Is this hobby really for me?

A must read category of topics to read by all members prior to posting questions already answered

Is this hobby really for me?

Postby Distillnation » Mon Apr 22, 2013 9:09 am

Is this hobby really for me?

This is probably something you have been contemplating over since you first read or heard about distilling. As with most hobbies, you need to go over the pros and cons of why you want to getting into it, and what kind of time and costs are involved in getting set up, and continuing the hobby. By the end of this write up you should have enough information to decide whether or not this is something for you!

You can not make alcohol for free, there are some costs involved in making the alchol, and we will learn more about that soon, but first a few things that need to be discussed before getting to the good stuff.

Before we go too far, I want to say something about this little write up. There is no index. You can't skip ahead easily. You should read this top to bottom. If you can't handle that much information, you probably should stop here because running a still isn't as simple as 1, 2, 3. It requires reading, it requires asking questions and it requires fiddling around.

If you're okay with that, you can continue on :handgestures-thumbupleft:

What do you want to get out of this hobby?

First things first. What do you want to get out of distilling.

Do you just want a quick and easy way to get alcohol?
Do you want to make a quality drop that will beat the price and taste of commercial products?

Think about that for a second, and when you're ready, we can move on.

I know what I want!

Alright then! That is all fine and dandy, but I think we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Do you want to make spirit that you can mix with essences (a neutral spirit), or do you want to make whiskey/whisky/rum/etc (a flavoured spirit)?

If you want to make a neutral spirit to mix with essences, your best bet is to go with a reflux still. We won't go into too much detail with the different types of stills as there is plenty of that around. We just want to work out whether or not you have the time and money to enter into this hobby.

If you want to make a flavoured spirit (whiskey/whisky/rum/etc) a pot still would be a good starting place.

So, have you decided what you want? Yes? Lets move on then.

I want to make a neutral spirit that I can use with essences!

Okay, so for making neutral spirit, we want to go with a reflux still. This will make a neutral/flavourless spirit that you can mix with store bought flavours. But don't get too ahead of yourself just yet.

If you don't have the skills to build your own, you will likely be looking at buying one from another member on the site you frequent (in this case, AussieDistiller).

There are a few members here who do excellent copper work, and will make exactly what you want and will cater to your every need. They will be more than happy to recommend the best piece of equipment for your needs.

What kind of price will I be looking at, you ask?

Going by one of the main members here, a nice 2" boka with all the bells and whistles (minus the boiler) will set you back ~$500 delivered.

Holy s***!

Does that seem expensive to you? If so, you may want to re-think your options. But before that, think of it this way.

That price pales in comparison to what you can spend on commercial product. For example:
A quick search shows that $500 of alcohol is approximately 11 bottles of Jack Daniels.
Once you've finished that alcohol, that's it. You have to buy more. It ain't going to fill itself back up.

Now lets look at the still price again. $500.
You buy/make your first still. You have it for life. It's a once off equipment price that you spend. From there on out you only pay for your wash ingredients, and you can make as much alcohol as you, your family, your friends, etc can ever think of drinking.

Okay, so after pondering that for a while and consulting the minister of finance, lets move on.

Sorry, I don't want to spend that much!

Okay, so that's not for you.

The next option is a pot still.
Going by the same member who builds these stills, you can get a pot still for ~$140.

That's more like it!

I thought it might be more appealing to you...What's the catch, you say?
Well, you won't be able to make the quality neutral you would with a reflux still.
That doesn't necisarrily mean that you can't get close to a neutral spirit that could be used for flavouring, but if it was that simple, we would all be recommending the cheaper pot still.

A pot still is great for many recipes such as bourbon, whisky, rum, etc. This essentially removes the need to purchase essences from you local homebrew shop.

If I don't need to buy essences, then why would I even bother spending the money on a reflux?

That's a good question.

The reason people use a reflux still and essences is because of the simple reason that it is easy. Making a simple sugar wash, running it through the still and adding an essence is something anyone can manage with a little bit of reading. Much like reading the packet of 2minute noodles.

