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Step By Step Guide

A Fresh Start With A New Still

Like everything else on this web site, the following account is, of course, purely fictional. It is how I imagine I would go about distilling alcohol, if it was legal in this country.I have just (December 1999) made myself a new still,and put a new brew on to try it out.

To make things more interesting, I have decided to record all the details and put them on this page. Most of the other stuff on this web site relies on my below average memory, but this page provides a record of a brew from fermentation to drinking. Hopefully, someone out there will find this information useful.

First Steps

First a visit to the shop where I buy my beer making kits.

Me:- "Have you got some yeast that will give a high alcohol content?"

Shopkeeper:- "Try this one, with this yeast nutrient."

The yeast he gave me had the following text on the sachet:-

Gervin Wine Yeast

High Alcohol


French Strain GV26

Particularly suitable for making high alcohol beverages(~ 21% if adequate nutrient present)

To Use: Add the contents of the sachet to about 50 ml of lukewarm water (~35 deg C) containing 1/2 tsp. of sugar. Leave for 15 minutes, stir well, then add to must.

Sufficient for: Up to 5 gallons of must.

Packed for: Gervin Supplies, 61 Church Road, Woodley, Reading, Berks, RG5 4PT.

Tel: 0118-9691518

The labels on the two containers of yeast nutrient that I bought read as follows:


Gervin Yeast Nutrient

Contents: 55 grams

Best Before: 31.12.2000

Contains: a mixture of mineral salts, aminoacids and vitamins, including inositol, nicotinic acid, pyridoxine, thiamine, pantothenic acid, and biotin.

Typical Analysis: nitrogen 12%, phosphorous 20%, potassium 8%, magnesium 2.9%;(contains no urea)

Suggested Dose: 1-2 grams per gallon for wines, and 6 grams/litre for the production of high alcohol levels from sugar solutions.

Gervin Supplies, 61 Church Road, Woodley, Reading

Tel. 0118 969 1518

Brewing Up

Poured 1/2 a bottle of cheap household bleach into my 5 gallon bucket (N.B. I think I was using far too much bleach, nowadays I would make do with half a cupful), filled to the brim with cold water, stuffed the lid inside , and left it all standing for about 2 hours before rinsing well with cold water.

Put 5 Kg of sugar into the bucket, and kept on pouring boiling water onto it, while stirring continuously, until it was all dissolved. Topped up to the 5 gallon mark using a mixture of hot an cold water to get the temperature to exactly 25 deg C.

Sprinkled both 55 gram packs of yeast nutrient onto the surface of brew, while stirring well. This seemed like a lot of nutrient to me, but was slightly less than the recommended amount (see above).

Started off yeast as per instructions (see above), and added to brew.

Stirred well, checked temperature and hydrometer readings, and fitted the lid. Incidentally, I have since been told that it is more accurate to take your initial hydrometer reading BEFORE adding any yeast or nutrient. That doesn't really affect me though, as I only use a hydrometer to get a rough idea of how the fermentation is progressing.

Placed the brew into a small cupboard which, don't try this at home kids, I have rigged up with a 40 Watt light bulb as a heat source.

Waited for brew to ferment and clear, and took the following notes:-

Date ------ Time -- Hyd ---- Temp --- Notes
30/12/99 -- 2015 -- 1.090 -- 25 ----- Stirred well.
31/12/99 -- 0530 -- 1.092 -- 22 ----- Stirred well, rise in hydrometer reading due to temperature difference?
31/12/99 -- 1840 -- 1.082 -- 22 ----- Decided not to stir any more.
01/01/00 -- 1430 -- 1.051 -- 25 ----- No added heat, but temperature rise. Heat from fermentation?
02/01/00 -- 0800 -- 1.026 -- 25 -----
03/01/00 -- 0030 -- 1.012 -- 23 -----
03/01/00 -- 1000 -- 1.004 -- 23 -----
04/01/00 -- 0100 -- 0.997 -- 22 -----
04/01/00 -- 0930 -- <.995 -- 21 ----- Hydrometer reading just off scale.
05/01/00 -- 0130 ---- x ---- 20 -----
05/01/00 -- 1030 ---- x ---- 19 ----- Heater (40 Watt light bulb) switched on.
05/01/00 -- 1530 ---- x ---- 22 ----- Still fermenting.
06/01/00 -- 0800 ---- x ---- 28 ----- Heater switched off, still fermenting.
06/01/00 -- 1600 ---- x ---- 24 ----- Still a few bubbles.
07/01/00 -- 0600 ---- x ---- 20 ----- Fermentation appears to have stopped.
08/01/00 -- 1945 ---- x ----- x ----- Starting to clear
11/01/00 -- 2230 ---- x ----- x ----- Start to run through Still.

