Frequently Asked Questions

1. Which material is better, a copper still or stainless still?  What are the pros and cons?

Copper was the choice material for building stills for many years. It was an affordable malleable material perfect for making stills. Stainless material was more expensive and not available until later years. Now days 304 stainless is common and affordable.

Benefits of a Copper Still

Copper stills have a beautiful look. I think most of us will agree that copper is a neat look and stills have been made of copper for 100s of years. It is the traditional look of a still and no doubt a neat look. The copper is said to remove sulphides during the distillation process. I have not seen a side by side lab results comparison of the spirits that came off of a stainless still and copper still. We have sold many stills to distilleries in both all copper stills and all stainless stills and both stainless and copper stills have won awards with the spirits they have produced.

Negatives of a Copper Still

Maintenance is the biggest negative of a copper still. They require more cleaning and polishing to stay looking good and producing quality spirits. The other negative with a copper still is the softness of the material which can be dented or damaged easily.

Benefits of a Stainless Still

Stainless stills have the durability and ease of cleaning. When wiped down they have a mirror like polish that looks neat. Wash and mash particles don’t tarnish the stainless and they scrub off easily. Stainless does not dent as easy and doesn’t scratch to easy either. Can take a beating without showing it.

Negatives of a Stainless Still

Not as neat as the look of copper in most eyes of a distiller. If copper removes the sulphides like it has been said then you would need to use some copper mesh within the column to help with this.

2. What is the difference between a pot still and reflux still? What is a dual purpose type still or a hybrid still?

Pot Still

A pot still has a short column or tower to allow the vapors to quickly rise and condenser through the condenser. A good example of a pot still is a copper alembic still with a potbelly kettle, onion head, lyne arm or swans neck, and coiled condenser in a copper can. The vapor boils up in the potbelly kettle and goes into the onion head where the vapors mix then straight over to the condenser via the swans neck or lyne arm.

Pot stills are designed this way to carry over flavor. The alcohol vapor is boiled off and condenses right away capturing the flavor. Pot stills will run about 120-130 proof at the highest for the first run. A distiller can improve the purity and percentage by running the spirit again.

For example; a whisky distillery will usually run a stripping run first which separates the majority of alcohol and water ending up with about 50%-60% alcohol which is called low wines. The low wines are then distilled again to increase the purity to around 160 proof to get cleaner whisky.

Brandy, Grappa, Schnapps, Whiskey, Whisky, Bourbon, are some of the spirits that are made with a pot still.

Reflux Still

A reflux still has a taller column or tower and has a reflux condenser at the top of the column. The reflux condenser can be a jacketed tube, a dephlegmator ( which is a tube and shell heat exchanger) , cross tubes, cold finger, etc. These reflux condensers are designed to create a cool spot in the top of the column to drop out the heavier water vapors as they rise through the column.

The heavier water vapors drop out and down through the column while the lighter alcohol vapors carry over to the final product condenser. The column is also packed with column packing like copper mesh and raschig rings. This column packing gives the vapor surface area to reflux and helps with alcohol/ water separation giving the end spirit more purity which is a high percentage alcohol. A reflux still strips the flavor and will get a high percentage neutral spirit.

Distilleries that produce Vodka use reflux type stills to get 95% purity ( 190 proof ) then they proof down with water to get to a drinkable proof / percentage of alcohol. Reflux stills are a good still to use to make spirits like vodka and gin. Or neutral spirits that will be flavored like apple pie moonshine, peach cobbler moonshine, strawberry lemonade, and or used with alcohol essence flavoring.

Dual Purpose or Hybrid Stills

The dual purpose or hybrid stills mean that they can run as a pot still or a reflux still which gives the distiller more options. When running as a reflux the distiller will run water to the reflux condenser and pack the column with copper mesh and raschig rings. When setting the still up like this it will run a high percentage neutral spirit.

When running as a pot still the distiller will not run water to the reflux condenser and put a minimal amount of copper mesh in the column so not packing the column all the way up. Just a roll or two of copper mesh in the bottom of the column/ tower when running as pot still.

3. How to hook up the hoses for the condensers on a reflux still or a pot still?

Both pot stills and reflux stills have a final product condenser. This condenser condenses all spirit vapor back to a liquid so a distiller can collect the spirits in a liquid form. In order to condense the vapor to a liquid the distiller will need cool to cold water from a water source like a garden hose or a recirculation system that can be as elaborate or simple as needed.

