Home Distillation


Home distillation of spirits is another one of my hobby's which I now no longer do as i have given up the grog now and have not touched a drop of the sweet nectar since 05/05/2010, I have sold my stills and all their wonderful accessories that i became quite attached too literally!! that is the reason for sellin em as having any sort of spirit in bulk at your disposal can be quite a trap and havin a still in the house is far to tempting for a p%$## tank like me :-)

Once again I am putttin this page together to add more content to this site for those of you interested in the Science of distillation i am by no means an expert on the subject and i will just cover the basics so don't expect to find info on a molecular level here.

I got into distillation quite a few years back as it has everything goin for it, it's an interestin yet simple process, you can enjoy the fruits of your labor, save a mountain of bux, a still is not really that hard to build, and there is no better feelin when ya knock over a 3 ltr bottle of scotch off the table and just laugh at it and go and grab another one!!                                                         

                                                               Preparing the mash aka wash or wort

The wash is prepared for distillation this is what goes in the boiler i always used to use dextrose as it produces a lot better spirit some people use plain refined sugar, all dextrose is is a highly refined sugar i will work on the recipe I used to use making a wash of 25 ltrs.

9kg of dextrose

1 pkt turbo yeast

3 tbl spoons carbon granules activator

Dissolve dextrose in 4ltrs of boiling water do not add the yeast to boilin water yet or you will kill it, make sure all the dextrose has dissolved, once it is completely dissolved add 2 litres of cold water to bring the temp down slightly once this is done slowly keep stirrin in the yeast thoroughly making sure to separate it completely.

Important  Do not put yeast into boiling water it is a living organism a fungus actually and without it the fermentation process will not take place so basically what is happening in the barrel is the yeast is consuming the dextrose/ glucose this in turn produces alcohol and as a bi product waste CO2 or carbon dioxide.

There are other "hi temp" yeasts on the market that can withstand fairly high temperatures they are a different species of yeast and can work when the temp is around 35- 38c even higher in the barrel these types of yeast are good if you are havin trouble regulating the barrels temperature and live in a hot climate, this type of yeast generally starts to ferment in a matter of minutes of being mixed and can be ready for distillation within 24 hrs I used this yeast during the summer months but much preferred the turbo yeast that took around 4 days to a week for the process to complete.

It is also advisable to stir the "wash" everyday to agitate the yeast and make sure it is amalgamating with the dextrose you will soon tell when the process has finished by testing it with your SG or specific gravity dropper, also bubbles of Co2 will no longer be present.


                                                      My personal opinion on commercially made spirits

My opinion of certain commercially produced spirits is not much really :-) what i do know is the hangover produced by them is more severe then the spirit i used to produce probably reason being is they are not as pedantic when it comes to removing fusel oils as i was, fusel oils being part of what gives you a massive headache and probably the closest you will get to experiencing the recovery from an autopsy whilst still alive.

Fusel oil is actually used as a solvent so its very good for gettin them nasty stubborn stains outta ya liver it is also used in the manufacturing process of explosives!!! a fair bit of this nasty oil can be eliminated by a good reflux column and also capturing the "head" of the spirit as it reaches the correct temperature and starts to run from the spirits pipe this "head" is full of fusel oils and should be thrown out and not added or put in with your "body" (the good stuff) as this fusel oil will destroy and degrade the taste of the spirit it's best to catch the first 200ml and chuck it or ya can put it in the mower like i did it started first pull every time being 90- 98% proof ethanol good octane ratin eh i hate waste!!

Anyway getting back to Commercial gear who knows maybe they introduce it back into their spirit i think commercially produced spirits are way over priced and we all know why that is it's the greedy government gettin their filthy little excise taxes driving the price through the roof puttin it out of reach to those on a minimum wage who look forward to a drink at the end of the week to the point you have to go to the bank and apply for a personal loan to buy a bottle of scotch!!!

Just a word of warning the Government is goin to increase taxes again on alcohol in 2011 info i was given from a very reliable sorce, also the manufacturing of spirits from home is goin to get a shake up as well but I don't know when.


                                                              How does the distillation process work?

The distillation process for the purpose of alcohol production has been in use for thousands of years so firstly you need something to distill and for spirit this would be your mash or wort as some people call it, i will use my type of still as an example and that is a "reflux" type.

The mash after the fermentation process has taken place in separate barrels is placed into the boiler usually electric but any heat source can be used to bring the mash to a boil in my case the boiler had a 2000 watt element (below) or the home made version ya can use gas (bottom page) as the mash is slowly brought up to boiling point yeast cells from the fermentation that have not been removed will crack giving the end product a peculiar taste these spent yeast cells can be removed by using a part A part B finishing agent, part A will crack open any yeast cells still intact and Part B will settle the cracked and dead yeast cells and any other particulates to the bottom of the fermentation barrel as this is not wanted, similar to puttin "fineings" in a beer fermentation barrel a few days before ya due to bottle.

