. The column is packed with small pieces of an inert substance. 12 . simple distillation of a mixture of liquids does not produce a clear-cut separation of the various components. where all the vapours are condensed and collected with no reflux back into the boiler. Fractional distillation As mentioned above.Colour is imparted by storing the spirit in oak barrels for a number of years. This is quite different from simple pot-distilling. The vapours from the boiling liquid rise up the column. short lengths of glass or ceramic tubing (known as Raschig rings). the most highly volatile components emerge first and the least volatile components emerge last. and run back down through the packing in the column to the boiler. ceramic saddles. taste panels. are condensed to liquid in the stillhead at the top. It is equivalent to carrying out a simple distillation in a pot still and then re-distilling the product over and over again. Additionally. wire gauze. If insufficient colour is imparted to the whisky by the barrel used for aging. or in fact any non-reactive material with a large surface area and a large number of small pockets where liquid can accumulate. so we highly recommend that you serve your distilling apprenticeship making vodka. or even to add some cheap adulterant such as rubbing alcohol or gas-line antifreeze. and feedback from consumers to reach the point where it is today. would face the amateur whiskymaker today. Then graduate to the far more challenging task of distilling a palatable whisky. e. If such a separation is required it is necessary to resort to the use of a fractionating column. Similar problems. the manufacture of a palatable whisky is a highly skilled operation which has taken years of trial-and-error. a little caramel is added by the manufacturer. in order to increase the quantity of saleable product the moonshiners would have been strongly tempted to retain an excessive amount of the more noxious heads and tails.g. The final result is an almost perfect separation of the mixture into its various components. The theory and practice of this will be described in detail in a later chapter but a few words will be said about it here. The fermentation carried out under less than ideal conditions would have produced a witches brew of chemicals while the crude pot stills used without proper controls would undoubtedly have left behind a number of exceedingly unpleasant constituents. This counter-current flow of vapour up and liquid down has the effect of producing a series of mini-distillations at the surface of each piece of glass. Clearly. ceramic or metal in the column. The procedure involves the use of a vertical column attached to the top of a boiler. It has involved the production of a complex but controlled mixture of compounds followed by the selective removal of a certain proportion of them. This makes it easy to understand why the moonshine produced in the hills of Kentucky during prohibition days was such a rough and even dangerous product. with pure ethanol as the major middle fraction. a process which also modifies to some extent the chemical make-up of the whisky to give the unique characteristics of a particular brand. Thus.

fractional distillation equipment along the lines of that discussed in a later chapter must be used. etc. They are lightly flavoured by the manufacturer using certain grasses or herbs. Sweden.they are advertised as lemon vodka. i. carbon filtering. milk or any other fermentable sugar. coffee. Tobacco & Firearms (BATF) defines vodka as “A neutral spirit so distilled as to be without distinctive character. is to carry out a slightly “imperfect” fractional distillation so that very small amounts of the natural flavours in the original source of carbohydrate --. cinnamon. The use of such additives is allowed to remain a subtle mystery in order to tempt the palates of vodka aficionados around the world and to give the spin doctors in the advertising departments something to work with. grains. nor (as will be discussed in the next chapter) any headaches or hangovers. in which case the source of the flavouring is not mentioned. The US Bureau of Alcohol. add a natural flavouring (of which there are hundreds.e.? If there’s no difference. Why then is there so much advertising hype about the unique qualities of a vodka from. alcohol from which all the heads and tails have been removed. wine. The strong (192 proof). Such practice makes eminent sense --. more traditional way to make a delicately flavoured vodka. America. To make vodka. peach. If the BATF definition is taken literally. and so on. 1997 is interesting in this connection. In sharp contrast to all other spirits. No mystery here --. vanilla. America.are retained. more strongly flavoured vodkas have been introduced into the market. Or glycerine is added to give the vodka a little smoothness and body. no methanol. so delicately that it can barely be detected.Vodka. pure alcohol so produced is diluted with water to 40% to give vodka. is made from pure alcohol. Recently. This is much more tricky than making a pure. however. taste or color”. do have a slight flavour. etc. no taste and no odour.use pure alcohol. lemon. aroma. not just because it is available locally but also because it gives no flavour to the vodka. particularly the vodka made in N. “Aleksander Orekhov. most vodka. etc. The fact seems to be that most vodkas. why then all the talk about triple distilling. It’s difficult to rhapsodize over a beverage with no colour. --. vanilla. A pot still will not do it. pepper. with flavours which include raspberry. a Soho bar that offers some 40 different vodkas. In line with this thinking it may be noted that some manufacturers choose to use the lactose in milk to make vodka. pepper vodka. grain. or Poland. makes no apology for saying that the best vodka is one that has no real flavour at all”.. at least outside N. unflavoured alcohol because it involves a subjective judgement on the part of the distiller on what constitutes a pleasant taste when traces of the 13 .potatoes. or Russia. and so on? Or the difference between vodkas made from potatoes and grain? The following quotation from the London Daily Telegraph of June 14. say. the Russian-born owner of Red. Another. it would mean that there should be no difference between vodkas made from potatoes. no fusel oils. etc. if not thousands) and you have a unique and pleasant drink with no congeners. strawberry.

with no variations and no failures. noxious substances to leave a clear. the quality of these beverages depends upon the presence of compounds other than ethyl alcohol (the congeners) and it is very difficult to ensure that these are present in exactly the right amounts and the right proportions. sparkling.in fact anything which contains a fermentable sugar. grapes. the production of a fine wine. and results therefore can be guaranteed if the proper equipment is used and the correct procedures followed. Summary In terms of ease of manufacture. the production of pure alcohol is a science. but we are quite prepared to learn that they do. wheat. the flavouring agent in this case being mainly juniper berries but also small amounts of other botanicals such as orris root. It is doubtful if any commercial distilleries still use this oldfashioned method. but fractional distillation will rid the mixture of all the congeners. The only art involved will be in the preparation of the flavouring essence from juniper berries and other botanicals for gin. beer or whisky is much more difficult. not an art. The “beer” produced by adding bakers’ yeast to a 20% solution of cane sugar would be completely undrinkable by all but the most dedicated tipplers. 14 . Even the dregs from glasses after a party could be thrown into the pot and out will come the purest alcohol. lovingly produced in the Highlands of Scotland and aged for donkey’s years. What could be simpler? By comparison. all the undesirable compounds. and the only difference between a rot-gut whiskey and a single malt. In a later section of the book a description will be given of a simple little piece of home-made equipment and the procedure involved in steam-distilling juniper berries and other herbs to produce a flavouring essence which can then be added to vodka to produce gin. No aging is required --. cardamom. Gin is really nothing more than a special case of a flavoured vodka.just add large amounts of bakers’ yeast to a solution of sugar and water and stand back. The starting material can be corn. and then this “beer” is fractionally distilled to remove all the extraneous. which accounts for the slightly different taste of different brands. and from various fruits and herbs for liqueurs. Gin. pure alcohol. The sugar will be rapidly fermented to a crude alcohol known as “beer” in the trade. One hardly even needs to worry about hygiene---. molasses --. highballs and punches. and produce a crystal-clear. There are no subtleties involved such as quality of grapes or the type of yeast used. unadulterated ethyl alcohol. As we have said before. No such considerations apply in the case of gin and vodka.heads and tails are retained. and shall no doubt say again. The result will be the same every time. is a difference in the congeners. Different distillers use different recipes. milk. coriander.gin and vodka are ready to drink the day you make them. The only difference between a cheap bottle of “plonk” and a vintage chateaubottled wine costing an arm and a leg is a very slight difference in the congener make-up. potatoes. And this is simply a matter of personal taste and preference. rice.

S.and winemaking supply stores. the cost of all the ingredients to make a litre of 40% vodka will be about $1 (U.It is also worth mentioning that. 15 . it is a most worthwhile hobby. ready-made flavouring essences can be purchased from beer. brandy.voila! As a final word of encouragement. Financially. therefore. These essences cover a very wide range. a litre of vodka can easily be made from 1 kg of sugar. etc. So. Just add the contents of the little (15-25 ml) bottle of essence to a litre of vodka and ----. rum. leading to a far greater saving over the commercial product than you could possibly realize with either beer or wine. depending on the price of sugar where you live. from fruity liqueurs to whisky.). in addition to using one’s own natural ingredients to flavour alcohol.

stainless steel or copper. No danger so far. This is particularly true of fractional distillation.let the buyer beware! Our recommendation is that you never buy moonshine made in an illegal and unsupervised still. but also for simple distillation where you have removed at least some of them. Obviously there is no government supervision of a moonshiner’s operation. People associate “homemade spirits” with distillation. where you have removed ALL the impurities. It’s due to these gentlemen adulterating their booze and fobbing it off on an unsuspecting public. So we’ve already got a purer liquid than we started with. Another possibility is that the moonshiner will use automobile radiators for cooling the vapours rising from his boiler. Poisoning oneself. The belief that there is some inherent danger in distilling one’s own spirits is widespread and is reinforced whenever the news media report that a number of people have been taken ill. Sugar is fermented to alcohol using bakers’ yeast to make a crude “beer”. Anyone who 16 . This means that the original beer has had a second batch of unpleasant things removed and in consequence is far purer than the liquid we started out with. These are serious concerns. Make your own if it’s legal to do so. but for the moment the emphasis will be on health and safety. Finally there arrive the fusel oils with a somewhat unpleasant odour so they. or stove oil. so lead may get into the alcohol.Health and Safety The three major concerns of people who might be interested in setting up a still at home are 1) the question of legality. As for dangers in the distilling operation itself. and if made from copper the various parts will be joined with lead-free solder. specifically of going blind. but don’t be mislead into thinking that the toxicity is due to simple ignorance or lack of care on the part of the backwoods distiller. or antifreeze or paint remover or any other pungent liquid he can lay his hands on. right? The beer is boiled and the vapours collected. but in fact there is no danger whatsoever in drinking home distilled spirits. In the next chapter the legality question will be dealt with at length. The first liquid to come over will contain some methanol (poisonous). or even died. It’s not. possibly adulterated with unknown chemicals. as a result of drinking homemade spirits. Then comes the potable alcohol which has no smell and is collected for use. 2) the possibility of getting poisoned. are discarded. with moon-shining. Naturally such a cocktail is poisonous. acetone and small amounts of other substances which were in the original beer. The danger lies in buying liquor from a bootlegger because in order to increase his profits he may top up his moonshine with rubbing alcohol (methanol). let us follow this through. It would be similar to a Scotch whisky distillery where copper stills have been used for centuries. so caveat emptor --. too. and people take them very seriously. in which case there will be no danger whatsoever to your health. or even moonshine properly made. They smell like paint remover and will be discarded. Your equipment will be made of glass. and radiators frequently contain lead soldering. the so-called congeners. and 3) the danger of blowing oneself up.

or even 17 . More objective proof that the congeners and not the alcohol are the bad actors can be found in the scientific literature. Numerous studies have been made and all investigators find the same thing.headache. it would be necessary to save the heads and tails in a bottle.for one thing the size of the sample was rather small --. this is hardly surprising considering the poisonous nature of some congeners. Remember. fatigue and dizziness --. drink the paint remover. Headaches and hangovers Headaches and hangovers are well-known consequences of over-indulgence in alcohol . even in small amounts. and not to the alcohol per se. As part of the study the congeners were separated from the whisky and given to the subjects in the absence of alcohol.and not methanol as might have been expected. It strains credulity to put it mildly.but even without such a trial it is not difficult to believe that drinking such things as methanol and fusel oils. in one clinical investigation 33 men and 35 women were each given 2 ounces of either whisky or vodka on separate occasions. The effect was the same as when the whisky itself was imbibed. the distillation has not created anything. So. dizziness or fatigue in any of the cases. temporary headache and gastric irritation were observed in only 2% of the subjects while there were no complaints of halitosis. The chief culprit among the congeners was considered to be one of the fusel oils --. The effects described above were produced by a commercial whisky in which the congeners occurred to the extent of about 3%. pour the purified alcohol down the drain and then. will be bad for you.e.says that distilling is dangerous because it produces toxic substances is merely indulging in scare tactics and should be ignored. it would not be surprising if a 3% solution in alcohol. These results are not really definitive --.g. After the same amount of vodka. throwing away the meat and eating the feathers. proving that the congeners and not the alcohol were responsible for the adverse reactions.the heads and tails ---and discarded them. The incidence of after-effects in the group following a single drink of 2 ounces of whisky was halitosis 27%. gastric irritation. halitosis. This interesting fact will be confirmed by many people who habitually drink gin or vodka rather than pot-distilled spirits such as rye. to poison oneself. These symptoms persisted during the following day. it has simply separated out the noxious substances from the beer --. This is about as likely as plucking a chicken. but what is far less well known is that these unpleasant side-effects are largely due to the impurities. that the symptoms of hangover --. gastric irritation 25%.were far more severe when the same amount of alcohol were consumed in the form of whisky than in the form of vodka. scotch. headache 9%. rum or even wine and beer. bourbon. As an example of such studies.amyl alcohol --. i. arsenic. dizziness 7% and fatigue 6%. It should be noted that all the subjects in this trial were light social drinkers. If it were a different poison. When you think about it. the congeners. ignoring the pungent smell and sickening taste. e.

It would be wiser. it is claimed (somewhat piously) is to discourage people from drinking something which could be harmful to their health. This is all so obvious that it may seem a little absurd to even mention it but. gave you an upset tummy. while in distilled spirits it is usually 40%. pot-distilled spirits involve the retention of some of the congeners in order to give taste to the whisky. it is the amount consumed which is the determining factor in determining whether or not someone becomes inebriated.the amount of alcohol has remained unchanged. Adding tonic water to a shot of gin dilutes it from 40% to maybe 6% but this has not rendered the gin less intoxicating --. drink of 40% scotch just because it is weaker. is due solely to the alcohol. and certainly easier. This is shown by the fact that governments put a much higher tax per unit of alcohol on distilled spirits than on beer and wine. particularly for drink which is known to contain several poisons. The reason for doing this. This may sound a bit melodramatic but when you are dealing with a procedure for the first time. They do it for food so why not for drink. Let’s take the 18 . an additional tax would be levied based on the amount of poison (congener) present. in most countries. you may wonder. and know that alcohol is inflammable. if health were the primary consideration as they claim. perhaps. Only a moment’s thought is required to appreciate that the concentration of alcohol in a drink is irrelevant. i. In beer the concentration is about 5%. 3% is not a trivial amount when one considers that nowadays the authorities are concerned about parts per billion of contaminants in foodstuffs.in water. Vodka would then attract the lowest tax of all and we would all live happily ever after! A final note for environmentalists and watchdog groups on health matters: Is it not time to demand that governments require all manufacturers of alcoholic beverages to list the composition on the label? This would enable us to choose the ones with the lowest levels of toxic ingredients. but some of these taste-providing congeners are poisonous so don’t overdo it. As mentioned in earlier sections. Fire and explosions. 17 ml.e. in wine it is 8 to 13%. Drinking a bottle of beer is not less harmful than a 1½-oz. The physiological effect of an alcoholic drink. If governments wished to base their tax grab on a rational argument they should start by basing it on alcohol amount (so much per unit of alcohol) instead of on alcohol concentration. A more likely reason is that they see it as an opportunity to increase tax revenue. the ‘buzz’. And then. and everything else is merely moonlight and roses! A final comment concerns the question of alcohol concentration in beverages. to remove all the impurities by fractional distillation to give a pure alcohol and then add a flavouring agent. They both contain identical amount of the same alcohol. the concept appears to be somewhat too difficult for the official mind to grasp. One of the conclusions to be drawn from such studies is that whisky production should be handled carefully by amateurs.

alcohol fires can instantly be doused with water because alcohol and water are completely miscible. if you were smoking and dropped some burning ash into the collection bottle. Completely open. Fully open.explosion issue first. in the remote possibility that a fire occurred. You will see that this is so when you look at the equipment diagrams later on and read the description of the procedures involved. For this reason it is an infinitely safer inflammable liquid than gasoline. is there any pressure in the equipment used for distillation. So don’t worry about it --. but most people will be using an electrically heated boiler so there is no open flame. At no time. This is inflammable. Secondly.in Brazil for example. e.g. and in the fuel alcohol industry this fact is always quoted as one of the benefits associated with ethanol when it is used alone as a fuel --. As far as fire is concerned you are dealing with an aqueous solution of alcohol which is non-inflammable right up to the time you collect the pure alcohol dripping from the draw-off valve.an explosion is impossible. from beginning to end. 19 . It is always open to the atmosphere.

