| Get yourself a copy of The Alcohol Fuel
Handbook (if you're wanting to make ethanol) by
Read every word of
least three times. Almost everything you need to know is right there.
We're here to answer questions, but it's up
to you to do your homeowrk! There aren't enough hours in the day
to "teach" each of you by phone or email if you're starting from
scratch. For instance,
are the instructions of assembling your still, as well as
here for hooking up the hoses.
There are great places to ask questions, share
experiences, and learn for free! Try these forums on the net:
To convert metric measurements that you may find
in recipes go here:
You can run your car on alcohol over approximately
80% purity. Because any water present will separate in the presence of
the gasoline (and become a problem), you either need to exclusively use
the alcohol, or dry it right out (eg 99%+ purity) if using it to mix
with gasoline. (use
zeolite to dry out your ethanol. The product can be
dried out in the over or the sun and used over and over again.) It's
at the bottom of the page.
What about cleaning up the taste? That rough edge
or off-taste is due to impurities such as fusel oils. These will be
present more when using a pot still, less if using a reflux still.
So one way is to use a taller packed column and increase the amount of
reflux that occurs. Poor taste can also indicate that you've tried to
collect too much of the alcohol and you've run into the "tails". So just
complete your collecting a little bit earlier next time. Soaking tainted
activated carbon for a week or more will help remove some of
this flavor. We call this "polishing" the spirit. Using copper
packing in the still, where it comes in contact with the vapor, will
also improve flavor. Don't ask me for a technical reason why, it just
I've been asked about using fruits for your mash.
Using a pot still will result in a brandy/grappa/schnapps, whereas a
reflux still will just strip it down to neutral spirit.
If you need to know how to operate a pot still, go
If you need to know how to use your reflux still
If you're trying to make whiskey or rum, you'll
want to monitor transitions between the foreshots, heads, middle run,
and tails, and want to specifically limit your collection. The reflux
still lets you judge the changes between the various stages and target
your collection. Typically you would discard the foreshots, collect the
heads, middle run, and just a tiny bit of the tails, until the purity
has dropped to around 58-60% (82 °C). You will collect it faster and at
a slightly lower reflux ratio than for a neutral spirit since you're
trying to retain the flavor.
How about why you need a alcoholmeter....An
alcoholmeter is a float with a scale inside it. The more alcohol that is
present, the lighter the density of the liquid, so the hydrometer sinks
a bit lower. You then just read off the scale how much alcohol is
present. You need a seperate hydrometer for measuring the density of the
mash, as this is generally > 1.0, whereas the spirit is < 1.0, and they
can't accurately do both ends of the scale.
You may have heard how people have gone blind
buying moonshine made in the hills. It is methanol which can hurt the
optic nerve, and these are discarded with your heads and tails. If
you're using a pot still, wait until your second run to remove the heads
and tails. They are easier to separate and more distinct.
Is it legal, in the U.S., to make moonshine? No!
The only alcohol that you can legally make at home is ethanol, and you
are required to have a permit to do so. You can find out about applying
for your permit
If you want to make your own still, here are some
resources for still plans:
The first time you use your still, make it a water
only run to clean out any impurities!
For neutral spirits. there are many different ways
of running a still to achieving the same results.
To get high purity, you require your column to be doing many
re-distillations. In order to achieve this, your packing must offer
sufficient "theoretical plates". The HETP that you get from packing
depends on many factors, but includes the surface area, the thickness of
the liquid spread out over it, and the ratio of liquid to gas. As the
alcohol in the pot depletes, to keep the same purity, you need more
re-distillations happening. The usual way to do this is to improve the
HETP by increasing the ratio of liquid to vapor (the reflux ratio).
You can do it either by increasing the amount of liquid being returned
(increase the amount of cooling water to through tubes/top condensers ),
or by reducing the amount of vapor (by reducing the power input to the
boiler). Both will have the same result.
If you are using a tall column with lots of packing, it may already have
enough distillation happening in it to cope with very low alcohol input,
removing the need to adjust it during the run. You'd basically turn it
on, set it and leave it (though you still need to catch it right at the
end). But if the column isn't quite so great, you might need to tweak
the reflux ratio right through the run in order to keep it doing what
Using a tall column, you may decide to run it faster in the beginning
but then progressively turn it back down as the run continues.
If your run turns milky in color, you've let it
run too long.
Once the still has started dripping, make sure you
throw away the first 50 mL per 20 L of wash. This is called the heads
and can contain methanol.
Stop collecting the run once you notice them containing some fusels, or
if the temperature gets above about 94C. It won't poison you, but it
won't taste good!
Save your heads and tails. They can be added to the next wash, and be
collected cleanly then.
Whiskey can be made by passing a grain wash through a pot still twice.
You can produce a product up to 95 % ethanol (190
proof). You can't drink it this strong (remember - ethanol can be
poisonous); it needs diluting. Get a spirit hydrometer (or one for
wine), measure the % alcohol, and dilute it down to around 40 %
(whiskey) or 22 % (liqueurs).
If the alcohol is still warm, it will be "lighter"
than at the "standard" temperature (usually 20C), so the hydrometer will
sink lower in it, making you think that its got more alcohol in it.
That's why you see claims of getting 97% purity. Only 96.5% is possible
without using a vacuum still, or by drying the alcohol (even then, if
left in an open container, it will absorb the moisture from the air and
dilute itself back to 96.5%). Most hydrometers come with a chart for
making temperature adjustments.
An Alcoholmeter (as apposed to a Wash, Wine & Beer
Hydrometer) is used to test the strength of your spirit. Additives such
as flavoring and Liquid Glucose will distort the hydrometer readings.
Alcoholmeters should only be used to test spirit in the following
- before any additives such as flavoring or
liquid glucose are mixed.
- at temperature of 16 degrees C or refer to
the Temperature Correction Chart below. Taking readings of warmer
liquids may damage your hydrometer.
- The Alcoholmeter is floated in the spirit to
measure the alcohol content. As alcohol is thinner than water, the
higher in strength the alcohol is, the further down the hydrometer
floats. The reading is taken where the surface of the spirit cuts
the scale of the hydrometer.
Take good care of your Alcoholmeter as it's very fragile. Wash and
sterilize with cold water only.
Prior to Carbon Purifying, the spirit should be watered down in
strength to 38-40% by volume prior to drinking. It is very important
not to make higher strength spirit.