Picture of distilling basics
this is a companion to my instructable, how to make moonshine, that will explain the basics of distillation. with all of the questions i have received, i find it necessary to write a small primer about what the distillation process is all about. this is not a scientific treatise or journal article. i am not a scientist. i will not get too far into chemistry. this is just the basics, folks, so take that to heart before you berate me for my gross oversimplification of this topic.

distilling is simply a way to separate different liquids dissolved in a solution. henceforth i will refer to each individual component of the mixture as a 'liquid,' and the mixture as a whole as the 'solution.' using a simple pot still such as the one in my fore mentioned instructable i will show the basic science involved in distillation.

i hope this clears up a lot of the questions out there. read up and enjoy.

Step 1: Apparatus

Picture of apparatus
refer to my instructable how to make moonshine for the basic physical set up. this is what is known as a pot still and is the easiest type of still to build and use. reflux and column are alternate still types that can be used with higher levels of efficiency, but with the trade-off of more difficult construction and operation. in principle, though, they all work the same way. i, however, will focus solely on the pot still.
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DamianB27 months ago

This is very interesting and i have detained much from this eloquently drawn passage.

pdub77 (author)  DamianB24 months ago

Thank you so much for your kind words!

justane2123 years ago
Is there a way to test to make sure you have all of the methanol out of the ethanol solution, other than just plotting temperatures?

The bubbles

Distill again and akeep a close eye on change in temperature.
keffertz2 years ago
Does a Sugar/water/yeast wash usually contain methanol??
DamianB2 keffertz7 months ago

More often than naught

cbell58 months ago

This Instructable completely cleared this up for me. THANK YOU!