one gang slaughtering another to gain control of the market. This means almost all of us. some of the difference is due to the scale of manufacture. Police and gangsters fought it out with bullets. their milch cow? This battle between the law enforcement agencies (the good guys) and the smugglers and bootleggers (the bad guys) has been a perfect subject for stories and movies.S. The retail price of a litre of vodka will lie somewhere between $10 and $20 depending on the country and level of taxation. gin and other distilled spirits a litre would contain about 10 cents (U. took it all to heart and shivered in their shoes. the profit margin. This is for 100% alcohol. is it any wonder that an unscrupulous operator will attempt to sell his alcohol direct to the consumer. but even allowing for these factors the tax burden on the consumer is extremely high. If diluted to the 40% commonly used for vodka. as it is for the fuel-alcohol industry (gasohol) its cost of manufacture is about 25 cents per litre. The average person is now convinced that the production of spirits is inherently evil.The Question of Legality This chapter is written specifically for those readers who live in countries where it is currently illegal for amateurs to make their own home-made spirits. The mark-up is enormous.) worth of alcohol. From the moonshiner’s or smuggler’s point of view the spread between the cost of manufacture of alcohol and cost to the consumer after tax is so great that the incentive to circumvent the law is considerable. humbug”. bombs and bloody mayhem. The conflict between governments and moonshiners has been going on for centuries and the reasons are not hard to find. something to be tightly controlled by the authorities or blood will run in the streets. transportation. etc. and while all this was going on the lawabiding citizens of the world sat on the sidelines. To be fair. perhaps at half the normal retail price which would still give him a very handsome profit? Or is it any wonder that the authorities crack down hard on anyone attempting to interfere with their huge source of revenue. the news media and any advocacy groups with an influence on public policy. When alcohol is made on a large scale. and one which turned into real life drama during Prohibition in the United States in the 1920’s.. the net result being that tax revenues actually decrease while crime is encouraged. law enforcement agencies. the purity of the product. The dollar figures involved are informative. It is also written for government officials. governments promote the idea that drinking is not only sinful but harmful to your health. 20 . In light of the above. In an attempt to justify their actions and to persuade consumers to accept them. so the tax is made deliberately high (they say) in order to protect you! As Scrooge would say. This incentive grows greater and greater with each tax hike until a point is reached where people are driven by taxation policy to smuggle liquor or make their own. politicians. “Bah. From the government point of view alcohol in one form or another is in such demand that it can be heavily taxed without fear of killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

Governments surely wouldn’t do something without reason would they!! There must be a reason for the ban on amateur distillation. And the general public. would be more that justified in demanding the right to do so. So they concentrate the alcohol by distilling it and thereby reduce the weight and volume 8fold. and somewhat cynical. so only the most 21 . One reason may be that beer and wine-making are traditional activities and therefore hallowed by tradition. and both are taxable when sold commercially. and their preparation takes quite a bit of time. Being of a philosophical turn of mind the author has speculated on the underlying reasons for this. this cannot be the real reason because the home production of beer and wine for one’s own use is legal. Strange really that the purification of a legal drug by removing the poisons is illegal. so the authorities must not be all that concerned about the loss of revenue when people make their own alcoholic beverages. by contrast. invokes an image of unholy forces at work --. the “wickedness” of home distilling is now so ingrained in the social psyche that this alone is enough deterrent to make many law-abiding citizens not only refuse to engage in it but even to discuss it.alchemists and necromancers. explanation for the prohibition of home distilling is based on the following reasoning. commercially. Thus. Not a drop. What it does is take the beer which you have quite legally made by fermentation and remove all the noxious.and wine-making it doesn’t produce a drop of alcohol. should a distilled spirit attract a higher tax per unit of alcohol? At the risk of being tediously repetitious it is worth reminding ourselves again that distillation is one of the most innocuous activities imaginable. Home-made beer and wine are often a bit inferior to a good commercial product. After all. A more prosaic reason based on dollars and cents is that illegal traffic in alcohol would be uneconomical if smugglers and bootleggers had to transport a lot of water. it has become self-policing. Distilling. It is an activity which poets and shepherds and decent country folk might engage in as they play their flutes and dance around the Maypole. which is so rightly health-conscious these days. It is understandable why a government would wish to put a stop to smuggling and moonshining for commercial purposes. Or the satanic mills of industry and the callous face of science. Unlike beer. Spirits therefore acquire another black mark against them. Unfortunately. that is to say in order to sell the product and avoid the payment of taxes. poisonous substances which appear inevitably as by-products in all fermentations. but why would there be a complete ban on distillation by amateurs. on a small scale and for their own use? And why. if everyone started making their own spirits at home the loss of revenue might be considerable. In this way much more can be loaded into a ship or truck. Surely! In attempting to find this reason the first thing which comes to mind is the potential loss of tax revenue. A possible.Beer and wine do not suffer from such a bad press. the authorities should really be encouraging distillation by amateurs. Instead of prohibiting it. However. Amateur distillation.

as it had in many countries. This is grossly unfair discrimination and naturally of great concern to distillers. Fortunately.per unit of alcohol the tax on spirits is much higher than it is on beer and wine. A third restriction on spirits can be seen in the alcoholic beverage section in the supermarkets of some countries ---. C2H5OH. but raise the alcohol concentration to 40% and the ancient shibboleth of ‘hard spirits’ comes into play. The probable reason for this surprising turn of events is that as soon as distillation was legalized it became an interesting hobby. gender. age and so on and so forth? Irrational attitudes are always difficult to deal with but in order to reform the law we have to deal with it. home distillation were permitted. we don’t need to guess at the effect it might have on commercial sales.beer and wine may be sold. Just because beer contains 5% alcohol 22 . it might be argued. and could make it in quantity in a short time. whiskies. Another concerns the tax imposed on distilled alcoholic products --. an acknowledged moodmodifier. in advertisements and representations to governments.and wine-makers took it up enthusiastically. and this requires that we try to understand the thinking behind it. Dick and Harriette would be in a position to make a gin or vodka which was every bit as good as the finest commercial product on the market. This is illustrated by several restrictions which apply in many countries. vodkas and all the other spirits available in the local liquor store. we have to look deeper than this in our search for a reason why governments have such a hang-up about distillation. wine and gin are identical and imbibed in similar quantities will have identical effects in terms of mood modification. a glass of gin & tonic. You see. and it is this drug which governments seek to control. religion. So why is there this blatant discrimination on the part of governments which pride themselves on being non-discriminatory when it comes to race. it is not just amateurs who are penalized. bless its heart. Spirits consumption in New Zealand had been decreasing steadily in the 1980’s and 1990’s. They increased. One is the fact that the advertising of beer and wine on television is permitted whereas the advertising of distilled spirits is prohibited. sales went up and the government. The drug involved is ethyl alcohol. every Tom. make serious inroads into commercial sales and into government revenues. They became fascinated by the wide world of brandies. gathered in additional tax revenue. As a matter of fact quite a lot of people have this difficulty. and amateur beer.enthusiastic amateurs will go to all that trouble. If. a glass of wine. but the alcohol in beer. because of seven years experience in New Zealand with amateur distillation. As they point out over and over again. and possibly fortified wines such as vermouth. colour. however. So. So why are they taxed differently? The only explanation which seems to fit the facts is that governments and their officials cannot understand the difference between concentration and amount. so it is inequitable to tax their product at a higher level. not decreased. Consequently there is no real threat to the sale of commercial products nor to the revenues generated by taxation. tequilas. Commercial producers also feel the heavy hand of government prejudice and disapproval. This could. and a bottle of beer all contain similar amounts of alcohol. but as soon as amateur distillation was legalized in 1996 commercial sales picked up. rums.

And after the first beer they’ll have another. The fact of the matter is that anti-social behaviour such as hooliganism at sporting events is almost invariably caused by beer drinkers. Usually they are young men who happen to prefer beer to a vodka martini with a twist of lemon. it merely purifies it. And ultimately the root cause of the problem is probably not alcohol at all. So we’re back into the confusion surrounding concentration and amount.it should be an absolute right for anyone to remove the poisonous substances from a legally produced beverage (beer) in order to produce another legal beverage (vodka). And many studies of drinking and driving have shown that the vast majority of those pulled over have been drinking beer. The so-called “offence” has no moral dimension to it. both of which are important to many people nowadays. But it is necessary to illustrate the difficulties which would be encountered in any attempt to change the law. the hoary old argument about amateurs poisoning themselves and going blind is trotted out. and another. not spirits. It is not sinful. The 5% alcohol content is comparatively low (the lowest of all alcoholic beverages) but this is irrelevant when you drink one can after another. 23 . is the reply. and another. One is the question of health --governments should respond favorably to any suggestion which will lead to more healthy drinking habits (and make no mistake about it. gin and vodka are much less harmful to health than beer and wine). There is no need for him to be furtive about it or feel like some sort of back alley abortionist. it is the amount of alcohol. When all else fails. Ah. No. There would be no point in approaching government officials who may be sympathetic to the arguments but are powerless to do anything about it. So why not allow them to distil it? We pointed out that distillation doesn’t make alcohol. An attempt has been made by the author to bring this rather simple point about concentration vs amount to the attention of officials in the Customs & Excise Branch but the argument falls on deaf ears. It is not the alcohol concentration which is the issue here. it would be necessary to first air the subject in the news media to get the public (the voters) up to speed and then work through politicians. Really! The above discussion has been argued at some length because it is important for the reader to feel comfortable with the “moral” aspects of distillation and with the supposed dangers to health. The other concerns our basic rights and freedoms --. The approach could be based upon two issues. We pointed out that alcohol is made by fermentation and that amateurs are allowed to make as much as they like within reason for their own use. always drinking 5% alcohol but increasing the amount with each can. but testosterone.over-indulge than the beer-drinker. but it makes it stronger. To believe this is to be naïve.

this would be possible because it’s the sort of scale commonly used in laboratory distillations. the tails are the least volatile components such as fusel oils. or a moonshine still. Theoretically. Then this process of re-distilling the middle fraction would be repeated over and over again until all the heads and tails were gone and we were left with nothing but ethanol.EQUIPMENT The production of pure alcohol by distillation is not particularly difficult in principle --. which means that glass apparatus of the appropriate size is readily available from scientific supply houses. As a matter of 24 .you simply have to make a batch of beer and then purify it. In these trays the rising vapour bubbles through the liquid and there is an exchange between liquid and vapour. For many people it would be very convenient to have a small apparatus which would allow the production of a litre of vodka whenever you felt like it. One cannot use a pot still however. What good is one drop of pure alcohol! Commercial producers of vodka and other forms of pure alcohol such as that used in colognes. Well. So much more convenient and cheaper than popping down to the store and buying a bottle. These two requirements are a) a packed column. The construction of such a still will be discussed in detail later in this chapter. In practice. the two meeting in a series of trays at many different levels within the tower. using a pot still. and b) a stillhead containing a stream-splitter. while the middle fraction consists of mostly ethanol contaminated with both heads and tails.the heads. cope with this problem by adopting the rather elegant procedure known as fractional distillation. This is because they do not incorporate the two essential requirements for high-purity fractional distillation. They use a counter-current flow of vapour up a tower (perhaps 100 ft high and 12 feet in diameter) against condensed liquid flowing down. In other words the separation is far from perfect. The first thing to decide is the scale at which you wish to operate. however. it would be possible to take this middle fraction and re-distil it. the tails and the middle fraction. thereby getting rid of a few more heads and tails. For smallscale operations such as ours we use exactly the same principles as the commercial producers but instead of using perforated trays in the column we use a packed column about 3 ft high and 1 ¼” in diameter which serves exactly the same purpose. In the earlier chapter where we discussed alcoholic beverages it was mentioned that simple distillation. can divide the crude alcohol solution (or “beer”) roughly into three fractions --. this is virtually impossible because we would be dealing with smaller and smaller volumes of middle fraction at each stage of purification until a negligible amount of ethanol remained. or any of the strange little stills being written about and offered for sale on the Internet. Scale of operation. The heads are the very volatile constituents of the beer such as acetone and methanol.

000 ml………………. and it might be even more expensive today. So one batch every couple of months might be about right for many people. In order to have something definite to work with. Before distilling alcohol you first have to make it by preparing a crude “beer” with sugar and yeast.interest. going up in size.beer stripping during the first day and then rectifying during day two. we believe that. and making the whole thing yourself. You might also wish to add a third stage in which activated carbon is used for polishing. All things considered. Of course. Inevitably this will necessitate an increase in size. You could buy a lot of vodka for $1. the boiler. will be virtually the same price within the range 9 litres to 100 litres. America the most expensive item. 25 . costs could be reduced by using copper tubing instead of glass. but this is actually an advantage if you wish to avoid a treadmill situation. So. Here are the figures taken from a 1999-2001 catalogue: Round bottom flask. the discussion of equipment and procedures which follow are based on the fermentation of 10 kg of sugar to yield about 12 litres of vodka per batch. domestic items of equipment found in any hardware and appliance store should be utilized whenever possible. is taller than the height of an average ceiling. alcohol keeps indefinitely (providing you don’t drink it!).time and convenience. assuming we’ve decided to scrounge around and find bits and pieces in the hardware store.400. But the smaller the equipment you use the more often you will have to use it in order to produce a given volume of alcohol. 86 Spiral condenser…………………………………. therefore.306 3-way thermometer adapter………………………. a batch taking about 7 days from start to finish. For example. in order to reduce costs and the time involved in repetitive operations. there’s still the question of size. So if you wished to make a litre of vodka per week you’d really be on a treadmill. or uses large amounts of electric current.. 5. in N. This is more than the average person would need to make assuming a second batch were started as soon as the first one were completed but remember.$122 Heating mantle with power control………………. constantly making batches of “beer” and spending two days each week distilling it ---. On the other hand. you don’t want to build a piece of equipment which would take up a lot of space. 288 Total: $1...398 Not all that cheap.596 Vigreux fractionating column…………………….…. but there’s something else to consider besides cost ---. we consulting a catalogue to find the approximate cost of the equipment you’d need. a process which takes the best part of a week whatever scale you are operating at. Let’s consider time and convenience. When you look into it you’ll find that the cost of materials for building a still is almost independent of size..

But for convenience. A common size is 45 x 50 cm by 30 cm deep. Another important accessory is an electrically driven stirrer. using a bathtub instead of a laundry tub. and to get the best yield of alcohol a few refinements should be added. presumably.it is necessary to explain that fermenting for alcohol production is a somewhat different type of operation to fermenting for wine and beer. over the several days of fermentation. and to reduce losses due to evaporation and oxidation. Many of you who read this book will have been making beer or wine for years and will have all the know-how and equipment you need for fermenting sugar to a potable alcohol.providing a litre or so of vodka per week. In its simplest form one would simply close the drain hole with a rubber stopper. The working volume is 50 – 65 litres. One is a cover to keep out dust and any insects flying around. a polypropylene laundry tub makes an ideal fermenter. This will be explained later on in the chapter dealing with procedures. add the yeast and stir periodically. The fermenter Before discussing distillation we need to make the alcohol. The legs of the laundry tub have been placed on four cement blocks in the diagram so that the beer can be drained completely into the stripper by gravity flow following fermentation. An air-lock is not necessary if your cover fits reasonably well because a large volume of carbon dioxide is generated and this tends to block the ingress of air. for speed.perhaps especially for the beer and wine makers --. but even for the beer and wine makers --. 26 . but for now just accept that fermenting for pure alcohol production is a very crude and very simple operation compared with the great care required for making a fine wine or a palatable beer. A fourth is a faucet attached to the drain to permit the beer to be run directly into the still (see Fig. For those who do not already have fermenting equipment. add the sugar and dissolve it in warm water. 1 below) and wash water to be directed to the house drain when the fermenter is being cleaned out and rinsed. One can make this fermenter as simple or as elaborate as one wishes. and this is made from sugar and yeast. standing on four legs to give a total height of 85 cm above the ground. This. A third is a heater to maintain the optimum temperature of 33oC. All you will be concerned with is speed. simplicity and yield of alcohol and not at all with taste because we’re not going to be drinking the stuff. is how they made “bathtub gin” in the old days. There may be others who aren’t quite as familiar with the process. A suggested arrangement is shown in Figure 1. and would be much more efficient in terms of time and effort than constantly producing small batches.

