Introduction: Start Making Your Own Alcohol in an Old Pressure Cooker
Covid-19 is everywhere, and we are trying to make the most out of it. But what to do if your country goes in to a new lock-down and the bars close down? What can you do if the price of hand sanitizer surges? And last but not least, what can you do with all that spare time on your hands?
Make your own still and produce your own drinks and sanitizer!
This instructable will help you create a simple but effective still from pressure cooker and some basic copper plumbing. No real skill is required, just some basic tools.
*ATTENTION* the making of alcohol can be a dangerous process, as ethanol and methanol are highly flammable. Be smart and try to reduce the risk factors as much as you can! This instructable will help you avoid some of the major ones. But try to read up on the topic or watch some very useful and interesting Youtube creators like Still It and How To Drink
- An old pressure cooker (try to avoid using a aluminium one. more info on that in the chapter 'Heating the still' )
- 22mm copper tube 1m
- 15 mm copper tube 1m
- 3x T joints 22-15-22
- 2x 22 mm reducer 15 mm joint
- 1x 45 degree 15mm joint
- 1x 22 mm endcap
- 1x 22 mm
- Optional: wired thermometer.
- Tube cutter
- Solder paste
- Soldering tin
- Soldering torch
Step 1: The Pipework
So you got all the materials! It's time to get crafty and start working on our still.
Cut the pipes to these lengths, using the pipecutter. You can use a small metal saw, but the pipecutter is faster and makes sure the pipe doesn't warp.
- 1x40 cm
- 1x30 cm
- 1x 5cm
- 2x 3cm
- 2x 5cm
- 1x 3cm
This project takes some basic soldering skills. The steps are: sand down the piece to make them nice and shiny, add a little bit of soldering paste to both parts you want to join, put the pieces together, heat them and apply enough soldering tin. Remember this isn't a beauty contest, the most important thing is to create an airtight seal. The paste will help suck the tin in. You can check the seals by blowing on one end and keeping the other end closed with your hand.
- Drill a hole in the lid of the pressure cooker, so your compression fitting fits snug.
- Connect the 40cm 22mm piece to the lid, using the compression fitting.
- Solder a T-joint on the other end of the 22mm tube.
- Solder a 5cm 22mm piece at the other end.
- Now place the endcap on it (this doesn't need soldering, as gravity pulls it down and the vapor looks for an easier way to escape, but you can secure it in place with a putty of flour and water)
- Solder the 3cm 15mm piece to the same T-Joint.
- Solder the 45 degree joint on the 15mm piece, pointing downwards.
- Solder the two remaining T-joint on the 30cm 22m tube.
- Solder the two 3cm 22mm pieces on the other ends of the T-joints.
- Solder the two 5cm 15mm pipes to the 15mm spot of the T-joint.
- Solder on the two reducer joints.
- Take the 50cm 15mm tube and place it through the piece you've just created.
- Solder the reducer joints to the 15mm tube.
The final trick
Solder the cooler to the column. Make sure the two small 15mm pipes, that are connected to the T-joints, face down.These will connect to water hoses, pointing them down will make sure they don't bend and block.
Step 2: Moonshining 1.01
Since we are working with extremely flammable gasses in a pressurized container, you could also say we've just created a BOMB. A few simple things can help to prevent it from exploding.Watch this handy video for the basics on how to stay safe.
- Check for leaks. Before you put anything with alcohol in it, try running it on just water. If you find any leaks, solder them shut. If you're running the still and you still discover a leak, make a putty from some flour and water. All the Moonshiners use this putty to quick fix their still.
- Don't heat the still using fire, induction is a much saver and better option. It also helps you control the temperature a lot better.
- Know the difference between Methanol (the bad stuff) and Ethanol (the good stuff). Read up on the subject and/or watch some vids from Still It
What used to be an ordinary pressure cooker is now a magic device that separates water from alcohol. Start by putting in a mash. This could be a simple sugar wash or something more refined as a grain wash. There is an amazing amount of information you can find online on how distilling works, but basically you heat up your mixture of alcohol and water. Since alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, the alcohol will start evaporating sooner.
Now it's not like all the alcohol will first evaporate and than the water, but it's a complicated mixture of gasses in the pot. You can easily find a video or read some background info on it.