If you want to make a rum/whisky/etc to run through a pot still, you will need to make a wash that requires a bit of extra work, whether that is adding grains to the fermenter, or even mashing the grains for a specific time and temperature.

So, that brings us back to the earlier topic.

Do you want an easy to make alcohol or something worthwhile?

We've covered the basic startup costs for each type of product so far.

The more expensive reflux still and the cheaper pot still. Now, that's not to say you won't find a cheap reflux still, but as a guide, that is what you are looking at for a nice quality still.

So, for arguments sake, you have a limit to spend on equipment and you have decided that you don't care, you're going to get a still no matter what, and can upgrade later on. Whether or not that limit allows the purchase of a reflux or not, will not effect the next part. A boiler.

Great..more stuff. How much is this settling me back?

Well, it's not quite that simple.

Most members opt for a 50L keg as their boiler. Yep, the ones that pubs use for beer. You can pick a keg up for as little as $50 in most cases. They are for sale on gumtree, eBay, etc regularly or maybe you even have a contact who is selling them.

Oh, that's not so bad.

It's not, but you also need to decide on your heat source. You can have either electric, gas, or even both, but we won't cover the differences or what works best, we are just discussing if it is for you.

Gas Boiler

For a gas boiler, there are a few things needed to invest in, unless you already have them.
1) A gas bottle.
2) A gas burner (3 or 4 ring is best)
3) Hose and regulator.
4) A stand to hold the boiler above the burner.

These things can be costly. We are talking upwards of $150 brand new, but you can get them cheaper if you shop around or go second hand.

There are ongoing costs, but that is just in the form of gas refills. A gas bottle will generally last a couple runs, depending on the bottle size.

Electric Boiler

Like the gas boiler, there are a few requirements you need to make.
1) An element.
2) A controller to adjust the watts of the element.
3) A place to plug it in!!

Now, having recently made an electric boiler, I can tell you that it will cost about $80 for the element and basic parts for the controller. This does not include the wiring of the controller, a case to put the electrical components in, or the tools/labor to get the element installed.

We also have ongoing costs such as electricty to run the element(s).

Deciding on the boiler...

After reading through the basic differences between electric and gas, you will need to decide what is easier for you.

Most people will be able to decide easily based on whether or not they have the powerpoint availability to run a 10Amp element.

Essentially it is up to convience and what you have access to as the startup costs for gas and electric can vary based on who you know and what you have already.

So I'll leave this topic up to you, as there isn't much else to expand on. The choice is yours.

Okay. I've got my still decided, and I know what way I want to use my boiler. Do I get free alcohol now?

It doesn't quite work like that, sorry.

Depending on the still you chose, you will need to make a wash to run through the still.

Let me guess...more money?

Correct! You're learning fast.

You will need a fermenter or a barrel that you can use to make your wash in. These pop up all the time on gumtree, eBay, etc or you might be able to pick one up for cheap (<$30) at your homebrew shop.

Easy enough..

Now, you can go to the homebrew shop and drop $10 on some turbo yeast, $10 on some sugar and go home and follow the directions, but chances are it won't be what you're looking for.

We like to use basic recipes that don't rely on a super-yeast that was designed for making fuel.

There are simple recipes such as a Tomato Paste Wash which can be made for <$10 and will make a nice neutral spirit when run through a reflux still.

If you have a pot still, you can make a Rum, Bourbon, etc for a price more expensive than a reflux still, but the money you spend on the extra ingredients, is money you would be spending on essences anyway, so it evens out in the long run.

If you read through the wash recipe section you can get an idea of what is out there and the various recipes. They range from simple to more time consuming, but the end result is what counts. If you want a nice tasting spirit, you will have to spend the extra time to get there.

That sounds fine. I've read some recipes and know what I want. Now do I get that sweet nectar?

We're almost there. We've covered basic costs of equipment and recipes, but we haven't covered the other cost. Time.

It isn't as simple as putting the wash in your boiler, turning it on, and getting alcohol straight away. This takes time.

