Stainless Steel vs. Copper Stills

Stainless Steel vs. Copper Stills

Making moonshine is a fun but serious process. One of the most important elements is the still you choose. The choice between copper and stainless steel still is important, but which still is right for you? 

What is a Still?



A still is a distillation apparatus used to separate and purify liquids, particularly in the process of making spirits such as whiskey or vodka.

It consists of a boiler or pot, a column or chamber, and a condenser. The liquid to be distilled is heated in the pot, which creates steam. 


The steam rises into the column where it condenses and then flows into the condenser, where it is cooled and converted back into liquid form. 

This process allows for the separation of impurities and the collection of the desired distilled spirit. 

Different materials, such as stainless steel or copper, can be used to construct stills, each with its own unique qualities and characteristics.

Benefits of Using a Still



Using a still offers a variety of benefits for those looking to experiment with distillation or create high-quality alcohol.


By harnessing the distillation process, a still allows for the separation of different components in a liquid, resulting in the production of purified spirits and the removal of impurities.


One advantage of using a still is the ability to control the fermentation process. This enables the formation of esters, which are responsible for the characteristic aromas and flavors found in certain alcoholic beverages.


By customizing the fermentation process, distillers can achieve the desired profiles and create unique and flavorful spirits.


Furthermore, using a still ensures the production of quality alcohol. The distillation process removes unwanted substances, such as sulfur compounds, resulting in a smoother and cleaner-tasting product. This is particularly important in the production of neutral spirits or vodka, where a pure and neutral flavor is desired.

The benefits of using a still include the ability to control the distillation and fermentation processes, resulting in the formation of esters and the production of high-quality alcohol.

Whether you're a hobbyist or a professional distiller, a still is an essential tool for creating unique and flavorful spirits.


The Debate: Stainless Steel vs. Copper



The debate between using stainless steel and copper stills in the distillation process is a longstanding one. Both materials have their advantages and drawbacks that distillers must consider when choosing the best option for their needs.

One key difference between stainless steel and copper is their conductivity of heat. Copper is an excellent heat conductor, allowing for efficient heat transfer during distillation. This can result in a faster and more precise distillation process. In contrast, stainless steel has lower conductivity and may require longer heating times.

A big disadvantage of copper stills, especially for beginners, is the cost.


Copper stills cost significantly more than stainless steel stills. A large initial investment when you aren’t really sure whether you will enjoy moonshining can be discouraging. 


When it comes to reaction with sulfur compounds, copper has an advantage. Sulfur compounds can give distilled spirits an undesirable taste, often described as "sulfurous" or "eggy."

Copper has the ability to react with these compounds at a molecular level, reducing or eliminating their presence and resulting in a cleaner and more palatable spirit.

Stainless steel, on the other hand, may not have the same sulfur reduction capabilities.

However, most stainless steel stills have the ability to allow you to add copper mesh.


By adding copper mesh to a stainless steel still you essentially get the best of both worlds- a more affordable still and great tasting shine. 


Maintenance and durability are also important factors to consider. Stainless steel stills are known for their low maintenance requirements and durability. They are resistant to corrosion and can withstand regular cleaning and sanitization without damage.

Copper stills, while also durable, require regular maintenance to keep their surfaces clean and free from oxidation.

Lastly, it's worth considering the aesthetic appeal of the still. Copper has a classic and traditional look that many distillers prefer. It adds a touch of elegance to the distillation process.

Stainless steel, on the other hand, has a sleek and modern appearance that may appeal to those looking for a more contemporary aesthetic.

Both stainless steel and copper have their advantages and drawbacks when it comes to distilling spirits.

Distillers must consider factors such as conductivity, sulfur reduction, maintenance, durability, and aesthetic appeal to determine the best option for their specific needs and preferences.

Benefits of Stainless Steel Stills



Stainless steel stills offer several benefits that make them a preferred material for distillation.

Firstly, stainless steel is known for its excellent conductivity of heat, allowing for efficient and precise distillation processes. This ensures a faster and more consistent heating process, resulting in high-quality spirits. 

Additionally, stainless steel stills have low maintenance requirements and are highly durable. They are resistant to corrosion and can be easily cleaned and sanitized without the risk of damage. This makes stainless steel stills a practical and long-lasting investment for distillers. 

Stainless steel stills are also more economical than copper.


This is a great advantage for those who want to get into the hobby of making moonshine without breaking the bank in the process. 


Furthermore, stainless steel stills have a sleek and modern appearance that appeals to those looking for a contemporary aesthetic.

With their combination of functionality, durability, and aesthetics, stainless steel stills are an excellent choice for distillers producing top-notch spirits.

