To quote the great Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a changing.” It would seem that legal home distilling is in our near future.
There is a bill being crafted for congress that includes the stipulation for home distilling and, in my opinion, it is a long time in coming. We have been allowed to make beer and wine at home for a long time now and it is time to take a giant step back in time and allow for home distillation again. There are, however, a few things I think are worth mentioning about home distilling.
The first thing people will probably think (not) is that home distilling will hurt the commercial distilling industry. Being allowed to make beer and wine at home hasn’t seemed to hurt the breweries and wineries and I don’t expect it will hurt distilleries either. It’s not as easy as you think to make good Spirits.
There are some serious dangers associated with distilling:
Making your own still: Unless you are very knowledgeable about soldering and the physics of a still I would advise against making your own still.
One of the greatest dangers is the use of regular lead based solder. We have all heard the stories of moonshine making people go blind and such. Sadly some of these are very true. If you are intent on making your own still, do your homework. I would suggest contacting your local welder, plumber or boiler-maker and pick their brain or better yet buy a still on line.
http://www.hillbillystills.com/ makes very good stills in various sizes. There may be more people out there who make stills but I am unaware of them at the moment. Our first still was a “Hillbilly Still”. It was a 25 gallon still with a 4 plate column. It works great! We now use it for experimental distilling (having moved up to a 125 gallon Vendome still http://vendomecopper.com/ )
Fire danger: There are many ways to heat your still. The easiest is by direct fire. It is also the most dangerous because alcohol vapor and open flames don’t mix or should I say they mix all too well with, often, cataclysmic results.
If you don’t assemble your still properly you can get a pressure build up and not only can your still explode from the pressure build up but then the alcohol vapor can catch on fire and alcohol fires are very hard to put out.
Always have a proper fire extinguisher on hand, as this can save your house or your life.
Ingredients: The general rule of thumb is that if it’s edible going in its drinkable coming out. The big danger is that you want to be wary of adding “wood” to your ferment. As these can make very bad compounds that can hurt you
Learn how to distill: There is a lot of information out there on distilling. Educate yourself! Knowing the basics can make your life so much easier. On the one hand it’s as simple as boiling water and yet there is so much more.
So much more: If you are going to distill you are going to have to learn not only about distilling but also beer brewing and wine making, depending on what you are going to make. I am going to guess that most people are going to want to make Whiskey (classic moonshine stuff). Whiskey is basically made from beer (a grain based beverage) without the hops. If you distill beer and think that you will make a drinkable whiskey, think again. The hops in beer offset the super sweetness of all the grains. Hop oil also volatilizes very easily and will come over in a disproportionate amount to make you a very bitter whiskey. The general rule of thumb is garbage in garbage out or as I like to say, “You can’t polish a turd!” If you don’t make a good wash you won’t come out with good spirits. This also applies to wines and ciders, etc.
Learn to cook: If you know how to cook (and I don’t mean the boil water and add a package of something or throw it in the microwave type of cooking) you should be able to design good spirits.
Time, Effort and Money: In the end you will need equipment for all the stages of making your Spirits. It will take time to make everything and of course you will need money to pay for everything. If you are the hobbyist extraordinaire you will love the process. For most everyone else it will be too much time, effort and money. That’s why you don’t usually see home brewers drinking only their home brew (I do know a gentleman who drinks only his own beer, but then again, he owns the brewery).
Another note: Be aware that your insurance company may not cover damage from a home distilling set up. Cheers!