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Picture of How to make moonshine
WARNING!!!!!
this is for informational purposes only and should not be used for illegal activities. there are many legal things one can do with a still including fueling cars (must register with the federal government) as well as extracting essential oils from plants (not necessary to register). also, implementing the following procedures could result in bodily harm from explosions, fires, burns, not to mention what could happen if you actually consume your final product. use your head, be careful and be safe. 


Thank you to everyone who has made this a successful Instructable!  I appreciate the views and positive feedback.  Please cut me some slack where I am lacking.  I have recently updated to include a few more specifics, but this does not take the place of doing your own research.  I am not an expert, though I play one on TV.  I am also toying with a discussion forum for all the numerous repeat questions.  Please continue to check the comments discussions before posting questions.  Many have been answered before and plenty more than once.


as a further note, i have decided to add this link to clear up any misunderstandings about what United States law has to say about distilling. Hopefully this will make some of you think a little harder about this and the rest to stop posting comments debating the legality of this. This is ONLY for the US.

Distilling Code

let's begin.

anything alcoholic can be distilled. i've distilled everything from my own moonshine washes to jug wine purchased at my local liquor store. distillation is actually quite simple. the hard part is making sure you are getting ethanol and not methanol (or the like). in this instructable i will show how i made a wash, fermented it, and consequently--the most important part--how i distilled it. i have added more specifics in order to answer some of the most asked questions i've gotten in the comments.  i hope this helps. i might also mention that everything here is hypothetical and for informational purposes only. hope that covers the bases.

and. . . let's begin. for real this time.

(if this doesn't make sense or you would like more info, check out my instructable--distilling basics--for more detailed information on the distillation process or read through the comment strings before posting a question.  I get repeat questions constantly and I don't have time to answer the same questions over and over.  Sorry.)
 
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Step 1: Fermentation

Picture of fermentation
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i used a sugar water solution to create a wash which i then distilled to a neutral spirit. i dissolved about 5lbs of sugar in 3 gallons of water (not an exact formula, play around a bit) and then let it cool to room temperature. this is about as basic a wash as you can get. many more options are available for different flavor characteristics.  for instance, if you ferment molasses you will end up with rum.  if you ferment blue agave you will end up with tequila. i was looking for simplicity for a beginner and ran with this. it is the easiest to procure and make. unfortunately white sugar creates a decidedly cidery flavor to the spirit, but much of that can be distilled out or masked by flavoring or blending.

the wash (fermentable solution, a.k.a. sugar water) was then poured into a clean carboy (big glass bottle, see pic). after that i 'pitched' the yeast (dumped yeast into wash) and then capped the carboy with an airlock (see pic). now we wait. depending on yeast, temperature, amount of digestible materials, etc., a couple of weeks is usually good. at this point yeast is eating sugar, and excreting carbon dioxide and alcohol. give it some time. let it work. when the bubbles stop (and look close) it's done.  if it is still bubbling, let it go.  the two week time is just a very rough estimate.  it will vary for everyone.

if the bubbles have slowed considerably, taste a bit. if it is sweet, let it go a bit longer.

when it is done. we're ready for the next stage:

distillation.

Step 2: The pot

Picture of the pot
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in this instructable i will be making what is known as a pot still. it is a very basic design, but can be reasonably efficient. there are many variations on pot stills and many other types of stills. some more advanced, some less. this will be fine for our purposes, though.

helpful hint: goodwill and other thrift stores are great places to scrounge parts.


you'll need:
a tea kettle
a medium sized thermos
a cork stopper that fits the kettle mouth(I used rubber, but cork is safer, use that.)
copper tubing
a pipe cutter
tubing couplers
a thermometer
various other tools and what not


okay, let's get down to business.

drill two holes in the stopper. one to fit the copper tubing, and one for the thermometer. i'm using a digital cooking thermometer with a wire probe, but analog thermometers will work as well.  drill the holes just a bit smaller than the tube and thermometer probe to make sure you have a tight fit.  you don't want any leaks.

the stopper will fit in the spout of the kettle a la the photo.  your tube should be out of the liquid to capture the vapors and your thermometer probe should be immersed in the water, but NOT touching the bottom or sides of the kettle.  the kettle will get hotter than the liquid and skew your results.  you only want the temperature of the liquid.

the copper tube should be long enough to connect to the condenser (attach a coupler on the end). ah, the condenser. on to thee!

