I’ve been brewing beer on occasion for over 20 years, starting when I was in college. Always lurking out beyond the homebrew scene was the idea of making spirits. More complicated than making beer or wine and requiring the use of a still, it seemed out of reach. Being officially illegal didn’t help either. But the idea lingered on in the back of my mind.
Then I stumbled upon a device called an Easystill. Basically, it is a water distillation unit that can also be used to distill alcohol as well. The idea of spirit distillation is simple. Alcohol boils at a temperature less than water, so if you get temperature above 78 °C but below 100 °C, the alcohol becomes vapor, leaving the water behind. A still captures the vapor, cools it enough to turn it back to liquid, allowing you to capture it.
The EasyStill does all that in a 110-volt tabletop device that you can store in the closet or garage when you are finished. The still handles about a gallon of mash at a time, so if you make a small 5 gallon batch of fermented mash, you are running the thing at least 5 times to produce a liter of alcohol. The process is slow to start but does work. I’ve made drinkable moonshine. It’s not for any serious distilling, but for cooking up a batch on occasion.
I’d recommend EasyStill for someone that wants to see if distilling is for them. If they like it, they’ll want to buy a real still with bigger capacity and full features. If it’s not for them, they haven’t spent a lot. Most people getting into ‘firewater’ have already tried homebrewing beer and likely already had all the stuff for the initial fermentation. I did.
[Making beer and wine at home in the US is perfectly legal. Owning a still (for water or making fuel) is legal. But making distilled spirits at home is currently illegal in all countries of the world except New Zealand. However, technological advances, local craft breweries and artisian spirit-making is rapidly shifting the legal landscape in in the US in favor of home production. In the meantime, if you don't sell it and don't kill anyone, no one will likely mess with you. The best source for home distillery information, including legal updates, advice about all types of stills, recipes, what gear works, aging caskets, flavorings, and so on, is a really great website (based in New Zealand) called Home Distiller. It will probably answer any questions you may have about making your own liquor. --KK ]