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Can we talk about distilling?  RSS feed

 
r ranson
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I would like to learn about distilling alcohol, vinegar, fuel, water purification and essential oils. Only, I'm not sure where to begin.

There are a lot of legal issues around distilling, which seem to vary drastically depending on where you live. Some places it's fine for personal use, other parts of the world it is a death sentence. I'm still researching my local laws, but for the time being, let's keep the conversation in the hypothetical. I'm not even certain if distilling is for me, but learning about it is.

My primary interest is in alcohol and vinegar. If I were to distill, I would mostly be for batches of homebrew that didn't turn out great. I have some mousey cranberry mead that I have no idea what to do with. I imagine if I had a still, it could become snaps. I love snaps. I also enjoy drinking whisky on occasion, brandy, and sherry. I got into brewing as a way of dealing with an excessively large harvest of very ugly fruit, and I imagine that if I had a still, I could add to the my tools for preserving the harvest.

Making fuel is also very interesting. I know nothing about it, but the still I'm thinking of using comes with an alcohol burner... alcohol for burning is like super-proof alcohol, right? That's something one can make in a still? Would making fuel in a still that I wanted to later use for making consumable drink, be a bad idea? What about essential oil making in the same still as making drink? Does each task require it's own still or style of still?

Where do I start learning about using a still? There is so much out there, and much of what I've found on google assumes you already know the basics, I'm feeling overwhelmed. Just need a starting place. Any books you recommend? How do I decide the size and style of still for me?

More specific to Canada, can anyone point me in the right direction to learn the current legal issues of distilling for personal use? How do I find out if there are any specific duties or import tax for ordering stills from the EU or the US? Google is not being helpful with this last one.

Question for the mods, is this the right place to ask this?
 
Roy Hinkley
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Steven Harris explains things quite clearly, has tested products. Great starter source of info.

http://www.imakemygas.com/
 
Mike Cantrell
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Wow! Lots of questions! I've got your answers for a few of them. I may have built a still a few years ago for dealing with failed homebrew. It may have been fun and exciting, but I may have gotten rid of it because it made my wife too nervous.

R Ranson wrote:There are a lot of legal issues around distilling, which seem to vary drastically depending on where you live.

To my knowledge, unlicensed distilling of alcohol for drinking is legal in just one country, New Zealand. (Very interesting story about the gvt outsourcing tax collection, and the tax collectors going, "this is absurd.")
I'm pretty positive that it's the same for fuel. I understand that it somewhat easier to get a fuel license in the US than a license to produce for consumption. Is that the case in Canada as well? I'd guess yes, but I certainly don't know. The license to produce fuel does not grant the privilege to produce for consumption, although you could certainly produce something drinkable with the same equipment. (Ethanol fuel is "denatured" for sale- a poison is added to make it undrinkable. Ethanol is the same stuff in your wine and in your engine.)

R Ranson wrote:alcohol for burning is like super-proof alcohol, right?
As close as you can get it to pure, yes. Which will be about 97.5%, or 195 proof.
(Did you know that the "proof" system is related to burning? Before hydrometers were readily available, people wanted to buy and sell spirits. If someone said it was "strong", that didn't mean much. A field-expedient test was to pour some of the spirit onto a little pile of gunpowder. More than 50% water, and the gunpowder won't burn. More than 50% ethanol, and it will. So 50% ethanol is "100% of the proof strength".)


R Ranson wrote: Does each task require it's own still or style of still?

Very broadly speaking, you're going to want either a reflux still or a pot still. A reflux still produces the 195-proof spirit. In the remaining 5%, you're not getting all of the other things that make whiskey whiskey (for example). That's what you'd use for fuel, but some people use it as an efficient way to make "neutral spirit", which they then dilute and add flavoring to, yielding drinkable spirits. I gather it's possible to buy very-high-quality rum flavor extracts, for example, and produce really wonderful rums this way.

A pot still produces a weaker, less consistent output, but some of those impurities are the desirable flavors of your drinkable spirit.

R Ranson wrote:Where do I start learning about using a still?

http://homedistiller.org
On the left there is an excellent FAQ.


Good luck!
 
John Wolfram
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It's actually pretty easy to get a fuel distiller's license in the US. I've got mine. The only real snag is that you need to have an outbuilding for the still like a detached garage or some sort of shed. If you're in an apartment, you're out of luck. Once a year around the end of January you have to report to the ATF (TTB or whatever they're called now) how much fuel alcohol you made. Back in the day, you would actually be PAID $1 per gallon you made, but those days are long gone.
 
r ranson
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Great info, thanks for taking the time to post. I'm learning a lot.

Regarding Canadian laws, we've always had a very liberal approach to homebrewing. There's a (kind-of) joke in the homebrewing community that Americans may have the god given right to bare arms, but up North we have the god given right to homebrew. It varies from province to province, and the emphasis has always been on home brewing for personal consumption with strict regulations on selling or giving away the fruits of your labour. There are also regulations on how much homebrew you can store in your home; if you have too much in your basement, they can charge you with intent to sell... or something like that. The biggest concern the government here has (in my opinion) is that they don't want to miss out on any revenue as alcohol is heavily taxed.

