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February 3, 2013
Last updated

Alcohol Yields

Owner of Clawhammer Supply

How Much Alcohol Will a Still Produce?

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 amount of alcohol produced by a still depends on starting alcohol and final proof. In this article we'll explain how a commercial distiller would determine how much alcohol to expect from a run.

For the instant gratification seekers in the crowd, here's the short answer:

  • A 1 gallon run will yield 3-6 cups of alcohol
  • A 5 gallon run will yield 1-2 gallons of alcohol
  • A 8 gallon run will yield 1.5-3 gallons of alcohol
  • A 10 gallon run will yield 2-4 gallons of alcohol

For the researchers, science nerds, alchemists, and truth seekers, here's why:

Starting Alcohol

Starting alcohol can vary significantly, having a big impact on the final yield. Starting alcohol is generally expressed as "alcohol by volume" or ABV. It's simply the percentage of alcohol in a solution of alcohol wash. For example a 10 gallon wash that contains 1 gallon of pure alcohol will have an ABV of 10%. The higher the starting alcohol, the higher the potential yield.

The starting alcohol of a wash is dependent on two things: the amount of fermentable sugar produced by the mash, or added in lieu of making a mash, and the type of yeast used.

Fermentable sugar

Fermentable sugar is exactly what it sounds like - the amount of sugar available to be eaten by yeast that can later be turned into alcohol. If there isn't very much sugar then there won't be much alcohol. However, too much sugar is wasteful. The amount of sugar needed depends on the recipe, the size of the batch, and the potential alcohol production by the yeast. Though, in general, the more fermentable sugar there is in the mash, the higher the potential starting alcohol and the higher the yield.

Yeast

The type of yeast used is very important as well. Bread yeast (the kind that can be purchased at a grocery store) will produce starting alcohol in the 10% range, whereas a strong distillers yeast may produce starting alcohol as high as 20%. This is due to two factors. First, distillers yeast has been bred to withstand higher concentrations of ambient alcohol. Where a bread yeast might die off once starting alcohol has reached 10 or 12%, a distillers yeast will still thrive, and will do so until ambient alcohol has increased to a much higher level (20% or so). Second, some distillers yeasts are packaged with loads of yeast nutrients i.e. Turbo 24, 48, etc. This can actually be a bad thing, as the excess nutrients contained in turbo yeasts can cause off flavors in the final product. Checkout our article "Bourbon, Whiskey, Vodka and Moonshine - How Much Yeast?" for more information on yeast.

In short, good yeast will allow for a higher starting alcohol and a greater final yield without producing off flavors.

Final Proof

Final proof can also have a significant impact on yield. If 10 gallons (with a starting alcohol of 10%) is distilled, the amount of pure alcohol collected will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 gallon. However, the collected spirit won't be 100% pure (200 proof). It usually gets proofed down to somewhere around 100 proof, or 50% pure alcohol. While the total amount of alcohol collected remains the same, there is now twice as much "product" and the "yield" is doubled. The higher the final proof, the lower the final yield, the lower the final proof, the higher the final yield.

Collection efficiency

One final note is that all of the alcohol produced during fermentation will not be collected during the run. Generally only about 85 or 90% is collected because it takes too much time and energy to get the last little bit...and it isn't the good stuff anyway. For example, if there is 1 gallon of pure alcohol in a wash and it is distilled with a collection efficiency of 85%, then .85 gallons will be collected.

Summary

Here are a few examples of yields that a commercial distiller can expect when running 1, 5, or 10 gallon test batches:

  • A 1 gallon run with a starting alcohol of 10%, a final proof of 100, and a collection efficiency of 85% will yield 2.72 cups.
  • A 1 gallon run with a starting alcohol of 20%, a final proof of 100, and a collection efficiency of 85% will yield 5.44 cups.
  • A 5 gallon run with a starting alcohol of 10%, a final proof of 100, and a collection efficiency of 85% will yield .85 gallons.
  • A 5 gallon run with a starting alcohol of 20%, a final proof of 100, and a collection efficiency of 85% will yield 1.7 gallons.
  • A 8 gallon run with a starting alcohol of 10%, a final proof of 100, and a collection efficiency of 85% will yield 0.89 gallons.
    A 8 gallon run with a starting alcohol of 20%, a final proof of 100, and a collection efficiency of 85% will yield 1.79 gallons.
  • A 10 gallon run with a starting alcohol of 10%, a final proof of 100, and a collection efficiency of 85% will yield 1.7 gallons.
  • A 10 gallon run with a starting alcohol of 20%, a final proof of 100, and a collection efficiency of 85% will yield 3.4 gallons.
Remember, it is illegal to distill alcohol without the proper permits.

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.