As the mash reaches boiling point vapor is given off the vapor rises into the atmosphere inside the boiler this contains the alcohol this rises up into the reflux column where it condenses it back into a liquid form on small ceramic saddles inside the reflux column, glass marbles can also be used, it then further vaporized exiting out through the spirit pipe, the reflux column must be kept cool during this process for condensation to take place usually by running cold water at a set rate through the column some people submerge the thing in ice water as well, that is really basically how it works and what goes on inside the reflux column.


Above: One of my old stills the reflux column can be seen sticking out of the top of the stainless boiler with the thermometer at the top, cold water in on the (right) through the reflux column hot water out on the (left) returning out the window and back into the rainwater tank to cycle back through again, to extract all the alcohol from 25 ltrs of mash takes roughly 5-6 hours depending on the column temperature and will produce around 10 ltrs of pure 90- 98 proof ethanol depending on how successful the fermentation process had gone prior to distillation.

Above: Blue Curacao was Shazza's favorite- a Blue lagoon, Blue Curacao and lemonade, she has to go easy on it as there are only 14 bottles left!! Blue curacao is a liqueur by the way and is good for those with a sweet tooth and a little bit more difficult and expensive to get right.

Above: Stills can be made out of virtually anything you can safely boil a liquid in the one above no problems at all, old fire extinguishers make a good simple still also just make sure it is not a BCF type extinguisher the one's that were outlawed in the early 80's.

The spirits I made on a regular basis was Bundaberg rum, Johnny walkers scotch whiskey, Southern comfort, Galliano, Cherry brandy, Jim beam- the others I made occasionally were Blackberry schnapps, Tequila, Ouzo, Vodka, St Agnes brandy, and a few others i cant think of off hand.

The "Bundy" I had down pat and even the most hard core die hard Bundy fans couldn't tell the difference between my brew and the commercial brew, experimenting is also fun playin around with different recipes one of my favs was a scotch i used to do where I soaked 100 odd year old French oak chips from chipped up old "coopers" or barrels that have seen better days in the raw spirit for a month or so then it went on through another process but I will keep that secret for the time being :-)                                              

                                                      Can home brew, moonshine, bootleg liquor kill you?

This is a question ya hear quite regularly what ya have to remember is alcohol is a poison when you have a look at the biological processes the body goes through when alcohol is consumed it is quite interestin and a good excuse for when ya missus says "are you drinking again?" where your answer will be "yes dear I am still conducting experiments on the effects of alcohol" well that is what you would say if ya are a hen pecked "yes man" and there are plenty of them around :-)

The biological effects of alcohol are large when ya think about it, the warmth produced when it is consumed is the heat produced by cells that are workin overtime to metabolize the ethyl alcohol the next bit I find very interestin and that is it is acid aldahyde (prob incorrectly spelt) that causes the "drunken" effect that occurs if to much alcohol is consumed, by memory it is a chemical the body produces as a defence to neutralize the ethyl alcohol from the body.

Anyway getting back to what I started to say, when the distillation process takes place and what I mentioned above about capturing the 'head" the nasty fusel oils etc well them fusel oils also contain methanol which is also bad unless you are drag or race car? the methanol is another unwanted bi product of the process unfortunately that is why the first 200ml or so should be tossed out. Methanol is not what we want it is the ethanol that we are working to capture from the spirit pipe, it usually goes in stages because of the different boiling points methanol is produced first followed by ethanol (the good gear) then finally water.

So ..... in a nutshell methanol will kill you yes, it attacks the optic nerve and can cause blindness PERMANENTLY and eventual death and that can put a real dampener on things.

                                                                          Toxins produced during distillation

Things to watch out for if building your own still/ boiler is of course the methanol and fusel oils, also if ya can avoid it don't use aluminium like the still in the above pic, I have used it but we have all no doubt heard the hype by now on aluminium saucepans/ pots etc, also when preparing the "wash" be sure to purchase a proper brewers yeast as some other strains of yeast other than a brewers yeast can have some very bad results includin death I don't know exactly why but i remember reading about it.

Another thing also is don't be a fool and consume the raw spirit from the spirit pipe which is usually around 90- 95 proof this can and will cause death in even small amounts, the raw spirit must be diluted down with a nice spring water or rain water until it reaches around 35- 40% this can be easily done by using a specific gravity dropper, depending on the type of spirit filter you chose to use it is good practice to filter the rain water.

                                                                                         Filtering the spirit

There are many types of filters on the market some are very good and some are complete rubbish a good example of a rubbish filter is the brand name Z Filter absolute garbage made in NZ so over there it is called a ZUD Filter, filters are also not that hard to build as long as you can find a vessel around 1.5m long and made of stainless steel preferably a nice 440 grade surgical stainless if ya fussy that can be easily emptied and filled with activated carbon granules ya pretty much there.

I used to use the "English filter" these filters are the bees knees when it comes to filters, although they are very pricey they are well worth the money unless ya want dead yeast cells, fusel oils, and pulverized carbon dust in ya spirits then go for the cheap alternative like the ZUD Filter. 

Above: Stills can be made out of virtually anything you can safely boil a liquid in the one above no problems at all, old fire extinguishers make a good simple still also just make sure it is not a BCF type extinguisher the one's that were outlawed in the early 80's.

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