As to distilling alcohol... I'm still trying to find the official stance on this. My hypothetical friends who hypothetically might possibly have a still that hypothetically might possibly be used to distil some very delicious vodka with their excess farm produce... these friends say that it's perfectly legal to still for home consumption in Canada without having to register or have a licence. Before I take the step to buy or make a still, I'm going to need something stronger than hypothetical hearsay.


If I get a still, the family has put a requirement on me that the still be beautiful. I have a bit of money set aside for this, but not a lot. I wouldn't want to start with something too large as I have no idea if this is for me anyway. We also don't drink much hard liquor in the house. This little still is at the top of my list at the moment. The company comes recommended by some other hypothetical friends.


image 'borrowed' from the above link.

What do you think of it? Is it all decoration and no function?

Off to do some reading on the links you gave.
 
Mike Cantrell
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John Wolfram wrote:It's actually pretty easy to get a fuel distiller's license in the US. I've got mine. The only real snag is that you need to have an outbuilding for the still like a detached garage or some sort of shed. If you're in an apartment, you're out of luck. Once a year around the end of January you have to report to the ATF (TTB or whatever they're called now) how much fuel alcohol you made. Back in the day, you would actually be PAID $1 per gallon you made, but those days are long gone.


Neat! We're straying a little from R Ranson's questions, but I think it will be beneficial to lots of other readers.

How do they keep you from drinking it?

How much do you produce in an average year?

Did you build your still yourself? How big is it?
 
Mike Cantrell
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R Ranson wrote:As to distilling alcohol... I'm still trying to find the official stance on this. My hypothetical friends who hypothetically might possibly have a still that hypothetically might possibly be used to distil some very delicious vodka with their excess farm produce... these friends say that it's perfectly legal to still for home consumption in Canada without having to register or have a licence. Before I take the step to buy or make a still, I'm going to need something stronger than hypothetical hearsay.


I'm 99.99% positive they're wrong. Just like in the US, brewing for home comsumption, yes, distilling for home consumption, no.

Here's a Canadian supplier's FAQ:
https://secure.brewhaus.ca/index.aspx?page=faq
Is home distillation legal?
The answer depends upon your location and what is being distilled. Generally, distillling water or extracting essential oils by distillation is unregulated.
Some countries permit the home distillation of alcohol for liquor without a licence. In Canada it is not permitted. Some countries permit home distillation by licensed operators for the production of alcohol as a fuel.


 
r ranson
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Like I said, I'm in the process of researching local homebrewing laws. The provincial liquor laws have just gone through a drastic overhaul, so trying to find up to date info online is a challenge. That's why I'm trying to get the info from the horses mouth so to speak... the horse being the government.

 
John Wolfram
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Mike Cantrell wrote: Neat! We're straying a little from R Ranson's questions, but I think it will be beneficial to lots of other readers.
How do they keep you from drinking it?

Well, they don't. I believe I had to sign something saying that the TTB/ATF can stop by and have a look whenever they want, but in 4 or 5 years they never have. The real answer is that anyone who is planning on making large quantities for human consumption is not going to fill out the paperwork and announce to the government that they are distilling.

Mike Cantrell wrote: How much do you produce in an average year?

Not much, maybe 5 gallons. These days, I'm just busy with other things.

Mike Cantrell wrote:Did you build your still yourself? How big is it?

Yes, I built it myself. The base is a 20 liter stainless stock pot that couples an upside down copper bowl that has a fittings for a either a reflux column or a pot-still. Then there's the condenser. Being able to break it down into so many pieces is nice for cleaning and I don't have to replace the whole thing if I want to make a change.
 
r ranson
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Leaving some of these legal issues to one side for a while and venturing back to the hypothetical home still operation, what about drinks like snaps, sherries, and the softer hard liquor? Are they made using a still? Are there ways to make them not using a still? A different kind of still than the harder hard liquor?
 
Mike Cantrell
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R Ranson wrote: what about drinks like snaps,

I think this must be Canadian for what we call "schnapps". Wikipedia says:
American schnapps are alcoholic beverages that are produced by mixing neutral grain spirit with fruit or other flavors. This mixture is then bottled with added sugar and (usually) glycerine, producing a smooth, syrup-like drink with an alcohol content of between 15% and 50% ABV (30–100 proof).[6]
American schnapps is available in a broad variety of fruit, berry, and spice flavors. These drinks technically fall into the category of liqueurs because of their added sugar content.

So you'd start with "neutral grain spirit". You can make that in a reflux still OR a pot still.
If you want to do it as efficiently and effectively as you can, you'd do it in a reflux still.
If you want to have the ability to make other spirits besides neutral, you'd do it in a pot still.

Then you water it down to your desired strength and add sugar and flavor. Badabing, schnapps.

