SPIRITS by Harry Lythall

Here are three methods of distilling 'mash' (or wine) to separate the alcohol from the rest of the 'gubbins'. Each method has its own merits and de-merits

Freeze distillation - fast but retains flavor of the must
Bucket still - removes flavor, but is very slow
Reflux still - is fast, potent and removes flavor, but is extremely dangerous

Alcohol 10 - 60%

You can only get caught for having a still if you have a still. You can get strong alcohol without a still, if you have a chest freezer. Drop a plastic 25 liter jerry can full of mash (wine etc.) into the freezer and leave it for 48 hours. All the water will freeze, but the alcohol will not. Simply pour out the alcohol from the ice-cube and leave it to drain for a couple of hours. Sugar will also come out with the alcohol, so the mash should be made a little lean in sugar so that it is mostly converted to alcohol.

Good results can be had using this method to make liquors, try chucking a tin of pineapple chunks in syrup into the mash during fermentation. If there is any preservative in the tin then bring the chunks and syrup to the boil before lobbing them into the brewing bin. For god sake, open the tin before boiling!!

Alcohol 25 - 60%

This is perhaps the simplest still to make. All you need to make the BUCKET STILL is shown below:

Construction is fairly self explanatory. It is a plastic bucket or bowl with the mash poured into it. Stand a glass jar in the center, you may need to place something in the bowl to stand the jar on so it will not float. Just stand the bucket still on a sunny balcony where there is a mild breeze.

The alcohol condenses on the clingfilm and runs down the surface towards the center. There it drips into the jar. This still does not produce much in the way of volume, but five days of operation will ensure a happy weekend.

Alcohol 70 - 95%

This is only possible by means of distillation. The first step is to make a mash as the source of alcohol. The alcohol is removed from the rest of the rubbish by means of distillation. Make the mash as per the basic brew, but do not use any form of additional flavoring. It is doubly important to use a good air-lock to keep oxygen out of the fermentation process if distillation is contemplated.

There are many different methods of distillation but only one will be considered here, this is known as Fractional Distillation using a Reflux still. This is perhaps one of the most accurate methods of distillation.

Fractional Distillation can be used to separate different substances when they are mixed together and relies upon the fact that different substances vaporize (boil) at different temperatures. The stuff we want is Ethyl-Alcohol which vaporizes at 78.3 degrees Celsius. The alcohol with a temperature below Ethyl is Methyl-Alcohol which vaporizes at about 65 degrees. Methyl-Alcohol is renowned to cause blindness and turn peoples brains in to jelly, but this is largely fiction. A little Methyl-Alcohol in your drink will just give you a bloody lousy hangover. Methyl-Alcohol can be found in Whisky and Brandy, Brandy being by far the worst.

The REFLUX still

This is simply a vertical column or tube full of children’s glass marbles. When the mash boils it gives off vapors containing water as well as alcohol, this is all fed into the bottom of the tube. When the vapors reach the tip of the tube they meet a one and a half turn loop of copper tubing through which passes cold water from the tap. The vapors therefore cool, become liquid and run over the marbles back into the pot of boiling mash.

Since the top of the column is cooler than the bottom of the column, any water vapor rising in the column will be passed over the cooler marbles causing it to condense. Water vapor will therefore not reach the top of the column.

Any alcohol flowing down the column as a liquid will be heated, vaporized and continue back to the top of the column. Alcohol will therefore never go back into the boiling pot.

Above is the basic still which consists of a 2 meter long copper tube filled with children’s marbles. The diameter of the tube should be about 5 - 10 cm. The alcohol vapor is drawn from the top of the column and fed into a condenser where it becomes a cool liquid fit for drinking. The length of the column is not very critical, but the longer it is, the better the quality of the final product. A one meter column will give quite good results.

The pot for boiling the mash is an aluminum pressure cooker with a hole drilled in the top of the lid. Compression connectors can be used to fabricate the whole of the still and a browse round your heating and plumbing shop will show you all the component pieces you will need. The above drawing should provide you with all the mechanical details you need to complete your still. the point marked X at the top of the still is the point where the sensor of on electronic thermometer should be attached. This point should be covered with a little thermal insulator material to accurately measure the temperature.

If you should need to solder anything then ONLY USE SILVER SOLDER. Electrical solder contains lead which does considerably more harm than Methyl-Alcohol. Use copper/brass compression fitting wherever possible. The still may then be easily broken down for cleaning/hiding (a collection of pipes is not a still).

To use the completed still, pour the mash in the pressure cooker on an ELECTRIC stove and slowly bring the mash to the boil. Before the mash boils, fit the lit with the column attached. Pass cold water through the condensers, a slow water trickle is adequate.

When the mash boils turn the heat down to about 25% and watch the temperature rise at the top of the column. You should be able to feel the heat as it progresses up the column. When the heat reaches the top of the column the temperature will rise rapidly, and when it hits 78.2 degrees you will see alcohol coming from the still.

The flow of cold water may be increased to the point where the temperature begins to fall and the output from the still will stop. Adjust the water flow until the still is just operating normally. The output should be a very fast drip or a very slow trickle. If the marbles in the column rattle or the output is more than a trickle then you have the electric stove too high. The slower you run the still the better the quality of the alcohol produced. you should be able to produce alcohol of up to 95% with this method.

Start collecting when the temperature hits 78.5 degrees Celsius and stop when it rises to 79.3 degrees. Alcohol produced outside these limits may safely be used to run vehicles and camping stoves. Alcohol produced during the first 10% will have a pasty taste and that produced during the last 20% will taste a little stark. The middle 70% is the best stuff for drinking but the rest is quite acceptable for mixers etc. Mixing the first 10% and last 20% together will cause the flavor to be somewhat neutralized. Any taste may be safely removed by passing the final product through an ACTIVATED CHARCOAL filter.


Ok then, time for the Don’ts and never’s: NOBODY IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD COOK PETROL ON A STOVE!, but that is precisely what you are doing with this process.

Have fun, but don't get too pissed. regards HARRY (nowhere near Upplands Vasby, Sweden).

To read more about stills click here!

To read more about stills click here!

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