For example a recirculation system can be as easy as a new clean Rubbermade Trash Can, submersible pond pump, inline valve, and some flexible tubing.

The basic hose kit that is included with Mile Hi Distilling complete stills is set up to be used with a garden hose as the water source supply. In this case the distiller can hook up the garden hose and bring the water into the hose mender into the clear piece of tubing to the lower port on the reflux condenser.

2nd piece of tubing going from the upper water port on the reflux condenser to the lower water port on the final product condenser on the arm. Then 3rd piece of tubing goes from the upper port on the final product condenser to the drain or a garden hose back to the yard.

A better way to hook up the hoses on a reflux still is to go to hardware store and pick up a garden hose splitter with the ball valves so you can control the water flow to each side. So you would bring the water to the splitter then separate water lines to each condenser. One water hose goes to the reflux condenser in the bottom port and out the top port of the reflux condenser and the other hose goes to the final product condenser, water into the bottom port and out the top.

As far as a pot still the hoses go into the lower port on the final product condenser and out the top port of the final product condenser.

What happens if I hook the hoses up backwards?   

These stills are very forgiving and if you hook up the hoses backwards the still will work. We have purposely hooked up the hoses backwards and the still ran fine. The important note when it comes to cooling the condenser is you want to be sure that there is no vapor pushing out of the still and not being condensed.

If the distiller sees vapor coming out of the end of the still then stop by turning off the heat and double check the hoses and water temperature. Alcohol vapor filling a room is dangerous so be sure that the condenser is condensing the vapor to a liquid.

4. How to pack column with copper mesh and raschig rings?

Packing a Reflux Column

First, take the column off of the still boiler or kettle and lay it on a table.

The easiest way to pack a column is to start out by lightly winding the copper mesh to a medium tight roll. As you backwind the copper to a medium tight roll increase its diameter to a little larger diameter then the diameter of the still column. For example; when packing a two inch diameter still column roll the copper up to about ½” or so larger then the diameter of the column so the copper mesh fits snug into the column.

Insert the roll into the bottom of the column. Do this again so you end up with two rolls inserted in from the bottom. Then clamp the column onto the boiler or kettle and pour raschig rings on top of the copper rolls filling up to about 2 inches below where the condenser arm enters the column. Do not block the tube hole where the condenser arms enters the column.

Packing a Pot Still

Same as above with just one roll of copper mesh. Maybe two if you want a little more purity and no raschig rings.

5.  Do stills sold by Mile Hi Distilling include column packing?

Yes, all Mile Hi Distilling complete stills and still kits include column packing which is copper mesh and raschig rings.  Raschig rings are ceramic rings used for surface area in the column to help get higher purity neutral spirit. These complete stills and still kits also include a basic hose kit to hook up to a garden hose.

Column or towers without the kettle or boiler so just towers do not include column packing and hose kit. Mile Hi Flutes and Copper Alembics do not include hose kits or column packing.

6. What is the best heat source for a still?

Electric is the best way to heat a still. Electric hot plate or an electric controller with electric heating element. When using electric heat source to heat and run your still you can run it inside and not have to worry about gas fumes or an open fire with highly flammable liquid and highly flammable vapor.

It is suggested to run a still in a ventilated area even with electric but it is much safer. Electric is also easy to control the heat. Steady heat is important when distilling because it will allow the distiller to control the flow of distillate coming out of the still with small precision adjustments.

7. What type of still should I get? What size still should I get? How much spirit will a still make?

As far as the type of still take a look at the question #2 and decide if a pot still or a reflux dual purpose still is best for you.  If you are only interested in carrying over flavor and making spirits like whisky, bourbon, brandy, schnapps, etc then we suggest a copper alembic still.

Size of Still

Mile Hi Distilling sells small counter top stills up to hundreds of gallon stills. Our most popular size still for hobbyist distiller is our 8 gallon. It is large enough to yield a decent amount and can be heated with an 110V electric heat source. 16 Gallon is our next size larger than the 8 gallon and can also be heated with two of the 110V 2000 watt heating elements. Larger stills will require 220V heat source.

See Sizes and Specs Below:

Counter Top Mr Distiller

– Hold 1 gallon of wash

– Easy to use and will produce a couple ounces of spirit

Turbo 500 Stills

  – 6.5 gallon or 20 liters

  – Electric element is integrated into the bottom of the still boiler. The Turbo 500 does not have any control over the heat. It is easy to use. Plug it in and go.

