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Are You New To Distilling?

 Get yourself a copy of The Alcohol Fuel Handbook (if you're wanting to make ethanol) by clicking here

Read every word of at 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, here 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 here 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 alcohol with 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 works!

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 to

If you need to know how to use your reflux still go to

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 here.

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 you desire.

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 conditions:

  • 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.