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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.

  • Is methanol always produced at the beginning of each run or just sometimes

    Posted by rob on January 14, 2014
  • will be in Alabama march or april 2014 can I pickup a unit during this time

    Posted by JERRY WEISNER on January 04, 2014
  • Starch, Mash, Sugar, Fermentation, Alcohol

    Making “Mash” is the process of converting some type of starch to a sugar. Corn, Rye and potatoes are primarily starch. And yes, potatoes have to be gelatinized (boiled) and “Mashed” before converting. Shredding works, but takes longer. Corn is cracked, use the “clean cracked.” Rye is rolled or flaked.

    An enzyme is needed to convert the starch to a sugar. Malted wheat or barley is most commonly used. Malted wheat has the most enzymes, dark barley malt or any roasted malt will have little if any enzymes. Brew stores have packaged enzymes if you are going to run a straight grain such as clean cracked corn. The mash needs to be slowly heated to 150 degrees and stirred for at least two hours.

    There are many “how-to” sources if you want to make your own malt. One process uses all malted corn. It might just be the best. Also, the most time spent.

    Once you have the starch converted to sugar, it can be fermented into alcohol. This is when yeast is used.

    If you start with regular sugar such as the “Kill Me Quick” recipe, you can skip the “mash” step. High sugar fruits can be used also. Probably will still need some raw sugar added though. Molasses can be used, but stick with the higher sugar type “Grade A.” Forget about Grade B and C. Honey is another great sugar product.

    There are many yeasts. Brew type yeasts convert the most sugar to alcohol. Up to 20% alcohol can be achieved with the right yeast. Bakers yeast will only yield around 10% or less.

    Still designs like Clawhammer Supply kits will give higher alcohol percentage and better purity than old school pot stills.

    Carbon filtering makes it dry and smooth.

    Distill, enjoy !

    Posted by Mr. Destruction on January 02, 2014
  • Is a still legal to ship one your stills to Texas?

    Posted by James Bass on January 01, 2014
  • Do you have thumper kits with your 5 and 10 gal. Stills and what do they cost ? Is the design a little different then pictured? It hanks Jay

    Posted by Jay on December 30, 2013
  • question how do you fill the still to cook it off. I see that it is a seal unit all sealed with solder .

    Posted by ken on December 22, 2013
  • Can you get drinkable shine after the first run from your stills or do you do multiple runs ?

    Posted by Dave on December 16, 2013
  • how do you insure my privacy from others trying to bust from having a little fun out in the world…? and how does the cooling hook ups work, is there a small coil in there or something? I would think the vapor would mix with the water. how does that part work ? thx

    Posted by jesse on December 13, 2013
  • do you have any recipes for maple syrup shine

    Posted by gary york on December 11, 2013
  • Can you please send me a catalog of your supplies? Thank you!

    Posted by Justin Hamm on November 28, 2013
  • 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


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