Introduction: Building a Whiskey Still

Picture of Building a Whiskey Still

I will be explaining how to "theoretically" make a distiller (Whiskey Still). (this Instructable is for learning purposes only as I am not sure of your local laws. i take no resposibility for your actions!)

The still shown below was given to my grandfather as a gift, but it is a fully working still which would theoretical create distilled water, alcohol, etc (we never really tested it). It may not be homemade, but it is perfect for explaining the basic process.

Please remember to vote if you like my Instructable.

Step 1: The Process

Picture of The Process

First, i will explain the process of getting alcohol.
To start you need a "Fermented Mash"- "Braga" (recepies will be at the end). The braga is what originally contains the alcohol.

Once you have the braga, you will place it into into the container which is heated. The braga will boil, causeing the alcohol (which has a lower boiling point than water) to evaporate, go up the tube, and into the "Zmeevik" (curly tube in the refrigerator, aka the condensator). In the zmeevik, the alcohol condensates (do to the lower temperature caused by cold water in the refrigerator) and drips into the cup (or bucket if your makeing a lot).
Make sure the thermomiter never goes above 90 degrees(centigrade) (at 100 degrees (centigrade) water starts to boil; if this happens, it means there is no more alcohol in the braga).

You can now through the alcohol-less braga away.

Congradulastions! You have made your first "Samogon" (which means self distilled or moonshine).

Step 2: Making Your Own Still

You will need:
1)a kettle (the kind you put on the stove to heat)
2)a copper tube (a few yards)
3)a bucket
4)a bottle
5)a thermometer
6)a drill
7)a drill bit with the same diameter as the thermometer

First, you need drill a hole in the lid of the kettle. Into the hole, insert the thermometer and glue in place with a thermally resistant glue, making sure that the glue forms an air-tight seal around the hole.
Now you have to make your zmeevik. Take the copper tube, find a larger round object, like a fire extinguisher, and wind the tube around the round object. Remember to put sand in the tube so that it doesn't bend flat. Leave a length of tube at the beginning and end of the tube (end A & end B). It should be a spiral.
Drill a hole with the same diameter as the tube near the bottom of bucket.

Step 3: Braga!!!

Picture of Braga!!!
This is probably the most important part of your samogon. Without it you cannot make your moonshine.

This part is relatively easy. The recipes!:
1*)600 gramms sugar, 20 gramms yeast, 3 litters water: mix everything together & set in a warm place for a week.
2)600 g. syrup, 20 g. yeast, 3 litters water: see (1)
3)a can of tomato paste, bottle of beer, 1 kilogramm of sugar, 3 litters of water: mix ingreidients, let sit in a warm place for 4-5 days.

To make whiskey you need a braga made from mashed up barley (the process is much the same).
  • I used this one

Step 4: Distilling

Picture of Distilling

Put the prepared kettle onto the stove (or hot plate). insert end A of the zmeevik into the kettle spout and seal it. (to seal holes, use a "dough" of water and flour, (not too wet) and smear it over the holes, then wait for it to dry.) Pour your braga into the kettle and seal the lid onto the kettle. Put end B of the zmeevik through the hole in the bucket, seal the hole, and fill the bucket with cold water. The bucket should be on a stool or table or something so that the zmeevik isn't strained. Put the bottle you prepared earlier under the opening of end B, to collect the spirit that will flow from your still.

Make sure everything is air-tight.

Now you can light the stove (turn on the hot plate), so that the braga starts boiling.

Make sure that the thermometer never goes up to 100 degrees centigrade. At 100 degrees centigrade water startes boiling and instead of booze you get water vapors.

The first 100 ml of ever liter and last 300 ml of ever liter of your samogon should be thrown away (poured down the drain) because the contain harmful chemicals.

Step 5: Filtration

When your pure-ish alcohol from your braga has been distilled the first time, you have to filter it.

Take natural wood charcoal (without lighter fluid), grind it into a powder, and place it into a bottle with you samogon. Close the lid and start shaking the bottle. when afterwards take a clothe or bangage and filter the concotion ( this is just to keep your still clean) and pour it back into the kettle. Repeat the distilation process.

For really pure alcohol you ned to do the distilation and filtration process 3-4 times.

