Distillation for Beginners

Use this step-by-step guide to learn how you convert fermented wash into a high-proof spirit through a process known as distillation.

| May 2019


This is one of the most exciting moments in the hobby. You have completed your first fermentation, your wash has been cleared, and you are ready to create your masterpiece. Unfortunately, this is also the most nerve wracking moment in the hobby. Fear of messing everything up fills your mind. This hobby, which started out sounding so simple, now seems so involved. There are so many places to make mistakes. What if you don’t get all the methanol out? What if it tastes awful?

Relax. Take a breath, realize that you have been reading and learning what to do and what not to do, and lastly, remember that in the worst of situations, you can always redistill your spirit, so there is nothing to get worked up about. So let’s take baby steps, and everything will be fine.

Step 1: Ferment and clear your wash. This has been covered well enough already, so it is not necessary to go into great detail again. Simply ferment your wash and allow it to clear naturally or use a clearing agent to do so more quickly. I highly advise clearing the wash to reduce the risk of scorching material to the bottom of your kettle. Clearing is absolutely required when using internal heating elements to heat your still.

Step 2: Transfer the wash to your kettle. While you can use a funnel and simply pour the wash from your fermenter to your kettle, this will also drudge up the sediment and transfer it along with the clear liquid. It is far better to transfer the wash using a siphon, which makes it much easier to move just the clear liquid, leaving behind all the sediment on the bottom of the fermenter. Never fill your kettle to more than 80 percent of its total capacity! This extra space is needed for expansion and potential foaming that may occur during heating and boiling. Overfilling your kettle can create issues that will be extremely frustrating. To reduce issues associated with foaming, it can be very helpful to add an anti-foam agent to the wash.

Step 3: Complete the assembly of your distiller. Hopefully your distiller came with instructions, but regardless, this part should be rather straightforward. Drawings are provided in the Resources section for several popular distiller styles, just in case. You will place the pot still column onto the kettle and ensure that it is fully sealed. When vapor starts being produced is not a good time to find out that your distiller is not sealed.



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