Excellent Conductor of Heat and Electricity



Stainless steel stills are known for their excellent conductivity of heat and electricity, making them a popular choice in the distillation process.


While copper stills have long been associated with their ability to efficiently transfer heat, stainless steel stills offer comparable or even superior conductivity.


In terms of heat transfer, copper is known to be 20 times faster than stainless steel. However, stainless steel stills can still efficiently transfer heat due to their excellent conductive properties.

The enhanced conductivity allows for a more even distribution of heat, resulting in a more precise and controlled distillation process.

The conductivity of electricity in stainless steel stills is also noteworthy. The molecular-level structure of stainless steel facilitates the flow of electrical current, making it an excellent conductor.

This ensures a consistent and efficient transfer of electrical energy throughout the still, contributing to the overall effectiveness of the distillation process.

The exceptional conductivity of heat and electricity in stainless steel stills impacts both the efficiency and energy costs of distillation.

The efficient transfer of heat reduces the time required for distillation, resulting in higher productivity.


Additionally, stainless steel's conductivity helps maintain stable temperatures, preventing fluctuations that could compromise the quality of the distilled spirits.


While copper stills have long been favored for their heat transfer qualities, stainless steel stills offer comparable conductivity and numerous advantages such as resistance to corrosion and durability. 

When considering the overall efficiency and energy costs, stainless steel stills are an excellent choice for distillers looking for a reliable and cost-effective option.

Non-Reactive and Durable



Stainless steel and copper stills are both popular choices for distillation processes due to their non-reactive and durable qualities.


Stainless steel is a non-reactive material, meaning it does not chemically interact with the substances being distilled. 


This ensures that the final product remains pure and free from any unwanted flavors or chemical reactions. 

Additionally, stainless steel is highly resistant to corrosion and rust. This is due to the property of passivation, where a protective layer of oxide forms on the surface of the steel, preventing any further corrosion.

As a result, stainless steel stills have a longer lifespan and require minimal maintenance.

Copper stills, on the other hand, not only possess excellent durability but also offer additional benefits. 

Copper is also a non-reactive material that does not alter the flavor of the distilled spirits. Moreover, copper has the ability to develop a natural patina over time, which acts as a protective barrier against corrosion. 

This natural patina not only enhances the durability of the still but also adds a unique and rustic appearance to it.

In the long run, the durability of a still is crucial for its performance and longevity. The non-reactive nature of both stainless steel and copper ensures that the final product is of the highest quality. 

Additionally, their durability means less frequent repairs or replacements, resulting in cost savings for distillers. Overall, both stainless steel and copper stills are excellent choices for those seeking non-reactive and durable equipment for their distillation processes.

Cost-Effective and Easily Accessible



When it comes to investing in a still for distillation, cost-effectiveness and accessibility are important factors to consider. In this regard, stainless steel stills prove to be a more viable option compared to copper stills.

One of the main advantages of stainless steel stills is their cost-effectiveness. Stainless steel is generally cheaper than copper, making stainless steel stills more affordable for those on a budget. 

Additionally, stainless steel is a widely available material, making it easily accessible for those looking to purchase a still.

In terms of durability, stainless steel stills excel. Stainless steel is highly resistant to corrosion and rust, ensuring a longer lifespan for the still. 

Moreover, stainless steel is easy to clean, making maintenance a breeze. This not only reduces the overall cost of ownership but also ensures the production of high-quality distilled spirits.


Overall, stainless steel stills offer a more cost-effective and readily available option for those looking to invest in a still.


With their durability, ease of cleaning, and lower cost, stainless steel stills provide an excellent choice for distillers of all levels.

Resistant to Corrosion and Rusting



Stainless steel stills offer a distinct advantage when it comes to resistance against corrosion and rusting. This is due to the unique properties of stainless steel, making it a preferred material for distillation purposes.


Stainless steel contains a significant amount of chromium, which forms a protective oxide layer on its surface when exposed to oxygen.


This oxide layer acts as a barrier, preventing the underlying metal from coming into contact with corrosive elements, such as water or sulfur compounds.

As a result, stainless steel stills are highly resistant to corrosion, ensuring a longer lifespan and lower maintenance costs.

Additionally, the protective oxide layer offers rust resistance, further extending the life of stainless steel stills. Unlike copper stills, which may develop greenish patinas from oxidation, stainless steel remains unaffected, maintaining its functionality and aesthetic appeal over time.

The ability of stainless steel to resist corrosion and rust provides added benefits in terms of efficiency. The protective oxide layer ensures that there is no chemical interaction between the metal and the distilled spirits, preserving their quality and taste. 