Step 6: Testing

Picture of Testing

To test the purity of your alcohol you need Potassium Permanganate (KMnO4).

Take a little of your alcohol, put it in a seperat glass, pour in a tiny bit of KMnO4. If the Alcohol turns pink/purple it is "unclean" and should be distilled & filterd again. if the alcohol becomes slightly pink or stays clear, it is safe to drink.

Step 7: The End

Congratulations! You have learned how to make a still and how to use it.

Remember, you have to dilute the alcohol so that only 40% of your drink is alcohol (you about 100% alcohol from your still). Mendeleev, (the guy who made the periodic table of elements) researched vodka, and discovered that 40% alcohol is the best proportion.

P.S.: to make whiskey you need to use barley braga and keep the resulting alcohol (diluted to 40% alcohol) in an oak barrel for at least 3 years. (I'm not sure, but I think the filtration method is the same).

P.S.S.: Remember, THIS IS REAL ALCOHOL! the laws of your country, state, etc. apply.
Alcohol is not recommended for children younger than 18, pregnant women. Do not drink alcohol and operate heavy machinery. Read a vodka label for the full message.


Travis Moran (author)2017-10-14

I've always heard that the part you throw out is just the very first little bit of the distilled product, and you can tell by looking at it because it's kind of oily and nasty looking, i have a friend that used to make moonshine and he said he would make small batches (about 1 or 2 gallons of mash) and the parts that got thrown out would be just about a quarter of a mason jar, he also mentioned that distilling twice would make a stronger product

Tecwyn Twmffat made it! (author)2016-11-25

kakashibatosi (author)2014-08-03

The alcohol does not come out at 100%, it comes out closer to 70%. In order to get 100% the distillate has to be distilled again a number of times to leave behind the water that comes with it.

I think they use molecular sieve these days to get Pure ethanol

Leathaldose (author)2015-03-30

why is your still so dusty? mine would shine from over use like a mirror.

rodpaget (author)2014-09-13

basically the stuff that we get in cars nowadays has good ole corn whiskey in it. Before it leaves the refinery by law 15% gasoline goes in to make ya go blind.....I work at a corn ethanole refinery Canada

Id have to disagree rod ive worked at ethaonol corn plants many times they add mixtures in so they wont be taxed as liqour distillery which factories dont like to spend money

Lokisgodhi (author)2014-04-29

To legally distill you need a license from the BATF.

Eirinn (author)2010-05-28

I'm not big on chemistry, but i know ethanol is good and methanol is the stuff that makes you go blind (or worse) in the fermentation process and the distillation - what prevents the reactions that produces methanol? What is the risk? And is this a cause of concern?

I'm guessing the permanganate triggers on methanol?

coffee steam (author)Eirinn2011-07-17

It helps to remove stems and other "woody' parts of things you are fermenting, these break down to wood alcohol during fermenting.
It evaporates sooner (lower temp) than the drinking alcohol, so you throw away the first stuff that comes out of your still, since any wood alcohol and acetone (tastes nasty too) comes out first if you heat it up nice and slow.
You can get a digital thermometer for about $15 from most large hardware stores, so you can tell when to start collecting the drinkable stuff. has a LOT of info on this.

jkeillor (author)coffee steam2012-10-08

That's due to lignans and their constituent monolignols, yes? Do whiskies not impart some of their smokey/burn flavour/mouthfeel characteristics from these? Obviously you wouldn't want too much of this, but I'm curious as I've read conflicting things on what to toss.

jkeillor (author)jkeillor2012-10-08

"Lignins are very complex macromolecules consisting of three monolignol units p-hydroxyphenol (not present in oak), guaiacyl (32% in oak lignin) and syringyl (68% in oak lignin) derived from dehydration and polymerization of cinnamyl alcohols. Usually natural lignin includes various other molecules joined in to the structure, including different sugars, acids and aldehydes. Heating breaks parts of lignin to soluble p-coumaryl-, coniferyl- and sinapyl-alcohols. They can transform into their respective aldehydes, acids and phenols including very aromatic compounds such as guaiacol (smoky), 4-vinylguaiacol (clove), phenyl ethanol (floral, rose), vanillin and vanillic acid. At higher temperatures a range of other volatile phenols are formed. Lignin breakdown continues at a slower rate during maturation by the effect of ethanol. Most of the lignin derivatives and extractibles decribed above are present also in the malted grains, peat and new make spirit."


