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October 22, 2014
Last updated

Distillation Equipment – An Essential Addition to Any Prepper’s Checklist

Owner of Clawhammer Supply
moonshine, fuel alcohol, distilled water, essential oils

SHTF Prepping

Why should distillation equipment be added to a prepper's equipment checklist? Here are 4 excellent reasons, to name a few: distilled spirits, fuel alcohol, antiseptic, and water. These goods would be highly valuable during a SHTF event (where there is a total breakdown of supply chains, government oversight, etc.) and can all be easily manufactured with simple, small-scale distillation equipment. As a bonus, all of these goods would be highly desirable in a barter economy.

Before we get started, a reminder: Distilling alcohol is illegal without a federal fuel alcohol or distilled spirit plant permit as well as relevant state permits. Our distillation equipment is designed for legal uses only and the information in this article is for educational purposes only. Please read our complete legal summary for more information on the legalities of distillation.
The information in this article is written under the assumption that the only reason an individual would be distilling alcohol is due to a complete and total breakdown of supply chains, government oversight, etc. e.g. a SHTF situation. 


Let’s start by talking about distilled spirits. It is currently illegal to make alcohol at home for consumption. However, lets imagine for a second that there is a complete meltdown of global economies, supply chians, and even government. In a world where supplies are scant and governmental rules and regulations are non-existent, knowing how to make spirits would be a great skill to have. Why? Spirits aren't necessarily a "must have" item in a survival situation. But think for a second about how one would pay for tings if "money" was suddenly no longer worth even the paper it was printed on. Bartering with spirits could be very valuable.

It's an interesting concept to think about, but crafting spirits for bartering wouldn't come without risks. Distilling isn't rocket science, but it can be dangerous if proper saftey protocols aren't followed. We've put together a non-exhaustive list of  "Distillation Safety Tips" which is especially relevant to individuals who may be inclined to learn how to distill alcohol.


Fuel is included on many, if not all survival prep lists. Here are a few things to keep in mind on this topic: First, there are many types of fuel and different types have different uses. Second, a good fuel strategy is one that provides fuel based on expected need as well as one that provides provisions for replenishment. We’ll address all of these issues below.

The two primary fuel categories are stationary and mobile. Here are examples to help clarify. Wood and coal are both stationary fuels and are appropriate for heating and cooking, in a set location. Gasoline and diesel are mobile fuels and are appropriate for powering mobile equipment such as a cars, motorcycles, and tractors.

Some fuels can be used as stationary and mobile fuels while others cannot be or at least should not be. For example, wood is great for heating and cooking but it’s useless as a mobile fuel. Gasoline, a mobile fuel, will power a small engine, but it’s not the best for cooking, and relying on it as a long term heating strategy would be very unwise considering the amount of fuel that one would need to keep on hand.

Finally, mobile fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and kerosene have limited shelf lives and will be subject to supply issues during instances of widespread infrastructure meltdowns.

Considering the above mentioned facts, one potential fuel supply strategy would involve a good stockpile of wood and relative close proximity to a source for more, as well as a renewable mobile fuel source. Because the mobile fuels listed above will be subject to supply limitations and producing them will be very difficult, if not impossible, we cannot recommend them. Natural gas and propane could also be used as mobile (and stationary fuels), but they’re subject to the same limitations as the others. Fortunately, there is a mobile fuel that is quite easy to produce, keeps well, and doubles as a mobile as well as a stationary fuel: alcohol.

In order to make and use alcohol as fuel, a distiller needs a fuel alcohol permit.

To use alcohol as a fuel in a small engine, it would ideally be 100% pure. This is an issue, because fuel alcohol produced by means of distillation maxes out at a purity of about 95%. Re-distilling will not result in a higher proof product. To remove the last bit of water from the fuel, it must treated with a drying agent. Interestingly, according to scientists at Purdue University, corn grits and even tapioca can be used to remove water from ethanol.

Reflux column stills, specifically forced reflux fractionating stills, are the most appropriate for this task, as they’re more efficient at making the high alcohol content needed for use in engines. Though, considering that there are many uses for alcohol, all requiring different proofs, the best still for a prepper would likely be a hybrid still that can be run with or without fractionating and forced reflux.

Hybrid stills employ the use of a column which can either be packed, and used as a reflux still for fuel alcohol, or can be left empty to make distilled water. A commercial distiller could make whiskey & antiseptic with a hybrid still that has an empty column. Read more about types of distillers here.


There are plenty of other uses for alcohol aside from whiskey and fuel. For example, high strength ethyl alcohol (the kind produced by fermenting sugar and then concentrating it with a still) is a versatile product that doubles as an antiseptic as well as a disinfectant. This means that it’s effective at cleaning wounds but can also be used to clean hard surfaces. It’s a broad-spectrum antimicrobial and is highly effective at killing bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Antiseptic and disinfectants are very useful and should be considered highly valuable by SHTF preppers.

Antiseptics & disinfectants, just like alcohol for consumption, can only be made by commercial distillers. It is illegal to distill this at home.