The drain outlet of a laundry tub is designed to take a tailpipe for connection to the house drain and does not match the sizes used for normal plumbing. The plastic is easy to work with but suffers from the disadvantage that it tends to bend up at the edges as the high humidity in the fermenter expands the underside of the sheet. you can connect a length of garden hose for washing and draining the fermenter. A transparent cover for the laundry tub can be made out of thick sheet plastic or plate glass. with a little ingenuity. You will then be able to transfer the “beer” to the boiler using a length of hose with a female connection at both ends (such as used with washing machines). connect to it a ¾-inch ball valve and a hose connector. 1. The fermenter Drain. For clarity in viewing and stability in operation plate glass about ¼” thick is what 27 . Cover.Fig. Also. But if you use a brass tailpipe you can.

for the bakers’ yeast which we use. even though it is a bit difficult for an amateur to work with. If the tub you buy doesn’t have such a shoulder then have a larger piece of glass cut and rest it on the rim of the tub.you need. It should be powerful enough to produce good circulation. Stores that sell aquariums have a whole range of sizes varying from 5 watts to 20 watts or so. if you mount the pump so that its upper surface is above the water. close the aeration hole with a small plug. They make lifting the glass cover on and off very much easier. Alternatively. The optimum temperature for fermentation if one is thinking of speed rather than flavour is about 33oC. Stirrer. therefore. 28 . The temperature is measured with a thermometer inserted through a hole in the cover. Submerge the pump well below the surface so that no air can enter it through the aeration hole on the top. A small notch on one edge will be useful for accommodating the power supply line if you intend to use a submersible circulating pump. Another refinement for a few extra dollars would be four ¼” holes for attaching two handles. Aerating the water is important for the well-being of fish but in fermenting it would simply make the yeast grow at an alarming rate. Fermentation itself generates some heat but probably insufficient to maintain this temperature. Two holes should be drilled in the cover. a largish one in the centre about 40 mm in diameter to take an immersion heater and another about 8 mm in diameter for a thermometer. particularly if the room is cool and particularly towards the end of fermentation when reaction rate is tapering off. Immersion heater. and an 8 watt pump is usually sufficient. but different yeasts are likely to have somewhat different optima. So have your glass supplier cut it for you and smooth the edges. They are inexpensive and can take up to 600 watts. There is little doubt that by far the best method of stirring is a submersible circulating pump such as used in an aquarium. An external heat source. should be provided and since only 100 watts or so are required an immersion heater such as used in an aquarium is ideal. A laundry tub usually has a shoulder a few centimeters below the top so get a piece of glass cut to a size which will rest comfortably on this shoulder. Fermentation is an anaerobic reaction which requires the absence of air if it is to produce alcohol. and varying in price from $15 to $45. If it does not contain its own thermostat an ordinary light dimmer switch works very well.

although similar to the second high-purity stage. The reasoning behind the use of two boilers was the large difference in liquid volume in the two stages. all the yeast. published in 1997. The volume of liquid after this first stage. or even three in certain cases. if a few heads and tails sneak over they will be taken care of in the second stage. Figure 2. and if the strength of the “beer” had been about 10% the strength of the high wine would be closer to 90%. So if we start out with 50 litres of beer we would end up with 5 or 6 litres of high wine. and a large proportion of the contaminants. two separate stills were used for the two stages. a large pot still for the rather rough beer-stripping stage and a smaller one for the more exacting purification stage. The purpose of stripping the beer is to remove most of the alcohol while leaving behind most of the water. The sequence of events is illustrated in Figure 2. In the first edition of this book. After all. Original 2-boiler system 29 . may be somewhere around ten percent of the starting volume. In this original system the beer-stripping boiler had a volume of 100 litres and consequently was able to accommodate all the 50-60 litres of beer from the fermenter. The 10-15 litres of high wine being produced at that time were then purified in a much smaller boiler of 25 litre capacity. does not have to be carried out quite as carefully. The first stage is known as beer stripping and. a liquid known in the trade as “high wine”.The Fractionating Still The purification of the crude beer produced from sugar and yeast is a 2-stage process. It seemed to make sense at the time and was used for at least 10 years with excellent results.

If there is any concern about copper being attacked by the liquids and vapours involved in distillation it is worth remembering that commercial whisky distilleries in Scotland have used copper stills for centuries. Dividing the supply of beer into two parts provides 25 litres for each of the two strippings. Without such space the foam might be driven up into the column and the column would “choke”. being inert. This is particularly true in view of the fact that there should be plenty of free space above the boiling liquid. 30 . the construction of a hobbyscale glass still will be described later. Naturally. doing the work yourself will reduce costs enormously. buy a 100 litre boiler so that only a single stripping would be necessary. Large commercial stills are made of metal so it is obviously satisfactory. but it would be overly large for the second stage of high-purity distillation and its height might make it difficult to mount a full-length column on top of it without touching the ceiling. Copper also has a high thermal conductivity. thereby saving considerably on cost and the amount of space required for the equipment. and are willing to pay the fairly high cost. a useful attribute for cooling coils. a very comfortable arrangement. We chose a boiler volume of 45 litres (12 U. of course. it can be purchased from any hardware store and. clean and transparent. For those fortunate enough to have access to a glassblower. Either will do an excellent job. The advantages of using copper are that it is relatively inexpensive. This free space is necessary to accommodate any foam produced when the beer is boiled. Materials of construction. With the sacrifice of a little convenience it is possible to make do with just a single boiler. this being a compromise between the 100 and the 25 litre boilers used previously. The only disadvantage of the single boiler system as described here is that it necessitates stripping the beer in two batches because we have 50 litres of beer and this cannot be accommodated in a 45 litre boiler.The single boiler system.S. For the majority of people the choice will have to be metal and the only decision you need to make is whether the metal should be copper or stainless steel. One could. most importantly. it can be worked and soldered easily by amateurs. In using metal the reader should appreciate that its only shortcomings are: a) that it lacks the aesthetic appeal of glass and b) you can’t see through it. One can see exactly what is going on inside and it is aesthetically pleasing. and when it became apparent that most readers preferred this arrangement it was decided that for later editions of the book we would drop the two boiler system and concentrate solely on the single boiler. either at a university or research institute. Glass is really the best material to use for making small-scale stills. gallons).

c) a column height which is at least 15 times the diameter. b) a column mounted above the boiler with a diameter large enough to accommodate the flow of vapour generated by the heating element in the boiler without choking. In Figure 3. For those of you who have been using pot stills. but the higher the better. packed throughout its length with a mass of stainless steel filaments. flows back down through the packing in the column into the boiler while the other 10% is directed to the outside world through the needle-valve. d) a still-head at the top of the column containing a cooling coil to condense the vapour to liquid and a system for separating the condensed vapour into two streams. The upper section where the vapour rising from the boiler is condensed back to liquid is called the ‘still-head’. length of 1¼” copper tubing. just before it crosses over to the vapour-condensing system. The Mexican cactus design. 31 . Thus. consisting of 90% of the condensed liquid. Most of this condensed liquid is allowed to flow back down into the boiler but a small amount is drawn off through a needlevalve situated under the horizontal section (see Fig. These two streams are i) a minor one connected to the outside world by a needle valve for drawing off pure alcohol for use. this temperature being used to control the entire purification process. A thermometer measures the temperature of the vapour above the packing. But rest assured that it is absolutely essential for fractional distillation.Construction. we refer to as the “Mexican cactus”. The reason for packing the column will be dealt with later on. because of its offset design. Because it is never under pressure there is no need for a pressure-relief valve. and ii) a major one which is allowed to flow back down through the column to the boiler. 3). this will be quite a novel concept. This is the fractionating column. It consists of a 45 litre boiler (12 US gallons) on top of which is mounted a 2 ½ to 3 ft. a still is shown which. where all the condensed vapour is drawn off for use. the condensed liquid is split into two streams. Overview. The essential features of a fractionating still are: a) a boiler fitted with an immersion heater of appropriate size. the major stream. e) packing material in the column to provide a large number of surfaces where rising vapour can encounter falling liquid for vapour/liquid exchange.

Figure 3. Fractionating still 32 .

American readers save themselves a lot of time. What more could you wish for? If you had drawn up the specifications yourself for the ideal boiler required for a still it would not be very different from a hot water heater. You don’t need to measure the temperature in the boiler because it will always be at the boiling point of beer. The lower connection. will become the inlet for beer from the fermenter and also the drain for the exhausted beer (the stillage) after stripping.500 watt element installed. You can also dispose of any pressure-relief valve installed because the pressure inside the boiler is never above atmospheric. Firstly..000 watts. the cold water inlet when the tank is used for domestic hot water production. we strongly recommend that N. In N. Used on 115 volts it will deliver 750 to 1. It can be removed because it is not essential in our application and the ¾-inch female pipe fitting may be useful to you for mounting the column.Boiler (North America) When it comes to amateur distilling there seems to be a burning desire on the part of the handyman to improvise a boiler out of some odd vessel which happens to be available. America these are available in all sizes from 9 litres up to several hundred litres. and it would be if we had a closed system. and are ideally suited for acting as the boiler in all amateur distillation systems. They cost around $150 for the small point-of-use sizes. say. buy it and at the same time buy a replacement element for 230 volts and 3. trouble and expense by using an ordinary domestic hot water heater. 33 .000 watts. and no-one should be surprised to learn that everything from pressure cookers to beer kegs to milk churns to vacuum cleaner tanks to fire-extinguishers have been adapted by ingenious do-it-yourself types for this purpose. However. glass lined. It’s a simple job. Use a ball valve at the drain. remove or by-pass the thermostat. so a thermostat which switched off at a temperature of. already have an immersion heater installed. Fit this connection with a ¾” ball valve and screw into it a male adapter for connecting a garden hose or a washing machine hose with two female ends. This is where in some models the magnesium rod (anode) used as an anticorrosion device is installed. and not an ordinary faucet. but the system is open to the atmosphere at all times (see Figure 3) so there can be no pressure build-up. 75o C. and are housed in attractive white-enamel steel housings.e. If you can only find a 45 litre hot water heater with a 115v. If you need another ¾” pipe fitting at the top you may find one by removing the sheet metal cover and fiberglass insulation from the top of the housing. about 100oC.000 to 4. but whichever one you choose you’ll find a fitting at the bottom (the cold water inlet) and one or more at the top. they are insulated. A few simple modifications to the hot water heater are required. because the yeast in beer tends to form sticky lumps when boiled and there should be an opening wide enough for any yeast clumps to exit to drain. The location of pipe fittings on water heaters vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.000 watt. 230 volt heating element if one is available in your local store. i. Removing the thermostat may seem dangerous. They are rugged. 1. they have pipe fittings in all the right places. We recommend the purchase of a 45-50 litre (12 US gallons) model with a 3. would obviously defeat our purpose. Then change the elements. We need the contents of the boiler to boil.

there is never any pressure in the boiler so the mechanical requirements will be fairly easy to meet. e. Power supply. You will have to improvise. bringing the beer up to the boiling point. A very simple and inexpensive solution to the problem for residents of N. Remember. The type of hot water heater found in N. A very nice flexible arrangement.Boiler (outside N. The packed column which will be mounted above the boiler (see later) has only a limited capacity to allow vapours to rise up through the packing against the downward flow of condensed liquid so the boil-up rate must not be too great or the column will choke (flood). America is. If you want continuous. Several methods for doing this suggest themselves.500 or 3. two 1.000 watt elements. variable control you could use a triac. For the electricians among you another solution would be to carry out half-wave rectification of the electricity supply using a diode. America. but unfortunately the inexpensive 34 . America).500 watt element remove it and substitute a 3000 watt. unnecessarily large and we need to reduce this wattage to about 750 in some way. Another would be to buy a stepdown transformer. to buy a water heater with a 3000 watt. Or. 230 v. a single one by itself will provide 1. two voltages (115v. In view of this you may be forced to make your own boiler out of whatever domestic item you can find locally-----. unlike N. In series they will give you 500 watts. but this would be even more expensive. and 230v.) are not provided in average households. Another solution would be to use two stainless steel stockpots. ½ x ½ = ¼ and 3000 x ¼ = 750 watts. but it will save money if you can find a common-or-garden household item which will serve the purpose. 230 volt element already installed and use it on 115 v. The 1.000 watts.000 watts for a slow and steady distillation.000 watt heater supplied with these boilers is. Such replacement elements are very inexpensive. if the boiler is fitted with a 115 volt. so the wattage will be reduced by a factor of 4.g. Maybe a milk churn or beer keg will prove to be the best solution after all. one inverted over the other and then the two rims welded together. This will cut the wattage in half. As far as the heating element is concerned. as mentioned above. 1. You could use the full 2. We are not even certain if a 750 watt immersion heater exists.e. America does not seem to exist with the same features elsewhere. Also. while the two in parallel will give 2. either fixed or variable. element.look for an item which is both commonly available and inexpensive in your country.000 watts.000 watts for rapid initial heating. One would be to buy and instal a 750 watt immersion heater from a manufacturer of heater elements but this would be costly and time-consuming. in fact. but only the standard 230 volts. and the ones which do exist seem to be very expensive. try to incorporate two. and it would be presumptuous for us to suggest the best type of vessel or heating element for you to use in your particular country. It may even be necessary for you to make or have made a suitable boiler from sheet metal. When you cut the voltage in half the current is also cut in half. i. and then switch to 500 or 1.

household variety (a light dimmer switch) has a capacity of only 500/600 watts.e. Before discussing the construction of the column and stillhead a word should be said about soldering. and in such situations there is a danger of one joint melting while the other is being made. and silver solder which melts at about 1300o C. you do not need to measure either the temperature or the pressure in the boiler ---. i. length of 1¼” tubing. As mentioned previously. In both stages of distillation it is necessary to know the temperature of the vapour stream at the top of the column in order to know what’s going on. to go from the 1¼” diameter of the column to the ¾” pipe fitting on the top of the boiler.000 watt dimmer can be purchased for about $40 (US) and a 2000 watt model for perhaps $150. since temperature and composition are closely related. Thermometer adapter. You do not need to continuously vary the wattage input to the boiler and we recommend that you avoid this unnecessary complication and expense. It is possible to manage with just the low temperature solder. or you will hit the ceiling! At the top of the column (see Figure 3) an elbow is provided for the passage of vapour across to the stillhead condenser and for a thermometer to measure the vapour temperature. which would mean a column height of 19” minimum.the pressure is atmospheric and the temperature is the boiling point of beer. The rule of thumb is that the height of a column should be at least 15x its diameter. Rather. but there are situations where a small joint needs to be made close to an adjacent one. A 1.the low temperature lead-free solder which melts at around 350o C. The column The fractionating column consists of a 2 ½ to 3 ft. Two and a half to three feet is a convenient length but you won’t wish to go much over 3 ft. The higher the column the better (within reason). By using silver solder for the small pieces this can be avoided. about 100o C. 750 watts for a 1 1/4” column) and stick to it. arrange by one means or another to use the appropriate wattage for the column you are using (e. The column should be well insulated to ensure a stable temperature regime up the full length of the column while it is refluxing.g. Soldering. There are two solders in common usage --. because it provides a larger number of solid/vapour interfaces up and down the length of the column and therefore more redistillations. and the simplest method for introducing a thermometer 35 . or close to a larger one which needs a large flame. but why not be generous and add a few more inches. including a 1¼” union. At the base of the column there is a series of adapters.

Figure 4. using either a small teflon plug with a 1/8” hole drilled through it or simply by winding more teflon tape around the stem. The bulb of the thermometer should be at the mid-point of the elbow so that it is in the main stream of vapour flow. which usually has a inch probe. When the nut is tightened the teflon is compressed between the stem and the brass fitting and makes a perfectly good seal. Or. trying to avoid going right through and damaging the seat for the ferule at the ¼” end. Use a 17/64” bit and drill from the ” end. the ¼-inch compression fitting is large enough as is without removing the internal shoulder. But there is a better method. Be careful. drill a slightly larger hole.! It is prudent. therefore. to remove it while working round the still. They can be sealed into the system in the same way as a glass thermometer.. They usually have 1/8” diameter probes. Thermometer attachment Note 1. therefore. to choose a thermometer which will go through. There is a shoulder inside these fittings at the mid-point and you will need to drill away this shoulder to let the glass thermometer pass right through. Nowadays we use a brass compression fitting and teflon seal for all thermometer inserts into metal columns. Some of you may wish to use an electronic digital thermometer. The construction of the thermometer adapter is shown in Figure 4. Note 3. The slightest touch and ……. Use a ” x ¼” compression fitting. Slip the compression fitting nut on to the thermometer and wind a couple of turns of teflon plumber’s tape around the thermometer stem about 3” above the bulb.would be to use a cork. Some thermometers have stems which are slightly too large in diameter to go through a 17/64” hole. Note 2. If you use a digital thermometer. There is no pressure in the apparatus and no leakage. 36 . A glass thermometer in such a rigid setup is very vulnerable to breakage. Solder a short length of ” copper tubing vertically to the elbow at the top of the column and attach the compression fitting.