So it seems that yes, if you're keeping control of the temperature, you shouldn't need to worry too much about tossing out too much wood alcohol goodness.

Lee Wilkerson (author)Eirinn2012-08-03

Methanol (CH3OH) is made by anaerobic respiration of some bacteria varieties such as are found in natural gas and coal. It is toxic.
Ethanol (C2H5OH) is made by anaerobic respiration of sugar and an enzyme found in yeast. It is less toxic, but can still damage internal organs most notably the liver (cirrhosis) if consumed in large quantities.
The Potassium Permanganate triggers on the pollutants in the distilled liquid.

gorillalblack (author)2012-07-03

wats the one for vodka....the braga

Dr Quest (author)2010-01-30

found this if anyones interrested in get one instead of building one.

lx2036 (author)Dr Quest2012-01-08

For more practical but still pretty stills, check out: Whiskey Still

deth2all (author)2008-05-08

chances are about going blind are slim to none these days, its really an urban legend coming from prohibition days when people would use methanol and isopropyl alcohol and god knows what else.

DeLorean4905 (author)deth2all2008-05-09

I second that. There is NOTHING in ethanol that can make you go blind. That is caused by methanol, which does not occur in a saccharomyces-fermented (yeast) brew. And the distilled product is never 100% alcohol. Since the boiling temp of ethanol and water are so close, you're still picking up a lot of water in the vapors. The best you can get in one distilling is gonna be about 95% and that's pushing it.

neffk (author)DeLorean49052011-10-28

Yeah. And to get even close to 95%, you need a well-designed refluxing still, not just a hillbilly pot still.

densad (author)DeLorean49052008-05-10

I know the going blind thing was meant more as a joke than anything else

Gilo (author)densad2009-01-15

I just had a shot of vodka. "Ican't see! I can't see! I can't see!" Why? I close m eyes when I gulp it down in one swing. :) Good instructable!

Esmagamus (author)densad2008-08-05

Except if you use wine instead. Then, there's methanol.

jasontimmer (author)DeLorean49052008-09-06

BUT- ethanol is still poisonous. And fun.

Esmagamus (author)deth2all2008-08-05

The problem with moonshine was the fact that the condensers were usually used car radiators that used anti freeze containing methanol. Even today, anti freeze is generally poisonous, but not due to methanol.

seltzer10 (author)Esmagamus2011-07-05

the car radiators also contained open lead solder joints, so by running steam over these solder joints they were introducing lead into the batch. drinking heavy metals didnt help the consumer either.

fretted (author)deth2all2011-01-10

They used wood Alcho in those days blindness was commonplace as well as death for those who bought the nasty cheap brew abd those who made it knew what they were brewing they were after the buck ...

neffk (author)2011-10-28

Is your test sensitive only to methanol and the long-chain alchols? I've heard of theoretically using potassium permanganate for this purpose, but had never seen it done.

Also, I should point out that there is virtually no risk of methanol poisoning in the home-brewing of beer and wine. When you concentrate such a solution, you are not increasing the amount of impurities. True, the concentration will be higher, but you'll be consuming smaller volumes. If you use a reasonable yeast, moderate temperature, and everything is kept clean, there is virtually no risk of methanol. And whatever risk there is can be alleviated by throwing out the first bit---there are rules of thumb. Personally, I collect multiple fractions. And out of curiosity, I'm going to try the test you described.

There ARE dangers in distillation, but those traditionally come from heavy-metal poisoning and fire. The risk is very low if you are working with tiny (a few gallons) batches, especially when using constant monitoring. Furthermore, copper (with lead-free solder), stainless, or glass hardware are all food safe.

icharted (author)2009-07-05

What kind of syrup?

