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The process of distilling moonshine will never be successful without using the appropriate still. Hence, choosing the right kind of still to use is very essential in making moonshine or any kind of distilled beverage. Basically, there are three kinds of stills that are widely used by commercial and home brewers and these are the following: pots still, fractionating still and reflux still. Choosing the right kind of still for your needs is a big contributor to the quality of your final product. Yet, it does not actually mean that each type cannot carry out all the tasks of another, but certain types are just more specific than the others.
The simplest kind of still is the pot still. This type is widely preferred due to its simplicity and convenience. Its main components are the condenser and boiler which can execute all the functions needed to produce a finely distilled beverage. This works by placing the mash or the sugar based wash into the boiler and then heat is applied using a gas flame or an electric source. The liquid wash is then transformed into vapor and then allowed to rise into the condenser which turns the liquid back into liquid form. Typically, the vapor temperature is often measured in order to identify the composition of the vapor at certain points in the distillation process. For instance, if the temperature of the vapor is around 78-82 degrees Celsius, it is just right to assume that most of the liquid that you are getting is ethanol because of its boiling point.
This is also very useful to produce spirits with varying strengths with mush ease although the process can take long. If you use a grain or sugar wash fermented with 20% alcohol strength and run it in the still pot once, you will achieve a still output with 60% alcohol strength given it was run under 72 and 92 degrees Celsius. This output is full of flavor and can be modified even further by running it in the still for the second time around under the same temperature. The still outcome will come up with a spirit containing 80-95% alcohol but less flavorful. If you do this again and halt collecting the spirit when the temperature of the vapor reaches below 90 degrees Celsius, you will end up with an almost pure spirit with fewer flavors.
Moving forward, another kind of still to use is the reflux still. It is also made up of major components such as the boiler and the condenser, but includes a vertical column between the two structures. This column is packed with metal like substance such as stainless steel or even marbles. This type of still works as the temperature of the column changes and gets further from the source of heat. In essence, this means that as the vapors pass through the column, most of it undergoes condensation and come back into the boiler in liquid state. Thus, the taller the column, the purer the final spirit will be. This type of still is more recommended if you want to come up with spirits with alcohol strength of over 95%. Yet, it must be noted that this strength is fatal and must undergo further processes.
Apart from pot and reflux still, you can also make use of a fractionating still. This type is a more extensive version of the reflux still as it features a 50 cm column at least and can be as high as 1.2 meters. Using this type of still usually allows almost all the vapor to undergo condensation as it reaches the end of the column. In this type of still, almost 90% of the vapor will come back to the boiler as liquid. Thus, the result will be a spirit with 95% alcohol strength in just one pass. The spirit can be so pure using a fractionating still without having to go for vacuum distillation.
The outputs of the three kinds of still can be different from each other and the processes may vary as well. However, you must notice that the outputs are really quite high. For instance, a pot still can produce a spirit with 65% alcohol strength in just one pass and can reach up to 95% or above in the third pass. A fractionating skill can even come up with a stronger output in a single pass and with mush ease. With this, it is really essential to measure the strength of the alcohol so that you can reduce it appropriately using plain water in order to make the alcohol content lower than 65% in order to avoid alcohol poisoning. It must be remembered that using a fractionating or reflux still can result to a highly concentrated spirit that is enough to cause death.
Hence, selecting which kind of still is the best depends of your choice. All three kinds of still can be sued to come up with a pure spirit given much practice. Yet, you can make things easier by using a fractionating still which can create pure spirits in one pass.
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