R Ranson wrote: sherries,

Now sherry (and port) is a completely different beast. Sherry and port are fortified wines. "Fortified," as in "strengthened." Meaning "you make some wine, then add some spirits to it." Usually you'd add brandy to it. ("Brandy," if you don't specify otherwise, is from grapes. Just like "wine." If you say "plum brandy," that means it's distilled from fermented plums. Just "brandy," and that means it's from fermented grapes.) And then there's an aging process.

R Ranson wrote: and the softer hard liquor?

With a pot still, your spirit comes out "cask strength", or about 130 proof. You'd generally water it down to 80 proof, which is what we're all used to drinking, for the most part. That's the plan for whiskey, rum, vodka, and the rest.

For anything "softer", you'll generally just be watering it down a little farther and adding something sugary- that would be how you'd yield irish cream, or coffee liqueur, or your other aperitifs.
 
r ranson
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I think this must be Canadian for what we call "schnapps".


No, it's dyslexic for schnapps. Sorry, usually my spell check is so good about these things, but regrettably it doesn't always interpret what my damaged brain can type.

I'm thinking more along the line of Old World schnapps where it's distilled fruit ferments. The schnapps on this side of the pond don't taste anything like I remember from Europe.
 
Joe Braxton
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Just in case you want further info...






source
 
David Livingston
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I note this goup selling a yeast that will make a brewed mixture of 20% http://www.arkwrightshomebrew.com/product_info.php/cPath/75/products_id/1082
Is this a better start to the not so strong spirits and totally legal ?
Plus if you want to make stronger stuff its a better start in your pot

David
 
James Johnstone
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It is pretty much universally against the law to distill alcohol unless you have a license. In some areas getting a license to make your own fuel is not that difficult. Note that your home-brewed fuel is not required to work as fuel if you have a license to make fuel. There is nothing illegal about having an inventory of fuel that isn't of a high enough proof to serve as fuel yet (just needs more distilling). Such incompletely-distilled items of 25% ethanol or so are, of course, not something anyone would be tempted to drink.

It is not, in most areas, despite depictions in the movies, illegal to own a piece of hand-crafted rustic artwork that just so happens, should anyone choose to break the law and use it to do so, to be useful in the production of distilled alcohol. Of course if you are not a known collector of rustic artwork possessing such an item might be suspicious, so...it is not illegal to own copper tubing bent into a coil, a stainless or copper pot...or anything like that. Even if all the various pieces could conceivably be put together in the form of a still.

It is not illegal to possess alcohol in any form (unless it's an open container in a vehicle.)

Hypothetically speaking, fancy-made pot stills are very nice, but here is the bare bones of what you actually need:

1. Several feet of 1/4 copper tubing (3/8 might be faster but no larger than that) that can set at a very slight overall decline and can be cooled in some way: either coiled in a bucket of ice, run straight through a cold stream...
2. A strong copper or stainless steel pot of some type (any other metal will react with the alcohol)
3. A similar lid.
4. Some way to attach the copper tubing to said lid. Like, say, a female 3/8 to 1/4 coupling to go through a hole in the lid, and some plumbing solder.
5. An airtight seal between lid and pot. Paste might work well for this. (Actual paste, made from flour and water.)
6. Some distillable liquid in the pot.
7. Heat.

Hypothetically, you can get 60+ proof with this setup, with the ethanol content of the distillate tapering off over the course of distillation. To get a higher proof just run through again. Getting something fuel-alcohol grade requires a reflux still (you can look that up) and very precise control over the temperature. And probably a molecular sieve (e.g., a bucket full of zeolite.)

It's not really necessary to set aside the first half-cup or so of distillate for anything on the order of a 10 gallon or so mash; the amount of methyl alcohol in it is minuscule compared to what is typically found in any government-approved bottle you might buy at the store. However the first shot or so typically doesn't taste very good (or so I've heard) so it's best to set it aside as a cleaning solution. Of course we're not drinking this we're putting it in our tractor, so the taste doesn't matter but you still want ethanol not methanol. So if distilling from more than 10 gallons or so of liquid, it's probably best to not use the first distillate; how much to discard depends on how big the batch.

FYI major distillate producers age their product in wooden barrels (if they age it) because doing so is cheap. If you want to "age" a distillate to mix it with wood tannins, putting the wood inside the container of distillate (e.g., in the form of wood chips) is a lot more efficient and will "age" the product a lot faster.

So there you go! That should be enough to get your tractor fueled up and running.
 
Mike Cantrell
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James Johnstone wrote:It is not, in most areas, despite depictions in the movies, illegal to own a piece of hand-crafted rustic artwork that just so happens, should anyone choose to break the law and use it to do so, to be useful in the production of distilled alcohol.


This is worth calling some attention to, I suppose.

At least in the US (and again, I think the law in Canada is almost identical, until you get into licensure, and then it might differ), owning a still of any kind is legal, distilling non-alcohol liquids like water and essential oils is legal, and possessing distilled alcohol is legal.