Barnyard tan9 months ago
You say around five lbs of sugar to three gal of water how much yeast to that ?
guerilla782 years ago
so where im from maple syrup season is just round the corner. maple syrup is made of a cooked down tree sap. tree sap is as a whole sugar and water. now ive never made liquor but im thinkin my first try may be with this simple sugar mixture. any thoughts?
MeeKziii2 years ago
with the wash, do you put the water suger in the kettle and threw the pipe like you do to get ethonal and methonal out of the water?
also do i leave the ethonal in the brew?
stormyt2 years ago
funny.marry christmas.. 2009 it was you said. it is now x mas eve 2012. this is the best explanation after many day of research. thanks can not post to proper post
jjay013 years ago
hey all,
i didnt get any run off or significant break at 148F, did i not wait long enough? any help is appreciated.
This is really interesting a story-tell and a step-by -step guide combined! I've been reading your posts and I'm really learning a lot! I made my first run using a copper pot distiller which I bought just lately. I tried and use your moonshine recipe and it awesomely worked! Well just to add, for those who have the same pot still as mine or at least interested in home distilling, this page might also help you: http://www.whiskeystill.net/pages/how-to-distill . I found this thing while I was eyeing on starting this hobby :)
jiggerboy3 years ago
Hello everyone im new to this stuff and wonder if any of u has any good tips
illegalgame3 years ago
Can I use a aluminum pressure cooker for my pot? Some people mention it in their instruction and other dont. I had built one before reading other saying no. Do I start over??
catchtoot223 years ago
at 25gallons of water how much sugar and yeast should a man at to the wash this is a hell of a good page i completely understand it all. been around it all my life but you put it in the langauge that i speak and understand thanks
mvasher3 years ago
I'm curious to know how much shine we should expect to produce each run? A cup, two cups?? Thanks!
durbandave3 years ago
hey i made my pot still useing a preasure cooker but can anyone tell me the right ratio of fruit sugar and water to use and how long should i leave the fruit before i put them in the pot
anybody got the receipe for JD its now £24 a bottle here so i'm up for making my own even elijha craig would be better
check out Mile High Distilling online. they have flavoring concentrates that can be added to the distilates to give the flavor you want to have they also have ready made stills for sale that are of high quality. there are other manufactures of stills and flavoring extracts that can be found with a simple web search. I wish it were legal to make alcohol for drinkinig purposes in the area i live in but unfortunately it isnt. i think they need to include alcohol wiskies in the same classification as diy beer homebrew operations or microbreweries. i have considered buying a still for legal manufacture of ethanol for fuel.
Jack Daniels gets it's distinct flavor and colour from the kegs they age the whiskey in. Unless you have some wooden kegs laying around you probably won't be able to make it. If you want a bourbon, start with a corn based mash. :)
If you used a glass or stainless steel container you could get the white oak flavoring (or other wood flavoring) by adding some shavings and letting it soak for a while. The process is apparently faster than using actual barrels (according to a friend that has made whiskey for a few decades). Rack it after about a week and you should have the wood flavoring you're lookin' fer.
mpitts4 years ago
when you boil your wash and you are watching your temperature, the methanol boils out at like around 150 or something. and the ethyl alcohol should boil around 173. at both the boiling points the temperature should plateau. but what is the stuff that drips out of your condenser between the two temperatures? is that safe to collect? do i keep anything after the 150 plateau all the way through the 173 plateau? and also is storing your wash outside not a good idea?
I wouldn't keep the stuff in between who knows what it is. lol
ardousius4 years ago
hey i was reading everyone worried about the methanol and ethanol boiling points. According to wikipedia (which knows all the answer to life's questions) methanol boils at 143 F and ethanol boils at 173 F so pdub is pretty much correct in his instructions. Nice job pdub
beehard444 years ago
i have one of those broken espresso machines where you just place them on your stove. I was thinking of modifying it to become by kettle by epoxying some copper tubing to the outlet and making it similar to your setup. I'm not making drinkable alcohol, just some alcohol for lab use.
pdub77 (author)  beehard444 years ago
Could work, but a really low yield. I hope you don't need much.
jkb36144 years ago
from what i understand the boiling point of ethanol is about 141 F so wouldnt that make your instructions backwards? as in the first thing to condense in the receptacle will actually be the ethanol, and then second comes the methanol at about 148 F ?
not trying to be a jerk, i just dont wanna go blind haha
pdub77 (author)  jkb36144 years ago
Google it. Not trying to be a jerk either. I've studied this a bit. Don't go blind!!!!! Go to a liquor store if you aren't sure of what you are doing!
jo_hf5 years ago
hey, i'm midway through creating a still like the one you have and was wanderin wether, when you distill and it reaches the level at which methanol evaporates wether after removing this methanol, any liquid or sediment could still be present in the tubing of the condenser????... :S Thanks
pdub77 (author)  jo_hf5 years ago
Some could possibly still be there, but it will be in quantities that are generally negligible. I'm not an expert, though, so please do more research if you are concerned.
peede16 years ago
Whats the best way to "cut" the ethanol so that people dont burn a hole in their stomachs? Me personally don't want to consume 150 proof. Id personnaly like to be around 80 or 90 proof.
cut with water(filtered tap works well for drinking. distilled/deionized water for most other applications) to make a less-potent version. That is presuming you are distilling a FOOD GRADE ETHANOL. To quote his moonshine 'ible "the hard part is making sure you are getting ethanol and not methanol (or the like). " Having a little methanol mixed with your ethanol, in your flex-fuel lawnmower engine won't hurt anything. Doing the same in your stomach can KILL you ;-( you can also : drink immediately(good stuff warms, instead of burning), filter through activated carbon(and yes 6 passes through a britta filter makes nasty/cheap stuff taste pretty good), introduced with oak chips for flavor and color, burn as fuel in your car, or anything else you can think of. Personally, I'd treat it like vodka... Soak some pears in it for a few months, then bottle. Pears not only add sugar, and flavor, but also tend to "smooth" things out a bit, without needing to dilute the end product.
i recently tried soaking toasted oak chips in with my rum and after just 24 hrs in a bottle the flavour was improved and it turned golden. a good tip smiter.
pdub77 (author)  ironsmiter6 years ago
the smiter speaks the truth. good quality water can bring your spirit to a drinkable level (around 80 proof) that can then be used for shots or a mixer with your favorite n/a beverage. filtering through charcoal is also a good way to smooth out the beverage. many of the commercial liquors are charcoal filtered, especially vodkas (which are a neutral spirit such as i show how to produce in my instructable how to make moonshine).

many fruits besides pears can be soaked in the concentrated liquor to create liqueurs and cordials and just some good naturally fruit flavored vodka. citrus fruits impart a lot of flavor from both the meat of the fruit itself as well as the rind. some fruits may need to be crushed a bit to allow the goodness to flow out.

you are right, peede, to shy away from drinking the super high test stuff. it is cool to make for novelty sake and to make your own liquors, liqueurs, cordials and the like, but on its own can be very dangerous. it is easy to drink enough to go into alcohol poisoning before you even feel drunk. be careful, folks. follow this man's example and dilute your liquor before you drink it. 80 proof is still some strong stuff. be careful with anything involving alcohol.
andybuda pdub775 years ago
true i learned the hard way aswel was so happy i made booze that i could set on fire didnt realize that it was killing me kidneys off after 2weeks started diluting the stuf with vodka that has be cleared in charcoal around 15% stuf
so when you make your wash do you add the fruit to tsaste or is it eisier after distillation?
pdub77 (author)  the rowdyboy6 years ago
if you are using it for the sugar to ferment, before. if you are using it for flavor, after.
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