How Does a Still Work?

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Uses for a Still

  • A still is used to make home-brewed liquors or "moonshine" but is also a way to make essential oils or to purify water. In the U.S. and many other countries, using a midsized to large still to make an alcoholic beverage is illegal, even if it is for private consumption. Whatever the use, a still does the same job---making the oil, water or spirits as pure as possible.

Distillation Process

  • To begin the process, you must make up your mixture that will go into the still. This will be the water for water distillation, flowers for essential oils or alcohol fragrances and mash for liquor distillation. Boil the water to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The distillate will start dripping, so have the separate vessel ready. For liquor distillation, discard the first 3 tablespoons of every 5 gallons to avoid adding methanol to the liquor.

A Pot Still is Basic

  • The amount of purity that is required in the final product will determine the type of still that is used. A pot still is the simplest. It looks like a pot with a tube running out of it and down to collect into another separate vessel of your choice. As the mixture in the pot boils, the alcohol condenses within the tube or condenser. This distillate then runs down out of the tube into another vessel. At this point, the product is an alcohol or water purity of up to 60 percent. Another pass through the condenser can increase purity to 85 percent.

Reflux and Fractionating Stills for More Purity

  • Reflux and fractionating stills have much longer condenser packed with material that catches the distillate and allows it to recondense more than once for added purity before flowing out of the condenser tube. A fractionating still's condenser tube is much longer than a reflux tube. The result is alcohol or water that is 95 percent or more in purity.

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