Creating a Positive Image: The Art of Safe Alcohol Distillation

Ensure you possess a valid distilling license

Utilize appropriate distillation equipment


Avoid distilling indoors without proper ventilation

To prevent any unwanted attention, it is essential to refrain from operating a still indoors without proper engineering and ventilation. Generally, local regulations necessitate distillers to adequately ventilate their premises before obtaining a permit for distillation equipment. Even if not required by local regulations, it is crucial to carefully consider implementing adequate ventilation. Engaging the services of an engineer to provide calculations and oversee the installation of air handlers is highly recommended.

Control the release of alcohol vapor

Never leave the still unattended

Leaving a still unattended is a recipe for disaster. Murphy’s Law suggests that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Although this principle may not always hold true, there is no reason to tempt fate by leaving a still unattended. When planning a distillation session, make sure to estimate the required time for the entire process. Commercial distillers never leave their stills unattended.

Use stainless steel containers for collection

Distillers should always use stainless steel vessels for collecting the final product. Why not glass or plastic? Glass is fragile and prone to breakage, while certain plastics can degrade in the presence of high-proof alcohol. Additionally, plastic could melt if exposed to fire.

Keep the finished product away from the still

Experienced commercial distillers suggest using a small-mouthed stainless steel collection vessel placed away from the heat source. Small-mouthed vessels minimize the escape of alcohol vapor from the freshly distilled product and reduce the risk of spills if the container is accidentally knocked over. If a container does end up on its side, it is safer to keep it away from any heat source. When distilling over an open fire, there is always the potential for embers to land in the collection vessel. Seasoned commercial distillers use self-contained heat sources instead of open fires and direct the finished product well away from any potential sources of ignition.

Always discard the “head liquor”

Professional distillers understand the risks associated with producing and consuming spirits, particularly the concentration of methanol. Methanol can be a byproduct of the fermentation process and poses a legitimate hazard if present in the wash. Fortunately, if methanol is present, it tends to evaporate before ethanol due to its lower boiling point. Consequently, commercial distillers take one of two approaches:

They discard the initial portion of alcohol produced by the still, known as the “head liquor.” This part of the process emits a strong solvent smell, tastes even worse, and can be potentially poisonous.

Alternatively, they thoroughly combine and mix everything (if producing lower quality alcohol), thus eliminating the concentration risk.

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