The packing. The packing inside a fractionating column is very important and many articles in the scientific literature are devoted exclusively to this topic. Everyone has his own ideas on what constitutes the ideal packing and the writer is no exception. Unlike scientific texts, however, cost is a consideration here. What is needed are pieces of glass, ceramic or metal which are inert to the liquid being refluxed and which have the following characteristics: a) they should not pack tightly and should be of such a shape that they leave plenty of free space for vapour to rise up against a descending flow of liquid; b) they should pack uniformly in order to avoid channeling, and c) they should have a large surface area and crevices where liquid can be trapped. Scientific glass columns frequently use short, e.g. 6 mm lengths of 6 mm glass or ceramic tubing called Raschig rings. Ceramic saddles are another popular shape. Glass marbles might be used in large diameter columns but do not have sufficient surface area for a small diameter column such as ours and lack interstices where liquid can be trapped. The packing which we recommend has a very domestic origin but is cheap and highly effective. It consists of the scrubbers or scourers used for cleaning pots and pans and found in any supermarket. These are not the fine steel wool pads impregnated with soap but the much coarser scrubbers made from lathe turnings which usually come in a ball. They are available in copper, brass and stainless steel. Use stainless steel. Several will be required for the column. Commercial packings using the same principle are available (at a price), and are very neat and uniform in surface distribution because the stainless steel filaments are woven into a blanket and the blanket is then rolled into a cylinder to exactly fit the inside of the column. There have been suggestions that packing made from stainless steel filaments will become contaminated during distillation and consequently will require constant removal for cleaning. It has further been suggested that stainless steel scrubbers may contain lead. As a result of these concerns, Raschig rings have been recommended. All we can say in this regard is that a) we have used the same s/s packing for 17 years, never removed nor cleaned it, and it is as shiny today as the day it was purchased, and b) the possibility that stainless steel might contain lead is too absurd to require comment. It has also been suggested that copper scrubbers be used since they could mop up any sulphur compounds which may be in the system. This is unnecessary. Any brown coating found on the cooling coil after extended use is due to the formation of copper oxide, not copper sulphide. However, as a result of such statements we made a comparison. We found the following: Raschig rings for this column would cost $150 at a scientific supply house. The s/s filaments cost $3 at a supermarket. The solid content of Raschig rings occupied 26% of the free space in the column whereas the filaments occupied only 2.2%. This means that there is far less danger of flooding with the latter. The filaments also have a very much larger surface area available for vapour/liquid interchange and consequently are much more

37

efficient in separating the components of a mixture. It’s no wonder that filamentous packing is so widely used in small commercial distillation systems. Packing the column is relatively simple if you use a 1¼” union to join the base of the column to the boiler because then there is no bottleneck and you have the full width of the column to work with. Pull out the balls of tangled filaments into sausage shapes, dip them in soapy water to reduce friction, and carefully shove them up the column with a minimum of compaction. A ¼” wooden dowel rod pushing against the leading edge of the “sausage” works very well and avoids the compaction which occurs when you push from the back with a 1” rod. Wash out the soap solution afterwards. The stillhead The purpose of the stillhead is to divide the vapour emerging from the top of the column into two streams. This it does by first condensing the vapour to liquid in a heatexchanger and then, as the liquid starts to run back down towards the boiler, divert a portion of it to the outside world via a small valve. This valve has only a small volume of liquid to handle so, for fine control, choose a needle valve. Two different designs for a stillhead made out of copper are shown. The first, an offset design which was shown in Figure 3 and which for obvious reasons we whimsically refer to as the “Mexican cactus”, has the stillhead shown in more detail in Figure 5. The second, again because of its shape, we refer to as the “Hatstand”, and is shown later in Figure 6. They both work very well --- it’s simply a matter of appearance and ease of construction. Figure 5. The “Mexican Cactus” stillhead

The diagram is more-or-less selfexplanatory. The alcohol vapours rising up the column move horizontally along the 1 ¼” copper tube (length not critical) and then vertically into the condenser where they are condensed into liquid by the cooling coil.

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The condenser. The alcoholic vapours are condensed by means of cold water running through a coil of copper tubing inserted in the stillhead. To make this coil use 16 feet or so of 3/16” flexible copper tubing**. Such tubing is not usually stocked in the plumbing section of a hardware store but may be found in the automotive supply section since it is used for fuel lines. It is also widely used in refrigeration and air-conditioning so you can certainly get it from an appropriate dealer. Even 1/8” tubing can be found if required, so don’t be fobbed off by a salesman saying that ¼” tubing is the smallest made. Now you have to wind it into a coil which will fit inside a 1 ¼” tube. Use a short length of ¾” copper tubing as a mandrel and grip it vertically in a vise. Make a hairpin from the 3/16” tubing about 14” from one end and shove the short end up inside the ¾” tube. Jam it with a piece of wood to stop rotation and now wind the remainder of the 3/16” tubing around the outside. Solder a couple of inches of ¼” tubing onto both ends of the coil to provide a more convenient diameter for the plastic tubing which is used for the water inlet and outlet to grip. Note that the cooling water enters at the top of the coil in order to provide countercurrent flow of water and vapour. All heat exchangers work in this fashion and are much more efficient than when used with concurrent flow. Several readers have asked about the top of the stillhead being open to the atmosphere. Shouldn’t it be closed, they ask, to prevent vapour escaping? The answer is “no”. The vapour rising up the column should be totally condensed to liquid, leaving nothing to escape through the top. If any vapour does manage to by-pass the cooling coil (detectable by putting your nose over the top and sniffing) then the coil hasn’t done its job properly and you need more cooling surface. This could be provided by using more 3/16” tubing to produce a longer coil, or possibly by shoving a copper mesh scrubber down inside the coil in order to create turbulence in the vapour stream. The draw-off needle valve is attached to the underside of the horizontal portion of the stillhead by means of a short length of 1/4” tubing soldered to the stillhead, with the valve being attached to this tube by means of a compression fitting. By using a compression fitting you avoid the necessity of having to heat the valve itself during soldering. In order to ensure a clear passage for the exiting liquid, and also to strengthen the joint, a useful tip is to attach it where the elbow overlaps the 1 ¼” tube (see Fig. 5). Before soldering the elbow in place drill a 1/4” hole in it on the underside where it will overlap the inside tube. Then solder the elbow in place. Position the short length of 1/4” tubing in this hole in the elbow, butting it up against the tube inside. Solder in place. Then drill right through the short length of tubing, penetrating the inner tube. This ensures that the draw-off tube is flush with the inside surface. If it stood proud, i.e. protruded above the floor of the elbow, the condensed liquid would flow around it instead of going down the hole.

39

The exit tube of the draw-off valve is shown in the diagram as being very short. The condensed alcohol emerging from the valve is quite hot, hot enough, in fact, for some people to consider putting a small heat-exchanger on it to cool the alcohol before it falls into the collection bottle. A simpler, and perfectly adequate method is to place a length of 3/8” copper tubing below the needle valve, down which the hot alcohol flows en route to the collection bottle. Apart from its value in cooling the alcohol, it also makes it easy to use different height collection bottles. Use a small clamp (a clothes pin works very well) to grip the tube and let it rest on the rim of the bottle. DO NOT use a length of plastic tubing for this purpose. Hot alcohol is a very aggressive solvent and will attack the plastic and make your alcohol cloudy. ** Note. If you cannot find any 3/16” copper tubing for the cooling coil you could use 1/4” tubing, a more common size. But if you do you will need to use 2” diameter copper tubing for the condenser housing since ¼” tubing would flatten if you tried to wind it more tightly.

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and the conclusion reached is that there isn’t anything too much wrong with the Mexican cactus. We call it the “Hatstand” model. have played around with dozens of different ideas. But. It has a lot going for it. more cheaply and more beautifully than the “Mexican cactus” design shown above. The Hatstand model.The “Hatstand” model When faced with the problem of how to condense a stream of vapour to liquid and then split the liquid stream into two parts. a linear rather than an offset model is shown in Figure 6. We. Figure 6. everyone has his own idea of how to do it better. to demonstrate that there are different designs. easier. 41 . too.

If you wish. To ensure that all the vapour condensed by the cooling coil runs down into the collection cup. In the centre of the cap a short length of ¼” copper tubing is silver-soldered in place with about 3/8” standing above the bottom of the cap to act as overflow. The thermometer is set in at a 45o angle to the column using a compression fitting and with the thermometer bulb just above the packing. In use it will be seen that. This is unlikely to be the case if you are using a 750 watt heater in the boiler because the cooling coil as described 42 . this tubing extending far enough below the cup to convey the overflow of liquid to the top of the packing while by-passing the thermometer bulb. you should increase the flow-rate. A second short length of copper tubing connects the bottom of the cup to the outside world where the flow is controlled by a needle valve. This will prevent condensed liquid falling straight down through the overflow to the packing. 2). for example if the 1¼” x ¾” adapter were omitted.The same boiler and packed column are used. 3). all the liquid falling into the cup will overflow on to the packing. to the top of the column. a 1¼” x ¾” adapter is soldered. When the valve is completely open all the liquid will exit the column and none fall onto the packing. upside down. Test the cooling water leaving the condenser and. Its features are: 1). There is nothing worse than having the water line blow off in your absence and finding your workshop flooded when you return. So play it safe. some liquid would miss the cup altogether. A collection “cup” is made from a ¾” copper pipe cap. Water supply. when the valve is completely closed. If it is cool then there is no point in increasing the flow of cooling water because the problem is insufficient cooling surface. the overflow tube can be closed at the top and a hole drilled in the side of the tube just below the top. 4). The line leading from the cooling coil to drain involves no pressure so any type of tubing will do. Without this arrangement. If you smell alcohol fumes as soon as distillation starts it means that there is insufficient cooling. The ¾” end points downwards and is cut at a 45o angle to give a drip-tip so that all (or at least most of) the condensed liquid falls into the cup. Use a length of ¼” high-density polyethylene (HDPE) tubing and connect it to the cooling coil and the household water supply using ¼-inch brass compression fittings. Use the little metal inserts which are available to prevent the HPDE tubing collapsing when the ferule is tightened. but as will be seen from Figure 6. the column and stillhead are in line with one another and there is no jog as there is with the Mexican cactus. if it is warm. It is worth mentioning that there is considerable resistance to the flow of water through a 16 ft length of 3/16” copper tubing and you may find that friction alone will be insufficient to hold in place the plastic tubing leading from the water supply in the house.

The glass still. The advantage of a glass still is that you can see exactly what is going on inside. The volume of water you are likely to be using during the course of a distillation is discussed in Appendix IV. If you find you need more cooling surface then you’ll be forced to use a longer length of 3/16” copper tubing. they will be much more confident when sampling the vodka highball you hand to them than they would have been if the product had emerged from a metal tube. but is made from glass by a glassblower instead of being made by you from copper. All dimensions are given in the diagram and the description which follows so you can take it along to a glassblower and he will know exactly how to make it for you. but with a higher wattage heater you should not take it for granted. The still which is shown on the next page (Figure 7) is essentially the same as the hatstand model discussed above. Having seen with their own eyes just how the sparkling liquid inside is being separated into a high-purity fraction. 16 ft is only just sufficient for a 750 watt heater so you might wish to consider going to 18 ft at the outset. It also becomes a conversation piece which your friends will love to watch in operation. If water is a problem you could experiment with air cooling. 43 . The disadvantage of glass is the cost and the problem of having to locate a glassblower who is prepared to make it for you. Not only does this greatly increase the pleasure of distilling but people find that they actually seem to do a better job.can easily handle this amount of heat input. circulating the cooling water through an automobile radiator with a fan blowing air through it.

Figure 7. All-glass still 44 .

Figure 7a . A teflon sleeve is placed between the male and female halves of this joint in order to avoid “freezing”. The cooling coil is made of copper rather than glass because a glass coil would have insufficient cooling capacity to condense the alcohol vapours effectively. has the ability to change from zero to 100% the ratio of condensate drawn off to the outside world to that which is returned back down through the column to the boiler. This will become understandable after you have read the operating procedures and the principles of fractional distillation a bit later on. To make this modification a hole is drilled and tapped from one end of the teflon plug and a small brass bolt introduced which can close completely the hole supplied by the manufacturer. i) a tube at the bottom-side leading to the draw-off valve on the outside of the column. falls into the collection cup. The draw-off valve. As with the copper hatstand model. Hence the teflon sleeve which the glassblower will supply. very precise control is possible.D. the drip-tip being located inside it. and then turned 90o to the open position where the pre-set fine control will immediately provide the 10:1 reflux ratio for product withdrawal. Normally the joint could be greased but hot alcohol would soon flush this out leaving a dry glass-to-glass joint which would “freeze” and be very difficult to separate if you ever needed to. Stopcock modified for fine control. and ii) a central tube which acts as overflow when the draw-off valve is closed sufficiently. Note. joined by means of a 34/45 drip-tip standard taper joint. so a fine control has been added and is shown in Figure 7a. A particularly nice feature of this design is that the teflon stopcock can be turned to the closed position for total reflux while equilibrating the column. glass tubing. therefore. This collection cup has two outlets. Normal teflon stopcocks are not easy to adjust for fine control of liquid flow. 45 . from both the cooling coil and the interior walls of the stillhead. With a fine thread on this bolt and a knurled knob to turn it.The column and stillhead are made from 38 mm O. all the condensed vapour.

Attachments to boiler (glass column) At the base of the column there is the problem of joining a glass column to the ¾” pipe nipple on the boiler and you will require the services of a machinist to solve this problem for you. 46 . Glass-to-metal joints are always tricky. If temperature is to be measured with a digital thermometer then a small teflon plug can be inserted in the 10/30 joint. (b). so four different arrangements are shown in Figures 8 (a).The thermometer is introduced on the opposite side of the column to the draw-off valve. (c) and (d). and slightly offset so that it avoids the down-comer from the collection cup.

if you put the whole thing on castors. The chances are. A thin teflon sleeve should be used between the metal and glass in this joint. and after hearing that the cost might be around $500 for a glass column. identical to the one between the top of the column and the stillhead. Not only does the tabletop support the column very firmly but it can also support the stand on which you place the collection bottle. allowing the column to “float” on the socket and thereby eliminating the danger of the column being jogged and broken. 47 . you will opt for one of the metal designs. which is similar in size and principle to the sort used to attach the tailpipe under a sink. Additionally. Another method is to make a table 30 to 36 inches high. The hole should be large enough to accommodate both the column and the insulating sleeve around it. the top one being a ring which the glassblower must include before he fuses on the O-ring joint.In the first case (a) a teflon O-ring makes the seal between the base of the column and a brass adapter specially made with a groove on the top plate to match the groove on the end of the glass column. It has the advantage of being able to use a glass column cut off square at the bottom. A suggested arrangement is shown on the next page. The fourth and last adapter (d) uses a specially made compression fitting. Then. For example. Some people build their still close to a wall so that they can use brackets to support the column and the collection bottle. A ball-and-socket joint such as this has the distinct advantage of being flexible. Use a spirit level to ensure that the column is upright. The third (c) glass-to-metal joint uses a glass ball at the base of the column (size 50/30) which nests in a brass socket. A clamp is necessary to hold the two halves together. The angle of the taper is 2 ½ degrees. must be made by a machinist. after reading the above. a set of built-in drawers is very useful. which is much cheaper than using a glass standard taper or ball joint. the weight of the column producing a good seal. A support such as this would be particularly effective for a glass column having a ball-and-socket joint attaching it to the boiler. The next (b) requires the glassblower to fuse a 34/45 standard taper joint to the bottom of the column and the machinist to make a corresponding female half of the joint from brass. no gasket is needed. The compression fitting. with the boiler resting on a shelf close to the ground. There are many refinements you can make to this set-up. Support table A fractionating still is rather tall and needs some support. made by your obliging machinist. If the machining is sufficiently precise. For this reason we have not gone into more detail. put the boiler underneath and bring the column up through a hole in the tabletop. you can wheel the still from one part of the room to another or even into a closet. a table is useful for holding a digital thermometer and for writing up your notes.

Suggested arrangement for cabinet-mounted still 48 .Figure 9.

