My new project

So I have started NEW project, and for those of you that know me,  you may know a few things about me…

  1. I’m kind of a drunk
  2. I like energy sustainability
  3. I have an “in training hippy wife”
  4. I want to have a skill/trade that will be important if the world goes to shit…
  5. And I like fun!

So I think I found a hobby/project that meets all of those requirements! Over the course of the last few weeks I have been tinkering at making a small 1.5 gallon still.  Yup. A Still… No I’m NOT going to go blind. Well not from the still anyway… Although that tree that attacked me while hiking is doing a pretty good job. But I digress.

Distilling has been used around the world and in many cultures to do everything from make clean drinking water, medicines, perfumes, essential oils, Fuel/ Fuel substitutes, and of course Booze! So it seemed like a logical step for me to try this. Now I did not just randomly jump into this. I have been listening to prepper/ survival podcast for a few years now and have always been intrigued by the topic. So don’t worry, I have done my due diligence when it comes to the safety aspect. When it come to the “legality” of the issue, Clawhammersupply has a great breakdown of what you need to know. In this state (NY) however there are rules, so read up if your interested. I am interested in and working more in the bold section of the excerpt below:

Is a Fuel Alcohol Permit Available in New York?

  • An industrial alcohol manufacturers permit is available, according to New York Alcohol Beverage Control Law; Article 7 Section 91-A). This permit allows production of alcohol for “scientific, chemical, mechanical, industrial, medicinal and culinary purposes,” as well as for “…the manufacture of ethanol from biomass feedstock for use as fuel (including but not limited to motor fuel, heating fuel or fuel for process heat).”
  • The permit can be obtained from the N.Y. State Liquor Authority (New York Alcohol Beverage Control Law; Article 7 Section 91-A). The permit is available provided that the applicant certifies that “he will manufacture, solely from biomass feedstock, ethanol for his own use as fuel.” To apply for the permission to produce fuel alcohol in New York, one must complete and submit an Industrial alcohol manufacturer permit application.

Or just to see if I could do it…

So I took to the internet! It seems that every Hillbilly that can operate a camera knows how to do this! YouTube is full of people telling you how to distill using homemade stills and mash. After a few hours of research, and a 3×5 card with a parts list I was off to go shopping.

Step 1: The Mash


Depending upon what you want for your final product depends on what you put into your mash. Whiskey and Bourbon have their corn, Brandy has fruit, and Rum is Molasses. When talking fuels, you can use many other choices, most I would never put in my mouth. As with most things there are hundreds of recipes and resources out on the net that can provide you with a better breakdown than I can, so let me know if you are more interested.

Mash/Wash is simply the process  of using yeast, and water to turn sugars into alcohol.

I tried 2 different recipes.

  1. A 1 gallon makeshift corn mash. I call it that because the recipe I followed did not use any Amalyse to breakdown the natural sugars in the corn… So it only broke down the sugar I added, not the raw sugars in the corn. So it just watched the process, and didn’t participate. (I learned this later)
  2. Sugar shine w/ Dried Pineapple. (5gal) This was the most simple, so I stuck with this large batch for my first attempt. No point in spending hours making a mash for a non-working still.
Copy of IMG_4248

The Still Pot

Traditionally stills are made with copper because they have the most even heat, and they naturally pull some sulfur out of the wash so it makes for a better final product. However copper is SUPER expensive, and who wants to spend a ton of money on an unproven hobby. ALSO in sticking with the SHTF scenario you will be scrounging for parts anyway. So I decided to do the best I could with either what I had around, or what was cheap, but safe.

Here are a couple of tips that I picked up from all of my research:

  • No galvanized metal! (that is what made people go blind back in the day)
  • Manual pressure cookers make for a quick and sturdy set-up. Just try to avoid Aluminum
  • You can get a cheap, stainless steel cook pot that requires about a days worth of modification. The tough part is getting it to hold the pressure. (During the first test run it was like a steam room in our kitchen)
  • Drill an extra hole to add a digital thermometer so you can watch the temp carefully and easily.
  • Still pot on the stove
    Still pot on the stove

    The Worm

This is the part of the process that takes the separated steam components, and turns them back into a liquid. In most cases this seems like a simple device… But it was the part I fought with the most. If you do not have a nice evenly descending coil the vapor and liquid can back up on itself causing more burping and gurgling instead of a nice even stream of product.

After research, testing and some practical thinking I decided to make some adjustments to the classical worm design.

  1. I put a drain tap at the bottom of the bucket, so i can quickly and easily get rid of the water, both for clean up, or long duration batches in which the water will need to be changed out with more cold water.
  2. I placed a valve on the outflow spigot so that again during long batches you can close the tap to not lose any of the product when switching out containers. It seemed like an easy addition and I could not see why others didn’t have it.

the worm
Worm with ice water

worm valve
Worm with valve

The Set-up and Product

So after a couple of test runs, just to see if I could distill water, I was ready to give it a go.

Set-up
Working Set-up
So after solving all of the pressure issues, the worm issues, and getting the proper height of the worm, I was ready to run. The Thermometer helped greatly as I watched the temp climb. You can do clean up and prep as this is taking place. But when it gets to 174F you need to start paying attention. That is the temp in which you start to get evaporation. But it’s not ALL good stuff coming out! There are THREE parts to any run.

  1. The heads: (DON’T INGEST) these are the first vapors to come out. It starts at 174F. They say to throw out the first 10ml for every gallon. It contains methyl alcohol and other beasties you want NO part of.
  2. The Hearts: This is what you want. This is anything that comes out after the heads up until 201F. This process takes WAY longer than you would expect… over an hour for about 12oz of product.
  3. Tails: Anything above the 201F but below 204F. Some people let it go a little longer than that though. Just not to hot or you run the risk of having water vapor in the mix. The tails you do not want to ingest, BUT can be added to the next mash run, because it still has use able ethyl alcohol in it.

In The End…

I learned Many things during this whole process…

  1. It’s not as easy as you see on TV or YouTube!
  2. You only get about 8-12 use able ozs per gallon. (or at least I did with this makeshift set-up)
  3. It will take 1 or 2 more distillations in order to get a high enough proof for fuels
  4. Distillation takes a LONG time
  5. I’m excited about this…

So this was definitely a worthwhile project for me that I think I will keep tweaking and playing with for a long time to come. Unfortunately I don’t think I will ever become a booze baron, but as my wife says when it comes to this and my wine making.. “That’s why they have liquor stores!”  

Hope you found this interesting, and if you have more questions just ask.

Also, PLEASE keep us all informed as to what you all have been up too. The more information out there the better!

We cant wait to hear from you!

– Remember, have fun, and DON’T PANIC! –

– Kaiser

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