  • First let me say love your site now I need to know where to get my yeast and how many bananas I need for 30 gallons of mash

    Posted by Donnie Sumner on August 11, 2014
  • I’m just to get setup for making moonshine I need help with the hole proses where could I find helpful tips?

    Posted by Peter Reimer on July 06, 2014
  • In response to Shine’s last post: Your recipe seems to be missing one vital ingredient. Not sure of your complete procedure, but you’re missing malted grain, such as barley. The malted barley will release the enzyme necessary to convert the carbs in the corn to sugar. For your recipe you’ll need 8-10 pounds of malted barley (ground up or cracked).I would do this before adding the sugar. There’s a great Thin Mash recipe on this site that will be very helpful in your venture. Happy mashing!

    Posted by Marduk on July 03, 2014
  • Hey fellas, I am hoping I can pick your brains as to what I may be doing wrong when making my mash. Long story short, I mix 50lbs of cracked corn, 50 lbs of sugar, 25-30 gallons of water and 7.5 teaspoons of distillers yeast in a 55 gallon barrel. I have done two runs now in a 26 gallon still which has produced 3-3.5 gallons of pure shine with an end result of 170 proof. My concern is that I’m thinking I should be producing twice as much out of the still. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Posted by Shine On on June 18, 2014
  • I am using your sugar shine recipe and it is taking 3 weeks to get the bubbling to 5 minutes. the wash is cloudy and getting an abv of only 1.18%. will adding nutrients help increase my abv?

    Posted by Tom on May 04, 2014
  • I am making a wine mash of banana strawberry using frozen fruit. I made two 5 gallons of mash and will distill a 10 gallon run in my still. I used 33lbs of fruit mix and 20 pounds of sugar and my yeast packets of EC-1118 yeast. Just wondering any tips you might add to get a good product and how much alcohol I may get out of it? Thanks and any tips would help!

    Posted by Mark on April 12, 2014
  • Scott you didn’t let it finish fermenting to begin with. 3-4 mins apiece isn’t finished. Let it sit until it STOPs bubbling completely then distill.

    Posted by Ryan on March 03, 2014
  • Can I use a 1300 watt hot plate with a 5 gallon still?

    Posted by Aaron on March 02, 2014
  • I used your Honey shine recipe for a 5 gallon mix with Fleishman’s bread yeast (3 1/2 tablespoons or 7 packets) and let it ferment 3 weeks at 70 degrees the bubbles in the air lock were 3-4 minutes apart when I put it in the still. I used a convection heat plate and didn’t get any vapor condensation until 195 degrees on stick thermometer. I threw out the first 1/2 quart for methane and ran 4 quarts at a temp between 195 and 200. The first qt tested on a hydrometer at 105 proof and burned blue/clear with red yellow tips of flames. The next 3 qts tested 90,80 and 40 proof and wouldn’t burn at all. Is any of this safe to drink and what did I do wrong? The induction heater took about 90 minutes to get the wash up to 190 degrees.

    Posted by Scott on February 18, 2014
  • how do you flavor your corn meal shine to taste like bananas or other fruits , can I get flavorigs for this or what do I do .? Flavoring moon shine.

    Posted by tony on February 11, 2014
  • Anything less than 10 gal. Is a waste of time and ingredients. You go directly from heads into tails. No drinkable shine.

    Posted by Keith on February 08, 2014
  • Do you know of anyone who lives in Las Vegas Nevada I could contact to help me get started making my first batch of bourbon whiskey? I just bought a 26 gal still from hillbilly stills. I do not know and understand how to get it to work correctly.

    Posted by greg wodetzki on January 25, 2014
  • i need a simple good moonshine recipe! Can you help?

    Posted by Christopher Cummings on January 21, 2014
  • im looking for a 20 gal kit with a thumper and worm do you guys have a kit or do I just need to make it my self?

    Posted by Keith Forshaw on January 19, 2014
  • Jordan you need way more sugar! 5 gallons i would use about 10-15lbs of sugar and don’t know what kind of yeast you use, i like ec lalvin 1118 just some suggestions.

    Posted by tucker on January 18, 2014
  • In a 5 gallon run or any, how do you know what your head and tail is? How much do you pour off at head of run?

    Posted by SOPSCheif on January 16, 2014
  • How much will 5 gallon mash make

    Posted by terry on January 15, 2014
  • How much malt do i use for a 5 gal batch?
    The can of malt i mean!!!

    Posted by Rum on January 15, 2014
  • I make 5 gallon batches of wash using five pounds of grain with 2 pounds malted grain five gallons water and two tablespoons of distillers yeast and 5 pounds of sugar I follow instructions but only get about a quart of 125 proof, any ideas or suggestions to improve quantity.

    Thanks

    Posted by Gary jordan on January 14, 2014
  • Id like to get a startup kit.

    Posted by brett giansante on January 14, 2014


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