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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.

  • What is a good ratio for all the ingredients for a five gallon bucket.

    Posted by James on July 28, 2014
  • How long does it normally take to run a five gallon batch to get a gallon out of a five gallon still?

    Posted by Scott on May 09, 2014
  • How long does it normally take to run a five gallon batch to get a gallon out of a five gallon still?

    Posted by Scott on May 09, 2014
  • getting ready to order a 5 gal. pot read a lot and learned a lot but on the five gal. when you run honey shine I no you throw out the foreshot but do you have to run the head, heart and tail on a small pot.

    Posted by mike on March 12, 2014
  • Could you please email me a few of your recipes for moonshine for a 8gal pot. Thank you

    Posted by Wayne on February 23, 2014
  • why did you leave out the step on removing the methanol ?….thats a pretty important step isn’t it?…like can you taste the shine dripping out of the still for methanol….and once it goes sweet around 173ºF er so…thats the good stuff were looking for?..

    Posted by ryan on February 19, 2014
  • so i was just wandering should sit my copper pot on a stone an heat the stone or put flame right on it because im gettin no were near the alchol i should b

    Posted by billy slone on February 17, 2014
  • if i just want to make one gallon of shine or a jar of it how much water sugar and yeast or cornwheat. I want to try to make it like they do in prison right here in my own room but if i were to get that just one gallon still all i would have to combine the simple ingredients in a container and let it set for a while then put it in the still and heat it up till it starts pouring out the alcohol. sorry if im being abit out of there. i thanks for your time

    Posted by donald atwood on January 15, 2014
  • From a Rookie-
    After Fermentation:
    Do you strain the Mash and then pour the liquid into the still?

    Posted by Sarge on October 09, 2013
  • I was just wondering I have a copper pot copper thump keg an copper worm if I would of knew about yalls stills before I got this one I would of bought one of yalls just saying. But here’s my ? Is it ok to drink the liquir out of the thump keg? an if I have heat to my cook pot an it goes over 177 is it ok to cut temperature down or will it mess my run up? I’m only yielding if I’m lucky 6 quarts out of a 12 gallon pot an im waiting for over 6 hours before my first drip but it is really good alchol but I want to yield more cause really just that much is a waist of time. What can I do to be better.

    Posted by slone on September 15, 2013
  • What is the best books on distilling alcohol? Thanks and keep up the good work!

    Posted by Shinereye on August 30, 2013
  • Hey Kyle I’ve herd many things about the source of water thats used in a mash or wash could I get your opinion of a good source of water to use in you lr mash

    Posted by Josh mabery on June 09, 2013
  • I live at a high altitude, I did the math and 163 degrees F is when liquor starts flowing. I throw away the first 50 ml of foreshots. I use a 3 gallon pot still, I always bring the temp up to 167 or 168 to be safe but during the process I continually lower the temp to keep it at 167 to 168 degrees. sometimes it drops to 165 degrees but I getter a highr proof if I continually drop temp but the lowest it goes is 165 degrees. wanted to double check and see if im making a mistake? should I just let the temp continually climb till it gets too hot? thanks

    Posted by brent on June 04, 2013
  • iread a book that told me to distill water first then try beer so i bought 2 cases of cheap beer put it in one of your 5gal stills and learned a lot while i was doing this it was a good idea now that i have figured out how to work the still the right way i am making some mash to try thatoh by the way i got one and a half quarts of very strong likker out of the cheap beer it tastes like flat beer but it goes down smooth and is about 160 proof

    Posted by bjk 6913 on April 22, 2013
  • ok here goes first timer making a still form SS & copper stainless still pot 5 gallon as I leave in the UK copper is hard to get, top of the pot all copper down to the worm, before I put the first run of mash through it, should I have a dry run with water & vinegar ? . I have been trying to get some corn here but not doing to good could I use corn syrup ? and how much would I need for 5 gallon`s plus sugar ? .
    regards to all tricky

    Posted by tricky on April 17, 2013
  • This may be a common sense question. but when starting your run, when your temperature gets where you want it. When do you turn on the water supply and how much water do you want running through your still.

    Posted by Trey on March 08, 2013
  • Do you sale a bigger still than 10 gallon? Please respond. I am in the market to purchase a still.

    Posted by Ellis Ross on January 23, 2013
  • iwould like to leave a comment to the fellow that said water flows downhill, not uphill.clawhammer uses a heat exchanger.if you put water in the top,it would never completly encircle the inner copper tube.the vapor would not cool before it reached the bottom

    Posted by bob on January 22, 2013
  • some body already said it im just gona repeat it, some of the questions u all are asking are common sense stuff, if u dont have common sense dont mess with this, it really isnt for everybody, if u still insist on doing it then do ur home work, theres tons of info on forums and you tube has videos, shine safe above all.

    Posted by lee lenard on January 20, 2013
  • I read some of the questiond on the how to make shine video page. I have some of the same questions. Are there answers to the questions somewhere on your web site?
    Thank you very much.
    Greg G.

    Posted by Greg Grundtisch on January 15, 2013

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