Stainless steel stills also offer ease of cleaning, minimizing the risk of contaminants and ensuring consistent production of high-quality, pure spirits.


In comparison, copper stills are more prone to corrosion, especially when in contact with liquids containing sulfur compounds. 

Over time, this corrosion can result in the formation of harmful chemicals and a sulfur taste in the distilled spirits. Furthermore, copper stills require regular polishing and maintenance to prevent corrosion and ensure optimal performance.

Overall, the resistance to corrosion and rusting is a significant advantage of stainless steel stills, providing a longer lifespan, higher efficiency, and consistent production of high-quality distilled spirits.

Benefits of Copper Stills



Copper stills offer several advantages in the distillation process, making them a preferred material for many distillers. 

The unique properties of copper contribute to the production of high-quality, flavorful spirits. One of the main benefits of copper stills is their exceptional heat transfer qualities. 

Copper is an excellent conductor of heat, allowing for efficient and controlled heating during the distillation process. This ensures precise temperature control, which is crucial for obtaining the desired flavors and aromas in the final product.

Another advantage of copper stills is their ability to remove sulfur compounds from the distilled spirits. Sulfur compounds are often created during the fermentation process and can result in off-flavors and undesirable aromas in the final product. 

The copper surface of the still interacts with these sulfur compounds, catalyzing their conversion into less volatile compounds, such as dimethyl trisulphide. This transformation reduces the presence of sulfur compounds and helps to create a clean, smooth spirit.


Furthermore, copper stills play a crucial role in the formation of esters, which contribute to the fruity character and complexity of many distilled spirits. 


The interaction between the alcohol vapors and the copper column or copper pot in a copper still promotes the formation of esters through chemical reactions. These esters add depth and richness to the flavor profile of the spirits, enhancing their overall quality.

Overall, copper stills are valued for their heat transfer qualities, sulfur reduction capabilities, and their role in the formation of esters. These qualities make copper stills a popular choice among distillers seeking to produce high-quality, flavorful spirits.

Superior Conductivity of Heat



When it comes to the distillation process, the choice of material for your still can significantly impact the quality of your spirits. Copper stills offer a distinct advantage over stainless steel stills with their superior conductivity of heat.


Copper is renowned for its exceptional heat transfer qualities, making it an efficient heat conductor.


This means that copper stills can facilitate faster and more uniform heat distribution during distillation, ensuring precise temperature control and optimal flavor extraction.

The remarkable thermal conductivity of copper is also evident in various HVAC appliances, such as water heaters and boilers. These appliances commonly employ copper heat exchangers to enhance their heating efficiency.

The excellent thermal conductivity of copper enables these heat exchangers to quickly transfer heat from the energy source to the water or fluid, resulting in rapid and consistent warming.

Homeowners often consider thermal conductivity as a critical factor when choosing between copper and stainless steel stills.

The superior conductivity of heat in copper stills ensures that heat is efficiently transferred throughout the distillation process, enabling the extraction of desired flavors and aromas with precision and consistency.

In summary, copper stills surpass stainless steel stills in terms of efficient heat conduction, elevating the quality of distilled spirits. 

Its remarkable conductivity of heat allows for faster and more uniform heat distribution during distillation, making copper stills the preferred choice for professional distillers and enthusiasts alike.


The Best Still For Making Moonshine



At How to Moonshine we have a still for every shiner. For those new to making moonshine or want a simple and compact option, we have our Moonshine Cherry. 

Our Moonshine Cherry is about the size of your kitchen kettle and just as easy to use. Its compact design makes it the perfect portable option for your cottage, trailer or boat. 



The Moonshine Cherry uses plug and play technology which means you can get great tasting shine at the press of a button. With its own internal cooling fan this still does not require an external water source which makes it perfect for beginners.

For those who are up for the challenge, The Magnum all-in-one still is a perfect option. This pot still has a large 50L barrel to make tasty shine every time. 




The Magnum’s barrel can act as both a still and a fermentor, saving you money and valuable storage space. 

The Magnum is easy to set up and run and can run on a stovetop or induction burner. 

For those who prefer a column still that can offer a higher proof neutral spirit, The Standard is a great option. 


The Standard reflux All-in-One still is the perfect option for someone who wants a simple to run still that produces excellent results. The Standard is electric and simple to operate but provides optimal results. 

The Standard’s column is made for copper mesh packing to both increase your ABV and produce great tasting shine. 

Like the Magnum, the Standard acts as both a fermentor and a still. Again, this is both a great savings and less bulky equipment to store.