Step 3: The condenser

Picture of the condenser
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the pot was easy. the condenser takes a bit of finagling. whatever the inside diameter of your thermos is, you want to find something like a 20oz soda bottle or some suitable tube-like thing that is a bit smaller and wrap your copper tubing around it to make a neat little spiral (careful, copper kinks easily).  tube benders are available.  they are basically big springs that slide over the tube and allow you to bend without kinking.  filling the tube with salt, sugar, or even sand can work as well.  i was just really careful and bent slowly and it worked fine for me.

the bottom end of the spiral exits through a hole cut in the lower side of the thermos. the top will exit a hole cut in your thermos lid (see pic). seal the area around the exiting tube at the bottom. seal it well and let it dry completely before you use it. test it before you go full throttle, as well.

thread the top of the copper through the hole in the center of the lid (if it is a screw type, like mine, you want to be able to unscrew the lid to fill and empty) and attach an appropriate coupler that marries with the one coming from the pot. spend a little time in the plumbing department of your local hardware store and i'm sure you'll find something that will work (look at the pictures). just do not use anything that contains lead. very important!

anyway, let's learn how to use this thing.

Step 4: Implementation

Picture of implementation
fill your condenser with ice and water (a little salt wouldn't hurt either, lowers temperature - think ice cream). attach the copper tube coming from the pot to the tube from the condenser with the couplers. place something under the spout to catch your shine and go to town.  it may be good to have more than one receptacle.  you will see why if you continue reading.

now we need some heat. back in the day people would use wood fires, gas stoves, basically anything they could get their hands on. dangerous! play it safe. open flames are not good around a still. alcohol vapors are flammable! as well, precise temperature control of your heat source is not necessary. the solution will take care of that. electric heat is the best.

check the pic. i'm using an electric stove. works great. you can see how i have it set up and i hope it all makes sense now. you load your wash into the kettle/pot, apply some heat, and condense the results.  how?  i'll tell you if you'd just be patient.  geez.

okay, pour your wash into the kettle. place the stopper into the spout. turn on the heat. watch the thermometer. alcohol boils at a temperature lower than water. that's what makes distillation work. exact temperature will vary depending on elevation and barometric pressure, but water boils at around 212 °F while ethanol boils at around 173 °F.  methanol, that can make you blind and is what you really want to avoid, boils around 148 °F. while running your wash, watch for plateaus (when the temperature stays the same for a while -- forms a plateau if you graph it) on your thermometer and compare them to known boiling temperatures to ensure you get only what you want and leave the rest. check out my instructable to give you the basics of distillation.

basically if you begin to distill and the temperature reaches a certain point and remains there for any length of time you have reached the boiling temperature for a particular liquid component of your wash. check the temperature against the boiling point data you have researched and you can tell what it is you are distilling at the time. using this information you can discard anything other than ethanol. no matter what a solution contains, it will not boil at a temperature any higher than what the level of the component with the lowest boiling temperature is until that component is boiled away. check the comments or 'distilling basics' for a discussion or two on this.

as an example, if your solution contains methanol, ethanol and water it will happen like this: once the temperature of your solution reaches around 148 °F methanol will begin to boil and come out through your tube as vapor into your condenser where it will convert back to liquid and exit into your receptacle.  the temperature of your solution will not vary much beyond 148 °F until the methanol is gone and then will begin to climb again until it reaches 173 °F, the boiling point of the ethanol.  the same thing will happen here.  the temperature will hover around the same until the ethanol is boiled off and then on to water. 

in order to get ethanol and exclude the rest you get rid of what are called the 'heads' and 'tails.' basically dump anything that boils lower than around 173 °F and everything after the temperature begins to climb again.  this is why i mentioned having more than one receptacle. use one for the heads, one for what you want, and one for the tails.


so once you've boiled off and then condensed your wash, you should be left with a solution containing a much higher alcohol content than what you started with.  you will still get a bit of water, but that's okay. running the product through the still again will further extract ethanol and raise the proof.

a bit of trivia: the Xes often seen on moonshine bottles in old cartoons, etc. represent the amount of runnings, or how many times it was distilled.

i've achieved a blue flame from a wash after a first run with this set up. you may or may not need to run the wash more than once. anything over about 150 proof will burn.  that's a pretty good result from a single run.

i do not recommend doing anything i've talked about. it's not very legal (in the US), and it's not very safe. i enjoy knowledge for the sake of knowledge, though, and just because i know how to do something doesn't mean i will. so take this to heart, and take care.

peace.

