Fast & FREE Shipping!

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.

  • From reading some of these questions….a few of them should not be trying this….jus sayin ! You have to be just a little bit smarter than the object you’re messin with !

    Posted by Mark on January 07, 2013
  • how much product do you get from a 10 gallon still

    Posted by mike thompson on December 18, 2012
  • How much mash would I put into a 5gal still and how much product would I get and how do you figure out how much product would be 85%

    Posted by Brandon on December 10, 2012
  • Why do you collect 85% ?
    how much shine does agal of mash make?
    How do you know what proof it is

    Posted by Jim Pierce on December 07, 2012
  • Getting ready to try this. My questions: is it necessary to clean the still (inside) between runs, and if so, how is it done?

    Posted by Brad on December 06, 2012
  • Very interesting, My Granfather used to still in north Georgia. Finally witnessed the process first hand. Is it legal to make your own, and if so how much?

    Posted by Alan Thomas on November 23, 2012
  • You should definitely amend this video by telling folks to discard the first 2 to 3 ounces of shine that comes out of your still. All you need is someone to drink that poison and die and you’ll be screwed! Just a thought bud!

    Posted by rick on November 23, 2012
  • Can you post a video on how to fire up your still (i.e what temp to start at and when you know your gettin the tails of the shine!) this would be very helpful

    Posted by Taylor on November 20, 2012
  • To answer the question to harris….in the making of the stills you will see the condenser tube is a pipe within a pipe. water flows through the outside pipe cooling the inside pipe which acts like the worm causing the steam to convert to liquid. run the water at a slow / medium to keep cool water flowing around the inside tube of the condenser. no matter which way water flows uphill or downhill if it moves at a steady pace it will do the job of cooling. the discharge arm is connected to the inner tube of the condenser the outer tube of the condenser is sealed and seperate from the inner tube thus allowing the flow around the inner tube. very easy to make actually.

    Posted by walter seigler on November 19, 2012
  • I am interested as well and i have the same question as Troy.

    I am very interested in purchasing one of your still, but I have a few concerns on the way you cool you vapors.. When you hook up the water hose how far should you turn it on? And how does the water not run into the dischager arm? Water tends to run down hill easyer then up hill this has me very confuseand puzzled..

    Posted by James Christopher on November 17, 2012
  • I may be missing something but what is the step after filling your still with mash and heating it, is the still sodeered open and closed each time?

    Posted by Staton on November 16, 2012
  • Is there a way to copy the “How to Distill” video’s to DVD for my husband’s use only?

    Posted by Sandy on November 15, 2012
  • In South Western Va, right alongside the NC state line, the Dowdy family fan the liquor business from Martinsville to Danville. My ancesters made some goood drink!

    Posted by Randy Dowdy on November 14, 2012
  • What do you mean by collecting 85% of alcohol? Would it be 85% of the total original volume ( whitch would be 8.5 gal in a ten gal still). Or is it 85% of the original alcohol by volume (if it was 10% alcohol by volume than you would produce .85 gal of moon shine. I’m thinking it’s the latter. I guess my ? Is how much should you expect to produce from 10 gal.? And should you test your wash with a hydrometer to gauge your production? Thanks for your time!

    Posted by Aaron on November 13, 2012
  • please send me information on stils

    Posted by charles jones on November 12, 2012
  • what is your duration time broken down from fire up to flow? and flow to finish?

    Posted by Travis Allen on November 11, 2012
  • I am very interested in purchasing one of your still, but I have a few concerns on the way you cool you vapors.. When you hook up the water hose how far should you turn it on? And how does the water not run into the dischager arm? Water tends to run down hill easyer then up hill this has me very confuseand puzzled..

    Posted by Troy Harris on November 10, 2012

    Posted by DENNIS WHITE on November 08, 2012
  • 1,How much product do you get from a 10 gallon still.
    2,Can I buy a book from you for different recipes?

    Posted by Rich on November 07, 2012

Leave a comment

Please note, the design of our website does not allow us to respond directly to blog comments. Please email us directly regarding questions about products. We don't answer questions about recipes, procedures, etc. However, feel free to leave a comment or respond to comments made by others!

Enter your email address below and we'll send you a free eBook on how to get started with brewing or distilling!