January 18, 2010
Because Nirav, Chris and I are all interested in anything DIY, we wanted to try out making our own homemade still. There are countless versions and variations scattered throughout the internet, and we tried to choose some of the best ideas and modify them to our own needs. There are a number of characteristics that we wanted it to have. First, we wanted it to be a pot still because we understood the mechanics and principles behind them. The downside of a pot still is the near complete lack of reflux – meaning that you will end up with less pure alcohol, which tends to be fine for rum where you want some extra flavors, but is not so good for vodka for example, where you want it to be as pure as possible. Second, it had to be small and adaptable enough to use indoors on a standard kitchen stove instead of a clunky propane stove that you have to use outside. Third, it had to be relatively cheap. And fourth, it had to be easy to make.
The hardest part was deciding on a pot. It needed to be fireproof, it needed to be sealable, and we wanted it to be glass so we could see and control the process as it happened (unlike in our big copper still). We chose to invest in a pyrex erlenmeyer flask. We bought the biggest ones we could find on eBay – 4000ml at the time (although 5000ml and 6000ml are also available). Mine cost about $20 because of a small chip on the top, but generally they run for about $30-40. This was by far the most expensive part of the entire still.
Everything else was pretty simple. We bought 8′ of 1/4″ flexible copper tubing from the hardware store, two drilled rubber stoppers, and a small plastic trash can. With the stopper in the top of the erlenmeyer flask, we ran the tubing out and coiled it into the trash can. We formed the coil by wrapping it around a roll of paper towels, but you can make it any way you want depending on the size of your trash can. We then cut a hole near the bottom on the side of the trash can and put the second stopper in where the copper tubing exited.
During operation, we fill the flask with about 3000ml of batch per run and put the trash can in a sink under a faucet. Using a sink to cycle cold water through the trash can is the easiest option, although Nirav has rigged up an aquarium pump setup to cycle water that works great too. If gas starts coming out, dump ice cubes in to try to get the water colder. The advantage to using this still over our big copper one is that you are working with a smaller batch at a time, and you also have more control over the heat, so you can be more efficient and end up with more distillate. Other than that, it works just like any other still, and can be made for under $30.