The only part that requires a license is distilling alcohol: the act/process. The equipment and the product are fine. In other words, you don't even have to be shy about proclaiming, "I built a still!" That's legal. You'd just be foolish to use it for alcohol, or make it known that you had used it for alcohol.



Also, this is kind of just a curiosity, but according to the letter of the US law, all that licensure doesn't just apply to heat distillation. Some people have proposed that the traditional northern drink "applejack", which is made by cyclically partly freezing your apple cider so that the water comes out in ice and the alcohol stays behind, might be a way around the licensing law. Not the case. Even though there's no still equipment involved, you ARE distilling it (according to the letter of that law) and still subject to licensure.
 
Ann Torrence
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I have been looking into pulling licenses here in the great state of Utah. It's not that hard, even in one of the most abstemious states in the union. If the interest and raw materials are there, why not generate some income? Artisanal hard spirits are all the rage these days.

Some folks who became friends in the process tried to open a distillery here in our little town. The witchhunt, which was expected, took a devilish and unexpected turn. Rather than hinging on being an alcohol-related business, a certain individual threw a whole bunch of accusations that the water demands and waste disposal issues in the distillation process were unacceptably high. She scared enough people who bought into her drama that those jobs and partnerships for us are staying in the Salt Lake area for now. And it has left a bad taste in our mouths as to how our project will be received when we reach that stage.

All along I had my doubts about the opponent's facts. I even posted a thread here. In this fight, facts weren't going to trump hysteria. But I'm wondering if you more theoretically knowledgeable folks can address the environmental costs on both the input and output sides of the process.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Ann Torrence wrote:Rather than hinging on being an alcohol-related business, a certain individual threw a whole bunch of accusations that the water demands and waste disposal issues in the distillation process were unacceptably high.


There are a few types of effluents from a distillery... The most voluminous would be cooling water... That is basically running water that just flows through the system to cool the condenser. That water remains as pure when it leaves the system as it was when it enters, it's just at a higher temperature... The highest use for this type of water is for irrigation. It hasn't been polluted in any way, so it might as well be returned to the system from whence it came. This effluent could be eliminated if the water were contained in a closed loop system, and cooled between reuses for example via a swamp cooler or pond.

The dregs from the stills contain a lot of valuable organic matter. The local cheese plants collect their biologically active effluents into tanker trucks and use them to "fertilize" fields out in the country.

That leaves wash water which might as well go into the sewer system. It doesn't contain much organic matter to overwhelm the sewer lagoon, and it is low volume.

 
r ranson
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Personally, the legal aspect of home use is just too gummy for me at this point. When the new liquor laws settle down and we actually begin to understand what they mean, I might look into it again.

But looking at it as a commercial venture, apparently it is suppose to be easier now to get a distillery licence for making and selling distilled alcohol, so long as it's made with 100% with produce grown in the province - oh, like I don't know, excess farm produce that is too ugly to sell. It's a neat idea if it turns out to work the way the government advertises - like the craft beer movement that's swept our area, I can see craft distilleries being the wave of the future. Even better, the distillation doesn't have an expiry date like beer does, so if you can't sell it the first year, you just age it and up the price.

So, I think I would love to focus on the theory of how it's done. Let's just leave the legal issues to one side, and say that it's up to each individual to know their local laws and consequences, and to make their own choices.

I'm wondering if you more theoretically knowledgeable folks can address the environmental costs on both the input and output sides of the process.


That's an interesting aspect to look at. I know locally beer mash and brewing has a bit of a hard time as it is viewed as a pollutant. The breweries have to cart the mash away to a waste disposal site that handles organic matter. One brewery told me they also have to filter some of their wastewater before it enters the drain.

However, several breweries have deals with farmers to take their mash and feed it to pigs or other livestock. Farmer gets free livestock feed, although they have to be careful to balanced nutrition for their animals, and the brewery doesn't have to pay exorbitant fees to have their organic waste carted away.

All this organic matter from the mash and cleaning the still... that's bound to be useful to someone. Perhaps an innovative farmer would be able to help you with this? It makes sense to parter this kind of traditional craft with a farm.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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As far as I know, licensing of distillation only concerns itself with ethanol... therefore, distillation of other materials is not regulated.

The stills used for extracting essential oils are substantially different than those used for making ethanol. The condensers can be similar. Stills for extracting essential oils aim to get as much steam out of the pot as quickly as possible. Stills made for concentrating ethanol aim to slow the process down to get higher concentrations of alcohol. Stills for purifying water can be of either type depending on whether you are only interested in removing dissolved solids, or if you also want to remove volatile compounds.

I am certain that I wouldn't want to attempt distillation of vinegar at my place. Glacial acetic acid is highly noxious. I didn't even like working with it in a properly equipped laboratory with full protective gear.



 
Ann Torrence
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R Ranson wrote:
All this organic matter from the mash and cleaning the still... that's bound to be useful to someone. Perhaps an innovative farmer would be able to help you with this? It makes sense to parter this kind of traditional craft with a farm.