The steam from your pot starts to rise. The Column guides the steam up. On it's way it loses heat and both the water and the alcohol starts to take a partial fluid form again, this is called re-flux. This process helps with getting a higher percentage of alcohol from your still, since the water turns into droplets quicker. To help this process you could: A) make the column longer B) fill the column with small glass beads. Both of them will help the re-flux process.
Now we have a nice high percentage of alcohol steam at the top of our column, we need to turn it into a liquid again, that's where this cooler you've just made comes in handy. Connect a hose to your tap and connect the other end to the lower end of the cooler. Connect another hose to the upper-part and hang it in the drain. This way the stream of cold water runs in the opposite direction than the steam of alcohol. This guarantees maximum effectiveness.
So everything you've done so far has led up to this. Small droplets will start to form at the end of the cooler. Your first drops of alcohol! Quick. Collect it in a beaker or even better a graduated cylinder.
BUT WAIT! Don't drink this stuff.
As you've might have smelled, this stuff stinks...
This where you have to be a bit cautious. The first drops the still produces is a mixture of methanol (the bad stuff) and some other nasty toxins like acetone. Now there are a lot of stories going round about shiners that go blind drinking their own alcohol. But the truth is that when you create a sugar wash or a grain wash, the levels of methanol are really low. But just to be sure you should always get rid of the first few ml's of the batch. In the case of my still (5L) I always get rid of 50ml. But to be honest even the smell of this stuff should alert you.
In general, if it doesn't smell nice, it probably isn't nice to drink.
You could throw it away, but I like to store it and use is as a cleaning product.
The rest of it that comes out is the ethanol (the good stuff) but I'll explain that later.
Step 3: Heating the Still
Now how do you want to heat the still. As I said before, fire isn't really your best friend. Try to avoid it.
This whole distilling thing started with beer brewing for me. We ended up with a large batch and were wondering what we could do with it. It turned out we could make a nice Jenever out of it, instead of throwing it down the drain. For the brewing of beer we switched from fire to induction a long time ago, because it was easier to use and it gave us more control. The induction plate is also great for distilling, it's easy to place it outside and it has no open flame.
Now the thing I didn't think of is that the pressure cooker was an old model, and it was made out of aluminium. Which doesn't work with induction. So the first thing I tried to do was place the still within an other pan with water and heat it up au bain marie. But I didn't like the result. The water tended to boil over and a lot of the energy was lost, causing the still to heat up very slow.
So I looked online and found some induction adapters. But I found them a bit pricy. The cheaper, and just as effective option was to just buy the cheapest frying pan I could find and use that as an induction adapter.
*ATTENTION there is a lot of discussion on the use of Aluminium pots. Since alcohol can react with acidic washes and the alcohol vapor. I'm not a scientist or a chemist so I can't really be sure. But what I've found in research-papers is that the amount of aluminium found in the final distillate is so little that it's hard to measure. Ironically the ethanol you are producing is considered far more toxic than the aluminium that might theoretically end up in your distillate.
Step 4: Slight Modifications
Since the pressure cooker was made of aluminium the still really heats up quite quickly. Unfortunately the copper column also conducts heat very well. This meant that the cooler lost a lot of it's cooling potential. It was actually cooling the Pressure cooker or the pressure cooker was heating the cooler, whichever way you want to put it.
This meant that I needed quite a large flow of cooling water. It also meant the re-flux effect didn't really work, since the column was getting hot at the top.
I decided to get a glass piece to fit within the column. The glass would isolate the heat from the still towards the cooler. It also gave me some clues on what was going on in the column, I could now see the re-flux effect. Third, it also gave me the option to fill the column with herbs, which I can place in the little glass part. And last but not least it made it possible to take the column and cooler apart, making it much easier to store in my garage.
Since I don't like wasting water, this upgrade really helped reduce the amount of water I needed for cooling. To help this even more I decided to get a little electric water pump. I now use a large reservoir for my cooling water. Pumping water from the bottom and having the output on the top. This large 100L barrel is more then enough for two runs. Afterwards I just let the water cool back down for a few days.
Step 5: Starting Your First Run
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So now that you've built the still, it's time to finally use it and brew some of that amazing homemade alcohol.
But before you use your still, make sure you clean it!
Here is a short video on how to do that properly.
I could explain everything on how to distill your first batch. But to be honest there are a lot of Youtubers out there that do a better job.
Things are to watch out for is the temperature, the percentage and most important the taste.
Get yourself a wired thermometer and place it in the endcap of the Column. Also get a hydrometer so you can track the alcohol percentage of your output.
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