Introduction: Build a Keg Still for Whiskey (Pot Still Design)
Making a pot still using a keg as a base for making flavoured spirits, this is my second instructable on making a keg still the first one was a reflux still and you can see that here
Now before I continue lets get the boring legal stuff out of the way....
Check the laws in your local area, some places you cant even own a still let alone use it to make a drinkable product, check it out first. I know in New Zealand you can make your own booze and in the UK you can have a still that makes up to 5L if you have a permit.
ok lets carry on, so why am i making another keg still if I already have one? well its turns out that even in pot still mode the reflux still does not give enough flavour on the spirit, it strips it out due to refluxing too much. When you want to make rum and gin and other flavoured spirits you need a Pot Still as a reflux still will just strip out the flavours.
Now it is worth having a column for the reflux still as you can use this to make vodka which can be used to make gin in your pot still later on. I have both a pot still column and a reflux column now and they both fit on the same boiler, Now I will be repeating the boiler making process as some people may be reading this and have not seen the original instructable so I have to assume they don't have a boiler yet.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
OK so here is your list of materials, I will be following what most of the guys in the distilling community recommend which is a 2 inch column, here in the UK that is 54mm, and its expensive to buy so I didn't want to make too big a column.
you should use as much copper as possible, as the copper removes a lot of the impurity's from the alcohol as its produced.
heat mat for soldering copper
a metal file
spanners and grips
Gloves (very important)
tape measure / ruler
Materials for the still
Lead free Solder
Flux for pipe work
54mm (2 inch) length of copper pipe, I bought might at a small local independent plumbing store, 1 meter long cost me about £24
54mm copper reducer to 15mm, got on eBay costing about £10
a length of 15mm copper pipe
a length of 28mm copper pipe
2 x 28mm copper piper couplers
2 x 28mm to 15mm copper reducers
1 x compression fitting 15mm pipe coupler.
1 x 15mm copper 135 degree elbow
1 x 15mm copper 90 degree elbow
a stainless steel keg 50L, you must buy this legally
a 2 inch tri-clamp also known as a tri clover clamp
Equipment For Making the Spirits and Fermenting
Fermentation Vessel, I'm using a 25L tub bought from a local store
Alcoholmeter, make sure it's one for sprits
18 inch plastic spoon
Airlock valve and rubber bungs
materials for cleaning the still
1 x lemon
1 x tomato puree
NOTE: making alcohol is dangerous and can cause serious side effects, you should read up on whats safe and not safe at www.homedistiller.org
Step 2: Terminology
ok just going to run over some terminology I have learned from the various distiller forums and community's.
Wash or Mash : the mix of sugar / fruit / vegetables / grain, yeast water and nutrients which is fermented to produce your starting alcohol. in beer making its called wort.
SG : Specific gravity, this is measured using a hydrometer using this you can calculator your starting ABV from that you can work out how much you will finally get.
ABV : alcohol by volume, measured using a alcohol meter, it can be calculated using the SG click here for a calculator
Proof : the amount of alcohol in a product is sometimes referred to as Proof, 100% ABV (pure alcohol) is 200 proof, so a drinkable product would be around 40% ABV normally which is 80 proof
Distillate : the final product that comes out of the still
Stripping run : with a pot still its sometimes best to do what is called a stripping run, this is basically running the wash through the still once with the intention of running it through a second time, the purpose of this is that you end up with a purer cleaner product.
Dunder / Backset : this is basically the remaining liquid left in the still after you have run it, sometimes this is used in the next fermentation to add in flavour
Step 3: Preparing the Keg
I got my keg form Crusader Kegs and Casks here in the UK I got a brand new one for £72 including delivery.
you should buy your keg, DO NOT go to a pub and ask them for one, buying one from a pub is not legal as the kegs belong to the brewery and not to the pub. A brewery is unlikely to sell you one you will have to find a company they reconditions kegs or makes them.
At this point if you have decided to heat your keg using propane, your done, I would however advise caution if you're using propane or natural gas to heat your keg, not only is it hard to control the temp using gas but it's dangerous. Most still accidents happen when using propane or natural gas because the alcohol vapour is heavier than air and if you have a leak the vapour builds up and ignites on the open flame and BOOM!
the safer option is to use an electric heating element inside the keg for this you will have to drill the keg and then weld on a flange or socket for your element, having said that there are bolt on flanges/sockets but you would have to use a natural cork gasket made form a cork sheet.
