Distilling: Part 1

January 3, 2010

Moonshining.  An art that nears extinction, killed by its own obscurity, its inherent difficulty, and the US government.  These are the conclusions that a few friends and I came to a few summers ago when we took our first try at distilling some alcohol.  The first few tries, to put it mildly, were a total disaster.  But with some help and some discoveries in the back of my barn, we managed to make some progress.

It began with Foxfire.  In the first Foxfire book, there is a section on moonshining that is inspiring, but barely helpful for the aspiring moonshiner. But it provides photos and stories of small and large scale stills out in the back woods of the Appalachian that are hard to forget.

So, Nirav Patel, Chris Lombardozzi, and I started out with only some vague ideas of what we were doing and no real leads.  I won’t really get into the failures that resulted from this to save our dignity, but some good did come; namely the discovery of homedistiller.org.  This site is the bible for moonshiners.

The other discovery was finding my grandfather’s still.  On a trip to my dad’s workshop in the back of our barn, which is notorious for being so messy it should be declared a disaster area, we discovered my grandfather’s old still.  It was absolutely amazing.   Here we were, not experienced in building failed stills, and there was a perfect one sitting right under our noses the whole time.  It is a homemade pot still, made out of copper, that was sitting under a few inches of dust.  It has a capacity of about five gallons, with a fuller bulbous head, an optional double-distiller attachment, and a steel worm-condenser with two overflows.  Simply put, this still makes me proud to carry on the family tradition.

The actual process of distilling takes some time to master, but thankfully allows some room for mistakes.  Conceptually, distilling is the evaporation and condensation of a liquid to purify it.  And distilling alcohol is really not too much more than that.  You just ferment alcohol and then distill it through a still.

One Response to “Distilling: Part 1”

  1. […] chronicled our steps and missteps over the years in a series of blog posts. The first three cover the background story, the basics of fermenting a rum wash, and the general process of distillation. The final post […]

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