In the single instance, I offered to either help them set up a greywater irrigation to grow on-site or in worst case, take every gallon of effluent. In a rational sociopolitical environment, my offer would have demonstrated the yield, rather than the waste.The problem with the waste: too much biological activity and too low a pH, are corrective of most of the soil problems around here, not detrimental. Pitchfork-wavers don't listen to reason.

In the global case, I think permaculture design principles could and should be applied a craft distillery. There are so many opportunities.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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The folks to get in touch with about legal issues of distilling at home are listed below.
Every Province has its own regulations that you would need to comply with.


Provincial Liquor Boards

Yukon Liquor Corporation
9031 Quartz Road
Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 4P9
Tel: 867-667-5245
Fax: 867-393-6306
E-mail: yukon.liquor@gov.yk.ca
Internet site: www.ylc.yk.ca

Northwest Territories Liquor Commission
Suite 201, 31 Capital Drive
Hay River, NWT X0E 1G2
Tel: 867-874-2100

Nunavut Liquor Licensing Board
Box 1000, Stn. 350
Iqaluit, Nunavut X0A 0H0
Tel: 867-979-5918
Fax: 867-979-5836

British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch
Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and Culture
2625 Rupert Street
Vancouver, British Columbia V5M 3T5
Tel: 604-252-3000
Fax: 604-252-3044
E-mail: communications@bcliquorstores.com
Internet Site: www.bcliquorstores.com

Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission
50 Corriveau Avenue
St. Albert, Alberta T8N 3T5
Tel: 780-447-8600
Fax: 780-447-8914
Internet site: www.aglc.gov.ab.ca

Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority
2500 Victoria Avenue
P.O. Box 5054
Regina, Saskatchewan S4P 3M3
Tel: 306-787-4213
Internet Site: www.slga.gov.sk.ca/

Manitoba Liquor Control Commission
1555 Buffalo Place
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 2X1
Tel: 204-284-2501
Email: info@mlcc.mb.ca
Internet site: www.mlcc.mb.ca

Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO)
General Inquiries
55 Lake Shore Boulevard East
Toronto, Ontario M5E 1A4
Tel: 416-365-5900
Email: infoline@lcbo.com
Internet site: www.lcbo.com/index.html

Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ)
905, avenue De Lorimier
Montréal, Québec H2K 3V9
Tel: 514-254-2020
Email: info@saq.com
Internet site: www.saq.com

New Brunswick Liquor Corporation (NBLC)
170 Wilsey Road, P.O. Box 20787
Fredericton, New Brunswick E3B 5B8
Tel: 506-452-6826
Fax: 506-462-2024
Internet Site: www.nbliquor.com

Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC)
93 Chain Lake Drive
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3S 1A3
Tel: 902-450-6752
Internet Site: www.mynslc.com/

Newfoundland Liquor Corporation
P.O. Box 8750, Station A
90 Kenmount Road
St. John's, Newfoundland A1B 3V1
Tel: 709-724-1100
Fax: 709-754-0321
E-mail: info@nlliquor.com
Internet site: www.nfliquor.com/

PEI Liquor Control Commission
3 Garfield Street
P.O. Box 967
Charlottetown, PEI C1A 7M4
Tel: 902-368-5710
Internet Site: www.peilcc.ca


Here In the USA there is only one state (Missouri) that allows home distillation for home use only.

Every other state it is illegal to distill, some states ie: Arkansas, it is illegal to own any part of a still, other states it is the worm (condenser) and some states it is the pot (boiler) that is illegal.

There are many people who distill at home in the USA and do so covertly and with the knowledge that if caught it will mean jail time of up to 10 years. (Seems to me that it is easier to just buy your hooch at the liquor store).
"Moonshining" has been a tradition in the USA since before 1776, Even the first 5 presidents had stills at their homes. It became illegal well before the prohibition era, the prohibition era actually created a Comeback market, moonshining had been on the way out before that.
The main issue the government of the USA, and most other countries, have with home distillers is the loss of revenue(taxes) that it causes.
Currently in the USA, the Federal tax is 7% on every gallon produced and this is payable at the time of production. States add in their tax and in some cases even counties will add in a tax.
This means you might be paying up to 15% taxes on every gallon of whisky you make if you want to be legal, along with all the stainless steel and government documents that have to be filed every week.


In the black market moonshiner's world there are three types of people: shiners - they make the hooch, a shiner may have one or more helpers and usually teach these helpers all about the craft. Good shine goes for 100 -140 dollars per gallon and usual proof is 110.
bootleggers - they distribute the hooch, usually after buying it from the stiller. The bootlegger will cut the product from 110 to around 80-90 proof, which makes it much more drinkable and increases their profit margin.
Snitches or CI (confidential Informant) - these scum buy hooch and then rat out the supplier to the cops, they may even rat out a shiner if they should find out about one. On occasion a snitch will meet his maker for his actions. usually though they
are shunned by everyone in the trade, making them useless to the cops.

The best stills for liquor making are copper, with no lead containing solder anywhere. There are dedicated forums for those wanting to learn about making good whisky including how to age it.
Pot stills are for sipping whisky, Reflux stills are usually used by folks who want a very pure product or that don't understand the nuances of the pot still, thumper and flake barrel.

Distilling in the USA is Illegal, period, well unless you have around $100,000 for the license, red tape and a dedicated building for the approved equipment and record keeping of everything associated with the production of legal alcohol.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:
As far as I know, licensing of distillation only concerns itself with ethanol... therefore, distillation of other materials is not regulated.

The stills used for extracting essential oils are substantially different than those used for making ethanol. The condensers can be similar. Stills for extracting essential oils aim to get as much steam out of the pot as quickly as possible. Stills made for concentrating ethanol aim to slow the process down to get higher concentrations of alcohol. Stills for purifying water can be of either type depending on whether you are only interested in removing dissolved solids, or if you also want to remove volatile compounds.

I am certain that I wouldn't want to attempt distillation of vinegar at my place. Glacial acetic acid is highly noxious. I didn't even like working with it in a properly equipped laboratory with full protective gear.



The equipment used for essential oil distillation is exactly the same as for alcohol distillation. A still is a Still is a still, no matter the size of the rig.
Alcohol steams off at a lower temp (173 f) than water boils, as the run progresses the distilling temp rises.
When making most essential oils you are using alcohol as the carrier, it is the same as making a tincture then distilling the tincture. In fact that is exactly what you are doing.
Vodka works fine for most tincture making but some herbs require 100 proof and up.

essential oils can also be a simple steep of herbs in a very high quality base oil (EVOO for example) then gently heated and left to steep.

I learned how to extract the pure herb oils from an old man in the Appalachian mountains who was an old time healer (I was 15 at the time).
His method was to soak the herbs for a particular essential oil in high proof spirits. then he would evaporate the spirits, leaving the oil behind. This was then bottled, labeled and dated so he would know when it was no good anymore.
When he found out I knew how to build a still, he asked me to make him a small rig for his medicines. Since he had shared his knowledge with me freely, I built him two setups so he would have a spare.
I had gone to that area with my father to meet a legendary stiller and learn some things from him. The healer was a bonus I acquired through going with the stiller to make a delivery.



Most states will allow the micro rigs that most at home essential oil producers would use, however, it is still an issue if you are keeping the alcohol after separating the essential oil.

It will always be a case of "Don't tell, Don't sell" when you take your essential oils to the farmer's market it could be folly to tell anyone you made them yourself.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Just about anyone can run a still, the craft is more in the making of the mash than in the actual distilling. Thing is, it is Illegal and if caught you can loose literally everything you own, house, cars, 10 years of your life and if you have a wife and she is home when they bust you, she could be in prison too.

There is a danger of explosion if the still should leak anywhere, people have died from a leaky still blowing up.
Today just about everyone uses propane as the fuel for the burner. Tradition uses a wood furnace, hand built around the pot.
It was the smoke from starting the fire that made it necessary to make your runs at night, this lead to "Moonshine" becoming the name it is known as today.

Most of the "cordial" drinks are made by blending ethanol with other ingredients.

Brandies are made from fermented fruits or distilling wine.

Gin is made in a column still that has racks for the herbals to sit on, this allows the alcohol in vapor form to extract the essential oils and other flavonoids from the herbals.

Rum is from fermented sugar cane syrup and or molasses.

Vodka is traditionally from fermented potatoes.

Scotch is made by smoke drying malted barley

You can not make "Burbon" that requires cask storage in a special "bonded" warehouse and is only for "legal distilleries" you can make burbon, but it is just oak aged liquor

Real Corn Whisky is made with malted corn, ground corn and yeast, no sugar. Sugar is a cheat and used to increase the yield of alcohol.

You must cook your grain or potatoes and add enzymes (amylase) to convert the starches to sugars before you add the yeast to start the fermentation process. Malt is another way to get amylase into your mash, some people use both, some use only one or the other.
It is this conversion that makes or breaks the reputation of the stiller. The flavor of the liquor is dependent upon the quality of the mash and the distilling.

Copper is always preferred over stainless steel for the pot. All stills have a pot, it is the Cap or topper that can be changed out to make a reflux or columnar still.

If you wanted to age product you have options, you can toast white oak sticks and put them in the mason jars or you can use the real deal oak casks. the stick method will give a nice age in 3 to 6 months and if you have a nice 8 year old bottle of legal hooch and would like it aged further, using the stick method, you can do exactly that.
If you use 5 gal casks it will take up to two years to really mellow.
The reason store bought is labeled in 6 year, 12 year, etc. is because the distilleries use 53 gallon casks, and it takes longer for all the alcohol to get touched by the wood in that size cask.
 
Devin Lavign
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Since you mentioned water purification in your post, even though you seem mostly interested in alcohol, I thought it might be a good idea to make you aware of the danger of long term consumption of distilled water.

Water likes to be impure. More pure the water is more it attracts impurities. Ultra pure water, made in labs, just a single glass drunk by a person can cause health problems and even death. Distilled water consumed regularly can cause health problems and eventually death.

