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This blog provides information for educational purposes only. Read our complete summary for more info.

March 28, 2013
Last updated

How to Distill - 101

Owner of Clawhammer Supply

Although our stainless steel distillers and copper still parts kits can be used for many things (water, essential oils, fuel alcohol, spirits, etc.) we've had a ton of requests for a simple tutorial on how to distill alcohol. Before we answer that question, we need to tell you this: 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.

Next, we recommend beginners (and even experienced distillers) buy a good book on the topic of distilling because we'll never be able to explain everything there is to know about distilling in a blog article. Also, we don not claim to be experts and this information is for entertainment and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be relied upon by anyone for any act or decision whatsoever.

Anyone who follows the process outlined below should either a) reside in a place where brewing and distilling is legal, b) have a fuel alcohol permit and use the final product for fuel, or c) have a commercial distillers permit.

That said, here's a simple outline of the distillation process:

  • Make a mash
    • This can be accomplished by either using cereal grains such as corn, barley, and rye, or it can be made using granulated sugar.
  • Ferment the mash
    • After a mash is made, cool it to 70F and pitch yeast. Cover with a lid and add an airlock. Leave it sit for 7-10 days at room temperature. During this time, yeast will convert almost all of the sugar into alcohol. What will be left is called a "wash."
  • Distill the wash
    • Siphon the fermented wash into a still and heat to approximately 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Methanol starts to boil in the high 140's and ethanol will start to boil at about 174F. Anything produced by the still while liquid temp is under 174 can be assumed to be methanol (which is poisonous) and should not be consumed.
    • As ethanol starts to boil out of solution and the concentration of ethanol in the wash contained within the still starts to decrease, still temperature will need to be increased for the still to continue to produce. What this means is that boiler temp will be roughly 175F at the start of the distillation process but will need to slowly rise to approximately 210 by the end of the process.

Under no circumstances should an individual ever distill or sell alcohol without a permit. If an individual chooses to distill alcohol, make sure to obtain all applicable fuel or spirit permits (explained in the distillation law summary, mentioned above).

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.

  • To the person with the 50 gallons of mash and 5 gallon still the rule of thumb is that there 1oz methanol to every gallon of mash you run. If you run 5 gallons you trow out the 1st 5 ozs. If you empty out your still and refill it with 5 more gallons you’ll have to throw out the first 5 it’s again. You just started the distilling process over again with new mash which the new Mash still Contsjns methanol. If you’re run 50 gallons of mash at 5 gallons a time that’s 50 ozs of methanol (1st 5 oz with each 5 gallon run) 1o runs. I hope this helps.

    Posted by Random on January 18, 2023
  • Hi there I was wondering after I distill my corn whiskey do I need to dilute it before it can be consumed. Or is what comes out of the distiller ok to consume?

    Posted by Michael Pena on November 08, 2022
  • My electric element went bad on my heater band while running the still can I just run it another day on gas or is this batch a failure? I have to order a propane stove

    Posted by Michelle on May 25, 2022
  • My question is about rerunning tails and adding flavor in the thumper, I get so many different answers its confusing.I’m just starting out and pretty much what I’ve made so far isn’t that tasty so NY queastionis can I put all I’ve made so far together with water and redistil it for a better strength and taste? And if I’m adding stuuf to thumper gor taste with what (later or alcohol) do input with it and how much? Hope you can help, thanks John

    Posted by John Beck on March 08, 2022
  • You guys need to chill, you use malted barley to turn the starches into formentable sugar if you don’t have barley you have to use amylase. You guys ask the stupidest questions.if your fire keeps going out yes you have to throw away the first out of the still. You start getting alcohol at 175 degrees the fist will start vomming out at 134 degrees thats acetone.

    Posted by Bruce on November 25, 2021
  • I was reading your article about how to make a corn mash. I’m new to this and if i read it correctly it seems that you strain your mash prior to pouring it back and forth between two buckets and adding your yeast and putting it in your fermentation bucket. Is that correct? The reason I ask is I thought that you cooled your mash, added the yeast, dumped it back and forth and then put all of it in the fermentation bucket waiting to strain it until just before you put it in the boiler. I think I confused myself. thanks!

    Posted by Paul Roberts on January 04, 2021
  • Can I use turkey Coker to distill with a flame buffer plate?

    Posted by ANdrew on December 11, 2020
  • If i have 50 gallons of mash and a 5 gallon still do i still have to throw out the heads every time I refill the pot?

    Posted by on April 04, 2019
  • We’ve run our first batch but I confused about distilling it twice. Can you please explain in more detail.
    Do I take what we have made and cut it with water by 30% and rerun?
    Thanks for your help!

    Posted by Gayle on January 25, 2019
  • why no comment from clawhammer??

    Posted by clyde on October 09, 2018

    Posted by Dave on May 31, 2018
  • I am new to distilling and want to try my hand at it. What books do you recommend for beginners? Any help would be appreciated

    Posted by Richard on March 07, 2018
  • I noticed that my heat source has a safety system to shut it self down and start up again causing the flow to also stop and start. Can this ruin my whole batch? Tastes Awesome but is slightly cloudy.

    Posted by Dave on January 27, 2018
  • In your corn whiskey recipe there is only the sugar that released from the corn Can I also add sugar? I am saving to get either the 5 or 10 gal still. I watch a lot of videos and this is the only one that doesn’t use sugar but one of the few that uses the malted barley which releases the corn sugar I’ve heard. so I’m just a bit confused. Can one use both? Thanks!

    Posted by Larry Puckett on February 22, 2017
  • Newbie. We made a run and it was the smoothest best tasting shine I have ever had. We cut the heads and tails and had a 90 proof first run. After 2 weeks in the jar it tasted like rubbing alcohol. Why did the taste change?

    Posted by Eric on June 21, 2016
  • do I have this correct on the mash.
    1: heat 5 gal H20 to 165 deg F add 8 1/2 lbs flake maze ( corn) stir 3-5 min
    2: heat mixture to 152 deg add malted barley stir for 1-2 min. let sit for about 1 1/2 hours.
    3: heat 1/2 cup H2O to about 110 deg add 1 table spoon sugar. mix mixture
    4: when corn & barlet mixture temp at 70 deg add yeast mixture and stir.
    5: when mash no longer bubbles ( 5 to 7 days) and has a foam on top its ready to still?
    can I let the mash sit in the original container if i plan to pump mixture into pot for stilling? can what is left in the bottom of the mash mixture be reused for another mash mixture?

    Posted by chris on May 03, 2016
  • Ok check this out on my reflux still do you still throw out the 4 shots and can I just dump it back in on the same run and do the heads the same way I have a ball valve on top of my boiler

    Posted by Bubbajim on October 12, 2015
  • is it ok to make a still from a stainless steel pot and lid

    Posted by brooke keefer on March 27, 2015
  • How long do u cook off 10 gallons

    Posted by skeeter on March 26, 2015
  • I bought a 5 gallon steel from you. My questions are I need to know all of the temperatures for ethanol methanol and water evaporation for high altitude 4000 feet. Thanks

    Posted by jeremy on September 04, 2014

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