-p
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Distill Bill6 months ago
I want to make corn whiskey the was it was made in the old times.i am reaearching recipies and techniques for a book if there is anyone who can help me i would be very much obliged.

Moonshine by Matt Rowley Corn whiskey employed the use of germination of the seed, to convert the starch to sugar. Amylase is an easier and much simpler process.

fragmaster45 years ago
I'm pretty sure you can make 100 gallons of alcohol for your own personal use in the U.S. You can MAKE Moonshine but you can't sell it. THAT is what is illegal about it.

FALSE. It is legal to make your own beer or wine in some locations but it is against FEDERAL law to concentrate the alcohol (distill it) from your mash. Not illegal to own a still, just to use it to distill alcohol. You can distill the chemicals out of your tap water though!

WRONG YOU CANNOT MAKE ANY MOONSHINE FOR ANY REASON ! I use our still to condense water, we have a shallow well we use for drinking water & it makes it a 100% better tasting. it is done the same way as shine but, w/o mash. just plain water !!!

You can make 100 gallons per year per person 21 and older in your house
pdub77 (author)  fragmaster45 years ago
Not true.  You can make certain amounts of beer and you can make certain amounts of wine, but you cannot make liquor of ANY quantity without registering your still with the federal government and therefore, I would assume, pay the taxes on it.

I'm not sure why I'm debating this.  Check my link about distilling laws.  And if you still don't agree, cite your statute.  = )
chinds pdub774 years ago
pdub77 is right, you can brew beer, wine, mead, and that kind of stuff all day long in your garage as long as you're not under 21 and not distributing it. i believe you need a business license to distribute it. not sure about the liquor thing though, but moonshine, aka 100% pure alcohol is illegal to possess just like a drug. everclear is only legal because it's made by government-authorized stills and is only about 99% pure, they add that 1% of water just to be pricks. lol i think you might be able to register a moonshine still for ethanol-powered vehicles though, but it's probably expensive to get the license and you gotta pay taxes.
pdub77 is right, it is physically impossible to distill an ethanol/water solution above 95.6% and that's why Everclear clocks in at 95% or 190 proof (in the states that high of a proof is legal). It's not them being pricks, it's a thermodynamic impossibility for them to go any higher with the product being safe for human consumption. Anything you see that is labeled as 200 proof ethanol is denatured, meaning that a third chemical has been added to the solution during distillation to break the azeotrope (limit). Chemicals such as benzene or cyclohexane are often used and residual amounts of those are why you should never ever drink any 200 proof ethanol.
pdub77 (author)  chinds4 years ago
You can't get 100% pure ethanol with a basic still. Google 'azeotropic solution' to see what I'm talking about here.
Good post. I saw another one where the guy was very unclear as to how to get rid of the methanol. He basically said throw out the first half cup of distillate.

Here's the link to the ATF regulation governing distillation. Look at section/chapter 19.
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2003-title27-vol1/pdf/CFR-2003-title27-vol1.pdf. You can't distill alcohol in the US without jumping through all kinds of hoops. You have to be bonded, your facility can only be used for distillation, no private residence, sheds or garages, permits from the ATF, yada, yada, yada. If you're running a still it better be for something other than alcohol.

The amounts of beer and wine you can make are dependent on the state. I'm a home brewer BTW, not a distiller. (Although I wouldn't mind trying it)

Also, I love the comment at the end of the post, "just because i know how to do something doesn't mean i will" Uhhh, you have a picture of a still, presumably yours, and you claim to have gotten a blue flame off a first run. Self incrimination? :-D
You are not allowed to make a drop of the product. Beer and Wine wasn't legal until Carter. Unlike many other countries, (ie: New Zealand), I cannot see anytime in the foreseeable future that we will be able to make what we want to make for ourselves without the government regulating it.
Just because something's legal by state law it can still be legal by federal law. For example, marijuana is legal now under Colorado law but it's still a federal offense.
nope. every still must be registered and regulated by the govnt. its easy enought to get a fuel alc license, but its expensive
According to the Missouri statutes in Mo. you can make 100 gals of distilled alcohol, 200 gals if there are more than one person over the age of 21 living in the residence per year. But it has to be for personal and family consumption it can not be sold
Nope - not a drop. It's a federal law.
http://www.moga.mo.gov/statutes/C300-399/3110000055.HTM
Nope, not in the US - can't make a drop without a distiller's license (Federal and State).
If you distill even a thumble of likker, your comitting a Federal Crime. You don't have to sell it to get locked up you just have to make it!
Tferguson285 years ago
I've unsucessfully made many batches of shine and can't figure out what i'm doing wrong. I've been using corn, sugar, yeast, and water for my mash and let is sit for 3 days to ferment.(whether that's right or wrong i got it from a website) well any way when i try to distill it, it comes out cloudy not clear and definitly not drinkable. plus i've tried to keep my temp at 173 degress F. but nothing happens till about 200. there is some alcohol in the wash and when it comes out of the still but not much. Can any one tell me what i'm doing wrong?