 Molasses makes Rum, blue agave (sold as a maple syrup substitute) will make tequila. Anything sugary will work; maple syrup, cane sugar, beet sugar, even maple syrup. I imagine Caro syrup would be very effective because i think it's almost pure high fructose corn syrup (fructose is just a type of sugar).

if you could post a comment containing the maple ratios it would be greatly apreciated =} thx m8

Viaticus (author)icharted2010-12-15

As christopherk239 is describing...we always started with "simple syrup" - one cup of refined (table) sugar per 1/2 cup of water. Bring the sugar and water to a simmer in a small saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved, then simmer 5 minutes. Cool syrup completely. Adjust the portions based on your need, of course, but that is the ratio.

Also, Torani syrups are used in coffee houses to flavor coffee...not a bad choice and you can try some different flavors to see how they impact the flavor of your "squeezin's"

custompolaris (author)2011-02-23

So theortically if you were to do this how would you get rid of your first 100ml and you last 300ml. How would you go about getting rid of them? does the recipe you provide make one liter each? If that was so would you just take a cup get to 100ml maybe 150 for safe measures then go till your almost out kinda thing?

you use several smaller containers as collection containers. so say you use three, the first one is filled to about 100ml. then you fill up containers until you think there is approx. 300ml left and then you place the next jar. the first and last containers can be reused when you distill again. dont forget to label your containers. hope this helped.

Zegen (author)2011-02-02

Very well done. Thanks for sharing!

lil jon168 (author)2009-05-24

i used 1 gallon of water 12 ounces and 2 packets of yeast (14 oz)

u can use 1kg of sugar 18.5g of yeast nd 2L of water 2 make the "braga" leave it in a container with an airlock on top for 5 days in a warm room

You mean regular table sugar? and regular bread yeast?

yes. i could be wrong but it worked for me and i got all i needed at my local supermarket

Could u give me the recipe u used?
I'm confused, he used 600g syrup.
What brand? Evidently Karo adds salt and preservatives in theirs. Wouldn't that interfere with the fermentation?
What did u use?

1kg of sugar in 2ltr of water. try and disolve all the sugar in the water then just ad normal bread yeast (18g) and thats it

osgeld (author)2008-05-07

altho the making of the "mash" was informative why did you title this "build a still" spent less than a paragraph on it?

 Actually the still used in this Instructable is sold for making perfume, but a still is a still, it can distill pretty much anything.

hopefully you didn't get it used :P

densad (author)osgeld2008-05-09

'cause making a still is easy

Lee Wilkerson (author)2010-07-19

Actually if you use at least 51% corn to make the sour mash and age the resulting alcohol solution at least 3 years in a new charred oak barrel, it qualifies as bourbon. More aging results in a much smoother bourbon, but also loses more liquid to absorption/evaporation. A 25 year-old bourbon usually loses about 75% to 85%. ~/Lee

Alpha Bravo (author)2010-04-06

Excelent! at least someone is looking out for people's health! haven't seen this in any of the other instructables id is definitely something to consider if one was to consider risking drinking this stuff.

smatt444 (author)2009-09-04

where does the thermometer have to be in the liquid or the steam?

Romi Sharpe (author)2008-09-17

I drink water from my tap which is brought to me through copper tubing. Should I be concerned?

H3xx (author)Romi Sharpe2009-09-03

Doing ANYTHING aside from breathing mountain air can get you sick in some form or fashion. you would have to have a lot of copper residue in your drinking water to be seriously affected in any way. Try getting a faucet mount purifier if your really worried about it. Or better yet, make a purifier and make an instructable an post it up here!

unconcerned (author)2008-10-21

Stills are easy to make but I understand your confusion. There are 3 important parts to making a standard pot still (like the one in this DIY). First you need a boiling pot, needs to be over 5 gallons otherwise you'll lose too much when you throw away your first and last 100ml (also called heads and tails). Moving on your boiling pot needs to be connected to a condenser, you can either build your own (look it up, it would take too much space to describe) or buy one (they are not cheap). At the end you need a collection pot/jar, this whole assembly will work better if its close to air tight. That is a basic pot still that will produce a distillate of about 60% alcohol. For higher percentages you need a reflux still which is mildly more complicated. And if you live in the U.S. for the love of god don't make one, no matter how young or poor you are its not worth the serious prison time. And if you are under 21 don't be stupid, working a still is a very time consuming (takes over a week to produce even the foulest sugar vodka) thing and your parents will catch on. If your over 21 spend the extra $5 a bottle and buy your vodka legally.

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