Step-by-Step Home Distilling

Making "eau de vie," or fruit brandy, at home is easy and safe when you use a pot still. Learn the ancient craft of home distilling and connect with a long tradition of hospitality when you offer your homemade "eau de vie" to visitors.

  • Fruit Alcohol
    The French eau de vie made from prunes is called pruneau, but eau de vie can be distilled from any fruit wine. 
    Photo By Fotolia/Claude Calcagno

  • Fruit Alcohol

To start distilling at home, you’ll need some technical knowledge about the equipment, process and how to handle the delicious results.

Start small and cheap. You can produce flavorful eau de vie using a tea kettle and a condenser made with plastic tubing to distill wine made from a few pounds of fruit. If you know you are interested in home distilling and don’t need a test still, then the first still to purchase is a 1 1/2- to 2-liter copper alembic pot still. These often ship from Europe and represent a comparatively small investment for what could become a lifelong hobby. The small still is good for small batches of anything, and for redistilling alcohol you have produced in a larger still.

The largest still appropriate for home use is 5 gallons (25 liters), a size that matches the scale of home-scale fermenting buckets. But even one run in a 5-gallon still makes a substantial quantity of alcohol. While it is always nice to dream big, stills holding less than 1 gallon (4 liters) encourage you to be creative and keep the enterprise well within the bounds and spirit of home-scale craft distilling.

Operating a Pot Still

Heat source: Stills under a few liters are best operated over natural gas or propane, and ideally in a water bath. This is because when distilling for maximum flavor, one needs to keep the distillation as slow as possible. It is easier to control the heat in a small still if it is indirect.

Getting ready to distill: Clear a work area around the heat source you will use for the distillation. You will need the following:

  • the still
  • the wine
  • a ladle
  • a dozen small glasses to collect the distillate
  • a pitcher for mixing the alcohol you are saving to drink
  • a jar with lid for the saved drinkable distillation
  • a jar for “heads and tails” if you plan to redistill them at some point
  • a permanent marker that writes on glass
  • a mixing bowl along with flour and water to form the paste for sealing joints
  • and a damp sponge and towel for use polishing the still and cleaning up spills.
  • If your still will need polishing either inside or out, then also have on hand vinegar and salt.

Preparing the still: Make sure your still is clean. If copper sits unused for a long time it naturally oxidizes. The traditional way to polish the interior of a copper is to warm it slightly and then pour some vinegar (1/8 to 1/4 cup for small still) into the still, chased by a tablespoon of salt. Then spread with a sponge. You can polish the exterior of your still with vinegar and salt as well.

Para Salin
3/15/2013 7:34:28 PM

Ethanol (alcohol) boils at 171 degrees F. Water boils at 212 degrees F. If you allow your water bath to boil you've got your still too hot and your output vapors will be messed up. If you use an open flame you risk igniting the vapor, there's potential for serious injury and property damage. Use a thermometer and keep the temp just below 171. Use an electric hot plate. No smoking. No drinking. And never distill indoors. Otherwise, just go to the freaking liquor store. Stupid hippies!

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