You will need to drill a hole in the keg, in the UK the hole size for the flange would be 64mm this size would fit an immersion heater element, in the US I think the elements are smaller so you may need to install more than one. Drilling for the US ones use a conical drill bit. for the UK use a 64mm hole cutter drill bit, make sure it's one for use on metal as pictured. the flange nut is a 2.25 BSP flange nut which is the correct size for a UK immersion heater element.
before you drill anything you need to measure up and mark out where you want to drill your hole, it needs to be as low as possible in the keg, and between the 2 handles on the keg so you don't knock it about when moving it.
using a straight edge, ideally a square, measure down from the handle and make a pencil mark, then roll the keg and make another mark down from the other handle, both should be at the bottom of the keg.
using some masking tape and some string, tape the string to the first marker then pull the string tight to the second mark and cut it, fold it in half and pull it tight against the keg with it still taped in place, and mark where the middle of the string is, this is the middle mark between the handles.
measure up and mark out the width of your flange/socket, also mark the middle marker. I drew around my flange and just marked out the middle.
to get the seal on the flange, as I am using a larger flange than the US, I needed the area to be as flat as possible so I placed a wooden block on the area I wanted to flange to go and gave it a few whacks with a club hammer to flatten the area out.
OK we need to drill the hole before you do this place a center punch on the middle marker and give it a hard whack with a hammer, this dent will keep your drill bit from slipping.
Step 4: Wiring/Controlling the Element
you can't just use the element from an immersion heater as it is, it's designed to cut off before boiling point which is not what we want, we want to be able to control it using a dial or a knob. to do this you need to disable the thermal probe and wire in a Phase Angle controller.
Disabling the thermal probe and removing it is easy enough just unhook the wires and pull out the probe.
Get yourself a phase angle controller with a Triac, I got mine from china for about £5 inc shipping, it took a couple of weeks to turn up but it was way cheaper than buying one here in the UK, just make sure your controller can handle the watts your element can draw, my element is 2800W and the controller I got can handle 3800W. follow the instructions you get with your controller on how to wire it up. if you can get one that has its own casing then that's great, I'm still looking for one for mine, may have to get a project box form maplin.co.uk
make sure you use cable that can support the number of amps your heater will be drawing, in the UK 16A is what you need to be able to handle the amount of amps the element will draw, I went to a plumbing shop and got some cable rated for immersion heaters.
Step 5: Making the Flange (Easy Flange)
ok what we need to do is cut a section of 54mm copper pipe about 30 cm in length and then make a flange on the end so it can attach to the keg.
for this you will need a hammer and an anvil or something to hit the copper against. this is called an "easy flange"
we need to bend over the edges of the pipe by about 6mm so they are at a 90 degree angle to the pipe but you can't do this all in one go it has to be done gradually.
you want to start off tapping it with the hammer while turning the pipe we are aiming for a small angle all the way around.
all you have to do is keep turning and tapping until you have the 90 degree angle, just do it slowly and take your time.
once you have your 45 degree angle you need to build up a slope around the edge, this is so that when you do up the tri clamp it will push the column down on to the gasket we will create later on creating a seal between the keg and the column so no vapour escapes.
to do this you need to build up a level of solder, make sure you flux the area before you start, dont hold the blow torch directly on the solder otherwise it will just pool up and roll off you want to heat it until the solder melts then pull the torch away and wait a second and do it again with fresh solder. use a cake tin or baking tray to put the column on to protect your work surface.
once you have the right amount of solder built up let it cool and file it so you have the correct angle for the slope, you will also need to file the edges so that its nice and round and level with the flange on the keg.
you also need to file the bottom of the flange as this will have hammer dents in it, you need this to be smooth to create the best seal on the gasket between the keg and column.
Step 6: Assembling the First Part of the Column
for this part you will need to cut 2 pieces of 15mm copper pipe about 9cm long.
take your 54mm to 15mm reducer and slot a 15mm piece of pipe in it (9cm in length) making sure to put on your flux, just solder it in place.
now add a 15mm copper elbow, 90 degree, not forgetting your flux, and solder that in place.
use the other 9cm length of 15mm copper pipe and solder in to the 90 degree elbow.
now add on your 15mm compression coupler and thats the first part of the column done.
