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February 3, 2013

Alcohol Yields

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.

  • Hi I’m interested in a sugar still set up

    Posted by Johnny Williford on November 27, 2013
  • I am considering the purchase of one of your still kits for a Christmas present for a family member living in West Virginia and would like to know if your kits are shipped in boxes that would not necessarily reveal what they are as it would not be opened until Christmas morning. thanks

    Posted by pete Monico on November 26, 2013
  • Are you able to ship to British Columbia?Is there ever any customs hang ups at the border with the still kits?

    Posted by Doug Murdoch on November 07, 2013
  • We just wanted to thank you for your website. We have learned so much from reading the information you have provided:)

    Posted by Rick Brisendine on November 05, 2013
  • the malt/sour mash they’re talking about does include yeast. to make a sour mash you save the trub from a previous batch and add it to a new mash to begin fermentation. that trub contains live yeast which will begin fermentation.

    Posted by jim on October 30, 2013
  • Made mash and still cannot get any moonshine. What aM I doing wrong?

    Posted by jennifer on August 27, 2013
  • Can u tell me on a 10 gal run how much sugar and how how much turbo yeast and water is needed to do the job and if u would tell me where I can find a sheet of copper or stainless steal and what’s the wrong way to braise it rogether

    Posted by Eddie on August 25, 2013
  • What is the thickness of the copper y’all use in your kits

    Posted by Scott on August 06, 2013
  • If you double distill 100 liters of 10% alc., would would be your approx. final volume of proof alcohol?

    Posted by J S on July 28, 2013
  • Kayle , something no one has done is shown how to malt there own corn and how to set up a mash with out using yeast only using a pound or 2 of malted corn or malt barley in making sour mash as it is still done to day in the back woods , folks may find that interesting ,
    Posted by Don on June 24, 2013
  • I watched the still building video. I would like to try and build one, but what gauge copper do I use?

    Posted by Big Sexy on May 19, 2013
  • What is a good yeast? Watching the moonshiners I noticed that one group of shiners did not use any yeast, instead they used malt. Can you explain how this recipe works? and how to make malt.

    Posted by eMawk on April 14, 2013
  • How does one determine the ABV of the wash ?

    Posted by Tim on March 31, 2013
  • Hi where can i find planes for a submarine with a thumper

    Posted by joseph on March 29, 2013
  • How do you measure out and cut the vapor cone, I do not see any thing on the video on it .

    Posted by James on March 16, 2013
  • do you make a 20 gallen still and how much will i cost.

    Posted by james on March 08, 2013
  • At what temp do u actually put your flaked maized in

    Posted by Charlie wright on March 04, 2013
  • What is the best way to clean the still after a run?

    Posted by Jerry Hayes on March 03, 2013
  • I know u use copper but what about galvanized metal. Is it safe to use that for the boiler of a still?

    Posted by spade on March 03, 2013
  • Is it safe to use jb weld to repair an exterior seal or to seal a fitting/ thermometer on the top of a keg?

    Thanks

    Posted by Jay on February 25, 2013


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