As a close approximation. In our situation such refinements are unnecessary because we use massive quantities of cheap baker' yeast which generate high yields of alcohol and large s 49 . is not consumed in the reaction but merely acts as a catalyst. even with a recovery as low as 70% of theory a kilogram of sugar valued at a dollar or so would produce over a litre of gin or vodka. The yeast itself. and in the absence of oxygen will not replenish themselves. one being the occurrence of side reactions which convert the sugar into a whole range of unwanted organic compounds such as methanol. however. fusel oils. that is to say it occurs in the absence of air. a given weight of sugar will produce about one-half its weight of alcohol. and when these weights are applied to each of the atoms in the above equation we find that 180 parts of glucose will lead to the production of 92 parts of ethyl alcohol and 88 parts of carbon dioxide. 1 kg of sugar should give about 500 grams of alcohol. therefore. The conversion of sugar to alcohol by means of yeast is an anaerobic reaction. instead of producing alcohol. etc. so eventually the yeast becomes inactive. If air is present the yeast. The second would be a failure to recover all the alcohol from the fermentation broth during beer stripping.e. hydrogen and oxygen are 12. The yeast cells die. Such yields are approached very closely in commercial practice and in well-equipped laboratories. i. There are two main reasons for this. It should be understood that the above figures represent the ideal situation. but in the hands of amateurs the yield is unlikely to reach more than about 70 to 80 per cent of theory. The atomic weights of carbon. Because the specific gravity of ethyl alcohol is 0. Then they cut off the air supply and the yeast starts making alcohol instead. Losses such as these would not be tolerated in a commercial operation but are acceptable for the amateur. which is a living organism.8 the 500 grams represent 625 ml of absolute alcohol or 1½ litres of 40 per cent alcohol. After all.Fermentation Principles The biochemical reaction which converts sugar to ethanol is depicted below: C6H12O6 glucose + yeast 2 C2 H5 OH ethanol + carbon dioxide 2 CO2 This equation tells us that one molecule of sugar (glucose) in the presence of yeast produces two molecules of ethyl alcohol and two molecules of carbon dioxide. specialty yeast and let it grow in the presence of a little air and nutrients until they have the quantity they require. 1 and 16 respectively. the normal strength of vodka and other spirits. the theoretical yield. acetic acid. Wine-makers habitually buy a small quantity of an expensive. will multiply and grow.

stir with a wooden spoon to help the sugar dissolve and then start the circulating pump. After rinsing. The sophistication comes later on when we take this noxious beer and purify it by distillation.. reasonably hygienic conditions should be maintained at all times. The production of extraneous compounds will be aggravated by sloppy practices so. moist variety which comes in blocks. the reaction might be vigorous enough to raise the temperature and harm the yeast. add about 50 litres of warm water. and not being intended for drinking. Yeast There are two forms of active yeast …. Don'be disconcerted by this. Procedure Those of you who are familiar with the making of beer and wine will find the fermentation of supermarket sugar with baker' yeast in a laundry tub a rather simple and s crude procedure. The reason for adding the yeast before the sugar has dissolved completely and the water warmed up is to avoid too vigorous a reaction at the start. The pump should be positioned below the surface of the sugar solution in order to avoid sucking in air.and t vodka-making is producing the alcohol we need. cover with the glass plate. and above the bottom so that it does not suck in grains of sugar and damage the rotor. thermometer and glass cover.. although it is not as necessary to be as careful as it would be during wine-making. a situation which would be unacceptable if we were making wine or beer and had to drink these unpleasant and even harmful substances. powdered type and the active. Either one sort or the other will be obtainable 50 . Add 10 kg of sugar.quantities of carbon dioxide. our concern is simply to make the alcohol as rapidly and as cheaply as possible. place your hydrometer on the pile of sugar.. Taste is of no importance. the presence of such impurities is of small concern to us because they will all be removed during distillation. close the drain valve and insert a rubber stopper in the drain hole of the laundry tub. Not being the final product. Avoid the use of scouring powders as they tend to mar the polished surface of the polypropylene tub. 30oC. install the immersion heater and thermometer in their respective holes in the cover. This is to stop sugar falling down the hole where it will have difficulty dissolving. All we are doing at this stage of gin. The laundry tub fermenter described in the equipment section is washed with soapy water and then rinsed. However. Then add the yeast. Also wash the accessories such as circulating pump. Otherwise one is simply wasting sugar. dry. say. and switch on the heater. the instant. Under such crude conditions the yeast and sugar will produce a wide range of organic compounds in addition to ethanol. There can also be excessive foaming. immersion heater. If the yeast is added to a strong sugar solution at. The CO2 is quite effective in excluding air without the use of air-locks.

To confirm that it is complete. to produce more alcohol than allowed by the equation at the start of this chapter.G. so work out which of the two sorts is the best buy.8. and this is really self-evident because we only have yeast and sugar and there can be nothing wrong with the sugar. With this amount of yeast and the time being allowed for fermentation (5+ days) it is not essential to add nutrients.06 and the hydrometer will be bumping up against the underside of the glass cover. For the next five days or so the only attention required is a periodic check of temperature. The dry powdered yeast can simply be sprinkled slowly on to the top of the sugar solution where it will disperse and sink. Do not be seduced by claims that special yeasts will produce alcohol solutions of 15% strength or more. Using these special yeasts does allow you to use less water and produce a more concentrated alcoholic solution.below 1. Special yeasts may reduce the fermentation time from 5 days to 3 days but it is scientifically impossible for a yeast. The original sugar solution will have had a specific gravity of about 1. as the moist yeast in block form. In most cases the cause of the problem has been traced to the yeast having lost its activity due to poor storage. but the amount of alcohol remains the same. This is completely incorrect. One is the absence of foam on the surface of the solution which may be quite vigorous at first but diminishes steadily with time until eventually the fermentation ceases and the beer looks dark and still. C. Of all the enquiries received from readers the most prevalent concern a failed fermentation or one which refuses to go to completion. The chunks of yeast will swell in the water and be far less sticky as a result. falls to about 0. the implication being that you will get more alcohol from a given weight of sugar. pound for pound.G.00 because of the presence of alcohol with a S. Work at it gently until a lump-free cream is produced and then pour the cream into the sugar solution. When the temperature in the fermenter has reached 30 deg. To ferment 10 kg of sugar use 450 grams (1 lb) of the moist yeast in block form or 150 grams of the dry. of 0. to prepare it for use you will need to make it into a cream. Dry yeast which has been in storage for several months without refrigeration and without being vacuum-packed could be useless and you can’t tell by looking at it. The powdered yeast is about three times as active. With a little experience you will 51 . any yeast.99 ---. Use a stainless steel bowl and two wooden spoons.from the baking section of your local supermarket or perhaps from a delicatessen or health food store and it makes little difference which you use. The amount of alcohol you get is determined by the amount of sugar you have used and not by the type of yeast. In the first case. The completion of fermentation can be judged in several ways. If there isn'a great deal of difference in price choose the dry type t because of its much longer shelf life but do check the "use-by" date to ensure that it is fresh. adjust the thermostat or light dimmer control to hold it in this range. to 35 deg. switch off the pump and look at the hydrometer. powdered variety. but as the sugar is converted to alcohol the hydrometer will sink lower and lower as the S. but a teaspoonful of a yeast nutrient such as Fermaid K will invigorate the yeast cells and thereby reduce the time required to convert all the sugar to alcohol. Break the block into walnut size pieces and let them stand for about 15 minutes in a small amount of water before attempting to cream them.

It will do no harm. At the end of this settling period. The slot also provides a passage for the last remnants of beer to flow from the fermenter into the boiler.g. 52 . switch off the pump and heater and remove them for washing. This will act as a dam and help to hold back some (but not all) of the yeast when you transfer the beer to the still. connect a hose between the ball-valve under the fermenter and the inlet at the base of the boiler. It helps to cut a narrow slot in this copper dam because it allows you to squeeze it slightly smaller before inserting it into the drain hole. Reach down into the beer and remove the rubber stopper. 5 days) and can make a closer examination at that time. but be conscientious about flushing the boiler with fresh water after each use. substituting a short (perhaps 1/2-inch) length of 1 1/2-inch copper tubing in the drain-hole. When fermentation is complete. make a dipstick marked at the appropriate level and use it to gauge when half the beer has flowed into the still. Assuming that you are stripping the beer in two batches of about 25 litres each. Note: Some yeast will inevitably get into the beer-stripper.know exactly when to expect the fermentation to be complete (e. Allow the beer to stand for several hours or preferably overnight in order to give the yeast a chance to settle to the bottom of the fermenter.

e.g.0 117. but is totally untrue for the lower alcohols which are completely miscible with water. oC. This is completely untrue. The myth goes as follows: If you have a mixture of three liquids with different boiling points. Having expunged this fallacy from our minds let’s take a look at what really happens. so prevalent in fact that it is the basis of several small-scale stills being offered for sale. if something goes wrong. such as gasoline and water. 56. Some of the more important chemicals we are dealing with.5 137. if you raise the temperature to 64. the ethanol will boil off.). if you raise the temperature to 78.1 97. but first a few words about principles. together with their boiling points. are shown in the table below. and hold it there the methanol will boil off. In both these places.7o C. and it was also mentioned in the chapter dealing with the construction of a still. It might be approximately true for liquids which do not mix with one another.) and water (100o C.8 161. the azeotrope Propyl alcohol Water Butyl alcohol Amyl alcohol Furfural Boiling Point.) it is believed that. These will let you know just why a certain procedure is being followed and.4o C. what you can do about it. The present chapter will explain just what is involved in carrying out a fractional distillation and how you go about it.Distillation Principles Some of what needs to be said about the principles of distillation was covered in the chapter on beverages. as in the manufacture of gin and vodka.7o C.7 77. Being miscible they associate with one another at the molecular level and no longer act independently as individuals. There is nothing more irritating in an instruction manual than to be told arbitrarily to do something without an explanation as to why it is necessary. methanol (64. Then. At the outset it will be useful to dispose of a myth concerning distillation which is quite prevalent.5 64.0 53 .4o C. the distinction was made between the comparatively simple pot stills used in the manufacture of whisky and the more elaborate still with fractionating column used to remove all the impurities and leave a pure alcohol.4 78. ethanol (78.2 100. Compound Acetone Methanol Ethyl acetate Ethyl alcohol (100%) Ethyl alcohol (95%).1 78.

butyl and amyl alcohols.e. etc. When they distil over they are referred to as the "heads".e. the loss of ethanol on repeated redistillation would be such that the final yield of pure alcohol would be virtually zero. They are considered to add character to the alcohol. It is the basis of all distillations --. Unfortunately.the events taking place in a pot still when beer is distilled. The pot still. or to obtain pure alcohol in order to make liqueurs. brandy. They certainly add flavour. the "tails" will begin to appear in the distillate. The retention of some of the “impurities” in the original beer when carrying out a distillation with a pot still does not bother many people because they have grown (or have been taught) to like the taste of these impurities. all fractions containing a certain amount of heads or tails. etc.. First let’s take a look at the simplest situation --. Simple distillation. the manufacturers then referring to their product as whisky. i. Similarly. the most volatile with the lowest boiling point having the highest vapour pressure at any particular temperature. the ones with the lowest boiling points such as acetone and methanol in the above table. One could possibly discard the first heads and the last tails and re-distil the middle fraction.Chemicals of different volatility such as those in the table above have different vapour pressures. those with the highest boiling points such as propyl. before all the ethanol has distilled over. apart from being very time consuming. will be left behind with the tails. too. 54 . When a mixture of liquids of different boiling points is heated the vapour contains all the compounds which are in the liquid but is slightly richer in the more volatile components. And don’t forget the water! Water is another of the constituents with less volatility than ethyl alcohol so it. i. These alcohols are known collectively as "fusel oils" and. are quite poisonous. For those who wish to drink vodka or gin. In such a system there is never a fraction which is pure ethyl alcohol. like methanol and some of the other compounds. it is necessary to get rid of all the congeners and the multiple counter-current distillation procedure described below must then be resorted to. as mentioned before.the vapour is richer than the liquid in volatile constituents. These tails are the compounds at the lower end of the above table. or “congeners” as they are called. however. By playing around with the distilling conditions it is possible to retain more or less of these impurities. because although some of the impurities are pretty vile some are quite pleasant. This will be found by condensing the vapour to liquid and analysing it. There is no clear-cut separation of the various compounds so the heads will still be coming over when the ethanol starts to appear. A liquid boils when its temperature is raised to the point where its vapour pressure equals atmospheric pressure. repeating this process over and over again until the last of the impurities had been wrung out of the ethanol. The vapour is richer than the liquid in the most volatile constituents.

the most volatile at the top and the least volatile at the bottom. the system consists of vapour rising up the column meeting a flow of liquid running down the column. and can be drawn off. throughout the length of the column.the cold water is being warmed by the hot vapour while the hot vapour is being progressively cooled to lower temperatures by the flow of water in the opposite direction. either internally (if they have internal crevices) or in the interstices between adjacent particles. At equilibrium. the liquid is turned into vapour while the vapour is condensed back to liquid. and 55 . a lengthy description of how to s do it would probably decide you to take up walking instead. or other inert material. Similarly. ceramic. and once again moves up the column. but once you' set off down ve the road there' no looking back. It may be palatable if carefully prepared but it certainly will not be pure alcohol. The more volatile components of the mixture which have entered the vapour phase rise to the top of the column while the less volatile components which have gone into the liquid phase flow down into the boiler. These are mini re-distillations. Each of these pieces can hold a small amount of liquid.. To those in the first category we say this: Once you have assembled the equipment and made a few runs it will all become incredibly routine. At the top of the column the emerging vapour is condensed into a liquid by means of cold water running through a heat exchanger. the different components of the mixture are concentrated at various heights within the column. stainless steel. In a commercial operation. The newly-formed vapour rises and the same exchange takes place on the next surface it meets up the column. At equilibrium.Fractional distillation. the vapour giving up its latent heat to the descending liquid. This is the most important step in the whole process of producing pure alcohol from sugar. Thus. Because of its importance it will be described in some detail. a detail which unfortunately may be intimidating to some and boring to others. It' like riding a bicycle . It' easy! s s In fractional distillation the vapours emerging from the boiling mixture are passed up a column packed with small pieces of glass. At each interface on the packing material there is an exchange between liquid and vapour. one after the other. a type of whiskey or moonshine. which may take several hours to achieve.. The condensed liquid runs back down the column until it reaches the boiler where it is reheated. the many components in the mixture become stacked up in the column in the order of their boiling points. This includes water. Any description of alcoholic beverage production which does not include it is describing the production of an impure product. the descending liquid meets rising vapour at an interface in the packing further down the column. which runs continuously. converted into vapour once more. It is not too dissimilar to what is happening in the heat exchanger in the still-head where we also have counter-current flow --.. And an essential step.

C. If so inclined you may worry about this. will start to emerge. fractional distillation is carried out batch-wise. No amount of re-distillation under the conditions we are using will influence this percentage. First come the acetone and then the methanol and any other low boiling point compounds. all hovering around 96%. Rather. then special methods are available to accomplish this. in that it forms an azeotrope with ethanol. we start to progressively draw off condensed vapour from the top of the column.4 oC. In the literature you will find slightly different values for the azeotrope composition. where we are going to dilute the alcohol with water to 40 percent anyway. therefore. the "impurity" being pure water. however.0 for water. If it is absolutely essential to remove all the water. There is a difference because ethyl alcohol has a specific gravity of 0. 96% ethanol v/v works out to 95% w/w. Eventually the ethanol will be exhausted and the higher alcohols. and when it does a portion of it is drawn off and bottled for use.this continues indefinitely. At this point (or in practice somewhat before) the boiler is switched off. The alcohol-water azeotrope. For example. Then the ethanol starts to appear. Water is an important constituent of the fermentation broth and with a boiling point of 100 deg. lies intermediate between the least and the most volatile components of the mixture. and proceeds to separate it on that basis.8 compared to 1. Methanol.1 oC. **Footnote. the presence of 4 percent water is of no consequence.1 oC. For our purposes. As far as the system is concerned it "thinks" that this mixture of ethanol and water is a single liquid with the lower boiling point of 78. They are discarded. would be continuously withdrawn from the top of the column while ethanol would be continuously removed from a point a little further down. One reason for this is that the percentage can be expressed either volumetrically (v/v) or by weight (w/w). for example if it is to be mixed with gasoline to produce gasohol. In the case of ethanol and water the azeotrope occurs at a mixture of about 96** percent ethanol (v/v) and 4 percent water.P. but a more important question is --. It has one important difference from the other components. of 100% ethanol is 78. The remainder is allowed to run back down the column to continue the counter-current flow and the purification process. Very small operations such as we are concerned with here do not employ a continuous system. pure 100 percent ethanol but pure 96 percent. but are much purer than they were before. The ethanol which is purified by a fractionating column is not. the so-called fusel oils. The boiling point of this azeotrope is 78. After column equilibrium is established. for example. whereas the B. An azeotrope is a mixture of two liquids with a boiling point lower than either constituent. however. with acetone and methanol at the top and fusel oils and water at the bottom.should a good martini be shaken or stirred! 56 . The chemicals in each draw are not completely pure.

At the bottom. in that case. It’s not immediately obvious so here are a few general comments. because there is boiling water just below it whereas at the top the temperature is ca. therefore.an immersion heater is far more efficient. There will be some energy lost from the system through conduction. so do your best to insulate the column and any parts of the system which get hot. There is no water up in the stillhead (apart from the 4% contained in the azeotrope). the water/alcohol vapour will be at about 100oC. but if you have purchased a commercial hot water heater to use as boiler there’s not much you can do about this. 57 . convection and radiation to the surroundings. If you make your own boiler. 78oC. however. particularly if thermal insulation is inadequate. The boiler is one such location. taking with it its heat of vapourization. This is why a small amount of energy like the 750 watts we recommend can handle such a large amount of liquid.Inside the column It is useful to have a feel for what is happening inside the column. It would be different if you were making distilled water because. i. is to supply the small amount of energy drained off by the condensation of alcohol vapour. The shape of this temperature profile will vary with the type of packing and the amount of insulation. It is not actually handling the water. The only work required of the heating element. The temperature profile up the column is interesting. So from the bottom of the column to the top there will be a temperature gradient varying from 100o to 78o C. (We know this because we’ve got a thermometer stuck in there). provide good insulation or 750 watts will be unable to keep up with the heat loss. all the energy used to bring the water to the boil and then evaporate it would be lost to the cooling water on the downstream side of the still. This means that all (96%) of the water which has been vapourized in the boiler returns to the boiler. 25 litres or so of a liquid which is mostly water. because all the energy poured into it to make it boil is recovered when it condenses. The situation would be aggravated by using a hotplate to heat the boiler contents ---.e.

with a uniform height gradient between. The thermometer will register this 58 . in a packed column.. This is unlikely to be a problem with the 1¼-inch diameter column and the type of packing described in the equipment section. so the more rubbish one can get rid of during beer stripping the better. With a glass column choking is easily detected because liquid can be seen bubbling away in the packing. and then you get down to removing the lint from the carpet and the peanuts from behind the cushions.P. The next hour or two are spent equilibrating the column. If this doesn’t work reduce the heat input. most of the impurities and all the yeast. the short people at the front and the tall people at the rear. the column will choke with liquid and become ineffective. The same is true of a mixture of liquids of different B. There is a lot of shuffling about and it takes quite a while for a perfectly even gradient from shortest to tallest to be established. while the heads such as acetone and methanol have a lower B. Liquid rising from the boiler is much hotter than the vapour so. You may even have to go over it a third time if you want a really spotless room. clearing the decks for action as it were. Choking or flooding may be detectable by a slight rumbling noise..Procedures The purification of beer by distillation requires at least two stages if all traces of impurities are to be removed. An analogy would be cleaning up a room after a party: You first get rid of the dirty plates. The second stage continues and completes the purification process. So listen. A long corridor is packed with people of different heights waiting to get through a door at the end in order to enter the store. etc. The store manager announces that before he lets anyone in he wants everyone to sort themselves out by height. but with a metal column this is not possible. instead of registering 70+oC. The other method of detection is to look at the thermometer. The purer and simpler the mixture of chemicals associated with the alcohol the purer the final product.once the chimney is warmed up the smoke stops billowing into the room. A packed column provides only a limited path for liquid to flow down against a rising stream of vapour so. To understand why this takes time consider the following homely analogy. bottles. and with less volume to handle and with fewer impurities it can be carried out a little more slowly and carefully. C.P. The first stage is known as beer stripping and consists of a slightly less-than-perfect separation which removes most of the water. napkins. switch off and try again. If this happens. the thermometer may register 80+oC. if the boil-up rate is excessive. The boil-up rate must not be greater than the column can handle. especially if the heat input is reduced to 750 watts by changing the immersion heater in the boiler as recommended. Ethyl alcohol has a boiling point between 78 and 79 deg. the exact figure depending on the atmospheric pressure (see Appendix V). It is significant that two or even three stages of distillation are always carried out in commercial distilleries. This is the period during which the various components of the mixture sort themselves out with the more volatile components moving to the top of the column and the least volatile moving to the bottom. The progress of equilibration can be followed by watching the temperature of the vapour at the top of the column. It is somewhat like a smoking chimney --.

Note. Proceed as follows: Run half your beer (about 25 litres) into the boiler. These heads not only have a strong smell (test them with a spoon) but also a terrible taste so you can congratulate yourself that you’re getting rid of them and not drinking them.000 watt. Then. one after the other every few minutes. 59 . 230 v. if you let some of the shorter people through the door.beer stripping We have 50 –60 litres of beer which need purifying and the boiler of the still has a volume of about 45-50 litres. you will make it easier for the remainder to get organized.5 ml/min. just before the beer comes to the boil. Periodically crack open the valve in the stillhead a fraction to bleed off these heads into a spoon. You can try opening the draw-off valve a little in an attempt to speed up the process. so we have to strip the beer in two separate 25 litre batches. but why not get some of them out of the system at as early a stage as possible? So crack open the draw-off valve and collect several teaspoonsful. There is no absolute necessity to remove these volatiles because they could be left until stage 2. As the heads are bled off the temperature will slowly rise to 78+ deg. A suitable withdrawal rate would be 2 or 3 drops per second. Referring back to the analogy of people of different height shuffling about. although a temperature of 78 oC. you can reduce the heating-up period four-fold by using 230 volts. sniff them to detect the pungent odour of volatile impurities and pour them down the drain. Which means you have to stick around! Don’t walk away while the input is 3. might be registered at first it will slowly fall a few degrees as the acetone and methanol find their way to the head of the queue. immediately switch to 115 volts and 750 watts. start the flow of cooling water.it can’t handle such a volume of vapour. It is important not to put too much beer in the boiler because it foams quite a lot and foam might enter the bottom of the column and be swept over into the collection bottle by the rush of vapour. heating element and you have handy access to 230 volts. With only 750 watts it will take a couple of hours to come to the boil. switch on the boiler and close the collection valve. The vapour temperature in the still-head will be close to 78oC.g. indicating that most of the heads have now been drawn off and ethyl alcohol is beginning to appear. When you can no longer detect a pungent odour. First stage --. Half full would be satisfactory.and. If your boiler has a 3. at which point it should be allowed to reflux for 30 minutes or so to allow the volatiles to rise to the top and the foam to break. e. put a collection bottle under the spout and open the draw-off valve to the point where you are operating at a reflux ratio of about 10:1. C. They are highly inflammable and make an excellent fondue fuel or starter fluid for the barbecue.000 watts or your column will choke --. an electric baseboard radiator. leaving room for the ethanol to rise a bit higher in the column. even if the sorting out isn’t quite complete. With 750 watts the boil-up rate will be about 45 ml/min so the draw-off rate should be about 4.

You will appreciate that we use the figure 78oC. The procedure is almost identical to that during beer-stripping. while the second is that a purer alcohol is obtained when distilling from a dilute alcohol solution than from a concentrated one. and there’s nothing you can do to bring it back down again it means that all the ethyl alcohol has been stripped off and tails are beginning to rise up into the still-head. For simplicity. 60 . The chief differences are that in the case of stage 2: i) total reflux is continued for a longer time (at least an hour) to obtain a more complete separation of the sheep from the goats. the following discussion will be restricted to the model shown in Figures 3 and 5. the one we call the “Mexican cactus”. and iii) towards the completion of distillation the collection bottle is switched to a fresh one every now and then so that only the last one is contaminated by tails when the temperature starts to rise above 78oC. Add the second 25 litres of beer to the boiler and repeat the process. The reason the temperature may rise when you start collecting faster is that insufficient condensate is running back down through the packing to give complete separation of the various components. to mean the steady temperature close to this figure which is the B. There are two reasons for doing this: one is to ensure that the heating element is still covered with liquid at the end of distillation (it mustn’t run dry). The total volume of “high wine” obtained in this first stage should be about 4 litres and the alcohol strength close to 90%. of the azeotrope (96% ethyl alcohol) at the atmospheric pressure prevailing on that particular day. You are now ready to proceed to stage-2.). . Pour into the boiler the high wine produced by beer stripping and add maybe 10 litres of water (approx. There’s more water for the impurities to hide in! Second stage ---fractional distillation In the equipment section we have illustrated and discussed three different types of stillhead.but if the vapour temperature starts to rise you should close the valve slightly to bring the temperature back down again. allow to cool somewhat. it’s not a bad idea to close the draw-off valve and direct your cooling water into the top of the still-head where it will run down through the packing and flush out the tails.P. Switch off. the high-purity distillation. and then drain the contents of the boiler. While the boiler is draining. When the temperature starts to rise above 78oC. two in copper and one in glass. allow cold water to run down through the packing into the boiler for a little extra time to dilute the stillage which is still sitting in the boiler below the drain valve. After the second batch is complete. It contains a lot of impurities and you may as well get rid of most of them before the second stage of high-purity distillation. ii) the first 250 ml or so of product are put to one side for later re-distillation in case they contain traces of heads.

C. Briefly then. Take a look at your barometer to find the atmospheric pressure and then take a look at the table in Appendix V to see what the boiling point of water should be. Collection rate In simple distillation you collect everything which vaporizes from the boiler. in the extreme case. regardless of the exact temperature. We recommend that you always check the accuracy of a thermometer by placing it in boiling water and recording the temperature. i. and you are in the regime of pure ethyl alcohol. whenever you use it to read a temperature. i. If. if the temperature has risen to just over 78 deg. the way in which the column is used. its physical characteristics. For one thing the temperature is influenced markedly by atmospheric pressure (see Appendix V). but if it doesn' simply make a note of the deviation and apply the appropriate correction t. Let’s assume that the atmospheric pressure happens to be 1031 millibars on that particular day so that the boiling point of water should be 100oC. One is the length of column and the type of column packing. all the vapour rising up the column were drawn off at the top via the collection valve there 61 .e. The principle of fractional distillation requires that the vapours rising up the column encounter the condensed liquid running back down the column.1 deg. You may be lucky and find you have purchased a thermometer which reads 100 deg. you can be fairly sure that all the heads are gone. Fortunately for us it is not necessary to rely on the exact temperature during a fractional distillation in order to indicate when the heads have finished coming over and it is safe to start collecting ethanol. Thermometers purchased at a drugstore or a winemaker' supply store can be off by s as much as 2 degrees. Thus. They are certainly easier to read than the glass type as they can sit right in front of you on the bench. Constancy of temperature is sufficient and is what we are looking for. and has stayed there for 15 minutes or so. but in fractional distillation you collect only about 10% of it. The second is the reflux ratio. bleeding off a teaspoonful of heads periodically and sniffing them until there is no discernible smell and the temperature is remaining constant at just over 78oC. but don'count t on it. C. C. Digital thermometers may be much more expensive than mercury/glass ones but they may also be more accurate. A thermometer purchased from a scientific supply house should be accurate to 0.e. Put aside the first 250 ml or so and then start collecting in earnest. The reason for this is as follows: The efficiency of a fractionating column in separating liquids of different boiling points is dependent upon two factors.Temperature measurement A word must be said here about the accuracy of thermometers. proceed as follows: Operate under total reflux for an hour or two to equilibrate the column. Then start to collect the distillate at a suitable rate by opening the valve in the stillhead.

you’ll probably get slightly different results from the above. So the first step involved in determining just how much alcohol can be drawn off per minute or per hour is to find out the rate at which vapour is arriving in the still-head. which also explains a little more about the mechanism of fractional distillation. It’s simple and informative. With slight variations in the construction of your column. more accurately. Or. if the heat input to the boiler were causing the liquid to reflux at a rate of 1000 ml per hour (for example). This means that with 750 watts input and a reflux ratio of 10:1 we can draw off 4½ ml of 96% ethanol per minute. Measure the output per minute. In practice we draw off about 4 ml to be on the safe side. The method of making this calculation is explored in Appendix II. 8:1 would be acceptable and 12:1 even more so. so do measure the rate of reflux for yourself. etc. Thus. We found that with 750 watts input to the boiler the rate of reflux was about 45 ml per minute. the true wattage of your heating element. There are two ways of doing this. The 10:1 figure is simply a reasonable value which is known to give good results with this type of packing. It helps to tilt the column slightly to prevent condensate from running back down into the boiler. First by direct measurement using the Mexican cactus still-head. by weight using a sensitive scale. the boil-up rate. With a known wattage input establish steady refluxing conditions and then open the collection valve WIDE for one minute. So there would be no countercurrent flow and very little separation.e. 62 . This ratio refers to the volume of liquid flowing down the column at total reflux compared to the volume drawn off through the collection valve. Take as small a sample as you can reasonably measure so as not to unbalance the system. either in terms of volume using a graduated cylinder or. 100 ml per hour of distillate could be drawn off as usable product. At the other extreme. i. The balance of 900 ml per hour would be flowing back down the column to provide the multiple mini-distillations on the surfaces within the packing required for the separation. one by calculation from the wattage input to the boiler and the other by direct measurement. When we have this figure we divide by ten and this is the volume of 96% alcohol which can be drawn off through the collection valve. Use a stopwatch. if the collection valve were closed and all the condensed liquid flowed back down the column (total reflux) the separation would be excellent but no product would be obtained. Obviously there has to be a compromise and this is achieved at a reflux ratio of about 10:1. It will be appreciated that the 10:1 ratio is not critical .. you may wish to accept the figures we provide below. in the way you have packed it. The same procedure can be used with either the metal or the glass “Hatstand” design of still.. Other wattage inputs gave proportional volumes. It would be like a pot still. the amount of insulation you have used. You can also calculate the rate at which a 750 watt (or any other wattage) heater will boil an alcohol/water mixture.would be no liquid left for flowing back down the column. You may wish to repeat with other wattage inputs.

Without automatic sensors and controls you will have to be present during this event so try to arrange things so that it doesn’t occur in the middle of the night. It is called “organoleptic” testing and is the ultimate in testing for palatability. in a few weeks time. when a number of distillations have been completed and several litres of doubtful distillate accumulated. (and particularly your wife’s palate!). Thus. 4 ml per minute might represent. rely on taste panels to judge the quality of their product. It will not be wasted because. at 750 watts input to the boiler and a draw-off rate of 240 ml. Knowing this you can quickly adjust the collection valve to the right setting by counting drops with a stopwatch. about 3 litres of pure. A better method is to laboriously find a needle-valve setting which does deliver 4 ml per minute and then count drops using a stopwatch. The last receiver containing a trace of tails can be added to the discard bottle for later purification. particularly the palate. Throughout this early phase test the distillate with your nose to see if you can detect any trace of heads. say. the temperature will start to rise as the higher boiling point "tails" appear. At a few drops per second one can believe that it will take forever to produce a reasonable amount and there will be a tendency to open the collection valve a little wider to increase the flow. Even commercial producers. It is too cumbersome. When carrying out a fractional distillation for the first time the rate of production of pure alcohol will seem to be extremely slow. and you would quickly detect an off-flavour if it got through into your final drink. even as much as 500 ml. 96% alcohol would be obtained in a 12 hour day. It will have amounted to a triple distillation. Play it safe. Collect at least 250 ml of this first distillate and put to one side for future processing and then start to collect the purest alcohol in a clean receiver. It could even be left running overnight. The 250 ml or so of early distillate which have been put aside may be perfectly pure but the nose and the palate are extremely sensitive organs. This. When all the ethyl alcohol has distilled over. The apparatus requires no attention and it is surprising how much alcohol is produced at a flow rate of 2 or 3 drops per second for several hours. When the fractional distillation is complete the packing in the column will be flooded with tails. and put aside a generous portion of the initial distillate. 30 drops in 10 seconds. it can all be redistilled and exceptionally pure alcohol recovered from it. These should be thoroughly washed from the column by running generous quantities of water down from the top. which may take as long as 16 hours. Experience will tell you when to expect the end-point to occur and you should start switching receivers well ahead of this so that only a small volume of alcohol in the last bottle will be contaminated. per hour. Resist this temptation and be patient.It is not very convenient to set the collection valve each time you carry out a distillation by using the volume which flows out in one minute. There is no point in collecting extra tails for re-distillation because they contain negligible amounts of ethanol. with a laboratory full of sophisticated analytical equipment such as gas chromatographs. Thus. when diluted to 40% with water will provide over 7½ litres of vodka 63 . therefore.