For starters, you need to ferment the wash. This can take anywhere from 3-14 days, or even longer, depending on the conditions you ferment in. You can read more about that in the recipe/fermentation section, but we will keep that time range for now so you can get an idea of how long this whole process takes.

You've got your wash, it has fermented out, and you're reading to distill it!
It's the big day! You're prepared to distill your first wash.

What do I do now?

We need to put the wash in the boiler and get everything set up. This is the quickest part so far. If you are good, you can get this done in less than 15 minutes.

After your condenser hoses are attached, the wash is in the boiler and the still is clamped on the keg, we can turn on our gas or electric element.

Wooo! Finally!! Wait.. my condenser hoses?

You will need a water supply to cool the alcohol vapours as they come out the still. This can either be your garden hose, or a pump in a rainwater tank or container. Obviously these are more costs that you need to factor in. A pump is good for recirculating water, but then you need to invest in a pump ($50) and you need a container to hold a large volume of water. ($50+). Or if you want, you can run it straight out the tap, but that can get wasteful.

Okay, that's easy enough. Now, back to the distilling. So, how long will it be? 30mins? An hour?

If only...

We need to discuss a couple more things first. Stripping runs and Spirit runs.

Who and what?!

A stripping run is the process of stripping all the alcohol out of your wash to create "low wines". This process depends on the type of still you run, but can take anywhere from 2-6 hours. Maybe more. Once you have stripped the wash, you put your "low wines" back into the still for the spirit run.

A spirit run is the process of making a good quality end product out of your low wines. This process also depends on the equipment and can take anywhere from 4-12 hours. When you are finished, you will have something that is drinkable, once diluted to a sane ABV%.

Okay, so that is a lot longer than I thought. Can't I just do a spirit run and not strip it?

Yes, you can. You might not get as good a spirit as you would from doing a stripping run first, but it is possible to do and you will save the time of doing multiple runs. This is something that relates back to the first couple questions of whether you want something easy or something that will be great quality.

Well, that is still a long process. Can I just start it up before work and when I come home turn it off?

No, no and no!

You must watch the still and be in eyesight range at all times. You need to be there if anything goes wrong, and you need to change over the collection jars when they get full. This is a hobby that requires full involvement. If you can't make the commitment to spend a day with your still, you might want to wait a bit longer until you can make the time.

Alright. So I know what I want to use, the wash I want to make, and I can make the time to watch it. Is there anything else this will cost me?

There are a few other things you will need.
1) An alcometer to measure your alcohol strength. *recommended
2) A hydrometer to measure your wash sugar content. *optional
3) Privacy. You don't want everyone and their dog to know what you are doing! This is your little secrect.
4) Time and patience. This isn't a hobby that happens over night. There is a lot of reading and questioning. There is a lot of time that will be spent just waiting for the wash to finish, or the still to do it's thing.

Are we done yet?

Yes. If you have gotten to this point, and you have still decided that you want a still even after all the costs and time involved, then you are on your way to a great hobby.

As I have said throughout the write up, we have only just touched the surface of the distilling world. There is a library worth of information that you can read, and most likely will need to read to get on your way to a final product.

Read through the topics in the newbie section to learn more about the types of stills and how they work, keeping in mind the prices involved in getting them set up.

We don't want to scare you off, because we love doing this, it is very rewarding to sit down after a long day, and sip on something that you have put money, time and sweat into, and just think "I made this." The feeling doesn't get any better.

You get to make exactly what you want, how you want, and for a cheaper cost than the stores, it just takes time and a start-up investment.

I would like to personally wish you luck with your decision, and hope that you take as much pride in your product as we all do here.

Remember, read, read and read. Ask, ask and ask some more. You will find everything you will need here and more. Don't be afraid to ask a question, but most of the "beginner" questions you might have will be find right here, in the newbie sections.
Posts: 291
Joined: Tue Jan 08, 2013 8:04 pm
Location: South Australia
equipment: L.M Frankenstill + 50L (weldless) electric boiler

Return to Newbies Corner

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest