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Here's a picture of a 20 gallon still equipped with a bung sized for a water heater electric element. That's right, it's a hybrid! It also has a slightly larger column than the normal 20 gal.
They cost less to run than stills fueled with propane. Propane is about the most expensive fuel out there, electricity is slightly less, and wood is the cheapest. If you're not set up to run your stills over a wood fire, consider using an electric element to save some money. The cost difference isn't huge, but there are other advantages too.
Electric elements offer the greatest control. Distilling over a fire is definitely the most "sexy" way to run a batch, but it takes quite a bit of skill to dial in the perfect temperature using wood for fuel. Elements can be coupled with thermostats to offer precision temperature control. We don't offer these kits and don't have any recommendations, but have seen this type of set-up in the past. Have a recommendation on where to get a high quality electric element control kit? Please post!
They are lower maintenance than wood and propane. One should ALWAYS monitor their still when running a batch and never leave it unattended. However, if a thermostat is being used, less attention needs to be paid to the fuel supply. The lack of an open fire is also a safety advantage.
What we don't like about electric element stills
Good elements can be hard to find. I've seen several stainless elements weather pretty quickly. They should always dried once the still is emptied to prevent this. If an element starts to corrode, ditch it and get a new one. More expensive is probably better. Again, recommendations welcome.
Distilling indoors, which is a big no no, seems more likely to take place if someone is using an element. Ethanol fumes are explosive and distilling indoors could lead to a concentration high enough to turn your house into a rocket. Also, ethanol burns with an invisible flame. Should something catch fire, you might not know it until it's too late! These are just a few of many things that could go wrong when distilling indoors....turning your relaxed Sunday afternoon into a local news field day. The bottom line: NEVER distill indoors, element or not.
Although more convenient and safe in many respects, electricity, as a fuel source, has its drawbacks too. The biggest drawback is that electric shock can be deadly under certain circumstances. if you're not skilled with electricity, it's probably best you don't try to design your own electric element moonshine still. However, pre-built electric control units and DIY electric element kits are available for purchase by some manufacturers.
Electric Distillation Control Boxes
The biggest advantage to using electric to heat a still is that one is able to very precisely control the temperature if using the right equipment. It's 2014 folks, and that means that it is easier to build or buy sophisticated electronics that do just about anything you want them to. The folks over at Beverage Commander have figured this out and have turned their knowledge of distilling and electronics into an actual product that you can buy. They offer pre-assembled and DIY electronic controller kits that power an electric element or a hot plate. We've used them, and they're pretty slick. Basically, the control box monitors heat in the still while simultaneously controlling the amount of heat added, allowing for extremely precise temperature control. They also have built in alarms and shut-off functionality for safety and convenience. They're pretty much awesome. Check out the electric moonshine still controller un-boxing video we made a while back, or head on over to Beverage Commander for more info.