Tuesday, November 28, 2017

What Heats the Modern Still and How Dangerous Can it Be?

River Antoine Wood Fire Heated Still from 200 Years Ago
     Over the years there have been various methods for heating the stills that make your favorite spirits.  Most modern spirit stills are heated by steam.  This is a good method to get the needed heat with out the danger of an alcohol vapor explosion like often happened in the earlier days of the stills.

"Coffin Still" Kentucky Hills Shiner's Method
     Going back about 200 years or so they would often set a wood fire under the pot stills and get a good layer of coals burning hot enough to vaporize the alcohol from the wash and condense the alcohol.  This is a good source of heat, but open flames and alcohol vapors don't mix.  The real problem with alcohol fires is you can't see the flames and you will be seriously burned before you have any idea there is a fire.

      Many a moonshiner has blown himself up when the vapors of alcohol escaped from their still and got to their heat source and ignited.  The real problem is that many of the stills, both legal and illegal don't have a way to make steam safely and rely on propane or wood fires to heat their still.  I've seen people use a kitchen gas stove as a heat source.  If it gets too hot, then there is a risk of the alcohol vapor being ignited and at minimum a fire or maybe an explosion.

Stove Top Still with an Open Flame
       Besides the legal issues involved, there are also health concerns to worry about. Moonshine can become tainted with toxic liquids, especially methanol, the form of alcohol reputed to cause blindness and death. 

     All I can say is before you start to play with distilling find out what you are doing and realize that it is illegal for a reason, not just for tax and health reasons, but for your well being and personal safety.