Just one explanation can be found here.

http://biology.stackexchange.com/questions/2250/death-because-of-distilled-water-consumption
Drinking a little bit of distilled water is not generally fatal. Drinking only this kind of water will be fatal because it is highly hypotonic as you've found out. Let me simplify and explain why this is the case.

Salt balance in the body is largely maintained by passive diffusion. Salts diffuse from areas of relatively high concentration (eg, stomach) down to areas of low concentration. For example, if you have just eaten a meal, the stomach contents are relatively higher in salt concentration compared to the surrounding tissue and the blood. Salt diffuses out of the stomach and into the stomach lining, intestines and blood. Tissues have to make sure they don't get too much salt or they will take in too much water and burst, so they have active transport mechanisms to remove excess salts and they go into the blood as well. Now that the excess salts are carried in the blood, they ultimately get filtered at the kidneys and excreted in urine. The kidneys are able to filter the salt by taking advantage of this gradient moving salt once again from high to low concentrations. The exact details are not important for this discussion, other than to know the kidneys need a highly concentrated store of salt to function.

Distilled water on the other hand, has no salt. It is pure water. Distilled water will pull salt out of the tissues because now it is the absolute lowest concentration of salt. Tissues will also take in a lot of this water because it too passively diffuses and it is hypotonic. When this happens in the blood, red blood cells tend to burst because they can't tolerate a terribly large change in tonicity, and so some red blood cells die. The other problem is also that the salt control mechanisms in the kidneys malfunction because too much salt gets leeched out of them and passed in your urine.

After drinking too much distilled water, electrolytes and important minerals get leeched out of your body and this creates electrical abnormalities in your body leading to irregular and weak heart beats (from hyponatremia and hypokalemia), poor muscle strength, high blood pressure and fatigue. Distilled water as mentioned, is fairly acidity (can be as low as pH 3 when freshly distilled) and leads to acidification of the blood (acidosis).

There is no exact amount of water that one needs to drink to die. This mode of death is related to hyperhydration/water intoxication. This can happen from over-hydrating with regular tap water, but will take longer than distilled water because of the salt content in tap water.


This is not to say distilled water is bad in moderation, but I was surprised to find how few people know that over consumption is a health hazard. Even finding that people thought it was healthy to only drink distilled water. So I try and make sure to spread the knowledge of the dangers where the topic comes up. For some reason people seem to think they want their water as pure as possible, but the reality is you want those salts and minerals in the water. You don't want to purify it too much, but to just make sure the harmful stuff is removed.
 
Devin Lavign
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John Wolfram, you can be skeptical all you want, but the science does not support your opinion.

ref 3: Kozisek F. Health risks from drinking demineralised water. In: Nutrients in
drinking water. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2005. p. 148-163
http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/nutrientschap12.pdf
In Russia Rakhmanin carried out a one-year experiment with rats using low mineral water. Negative effects were found. These rats had an
increase of extracellular body water, increased sodium concentration in the blood, increased urine output, and increased losses of sodium and chloride ions in the urine (3). There were also hormonal changes including reduced secretions of tri-iodothyronine and aldosterone, and increased secretion of cortisol, and morphological changes in the kidneys. There was evidence of reduce skeletal ossification of rat fetuses of the dams given distilled water during the one-year study as well. Many of these same findings were repeated in human volunteer studies—increased urine production (almost 20%), increased body water volume, increased sodium concentration in the blood, decreased potassium concentration in the blood, and increased elimination of sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and calcium ions from the body (3).


The physiological mechanism for these changes is understood. It is theorized that the pure water causes an influx of sodium ions into the gut. Whenever there is excess sodium in the gut it causes a cascade of responses in order to maintain balance in electrolytes, as shown in a current anatomy and physiology textbook (4). The excess sodium in the gut increases blood sodium levels and pulls water from intracellular fluid into the bloodstream. This increased volume then raises levels of atrial natriuretic peptide, decreases formation of angiotensin II, and decreases aldosterone secretions by the adrenal cortex. These three responses cause a greater loss of sodium and chloride ions and water through the kidneys into the urine in order to reduce blood volume. This cascade of homeostatic control was designed to take into account different levels of electrolyte intake, and works well, especially for elevated intakes. However, when no sodium was initially taken in, yet more was excreted this creates a problem that has to be re-corrected, which the body happily does, though not perfectly. So, there is some hard data showing that there are extra losses of minerals as a result a drinking low mineral water. In spite of these homeostatic controls, minerals really can be removed from the body by distilled water. This is a major finding, because advocates of distilled water claim that the minerals in the body are protected in some way from being taken out by distilled water. It is a nice idea, but these animal and human studies argue that it really doesn’t work that way.


Not distilled water but this video discusses ultra pure water
 
Mike Cantrell
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:
Here In the USA there is only one state (Missouri) that allows home distillation for home use only.
<...>
Distilling in the USA is Illegal


I wasn't aware of Missouri being an exception, so I did a little homework, and it looks like that's probably correct, but there's a little inconsistency between the separate parts of the law.

