This blog provides information for educational purposes only. Products sold are intended to be used in accordance with the proper licensing or permitting procedure of the respective jurisdiction of the user. Read our complete legal summary for more info.
1. Get Permits
Before making distilled spirits such as "moonshine," you'll need to obtain the proper permits. Distilling water and essential oils is legal on the federal level. However, making fuel alcohol or any type of alcohol for consumption is illegal without proper federal and state permits.
- If you plan on distilling fuel alcohol, you'll need a fuel alcohol permit.
- If you plan on distilling alcohol for consumption, you need a federal distilled spirits permit.
2. Gather Distillation Equipment
Before actually beginning the mashing, fermenting or distilling process, it would be a great idea to gather all of the necessary equipment.
- Fire Extinguisher: Safety first!! Make sure it is rated for class B fires.
- Mashing and Fermentation Equipment: Basic equipment is needed to make a mash, check out this article for a detailed write up on mashing equipment.
- A Copper or Stainless Steel Still: Obviously a still is needed to distill water, alcohol, and essential oils. You'll need at least a 5 gallon copper still or an 8 gallon stainless steel still to make enough product for the process to be worth your while.
- Heat Source: It is always recommended to use a flameless heat source such as the Broil King 1500 watt electric hotplate, or an electric hot water heater element and an electric controller. Using an electric heat source helps minimize risk as there is no open flame like there would be with a wood furnace or propane turkey fryer.
- Proofing Hydrometer: A hydrometer is an instrument that measures the density of a liquid compared to the density of water. Using a proofing hydrometer is an easy way proof the product coming out of the still. Check out this article for more information on using a proofing hydrometer.
- Proofing Parrot: A proofing parrot is a very easy tool to use. A parrot is the easiest, most convenient, and most reliable way to monitor and measure alcohol proof when making moonshine.
- Collection Containers: Glass mason jars are the best container for collecting and storing spirits, essential oils, and fuel alcohol.
- Permanent Marker: Needed to label mason jars during the run- foreshots, heads, hearts, tails. Checkout our article 'Making Moonshine - The Dummies' Guide' for more information on making cuts during the distillation process.
3. Review Safety Procedures
Distilling can be dangerous business if you don't know what you're doing. In fact, here are several reasons why you might want to not distill anything at all. For example, have you heard that homemade alcohol could cause methanol poisoning? After you read those two articles, check out this one on the 10 most important safety tips for "moonshiners."
4. Make a Mash
- Making a mash is the first step in producing distilled alcohol. This process involves making a mixture with water, grains, corn, and or sugar. If you are looking for suggestions, check out this list of whiskey, moonshine, and fuel alcohol recipes.
5. Separate the Solids from the Liquid in the Mash
- Most stills are direct fired (placed directly on a heat source). The solids must be removed from the wash or else the solids will scorch and burn onto the still.
- The easiest way to keep this from happening is by removing the grains from the liquid before fermentation. This is easily done by done straining the grains though a cheesecloth or a mash-bag.
6. Ferment the Mash
- Fermentation is the process that makes alcohol from the mash. Yeast is the active ingredient which creates alcohol from the sugars in the mash. Without yeast and fermentation we would not have beer, wine, or any distilled spirit. So, to start the fermentation process, yeast needs to be added to the mash. Check out this article on to figure out how much yeast to add.
- Also, here's a lot more information on the process of fermentation.
7. Prepare the Still For Use
- Before running any still it is important to do prep-work. Just as in painting the prep-work can make or break a successful day. It is important to take your time and not rush any of the steps during the distillation process.
- When using a copper or stainless steel still it is very important to make sure the still is clean. If there is any build-up it is critical to thoroughly clean the still. For a detailed write-up on cleaning the inside of a still checkout this article on cleaning a copper still.
8. Transfer Fermented Wash Into the Still
- Once the mash has finished fermenting it then needs to be transferred into the still. For more information on how to tell when fermentation is finished checkout our article “How to Know When Fermentation Is Finished".
