Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Putting the Still Together part 3

To put the still together, first put whatever you are going to use to lift your collect off the bottom of the pot into the pot.  Below is the steamer down at the bottom of the pot.

Then put your collector onto what you have to lift it off the bottom of the pot.  Here the pyrex measuring cup is sitting on the steamer.

The I put the thermometer into the pot.  Again, this isn't needed, but if the mash goes above 212 degrees F, your water will start to turn to vapor and then drop into your distilled alcohol.  This kind of defeats the purpose of separating your alcohol and water in the first place.  lol  If you don't have a thermometer, just keep an eye on your mash and don't let it boil.

Then carefully pour the mash in and around your collector so that it is in the bottom of your pot, but none in the collector, as the picture is below.  Since we are using wine, what we would be making would be brandy.  Brandy is a Welsh word meaning 'burnt wine'.  The thing is, once you get 190 proof alcohol, it really doesn't matter what you started out with, it all tastes the same.  Grain, fruit, sugar all makes the same kind of alcohol and if it gets concentrated enough, even labs can't tell the difference.


 Then fill up your condenser with something really cold.  Here in Wisconsin we have plenty of this free stuff called snow.  In the winter that is what I use because it will need to be replaced through out the distilling.  A gallon of mash may take as much as 8 hours to distill in this kind of still and that cold needs to be replaced as it gets warm.  You can use ice if you don't have snow, even really cold water will work, though not as good in this kind of still.  Running cold water works better with a worm still or still that has copper tubing as the condenser.

Now put the whole contraption on the stove (or start it out there) and turn the stove on to the lowest setting you have.   It's going to take awhile to heat up.  In fact, if it takes a couple of hours hour to heat up to 170 degrees, you have a better chance of getting rid of all the poisons in the first 1/4 of a cup of distilled liquor and you won't have to lose a whole 1/2 cup.  This is because methanol and your fusal oils turn to vapor at the lower temperatures than ethanol so you get rid of them without losing too much of "the good stuff". 

If you let your still heat up slowly, wait for about two hours before you lift off the condenser to see what is in your collector.  If you are using an electric stove, like I would be here, you can do this without turning the stove off.  But if you have an open flame stove such as gas, turn the stove off before you lift off the condenser.  This is because you will be releasing ethanol vapors which can be ignited with an open flame.  This vapor you are releasing is called "the angel's share", and depending on how buzzed you like your angels, don't leave the condenser off too long.  That vapor is your distilled spirits escaping.  In any distilling process there is always the angel's share, but you want to keep it to a minimum. 

Just check how much clear liquid you have in your collector, if it is around 1/4 to 1/2 cup, dump the collector, wipe it out with a clean, dry cloth, put it back into the pot, cover with the condenser, and you are makin' 'shine.  From here on out, everything you make is going to be drinkable.  

The liquid you just dumped out is called "the foreshot".  This is where the poisons are of the moonshine. It usually occurs in mash temperatures between 150 to 174 degrees F.  The next bit is called the "head".  It will usually have a slight scent but it won't have the really strong biting flavor (not that you should taste the foreshot) of the foreshot. This usually  occurs between mash temperature of 175 to 195 degrees F.  Some people will separate this out as well as the foreshot, because it is still has a bit of a bite.  The next batch is the "middle run".  It is the best of your 'shine.  If you are making Jack Daniels, Black Label, this is what you take off to put under that black label.  This occurs with mash temperature between 196 and 203 degrees F.  If you are a perfectionist this will be the last of your collecting.  The last cut is called the "tails" and it is pretty watery.  This will have the least amount of alcohol in it because the water in the mash is beginning to turn to vapor.  This occurs during mash temperatures of 203 to 208 degrees F.  After that, no matter what, you are done making 'shine.  If you continue to a boil, you are now just adding unflavored water back into your moonshine.

If you want to make the perfect 'shine, or what the Dukes of Hazzard's Uncle Jesse would have made, you will need to wash out your still and run the distilled spirits through a second time.  Uncle Jesse would have used a thumper barrel in a worm still to do this, but that's awful hard to set up in your kitchen.  And believe me, there is no way to explain away a thumper barrel to the cops.  There is only one use for that.  lol

These spirits you just made should be aged.  Some people say as little as 6 months, others put them into oak barrels and let them sit in caves for 10 years.  That's where that beautiful amber color comes from.  If you don't age your spirits, they can be harsh to drink.  Aging them mellows them out.

You do not need to drink booze to want to distill spirits.  I make herbal tinctures all the time and for me it is nice to know where ALL the ingredients come from for these tinctures, not just the herbal part of it.  If you were to make your own alcohol, you would know that it was made from good ingredients in a safe way.  

Knowing the basics of distilling means you can take questionable water and make it safe with the same idea (except you actually do bring the water to a low boil).  You can even make ocean water drinkable.  It actually works much better than filtering the water.  

So, even if you don't want to be caught by Johnny Law makin' your own 'shine, you can try this still in making you water safe. It is a good survival tool to know how to use and it can make a mighty fine bead (another word for the best moonshine), if only it were legal.  Since it's not, however, I know no one will try to make their own moonshine, or Old Horsey as it may be called in these parts.


  1. Thanks for posting about the still. Making shine is on my list of must try things and you've covered it very well, accurate and informative.

    1. Thank you, Mike. I try, but if I forgot anything, give me a call. I've been doing this so long that I may forget to mention something that comes naturally to me.