Yep. You're temps are too high. You have to be PATIENT and let the vapor build up.

3 days is waaayyy tooo short. Sounds like your trying to make sourdough bread starter.

Your running your still to high temp and sounds like you need to study up on fermenting start simple like this sugar shine three days is way early man

pdub is right they yeast would not even finished multiplying even turbos take longer then that to ferment, but once you get it keep it up soon you won't buy likker at a store i know i havent in a long time.

pdub77 (author)  Tferguson285 years ago
3 days is never enough time to ferment.  Try two to three weeks. 
okay i didn't think it was long enough but i wasnt sure thanks. I'll let you know how it goes
Does it matter what metal cooker you use in quality of taste! just a thought if you use a steel pot vs a copper pot the heated metals might give off difrent taste in liqueur?
RonnieV14 months ago

There is always a smart a__ in the crowd. Don't read their garbage and get on with your distilling.

cappenkirk5 months ago

Move to New Zealand, people. Brew whatever you want legally :D

LexiM5 months ago

I have tried this before a few years back

i have 18 litres of wash fermenting right now except it is not bubbling as usual and never started.been sitting for 8 days, its been a bit colder here but i think its stuck. maybe the yeast was no good i brought temp up to around 30 degrees today but still nothing , is the solution to add another packet of yeast. ?
pdub77 (author)  the rowdyboy6 years ago
Too much heat can definitely kill yeast. I would try adding more yeast and see if that works. If not, I'm not sure. As long as you have enough for the yeast to eat, they should go to town. I've had some washes that never really went nuts, though. They were a laid back strain, apparently. You should definitely see some bubbles, though, either way. No bubbles equals no fermentation, obviously. Too cold will slow down fermentation rather reliably too. Might want to do a search for the particular yeast you are using to see its optimum fermentation temperature. Different types of yeast prefer different temps. Try the yeast, check your temp and let me know how that works.
NeilM7 pdub776 months ago

I have a fruit mash that has been fermenting for 4 days.. It bubbled away very good until yesterday when it stopped and now it's not bubbling at all... What does this mean? This is my first attempt.

What you need is a starting"batch".Mix yeast with any sugar rich substrate in a pint container,place it above the fridge or any source of mild heat and THEN empty it in your main "wash"( after it has started to bubble vigorously).Never fails.
i brought the wash up to 35degrees centigrade added more yeast then let it cool its now at around 25 and bubbling furiously. thanks hinge . so pdub this turbo yeast claims to give up to 20% lets see.
pdub77 (author)  the rowdyboy5 years ago
20% is really high. Let me know how it works. Could save a lot of people a lot of time.
just finished 2 runs 10 litres of wash in each. the turbo yeast i used brought wash up to 15% in 7 days , theyre claim of 20% might be a bit hopeful but im happy with this result. got 4 litres of good juice. will stay with this yeast. 7 days is fast. trying some blackberry champagne next.
pdub77 (author)  the rowdyboy5 years ago
Another week and you might have achieved closer to 20%. The yeast slows down a lot as it goes and the last few percentage points tend to take for freaking ever. Not bad, though, dude. 15% in 7 days is pretty impressive and well within the general range of your basic brewing yeast. Good job, Rowdy. Thanks for the updates. Myself and many others (I'm sure) appreciate it.
pdub77 (author)  hinge6 years ago
Good plan, hinge. Thanks. Even warm water (not hot) out of the tap can work for this.
knew00a6 months ago

So if i was to want to make this moonshine and flavor it with fruit what would the best option be?

add fruit in fermenting process ?

or add fruit in the final product ?

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