  – Will produce up to 3/4 gallon of spirits

  – This size still lines up with the 8 gallon fermentation bucket  (8 gallon capacity, the fermenter will need a few inches of head space so you can get about 6.5 gallons in it)

  – Mile Hi Distilling packets of yeast are for 6.5 gallon batches.

3 Gallon Stills

  – Can be heated with electric standard 110V /115V

  – Will produce up to 1/3 gallon of spirits

8 Gallon Stills  (This is 8 gallon capacity so with leaving a few inches of head space you can get 6.5 gallons in the 8 gallon kettle/boiler)

  – Can be heated with electric standard 110V /115V

  – Will produce up to 3/4 gallon of spirits

  – This size still lines up with the 8 gallon fermentation bucket  (8 gallon capacity, the fermenter will need a few inches of head space so you can get about 6.5 gallons in it)

  – Mile Hi Distilling packets of yeast are for 6.5 gallon batches.

  – The 8 gallon stainless milk can stills are our biggest seller for hobbyist distillers.

16 Gallon Stills

  – Can be heated with two of the 2000 watt heating elements and one 110V controller. These two elements will require two separate circuits. Both elements running on one circuit will pop the breaker.

  – Will produce up to or over 2 gallons of spirit.

26 Gallon Stills

  – Requires 220V to heat up the still

  – Will produce up to or over 4 gallons of spirit

8. What additional supplies and equipment do I need after purchasing a still?

Just like any hobby you start with what works and advance as you go. Start out with a still and a starter kit. After you have a still and starter kit which includes a fermentation bucket with lid and air lock, alcohol meter, hydrometer, test jar, and two packets of yeast to do two batches you can make two batches right away.

We always suggest to start with a sugar wash. You can get up to 20% alcohol in the fermentation process which gives you 20% alcohol to distill out.

After you get going, some supplies that you may want to think about are listed below:

  Essence Flavoring (A quick and easy way to flavor a neutral spirit. A sugar wash makes a neutral spirit)

  24” Stainless Steel Spoon

  Distillers Parrot (Allows you to drip from the still into the parrot collection cup which fills the body so you can see real time what your alcohol percentage or proof is as you run your still)

  Distilling Recipe Kits (Next step up from a sugar wash)

  Oak Aging

  Different Types of Distilling Yeast

9. What does filtering with activated carbon do?

Filtering with activated carbon removes impurities in the spirit and water that is used to proof down the spirit or dilute the spirit. The activated carbon is a porous material and absorbs impurities as the alcohol passes through it.

By removing impurities the spirit or alcohol will become much smoother. Many vodka distilleries will filter through activated carbon several times to “polish“ the spirit. It works really well. For small stills under 8 gallons the EZ Filter System can be used.

This is easy to use clean carbon cartridges and will filter up to 2 gallons per cartridge. Carbon cartridges are about 1 inch diameter x 4 inches tall.

The premium way to carbon filter is using the stainless filter unit. This stainless filter unit houses 1.5 lbs of carbon in a 2” diameter by 30” tall stainless tube with a stainless funnel. This is a lot of carbon and it works well. Will filter 12-15 gallons of spirit easily.

Activated carbon filtering is ideal for vodka and neutral spirits that will be used to make flavored products like Apple Pie or used with essence. This steps makes the spirit high quality then add the flavoring, etc.

10. What Is Alcohol Essence?

Alcohol essence is a fancy word for alcohol flavoring. Mile Hi Distilling has a very large assortment of alcohol essence to flavor pretty much anything you can find at a liquor store.

We sell a lot of these essence because they are inexpensive and easy to use. Just add a 20ml bottle to about 1 quart Mason jar of moonshine or neutral spirit.

We always suggest to flavor to taste so start out with half the bottle then slowly add more until you get it where you like the taste.

Some of these essence will have bases which are sugars or cream depending on the essence. It is also easy to condense sugar in water on the stove top to make a sweet syrup to add to with the essence flavoring for the sweeter flavors.

Not all essence need sugar. There are also essence that make neutral spirit taste like whisky or bourbon. They are not all spot on as far as taste goes but some are real close and especially for an easy to add flavor.

They are worth a try and fun when you get started with a sugar wash.  A sugar wash produces a neutral spirit so the essence are great way to have fun right from the start.

If you have any questions that we didn’t cover in the FAQ, call us at 303-987-3955 or email us using the form below and we’ll help you out.