Step 7: Building the Cooler
the 2nd part of the process is the cooling, now traditionally moonshiners would use something called a worm, which is a coil of copper pipe in a bucket or barrel with water running through it to cool the coil, this is really tricky to make and I think it just uses up too much storage.
I have opted for a liebig as a cooler, this is a 15mm copper pipe with a 28mm copper pipe jacket, and the water flows through the jacket to cool the pipe inside.
cut a 65cm length of 28m copper pipe, and a 88cm length of 15mm pipe, and a short piece of 15mm pipe about 10cm long.
now measure down the 28mm from each end and mark a point that is about 2 inches down from each end, this is where we need to drill 2 holes which will be for our inlet and outlet pipes.
now, your reducers will need a little work so that the 15mm pipe will slide through them, by design there is a little ridge or knobbly bit that stops the pipe going in too far, you need to use a file and remove this so the 15mm pipe can pass through it.
slide one of the reducers on to the 15mm pipe and push it along about 5cm and solder it in place.
now push the 28mm pipe in to the other end of the reducer and solder it in place as well, now just add the other reducer and solder it in place to both the 18mm and the 15mm pipes.
cut 2 x 3cm long 15mm pipe pieces, using a rounded file create a rounded grove in the end of the pipe so that it sits flush against the 28mm pipe, now solder this over one of the drilled holes and do the same at the other end, i found using a clamp to hold it in place helped.
solder 1 of the 135 degree elbows to the short piece of 15mm pipe, then solder the other side of the elbow to the longest end of the cooler.
now all you need to do is connect the short piece to the 15mm coupler we have on the first part of the column.
this setup will allow us to separate the cooler form the main column for storage.
Step 8: Attaching the Column to the Keg
As I have said in previous steps you will need a 2 inch tri clamp to connect your column to the keg, this is also known as a tri clover clamp.
you will also need a gasket to go between the column and the keg to make an air tight seal so no vapours can escape, you can buy PTFE gaskets but they are designed for the proper 2 inch ferrules that have a special dent in them for the gasket and as such you will have to remove the ridge from the gasket for it to work with your column.
I bought one of these gaskets and removed the ridge using a hobby knife very carefully so I didn't remove wanted fingers.
I then wrapped it in PTFE tape so it would create a better seal, you don't have to have the gasket to do this you could use a ring cut out of card and then cake it in PTFE tape to make the gasket.
once you have your gasket all you need to do is put the gasket on the top of the keg flange and hold your column on top while you put on the tri clamp, not easy on your own but I do it so it can be done.
Step 9: Plumbing It In
now you need to add your pipes, I used garden hose.
Attach a hose that goes to your water supply to the bottom of the Liebig.
Attach a hose from the top of the Liebig to sink / drain, you will need to use a couple of hose clips to hold them on.
I normally do a quick test of the system before I start for 2 reasons, 1) to make sure there is no leaks, and 2) so that the cooler is cold to start off so you can see when vapour is getting to the cooler then you can turn the water on.
I've done a diagram of the setup as looking at it in photos can sometime seem confusing.
Step 10: Cleaning Mixes for the Still
we need to make sure the still is clean so we dont get funny tastes of flux and other stuff still in the column.
I'm following the recommendations I found on this forum post, it makse the most sense.
1) clean with soapy water
2) rinse with plain water
3) use vinegar and water mix in the still and boil it to produce an acidic vapour
4) alcohol cleaning run, twice, this involves making a cheap wash that will produce alcohol, we will not be able to drink this so basically they suggest making up something that is cheap, I used a basic mix which I will detail below.
You could buy some cheap wine and use that to clean the still or you can make the following wash.
cheap cleaning wash, you can use this as a practice run for your recipes
5kg cheap sugar
2 packets of dry baker's yeast
50g of yeast nutrient
boiled water, to kill any bugs in the water so the wash doesn't go mouldy
ok start off with cleaning everything using steriliser, fermentation vassal, spoon, airlock, hydrometer
boil up some water, I filled the kettle 2 times, put the boiled water in your fermentation vassal and start to pour in your sugar, you need to dissolve all the sugar, and keep adding cold water until you reach the 20L mark on your vessel.
let the wash cool down to between 23-26 degrees C, the reason for this is if it's too high it will just kill the yeast, yeast will die at 40 degrees, and if you're using it above 26 degrees C you will stress the yeast out and it will produce more ester, methanol (bad alcohol, you can't drink it, in fact it's dangerous to humans) and what they call fuser oils.
To produce the good alcohol, most yeasts have to be below 26 degrees and for them to replicate they need to be around 23 - 26 degrees. however if you're using a brewing yeast read the packet as there are some yeasts that can operate at higher temperatures.
so what is fermentation? well basically it's when the yeast breaks down the sugars and turns them in to other substances like CO2 and Alcohol, now these sugars can be pure sugar like we are using in the cleaning wash, or they can be provided by fruits, vegetables or even grains.
whiskey and bourbon are made using grain, so is moonshine (normally corn), schnapps is made with fruits like apples / pears / peaches, and vodka can be made out of near enough anything as it's a neutral spirit e.g. a tasteless spirit, well in the US it is, in the UK and Europe it has a tiny bit of flavour the above recipe is cheap and will make a half decent vodka.
ok so while you are waiting for your wash to cool down add the juice of the lemon and a whole tube of double concentrate tomato purée and mix it, take some of the wash and put it in a glass and put the glass in a bucket of cold water to cool it quicker until its 23 degrees C or less, then take it out of the water and add 2 packets of baker's yeast (or brews yeast if you like) mix it up.
This is called a yeast starter, sometimes these are prepared a few days before you want to start your main wash, the key is to make your start wash the same as the main wash as the yeast learns to feed on different sugars, it takes 7 generations for it to learn properly which is why it's important to make your starter exactly the same as your main wash. The purpose of this is to give the yeast a head start.
Once your main wash is at 23 degrees C you can add your yeast starter, I'm not too bothered that I haven't waited a few days before adding it as this is just a cleaning mix. Give it a good stir; you want to distribute that yeast throughout the mix.
at this point the SG should be about 1.100 and this mix is spot on using the hydrometer to measure it.
pop the lid on and seal it, you should fit an airlock to the lid so the gases can escape but the air can't get in, I put some Vaseline around the edge of the bung to make sure it was air tight.
here is a video of me checking the SG of the wash, now I say in the video the SG at the end should be 90 which is 1.090 on the hydrometer in the blue area, I realised after recording this I was wrong it should be below 1.000 so between 1.000 and 0.900 which is near the top in the yellow section, which means that all the sugar has been converted to alcohol.
During the fermentation process you need to make sure the temperature stays around 23 degrees C, if you find it’s getting warmer than that put it in a container of water, if it's still getting to warm try putting a little ice in the water.
if you find it getting to cold then you can do the same put in an aquarium heater in the container and set the temp on it to 25 degrees C or whatever your yeast needs to be.
Step 11: Running the Cleaning Mixes Through the Still
before you start fill your liebig with water, so just turn it on until water comes out then turn it off.
first off run your vinegar mix, make sure you have enough to cover the element and then a few more inches above it, you need to run your boiler at full power until the drips start to come out of the end of the liebig then reduce it to half power and turn the water on, make sure a bucket is under the take off pipe.
you will start to see water coming out of the still, run it like this for a couple of hours.
let it cool and empty out the boiler.
put in your alcohol for the cleaning run, do the same thing. should take about just over and hour and a half to get going.
you will start to see alcohol come out, DO NOT DRINK THIS it will have all the oils and fluxes in it from when it was built.
That's it your done, its ready to use normally, for whatever purposes you choose.
you should be able to get an absolute maximum 75% abv from this still. most of the time you will see around 60% abv.
Subscribe to me as I will be adding instructables on how to make Rum, and a couple of different ways to make Gin very soon.
Make Rum using this instructable
Step 12: Added a Thumper
a thumper is a container with a solution containing alcohol, the hot alcohol vapor from the still heats this mix up and causes effectively a second distillation increasing the alcohol content you would normally get out. Some people have referred to this as a doubler, but I have never seen double output produced.
Its called a thumper because of the noise that it makes, *thump* *thump* *thump*, normally these are large barrels that make this sound, my small one doesnt seem to thump :-( which is a shame, I was looking forward to the noise.