Regardless, federal law enforcement would still have a problem with you even if state law enforcement didn't. So the summary "Distilling in the USA is Illegal" is completely true.
 
Cris Bessette
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Distilling alcohol for drinking and fuel purposes was made legal recently where I live in North Georgia USA.

http://rabuncounty.elaws.us/code/coor_ptii_ch4_sec4-28

Pretty interesting considering since the prohibition era people have been making "moonshine" here in stills illegally.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Chris, it looks like the wording of the Rayburn County law is saying you can make whisky but only if you are licensed by the county, the state and the federal government. So once again, Unless you have the 100,000.00 to get everything required by the feds to become a legal distillery, you are still out of luck and a moonshiner if you choose to distill at home.

The governments are not going to miss out on their taxes. It just isn't ever going to happen because it is a lot of money and we all know how greedy Washington is.

Most of the states of the South have a moonshine tradition, especially in the Appalachians and Catskills. One of the things that kept the Hattfield/ McCoy thing going for over a hundred years was moonshining.
Did you know that most of the old time shiners were Descendants of either Scot, Irish or German immigrants or were the immigrant themselves.
There was an altercation between the government men and the distillers, it was called "The Moonshine War" and ended with many a distiller dead.
 
Cris Bessette
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We do have one local guy that paid whoever or whatever to do it. It's a commercial operation.

My step dad was a moonshine driver back 40-50 years ago, he made the deliveries to the big city customers.
I've found remnants of old stills on the sides of mountains and by creeks when out hiking around here.
Once I got a jug of moonshine for a Christmas present from a friend that built a big copper still in the back of his house.
Good stuff, highly flammable.

 
Bryant RedHawk
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I know guys that used to transport it in their gas tanks, it runs an engine very well. The Stock Car Races came out of runners getting together to prove who was the best. Junior Johnson for example was a runner and even did some time for his profession before stock car racing got started.

I've known many of the old timers, the only legend I never got to meet was Popcorn Sutton, I've tasted his liquor, it was mighty fine.
The legal liquor with his name on it is pretty darn close but it isn't the same strength. Popcorn sold it at 105 and the legal version is 93 the flavor is there though, just not the same kick.

I have several really old recipes including the one T. Jefferson used.
My favorite is the family's, developed over 125 years ago, it is an adaptation of the one my Dad's family used in Scotland.

I'm in the process of being legal now. Lots of headaches but will be worth it in the end.
 
Ann Torrence
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:I'm in the process of being legal now. Lots of headaches but will be worth it in the end.

This would be an interesting thread all on its own. I for one would like to hear about the lessons you learn along the way, and how (if at all) you are incorporating permaculture design principles into your outfit.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Hi Ann, Part of my process is to grow all the grains used in BRW. The grains; Two row malting barley, Sweet corn and Rye will be site grown and completely chemically free grown (organic whisky as it were). My whole homestead farm is permaculture and the grains will be grown that way too.

Growing my own grains means I will have super limited runs, but book keeping will be easier to comply with. Using an all copper pot still rig means it will be true traditional method, quality will be easier for me to control and I could add "Triple Distilled" for a third label.
I have to build a special building which will house the entire operation and it has to be "secure", every bottle has to be accounted for, from weight of grains used, water quality used, sterilization procedures and on and on. Labels have to be approved as well as bottle shape, size and makeup of the glass.

At the age of 63 I may be one of the oldest startups as a distillery since it will most likely take another year to get the process completed. There is always the possibility that I will be rejected too.
 
Ann Torrence
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Bryant, we are considering pulling a winery license to make ciders and meads, so I am very interested in the minutia of how this goes for you. DH beats you in the age department by a couple years. I mentioned in an earlier post about the travails of our friends trying to start a distillery here and basically giving up-they discovered southern Utah just isn't ready to support that type of business yet, so they are launching in Salt Lake.

I think you've got an interesting marketing spin with the permaculture/homegrown angle. This is going to be interesting to watch it unfold.
 
Laura Sweany
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For those of you interested in learning a bit more about the regulations and operations of a small-scale commercial distillery, I can highly recommend Wade Bennett from Rockridge Orchards & Cidery in Enumclaw, WA. He started making sweet cider from windfall apples and asian pears (growing on the West side of the Cascades made for ugly fruit). Then he created hard ciders (cyders) and changed the state laws to be able to sell it (and then sample it) at farmers markets in WA state. Then came the distillery, and now the brewery - all craft-scale. He teaches craft fermentation and distillation all over the world, and LOVES to share his knowledge. He's also designed and developed his own line of medium-scale equipment. If you want to pick his brain about how to get into local direct distribution - to increase your margins and sell direct to customers - or ask about a recipe idea that you have, he loves to mentor folks.
 
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Video of all the permaculture design course and appropriate technology course (about 177 hours)
https://permies.com/wiki/65386/paul-wheaton/digital-market/Video-PDC-ATC-hours-HD
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