Don't forget that in England we write the date properly - DD/MM/YY

My New Still

The pot for my new still didn't cost me a penny, I simply made a slight modification to my wallpaper steam stripper. If you live in England you can pick one up quite cheaply at Argos or B&Q etc.

All I did was cut the hose in half so I could fit it to my condenser. There are actually two plastic pipes, one inside the other, this stops the outside of the hose from getting hot.

Fortunately, the inner pipe was just a nice fit inside the input of my condenser, where I secured it with insulating tape, and the outer pipe fitted nicely around the outside of the condenser input, held in place with insulating tape.

There are different makes of wallpaper stripper, but they all seem to have a 2 Kw element. Unfortunately I haven't got any way of controlling the power output yet, but I still got what I consider to be a reasonable yield of a very palatable, fairly pure drink.

My New Condenser

I stole the idea from the plans for a reflux still found on the internet. There is a copy of the plans on this web site,in a pdf format book, click here to download it. The author gives his permission for anyone to use/modify any of his plans, and to distribute his book freely. It looks like an interesting design. If anyone tries building it, let me know how it performs.

There wasn't really anything wrong with the first coil I made, I just wanted to try something different, and this new one was cheap and easy to make. The diagram below took me longer to make than the real thing.

The coil I made previously had a 10mm dia. bore. This new condenser has a 15mm dia bore. I thought that this larger diameter, and the fact that it is straight rather than coiled, might give a larger throughput, the only danger being that some vapour might travel straight through without condensing and be lost to the atmosphere, but I don't think this was a problem.

Water is supplied via a piece of old hosepipe which is just a nice fit over the 10mm copper tube input.


The Distillation - First Run

Siphon first gallon of brew into still. Connect Pot to Condenser,
holding hose up with a piece of string in the middle, fastened to a nail
in the wall.

Switched on still, and water supply. Noise from heating element
virtually straight away

Outside of still starting to get hot.

Not as noisy. Smell like meth's at output, but no liquid appearing.

Boiling vigorously. Steady stream of distillate. Threw the first half
cupful away, as it smelled like meth's.

Quarter of a pint collected so far. Looks quite clear.

Seems to have slowed down, but still a steady stream of clear liquid.

Three quarters of a pint collected.

Increased water flow, as outside of condenser starting to warm up.

One pint collected.

Seems to have slowed down again, but still a steady stream of of clear

Turning cloudy. Switched still off.


After this first run on the first gallon of brew, I ended up with a full pint of clear, not bad tasting, distillate. To avoid mixing the cloudy stuff, at the end of the run, with the clear stuff, I was colecting a small amount in a glass, then swapping for a fresh glass, and transferring contents to a bottle.

I thought of collecting some of the tails (cloudy stuff) and adding them back to the next run, but decided that quality is better than quantity.

Distillate from first run burns with a clear blue flame, but, when burnt out, leaves quite a lot of water (etc?) on spoon.

Second Run

Half filled still with water from tap, swithced off water supply to condenser, and ran some steam through it to clean out. Switched water supply back on, and let some distilled water run through still to wash it out.

Poured two and three quarter pints of bottled water into the Still, and added the five pints of distillate collected from first run.

Discarded first half pint of liquid. Kept tasting a drop (literally), and burning half a spoonful (very little residue after burnt out. Stopped collecting at approx. four pints of very clear liqiid.

I was going to do a third run, but didn't finish second run until half past one in the morning, so settled for two runs.

The Finished Product

Diluted my four pints of 'alcohol' with an equal amount of bottled water ("Abbey Well Spring Water"), and ended up with eight pints of what tastes like a very acceptable Vodka.

It is clear, nice to drink, and does not give me a hangover. on this basis, I am not worried that I am poisoning myself. If you think I should have any concerns, then PLEASE let me know.

Manyt of you probably know more about distilling than I do, why not write something, and put it on a web site for us to share.

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