A few 1½ litre wine bottles with screw caps are ideal. Depending upon the degree of hardness the effect will vary from a cloudiness to a white precipitate which falls to the bottom of the bottle. However. Higher yields. it is aesthetically unpleasing and should be avoided by using distilled or demineralized water obtainable very cheaply from supermarkets and from certain stores which make distilled water on the premises. etc. Water quality A word must be said about the quality of water used to dilute pure 96 percent alcohol to the 40 percent which is characteristic of most spirits. Storage Store your pure 96% alcohol in glass. This is equivalent to 11½ litres of vodka or gin. it is ready for drinking the day you make it. hardness will precipitate out when water is added to alcohol 96% alcohol because the calcium and magnesium salts which constitute the hardness are less soluble in an alcoholwater mixture than they are in water alone.63 litres of 40 percent alcohol. It is actually quite good for you. 100 percent alcohol from 10 kg of cane sugar is 6. City water which contains a lot of chlorine should be avoided since it might interfere with the delicate flavour of a good gin or vodka. the white precipitate being nothing more than the hardness present in the original water before the alcohol had been added. As a result.Yield of alcohol In the chapter on fermentation it was explained that the theoretical yield of pure. In commercial practice such a low yield would not be tolerated.58 litres of 96 percent alcohol or 15. Ordinary household water which has been through a water softener will almost certainly be satisfactory. There is. This is equivalent to 6. Or the yeast may have lost some of its activity.25 litres. you may not have left the brew long enough for all the sugar to have been completely used up. not in plastic. the practical yield of 96 percent alcohol is likely to be no better than about 5 litres which is a yield of 73% of the theoretical value. 64 . no need to "mature" gin and vodka. but for us it should be quite acceptable. of course. particularly on economic grounds. The effect described above is perfectly harmless. offer an interesting challenge to the dedicated amateur. Unless the water is very soft. And then there are all those unwanted side reactions which produce the congeners such as methanol. instead of ethanol. which is not too bad.. One place where you can expect losses to occur is in the fermentation process ----for example. fusel oils. While it is possible to approach such a yield you will find in practice that you only reach 70-80% of this value due to various losses along the way. which are certainly possible.

improvised from a coffee pot. The preferred method for extracting these flavours is to use steam distillation. Figure10. a method which is commonly used for extracting the essential oils from many plant materials involved in the production of liqueurs. Simple coffee-pot steam distiller 65 .Flavouring The flavours used for converting vodka to gin are contained in a number of herbs. Depending on how much steam distilling you are thinking of carrying out you may wish to devise and make a much larger and better one. Steam distillation Steam distillation requires the use of a simple pot still. is shown in Figure 10 to illustrate the principle. collectively known as “botanicals”. and an example of such a still. A brief discussion of the principles of steam distillation will be found in Appendix VI. One requirement is that it must have a large opening for introducing and removing the botanicals. berries and fruits. these botanicals either being used loose or contained in a muslin bag for easy removal. the only disadvantage being that they are somewhat expensive. A pressure cooker with a steam condensing system silver-soldered to the lid would work very well.

There are other ingredients.The condenser is made from a short length of ¾-inch copper tubing acting as a cold water jacket around an internal ½-inch copper tube. These are closely guarded secrets of the manufacturer and the reason why amateurs have difficulty in duplicating a commercial gin. and lists of such ingredients can be found in encyclopaedias and sometimes on the labels of commercial gins. and it is crude. obtainable from any wine-maker’s supply store. The botanicals and water are placed in the flask and the water brought to the boil. The juniper berries are supposed to mature for 18 months or so after harvest and then used within a critical period of one week! It is all very reminiscent of wine-making. Articles on gin-making stress the point that the country of origin of the juniper berries is important in determining flavour. It looks crude. And if so. and it has to be admitted that we have never duplicated exactly the flavour and bouquet of a 66 . The steam generated releases the flavouring constituents from the herbs and carries them over into the condenser in the form of oily drops suspended in water. Gin recipe In order to illustrate the use of steam distillation for extracting essential oils from botanicals we’ll take a look at gin. Cold water inlet and outlet tubes are soldered to the jacket as shown. Adapters for connecting ½-inch to ¾inch tubing are standard items and are used for sealing the jacket to the inside tube. nor the exact method by which the flavour is extracted from the herb. who can blame a manufacturer for so doing? The amateur gin-maker is obviously on his own when it comes to flavouring. The amateur cannot possibly cope with such stringent requirements. In operation there is very little pressure in the apparatus and no problems are encountered with steam leakage. however. As is rather well known the major flavouring ingredient in gin is juniper berries. is used as lid and has a hole drilled in the centre to take the ½-inch copper tubing from the condenser. Among the more important listed will be found: Coriander Orris root Angelica Cassis bark Ginger Nutmeg Cardamom Anise Lemon peel Cinnamon Bitter almonds What is never mentioned is the quantity of each ingredient used in a particular brand. but its saving grace is that it works and is very cheap. but one is led to wonder just how much of these stated conditions is fact and how much merely folklore and a deliberate attempt to introduce a mystique into the operation. A large cork. as is the time of harvest and the weather prevailing during the growing season.

brandies and other spirits have a somewhat artificial flavour and are a bit too sweet. The fruit essences produce very pleasant liqueurs. A third option is to purchase flavouring essences from a winemaker' supply store. but does it matter? 67 .commercial gin. Using other botanicals in quite different amounts is one obvious way to get a different flavour. Start the cooling water and bring to the boil. You would never mistake them for the commercial product. s These little bottles of essence come in a wide variety of flavours (one manufacturer provides a list of about 160) including rum. To each bottle containing 75 ml or so of distillate add an equal volume of 96 percent alcohol. etc. and most liqueurs such as the various fruit brandies. brandy. and the rum is very good. One is to mix it with fruit juices and make a tropical punch. The flavouring step is the only one in gin-making which involves art rather than science and where there is scope for imagination. However. To use this flavouring essence. what we produce is very pleasing and there is the satisfaction of knowing that we have made it ourselves from authentic ingredients. scotch. This will dissolve the globules of oil and will also act as a preservative. add about 350 ml of water and install the cork and condenser. so why worry? And then there is the continuing challenge of modifying the flavour by ringing the changes on the quantities of the various botanicals used. The flavour is slightly better in the first bottle. Once pure alcohol is available there are many things you can do with it to prepare a pleasant drink. These oils can be seen as little droplets or globules in the collection bottle. crème-de-menthe. a procedure which is fully explained in a number of books on the subject. but the whiskies. add about 10 ml to each litre of 40 percent alcohol There is unlimited scope for trying to improve on this procedure and on the recipe given above. Another is to prepare a liqueur by steeping fruit in an alcohol-sugar solution. etc. Procedure The following recipe has been found to give a pleasant flavour: Juniper berries cardamom orris root coriander 35 grams 1 " 1 " 1 " Place the above ingredients in the flask (the coffee pot). The steam generated will carry over the oils contained in the botanicals. Switch off and discard the contents of the flask. Collect about 75 ml of condensate in one bottle and a second 75 ml in another. gin. so the absence of a commercial recipe may not be such a bad thing after all.

3.98). Beer-stripping 8. reflux for 30 minutes under total reflux (no draw-off). column and still-head). Fermentation 1. Simple pot still for extracting flavour from botanicals. 7. It will take a couple of hours to come to the boil. Nothing to it. Then open draw-off valve to the point where a 68 . Run sufficient beer into the boiler to fill it no more than a half to two-thirds full. being careful to avoid any undissolved sugar crystals getting into the pump inlet. Clean the fermenter and accessories with soapy water and rinse. Run in warm water while stirring with wooden spoon to partially dissolve sugar. So let' just run s over the procedures again. 0. When the temperature in the still-head reaches 78+ deg. switch off pump and heater. 6. Install circulating pump and add 10 kg of sugar and the hydrometer. Flavouring herbs. Switch on the boiler. 5.G. active baker’s yeast onto the sugar solution. of dry. Close valve under fermenter and place a rubber stopper in drain hole. When water level is above the circulating pump start the pump. Maintain this temperature for 5 days or until fermentation is complete. Sprinkle 150 g. reach down into the beer and replace the rubber stopper with the copper dam. Fractional distillation apparatus (boiler. 4. When fermentation is complete (S. Materials Sugar and yeast.Summary of Procedures The detailed explanations provided in the previous pages are likely to give the impression that making alcohol is a pretty complicated business. Close fermenter with glass cover-plate and install immersion heater and thermometer. Equipment Fermenter (laundry tub with heater. Run cooling water through the condenser. cover plate). But all it really consists of is adding yeast to sugar and distilling the resulting brew. but as briefly as possible. 2. Allow to stand for several hours (overnight?) to let yeast settle to bottom. Switch on heater and raise temperature of sugar solution to 30-35 0 C. circulating pump.

This collection may last 12 to 15 hours so time it so that you’ll be present at the end.) is achieved. Fractional distillation 9. Add an equal volume of 96% ethanol to the distillate to dissolve the flavoring oils and to preserve them from mold growth. Put aside for future use as fondue fuel or discard. and flush out column from the top down with water. 10. Flavouring 15. (Remember. run cooling water through the condenser and switch on the boiler. Re-distillation 14. Transfer the high wine back into the empty and flushed boiler and add sufficient water to give a total volume of about 16 litres. pour it into the boiler of the fractionating still and add at least an equal volume of water. 69 . Check temperature. 11. Discharge the spent stillage in the boiler to drain. and collect the “high wine” until temperature starts to rise into the low 80’s. your discard alcohol has only 4% water in it. range. Switch receivers towards the end and put aside for re-distillation any receivers contaminated with tails. Reflux under total reflux for an hour or so to equilibrate column. Switch off. bring to the boil and collect the condensed steam and oily essence. of distillate and sniff it to detect presence of "heads". Start collecting product until you know from previous experience that ethanol production will soon stop. bleed off a few heads and discard. Also. Put the selected botanicals into a flask with about 350 ml of water. Then proceed exactly as in steps 9 to 13 above. or so of distillate (at the pre-determined rate of 1/10th total reflux) and put to one side for future re-distillation. maintain temperature at 78+o C. collect 300 ml. When sufficient discard ethanol has been accumulated.10:1 reflux ratio (approx. 13. 12. Establish a reflux ratio of 10:1. Repeat the stripping with the remaining beer and combine the two batches of high wine. Use about 10 ml of this essence per litre of 40% alcohol. Periodically draw off a few ml. drain boiler. about 5 litres or so. sufficient to cover the immersion heater at the end of the run. it will take at least 8 litres of liquid to just cover the element). Switch off. Close the draw-off valve in the still-head. When no more heads can be detected and temperature is staying completely constant in the 78 – 79o C.

Undoubtedly in your own country you will find that some things are cheaper and some more expensive than they are in the United States. but we feel it’s best to be realistic and not pretend that these things can be done for nothing.Costs & Economics What does it all cost you ask? All that equipment and those elaborate procedures! The answer is --. the costs involved can be broken down into three main categories. Quite a difference! A sensitive domestic kitchen scale. graduated in 5 gram divisions. They are: CAPITAL MATERIALS & SUPPLIES LABOR Such a listing seems a little formal for a simple hobby so the same items can be reworded as: Equipment required Cost of sugar. It is simply a shopping list of the things you will need with a rough idea of what you may have to pay. Even within a country prices can vary widely so it is up to you to shop around for the best deals. Prices vary from country to country of course. an estimate has been made of all the major costs involved.000 watt dimmer $140. Is it worth it? Well. etc. can be found if you shop around a bit and at $10 to $15 will be a tiny fraction of the cost of a scientific balance. Costs can be reduced by using. iii) the type of support stand you choose to use.000 watt dimmer is likely to cost $40 and a 2. solder. and it’s always possible to make shortcuts.quite a lot. Other variables are: i) the number of items you already have such as fermentation equipment. and also some of the minor ones. nuts and bolts. ii) whether you choose to make a boiler or buy one. common domestic articles made for the mass market. an ordinary light dimmer switch good for 600 watts is about $4 whereas a 1. plastic tubing. For example. that is a very individual decision and to help you decide. $500 to $600 in fact if you start from scratch. As in any manufacturing operation. The costs provided below refer to the United States. as far as possible. thermometers. hydrometer. yeast. And so on and so forth. even though none of the experimental work and none of the purchases were made there. even if it is only a hobby. Time occupied by the hobbyist 70 .

g. 230 volts Miscellaneous.000 watts. Miscellaneous Total: ………………………….00 71 .00 $35. elbows. corks and stoppers.00 $20. Electric heater Light dimmer Thermometer Copper pipe.00 $20.00 ………………………………. etc. cooling coil.00 $15. etc. needle valve. The two major equipment items are the fermenter and the fractional distillation apparatus including boiler.00 $144. $150. $150. plastic tubing.00 $30.00 $10. 1650 watts. Fermenter Laundry tub Glass cover Circulating pump. e. are listed as miscellaneous and an estimated lump sum provided.00 $180. Minor things like nuts and bolts. electric wiring. Miscellaneous Total: ……………………………… Fractional Distilling System Boiler Water heater. etc.00 $10.00 $4. 115 volts Replacement heater for 3. 45 litres.00 $15.00 $195. still-head. The little pot still for producing flavouring essence can be homemade for $50 or less so hardly warrants being considered a major item.Equipment Only the costs of major items are listed below..00 $30. ¾” ball valves Total for boiler Column & Still-head: Copper column with joints top and bottom.00 30. bottles for containers.

100 ml) Hydrometer Thermometer Total: ……………… $45..10 ml).. @ $8.25/kg Flavouring ingredients ..00 6. ..(0 ..00 $15... 10 kg @ $1.74 8 kWh 10 kWh $1.....26 $14.15/kg Yeast. Materials & Supplies The following figures are based on the production of 11 one-litre bottles of gin or vodka from 10 kg of sugar.00 $20... $615 Total for all Equipment…………..50 $ 1. 150 g.. Total: 18 kWh @ 7 cents/kWh ……… Total for Material and Supplies $11.Instruments: Volt-ammeter Sensitive kitchen scales Measuring cylinders (0 ....00 ………………………. Fractional dist' n.00 72 . negligible Beer-stripping. Sugar..00 $10..negligible cost Total:… Electricity Fermentation..00 $96..24 $12.

you can work out the savings for yourself. In any case. Another way of looking at the economics of investing in the equipment is to compare it with the investment required to purchase the vodka commercially instead of making it. 73 . So we save about $18. It would require a bank deposit of $30. It is not possible. The next question is ---.75 per d week. Under these conditions you should be able to bring the costs down below $400.27 per litre. it should be a labour of love! Economics So now we know what it all costs.is it worth it? Well.27 against maybe $20 if we' bought it at a liquor store. At that rate it will take us 32 weeks to break even. the cost of making the equipment and the local price of vodka. $1. etc. After that the equipment is free and the cost of the gin would simply be the cost of the ingredients. we have made 11 litres of vodka from $12.would one rather put aside $30. to a large extent.000 in some other way? A considerable reduction in equipment costs will be possible if you already have facilities for carrying out a fermentation and if you already have various instruments and measuring devices. But how about all that equipment? Let’s assume a figure of $600 for its cost and see how long it would take to pay this off from the savings we realize on making our own vodka instead of buying it. The figures used above are simply an example of how to look at the costs and benefits of making your own spirits. the savings would be less and the pay-back period that much longer. the operation carries on quite happily by itself. Not bad. for example. to assign a cost to labour and we shall not attempt to do so here.000 to generate this $1040 assuming a 5% interest rate and taxation on the interest of 30%. --. So what it would boil down to is the question ---. A payback period of 8 months would be considered extremely good in industry where 5 to 10 years is much more normal. sugar. Periodically it is s necessary to check a temperature or change a collection bottle but. If we produce and consume 1 litre of vodka per week it has cost us $1. being a hobby. Using figures appropriate for where you live ----i.27/litre. In the United States. so that works out at $1.26 worth of electricity. therefore.e. in perpetuity. earn $1500 in interest. During this period the amount of time involved in actually doing something with one' hands is probably no more than 3 or 4 hours. At a commercial price of $20 per litre and a consumption of one litre per week the annual expenditure will be $1040.Labour It takes about 7 days from the time the fermentation starts to the time the collection of the pure alcohol is complete.000 in a savings account. pay $450 in tax and buy commercial vodka with what is left or would one rather lay out $600 on equipment and use the $30.74 worth of sugar and yeast and $1. where vodka is relatively cheap.

leading to total sales of $5. From that must be subtracted the cost of materials and the labour involved.000 if each bottle were sold for $20. Being illicit. suggesting that anyone considering going into the moonshining business would be well advised to take up some other line of work. consider the following: A full-time operation with this equipment could only produce 500 litres per year and would generate only $10.000. the selling price would likely be no more than $10.To allay the concern of tax authorities who may fear that the equipment and process under discussion might be used for illicit commercial production of distilled spirits. 74 .