- There are two ways to transfer wash into a still. One can simply dump the wash from the fermenter into the still, but this is not the preferred method. Dumping the wash will transfer yeast and other undesirables into the still which can cause cloudy "moonshine". The preferred method is to use an auto siphon to transfer the wash into the still. Using an auto-siphon will only transfer the wash into the still, leaving behind yeast and other sediment in the fermenter.
9. Pack the Column with Copper Packing Material
- Copper packing material remove sulfides and other undesirables from the wash. Copper packing will also slightly increase the final proof of the distillate. Check out this article for more information on the benefits of packing a column with copper.
10. Apply the Flour Paste to the Still
- If using a copper still apply flour paste to seal the two parts of the still together. Apply the flour paste when the boiler thermometer reads 120F. The flour paste will bake on creating a tight seal between the two parts. If using a stainless steel still there is no need to make a flour paste as it is sealed with a gasket and a clamp.
11. Turn on the Condensing Water
- Continue to crank the heat and once the boiler thermometer reads 150F turn on the condensing water. This step applies to both our copper still and our stainless steel stills. The condenser on a still needs to be cooled by water. Simply attach a garden hose from the faucet to the lower tee on the condenser and connect the waste water hose to the upper tee. A slow trickle of water from the faucet is all that is needed to cool the condenser. After the condensing water has been turned on make sure the waste water is watering plants, going down a drain, or recirculating. If you live in a desert climate or an area where water is scarce always recirculate the water.
12. Run The Still
- Continue to crank the heat after turning on the condensing water. Keep the heat source on high until the still starts producing product. Don't worry about thermometer temperatures until it starts producing. Once it starts producing dial the heat down to about medium or until the still is producing 3-5 drips a second. At this point if a column thermometer is installed it will be registering a temperature most likely in high 170's and the boiler will be registering close to 200F. If you have questions on thermometer temperatures check out the article 'Making Moonshine: Still Temperature'.
13. Collecting the Distillate
- Always collect distilled spirits in a glass container- never use plastic. It is very important to ditch the foreshots as they can contain methanol, which can be deadly. If you have not read 'Making Moonshine - The Dummies' Guide' this article explains the distillation process in great detail. Alcohol higher than 150 proof (but ideally more like 175 proof or higher) can be used as fuel for cooking. Engine fuel needs to be 195 proof or higher.
14. Dry the Still and Store in a Safe Location
- At the end of any distillation session it is very important to clean and dry the still. It is very important to keep distillation equipment clean as distillation equipment that is not cared for can be dangerous. Always remove the copper packing material from the column and let is soak in vinegar for an hour or so. The copper packing then needs to be rinsed off well with clean water. The copper packing material can be re-used until it completely falls apart. Check this article for more info on cleaning and storing the still.
Key Points of This Article
- Obtain necessary permits.
- Gather required equipment.
- Make a mash around 8% ABV and ferment it.
- Make sure the still is clean and ready to use.
- Insert copper packing material into the column.
- Transfer the wash into the still leaving behind as much yeast as possible.
- Connect the hoses to the condenser and make sure they are secured.
- If using a stainless steel still make sure all of the gaskets and clamps are secured.
- Crank the heat to high on the heat source.
- Once the boiler is at 120F apply flour paste (Clawhammer Supply copper still only).
- Once the boiler is at 150F turn on the condensing water (for both stainless and copper).
- Once the boiler is at 170F make sure collection jars/parrot are ready for production.
- Once production starts turn the heat down until 3-5 drips of production a second.
- Make sure ditch the foreshots and make good cuts.
- Take notes during the run.
- Continue to add heat as necessary to continue 3-5 dips of production a second.
- Continue to run the still until the tails are between 10-20% ABV.
- Once production is finished turn off the heat source to the still.
- Carefully dump the leftover wash from the still ***Caution it will be extremely hot!
- Carefully remove the copper packing material from the column ***Caution will be hot!
- Toss the copper packing material into a bowl of vinegar for an hour/overnight and rinse extremely well with water and dry well.
- Clean the still.
- Dry the still.
- Store the still in a safe dry location.