Wine and beer enthusiasts regularly enjoy making their own and even if it is just a casual pastime, the
experiments are fun and often produce some worthwhile results. However, making vodka, gin and others is partially
just a matter of continuing or altering slightly that same process.
Before going any further, please be aware that it is illegal to distill alcohol at
home in the United States without a special permit. The following instructions are for educational or entertainment
Two types of commercial stills, which have been in use for centuries, are pot stills and column or reflux
stills. Pot stills are what the name suggests in that they are a large pot in which a mash is heated. The second
type takes the technology to the next level. However, a third type, which is closer to the pot still concept, is
possible using household items alone.
To make your own cheap moonshine still, you will need -
5 lbs of Ice
5 Quart Copper Bottom Pot
Pyrex Jug or Jar
A copper-bottomed pot is not compulsory, since a regular steel or aluminum one could be used. However, copper
tends to work better because of its ability to retain heat. Place it on the stove and put the Pyrex jar or other
heat-resistant glass in the center. Pour wine or beer around the jar until it is a few inches deep.
Place the wok on top, making sure there is a small gap between the jar or glass and the bottom of the wok. The
wok should cover the rim of the copper pot, however. Place a pound of ice in the wok.
Heat slowly on low flame or setting to avoid boiling. This is essential since the goal is to evaporate off just
the alcohol, which has a lower boiling point than other components in the liquid.
Add ice to the wok as the previous amount melts.
At around 65-80C (149-176F) the alcohol will 'boil off' and deposit onto the bottom of the wok. The wok's low
temperature, due to the icy water, will then cause the vapor to condense. The curve will cause some of it to move
to the center where it drips into the jar. The distillate in the jar is alcohol.
You should be aware that there are at least two kinds of alcohol possible here. These are ethyl alcohol or
ethanol and methanol (methyl alcohol). Their boiling points are not too far apart and it is possible that the
desired alcohol (ethanol) will be contaminated with methanol. The boiling point of Ethanol is 78.4C - 173.12F while
methanol is 64.7C - 148.46F.
Drinking the liquid is not recommended since Methanol can cause
A more sophisticated arrangement helps overcome the problem to an extent, but careful control of the temperature
is required to improve the odds.
Instead of a wok, most home stills use a copper cap with copper tubing. The pot can be copper or a 10-gallon
steel milk can. The cap is secured onto the pot and the tubing is coiled. This provides a means of slowly
condensing the alcohol into another container to which the tubing leads.
Since the methanol has a lower boiling point, it is evaporated off first and then discarded. Commercial
distillers call this 'the head'. The temperature is then raised to the boiling point of ethanol, but still below
the boiling point of water (100C - 212F). What remains is called 'the tail'. The distillate then becomes, in the
words of the pros, 'the heart of the run'.
In principle, using wine or beer as a base eliminates the problem, since they contain only ethanol, not
methanol. Nevertheless, heating them can cause one to turn into the other to a degree, since they are closely
related chemically. Once again, drinking the liquid is not recommended.
Note also that combining the distillate with botanicals makes vodka, gin and other clear liquors. Whiskey,
cognac and others are aged in oak barrels for several years to acquire their distinctive flavors.
Making genuine spirits requires a fair amount of knowledge and experience, not to mention some additional
equipment. Nevertheless, experimenting with distillation can still be fun!