There is one very important piece of information that a commercial distiller should consider when producing antiseptic: the strength of the alcohol greatly alters its effectiveness and stronger is not always better. Generally, the antimicrobial activity of alcohol is significantly lower at concentrations below 50%. So, when a commercial distiller is producing antiseptic, make sure that it’s at least 50% alcohol. Also, the optimal strength is in the 60 to 90% range. That’s where the “stronger is not always better” rule comes into play. Interestingly enough, applying alcohol stronger than 90% to a wound actually disrupts the body’s natural healing process. Rubbing alcohol sold in stores is about 70% alcohol and that’s the strength a commercial distiller would shoot for.


Despite the fact that distilled water is produced and consumed in many areas where fresh water is not abundant, the health impact of drinking distilled water is somewhat of a contentious issue. Some claim that distilled water is better for human health than regular water. Others claim that long term consumption of distilled water will negatively impact human health (due to its reduced nutrient content). Regardless of these conflicting opinions, the ability to distill water would definitely be useful during an SHTF event.

Distilled water can be made without a federal permit. A distiller would need to check their local state laws before distilling water at home.

Distilling water is a highly effective way to remove impurities. Once distilled, water has multiple uses; It can be drank (at least on a short-term basis), used for medical applications, used for cleaning, used to calibrate scientific equipment, etc.


We already touched on this above, but we explore the idea more here. In 2013, Brown-Forman, the parent company of Jack Daniels and other popular alcohol brands posted $3.8 billion in gross sales. Seems like a lot of money, doesn’t it? It’s actually not a lot of cash compared to the total 2013 revenue of the world’s largest oil companies, which totaled $1.8 trillion. Also, consider this, the US healthcare industry posted similar revenues, and is roughly a 2 trillion dollar per year industry. For those that are not economists, we should clarify that these figures represent a lot of money.

What are we getting at here? Well, whiskey, fuel, and health are all big industries. That’s because these things offer a lot of utility to humans. That makes things like whiskey, healthcare products, and fuel very valuable. In a situation where traditional economies fail and money becomes more or less useless, the only way individuals will be able to get things they need will be to make the goods themselves or to trade for them. Having a still and knowing how to produce valuable products with it (as long as the distiller has the proper permits) will open up a world of opportunities for bartering in an SHTF economy.

Kyle Brown is the owner of Clawhammer Supply, a small scale distillation and brewing equipment company which he founded in 2009. His passion is teaching people about the many uses of distillation equipment as well as how to make beer at home. When he isn't brewing beer or writing about it, you can find him at his local gym or on the running trail.

  • Where is the mash made, in the still or in a separate container. If in a separate container, what goes into the still. The mash or just the liquid.

    Posted by Harold on February 02, 2022
  • i have 8 gallon stainless copper kit ,what do ineed to hook up to condensor piece to make spirits and do i need a thumper and worm

    Posted by rob on August 24, 2017
  • Can you order a complete set up and if so? How much?

    Posted by RAndy sTiff on October 12, 2016
  • I need some recipes for how to make basic whiskey, anyone know of a good website or contact me via email plz

    Posted by Pierre on April 09, 2016
  • Do you have a catalog? And can I get one?
    Thanks Al…..

    Posted by Alfred on December 27, 2015
  • Thinking about buying a kit does everything i need come with it or do i need to purchase more things

    Posted by Lil Wayne on August 08, 2015
  • ive had your 5 gallon kit now for about a year and while i figured i didnt need the 10 gal kit ive been able to produce some really good rum , and brandy, ive used the copper mesh ,
    to get a really good tasting spirit and also the apple pie kit has my neighbors begging for more ..done a lot of reading the still is fragile not something you can bash about but it does the job really well to produce some excellent Christmas gifts and as you get better at it so does your product, im experimenting with vodka as titos vodka is also produced in the same fashon and finding out that these little stills are really great and very versatile , a basic plumbers torch and good lead free solder and you can put this kit together in about 2-3 hours the hardest part is the bottom and checking for leaks , apart from that super easy.

    Posted by Mr Mick on July 26, 2015
  • Where do you put the mash and how do you clean the inside

    Posted by David Laplante on May 17, 2015
  • I was raised on shine whiskey since I was a young lad all my contacts r dying off due to old age but have grandpas recipe wantin to no if yall sold complete kit wit worm and thumper keg or the whole complete kit can u please contact me back thanks a bunch

    Posted by JAmes on April 02, 2015
  • What is a cheap but good still you sell

    Posted by Kyle on March 12, 2015
  • Two stills at top, 5gal, has a different attachment, is that called a thumper? If so, do you have a kit for it? Thank you in advance.

    Posted by Will on February 26, 2015
  • any chance could I buy the boiler, vapor cone, and reflux column without the condenser Assembly? Please reply via email.

    Posted by snoochy on February 05, 2015
  • Just wanted to say – I received the 1 gallon still kit for my birthday. My husband put it together yesterday. Doesn’t look as pretty as yours do but it is together and holds liquid. So excited! Can’t wait to use it!

    Posted by Bernadette on December 02, 2014
  • Sir

    I am wondering if you make your still products in a little more completed form? Because of some physical limitations I do not know that I had be able to assemble one completely. If you could answer me back by e-mail I had be grateful. Thank you for your time.

    Posted by Dale Power on November 05, 2014
  • I need one please

    Posted by Tim Pruitt on November 02, 2014
  • I would like to get some prices on your stills.

    Posted by Lonnie Harris on October 31, 2014
  • Been trying to find one of these can you help me with that

    Posted by Matt hintz on October 31, 2014
  • for gas too,

    Posted by tyrone on October 29, 2014

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