S. (psi) 29.9 kPa Weight 1 pound (lb) 1 ounce (oz) 1 kilogram (kg) 1 gram (g) 1 inch 1 foot 1 centimeter 1 meter 32 deg. s Volume 1 Imperial gallon 1 U.54 centimeters (cm) 30.32] x 5/9 1 atmosphere Length Temperature Pressure 1 psi 75 .S.48 " 0.55 litres 3. gallons 1. 14.22 Imp.4 " 2.) 100 deg. occupation and whether they live in Europe. " General: [deg.035 ounces 2.2 pounds 0. a brief list of conversion factors is provided below. for everyone' convenience. America. Different individuals.39 inches 39. quarts 454 grams 28.S.78 " 0. a British Commonwealth country or the United States. depending on age.04 U. .7 lbs/sq. Fahrenheit (F) 212 deg.S. " deg. Celsius (C.946 “ 35 fluid ounces 0. F.APPENDIX I Conversion Factors Throughout the text you will find an awkward mixture of metric units and the foot/pound/gallon system still used extensively in N. So. will use a different mixture of the two systems. C.in. gallon 1 U.9 inches of mercury 760 mm " " 101. gallons 0. quart 1 litre = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = 4.37 " 0 deg.3 kilopascals (kPa) 6.26 U.

The energy required to vaporize water. Therefore 860 calories/hour = one watt and 236 calories/hour = 0. the only energy escaping into the stillhead is the latent heat contained in the 95% alcohol and the 5% water. When we know this volume we take 10 percent of it.27 watt 76 . The calculation method is outlined below. and to convert one into the other the molecules must be wrenched away from the clutches of their fellows and push against the atmosphere. the latent heat of vaporization (LHV). Why. As discussed in the text. It is known that 860. carrying with it its latent heat of vaporization. Most of the water never gets there. Therefore. i. a) the energy input to the boiler. The reason why energy is required to convert a boiling liquid into vapour without any rise in temperature is that molecules in a liquid are much more closely packed than in a vapour. The 5% water which does get through only does so because it is associated with ethyl alcohol in the azeotrope. you might ask. When the 95% water condenses in the column it gives up its energy. Simple arithmetic gives 236 calories per gram for the LHV of the 95% w/w alcohol azeotrope. and it is a surprisingly large quantity. are we concerned with the energy required to vaporize 95% alcohol when we know very well that the contents of the boiler are mostly water and this water is being vaporized along with the alcohol? The explanation is this: 95% of the water vapour going up the column. the lower value being a reflection of its greater volatility. The rate at which liquid is vaporized is dependent upon two quantities.e. i. and b) the latent heat of vaporization of the liquid in the boiler (LHV).e. It has the same value as the latent heat of vaporization. The composition we are involved with is 95% alcohol w/w. That is the amount we can draw off and put into our martinis. is 540 calories per gram.000 calories/hour = 1 kilowatt. It takes energy to do this. this energy being known as the latent heat of condensation (LHC). the boil-up rate. That’s all there is in the stillhead and all that is being condensed by the cooling coil. there are two methods of determining the rate of vaporization from the boiler --. For ethyl alcohol the energy required is 220 calories per gram.by direct measurement and by calculation. is condensed in the column by the descending flow of liquid from the stillhead.Appendix II Latent heat of vaporization In order to know how much pure alcohol can be produced per minute or per hour by a 750 watt immersion heater we first need to know the rate at which the alcohol in the boiler is being vaporized and condensed in the stillhead. The LHV is the amount of energy required to convert a boiling liquid into vapour at the same temperature.

but is unlikely to differ very much. This is particularly true since it is unlikely that you will have an exact reflux ratio of 10:1. even though alcohol is steadily leaving the boiler and changing the composition and the boiling point of the liquid in the boiler. or 46 g/minute. as usable 192 proof alcohol.8 the volumetric figure for the total reflux rate is 58 ml/minute.27 watts of electric power are required to vaporize 1 gram of a 95% alcohol/water mixture in one hour.G. or 4. This is less than the calculated value of 58 ml per minute because of heat loss due to imperfect insulation. so you’d be pretty safe to use this figure of 45 ml. The insulation used for your boiler and column may be better or worse than ours. 77 . When we measured the rate of reflux at total reflux with 750 watts input to the boiler we found a value of 45 ml per minute. of 0. This loss is equivalent to 168 watts.5 ml per minute. you could use our figure of 45 ml. This would mean that you could draw off 10% of this. and that’s all that matters. The composition of alcohol vapour in the stillhead remains constant from the time the heads are finished until the arrival of the tails. the composition of the liquid in the boiler is irrelevant.What this means is that 0. so 750 watts would vaporize 2778 g/hr. A footnote to this discussion is that the rate of reflux does not change during the course of a distillation. Ethanol having a S. If you cannot or do not wish to measure the rate of reflux yourself.

Clamp filter paper over the end of a 1½-inch pipe. This surface can amount to 1000 m2/gram and is produced in a number of ways but often through the use of superheated steam on ordinary charcoal. An ordinary pot still. Then filter the remainder. 78 . Over the last 15 years we have rarely found it necessary. in water purification and in many other areas where small quantities of an adulterant need removal. It should be fairly pure when it emerges. In such cases a polishing with activated charcoal will be beneficial. particularly in the early days before experience has been gained. It is cheaper and saves a lot of time and trouble. To use it. and when it does one may be faced with a batch of alcohol which is a bit “off”. produces moonshine. Activated charcoal is used in gas masks. first dilute the alcohol from 96 to 40% (vodka strength). allow to settle and then filter. The adulterant is adsorbed on the enormous internal surface area available. but it is an excellent way to avoid having to resort to a third distillation when you detect traces of impurity. however. The best method of obtaining pure alcohol is to distil it so well that no charcoal treatment is necessary. Put the alcohol and charcoal into a large glass bottle.Appendix III Activated charcoal Most amateur distillers are familiar with activated charcoal. stir occasionally over a few days. The cheapest source is a water treatment company. the standard type of equipment used by amateurs. so save time by decanting as much of the vodka as possible before the charcoal at the bottom of the bottle starts to spill over. The amount of charcoal to use will depend upon the amount of trace impurities which require removal. but 30 to 100 grams per 4 litres of 40% ethanol should be sufficient. and then pour the alcohol through. not chemical. and this contains some pretty unpleasant things. Its effect is a physical one. You may find it more convenient to use a continuous charcoal treatment. It can be a messy and time-consuming business because the filter paper tends to get clogged with very fine particles of charcoal. the alcohol produced by the equipment described in this book should not require “cleaning up” because all the unpleasant things have been removed in the distillation process. add charcoal to a depth of 12 inches or so. Mistakes can happen. so activated charcoal remains the only hope of removing some of the worst of them and producing a palatable beverage. By contrast. using it to remove some of the more noxious substances present in their crude spirit.

and the thickness of the coil walls). It is a matter of experience that. For example. that some people suggest cooling it further by having the condensed liquid flow through a secondary heat exchanger before dropping into the collection bottle. before withdrawal. a lot of alcohol will be lost by evaporation. So. the desired drop in the temperature of condensed alcohol. only its sensible heat.. glass. using the type of stillhead with cooling coil described in this book the alcohol vapour condenses on the lower turns of the coil. just to condense the vapour without changing its temperature we require 10860 grams of water per degree C. they say. The calculations cannot be exact because there are many imponderables. then the volume of water would be reduced to 12. The cooling water in the stillhead is condensing 45 g/min of a 95% w/w alcoholwater mixture (see Appendix II). Otherwise. to 68. e. The collection of alcohol from a particular run will occupy (let’s say) 20 hours. the specific heat of water. not cool it. a drop of 10o C. If we decrease cooling water flow so that its temperature rises.Appendix IV Cooling water requirements A number of people have expressed concern about the volume of cooling water required to condense the vapour from a 750 watt heater operating over many hours. and by accepting a greater temperature rise you could reduce the flow of water.. but if water is scarce or expensive where you live you will be interested in the following calculations. The latent heat of vaporization of the cooling water is not involved. the temperature of the cooling water. but by 20o C. By increasing the flow of cooling water you could decrease this rise in temperature. in fact. copper. It is not all that great. So the number of litres of cooling water would be 20 x 60 x 10 litre = 12.g. stainless steel. so please read the following with these things in mind. and this is 1 calorie per gram per degree C. turns into liquid. per minute. following condensation.1oC. There is some truth in this but we have found it sufficient to 79 . It is so hot. We also assume that the alcohol vapour is condensed in the stillhead and. You might wonder why the stillhead doesn’t cool the alcohol to room temperature. the rate of heat transfer between the cooling water and the alcohol (affected by thermal conductivity of coil material.856 calories per minute of energy must be drained off by the cooling water. and immediately drops off. Let’s call it 10 litres. and leaves it at 30o C.. is cooled from 78.000 litres.1o C. avoiding further cooling..000 ÷ 20 = 600 litres. the permitted rise of cooling water temperature. a 20o rise in temperature. The latent heat of this mixture is such that 10. not by 1o C. We are going to assume the following: The cooling water enters the coil at 10o C. This is just to condense the alcohol.

To this.1o C.1o C. This would also avoid the need for a drain. We have calculated that 600 litres of cooling water are required just to condense the vapour. This varies a bit with temperature but is about 0. Now let us assume that the condensed liquid. must be added the water consumed while the column is being equilibrated. Therefore.. from 78. This will require additional cooling water as follows: We are concerned here with.e.6 calories per gram per degree C. If you feel it is a lot then you might wish to try air cooling by circulating the cooling water through a car radiator and blowing air through it. 80 . Whether or not you consider this a lot of water depends on your particular circumstances. is further reduced in temperature by 10o C. drop in temperature is: 10 x 0. this is an air-cooled condenser. So the number of calories to be withdrawn for a 10o C. to 68.draw off the hot alcohol and let it fall through a copper tube before entering the collection bottle. of course.6 x 46 grams per minute = 276 g/min or 330 litres of cooling water over a 20 hour distillation period. In effect. before dropping off the bottom turns of the cooling coil. 600 + 330 = 930 litres of cooling water are required in toto. not latent heat of condensation but the specific heat of alcohol. And then there’s the water consumed during beer stripping. And if you wished to get really fancy you could experiment with circulating freon through the cooling coil and refrigerating it. i.

indicating that pure ethanol is now distilling over.6 31. Atmospheric pressure also changes with elevation. As we all know.9 78. The same holds true of changes in atmospheric pressure at a fixed elevation.0 98.5 101.3 853 806 760 716 674 634 33. to avoid being misled.3 95. You will recall from the discussion of temperature changes during fractional distillation that.Appendix V Effect of pressure on boiling points The boiling points of liquids quoted in reference books refer to the values measured at a standard atmospheric pressure of 760 mm mercury.5 79. after the column has reached equilibrium. due in this case to the movement of air masses.3280 .0 Not too many of us live below sea level but quite a few must live at elevations of several thousand feet.3 96. C psi mm Hg inches Hg kPa millibars Feet 16.7 107. the heads are bled off until the temperature remains constant.5 25.3 101.6 14.8 84. The table will help in this regard. and it will be seen from the above table that the effect on the boiling point of ethanol is far from trivial.9 28.1640 Sea level 1640 3281 4921 81.0 75. 81 .2 26.8 29. Not everyone lives at sea level under a stable air pressure of 760 mm Hg so the following table will allow you to interpret any temperature readings you might get in terms of ambient atmospheric conditions. varying considerably from day-to-day as weather patterns change and cold or warm fronts cross the region.0 12.4 89.7 100.2 103.6 74. atmospheric pressure changes.5 1137 1075 1013 954 898 845 .7 95. Clearly.0 113.5 15. it is useful to have some idea of what the boiling point of pure ethanol is on that particular day.7 13.4 77. Pressure Elevation Boiling point Ethanol Water _________________________________________________________________________ o o C.9 13.

Another example is aniline and water. water. Principles of steam distillation. When the sum of the vapour pressures of the two liquids becomes equal to the atmospheric pressure. of course. and many readers have expressed a wish to know more about the extraction process. Steam distillation --. An example of how steam distillation works will be given. Whereas ordinary distillation deals with the separation of miscible liquids. When two immiscible liquids are heated.. e. etc. but for the time being a few words attached to the present book could be of interest. A mixture of these two liquids was distilled when the atmospheric pressure was 740. oil and water. the distillate contained over 70% of the organic compound.2 mm of mercury. at this temperature the vapour pressures of aniline and water being 43 mm and 717 mm respectively. needles.1 mm.2 mm. where we showed how to extract the essential oils (chiefly -pinene) from juniper berries and other botanicals. each exerts its own vapour pressure independently of the other.there is a whole world of plant materials out there containing aromatic and flavorsome oils. Chlorobenzene has a boiling point of 132o C.. Under the standard atmospheric pressure of 760 mm Hg a mixture of these two liquids boiled and distilled over at 98.1 mm Hg while that of chlorobenzene is 210.5o C. and the temperature of distillation and the composition of the distillate remain constant until one of the liquids is entirely evaporated. drawn from the literature. methanol. But steam distillation is not.3o C. making a total of 740. e. lower.. One could build a steam generator and conduct the steam through a bed of plant material 82 . berries.practice Many people who read this book will be interested in the steam distillation of plant materials in order to isolate the essential oils contained in the leaves. the two distil over together. At this temperature the vapour pressure of water is 530. steam distillation deals with the separation of immiscible or partially miscible liquids.g.Appendix VI Steam distillation A brief description of steam distillation was given in the chapter dealing with flavoring. yet when distilled with steam at a temperature 42o C. etc. At some later date we may write a “how to” book on the subject. using water and chlorobenzene as the two liquids. The mixture boiled at 90.g. ethanol. restricted to juniper berries and gin flavoring --. for a total of 760 mm.

83 . which is the method used commercially. It would be difficult to adapt a hot water heater for this purpose because the boiler is usually glass-lined and you could not cut a large hole in the top without causing considerable damage. When the water is boiled the steam carries over the essential oils into a cooling condenser where the two liquids collect and separate out into two layers. but a simpler system consists of a kettle containing water at the bottom and a grid just above the water holding the plant material. where a mixture of miscible liquids is being distilled and where liquids can be introduced and removed through ¾” piping.contained in a kettle. for steam distilling plant materials it is necessary to have a large opening in the boiler (kettle) to add and remove solids. Unlike the boiler which is used for distilling alcohol.

like its predecessors. Many of these publications are concerned with the chemistry of plant materials and with the production of fuel alcohol from agricultural residues. He is now spending his retirement years in a small village in eastern Canada on the shores of The Lake of Two Mountains. His interest in the theory and practice of small-scale distillation stems from a botched attempt at making wine many years ago. England.D. and has published over eighty scientific papers.The Author The author earned a Ph. However. 84 . This “how-to” book. Among other senior appointments he was the Director of the Forest Products Laboratory in Ottawa and the Director of Research Services at the University of Ottawa. in physical chemistry from the University of London. he decided to try and recover the alcohol by distillation and found to his chagrin that it was not as simple as it seemed. It was so awful that it should have been poured down the drain. is the result.

today. commercial essences were nowhere near as good as they are today.Latest News Since publication of this book. www. In fact. Essences An amazing improvement in essence-making technology has (and still is) taking place. Essences that we previously identified as “Royal Piper” and “Noirot” have gone off the market but the “Artisan” and “Prestige” brands of essences have more than filled the gap.ca 85 . Here is an update. to give you an immense variety of options! Get more information at. A few years ago. the top-grade essences produce results that are every bit as good as commerciallymade liquor.brewhaus. They are made from natural and nature-identical extracts and are highly recommended for flavouring the home-made vodka you produce. several things have changed.

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