Oops, I screwed it up! Just before the 2-minute mark, I mention that the more volatile stuff ends up at the top of the tower where it is hottest and the less volatile stuff ends up at the bottom of the tower where it is coolest. I got it right about the volatiles, but the top of the tower is coolest and the bottom of the tower is hottest. Please forgive me!
Products used in this How a Reflux Still Works video:
-Moonshine Distiller 8-gallon stainless steel milk can boiler
–Moonshine Distiller 3″ dual purpose reflux tower
–3″ sight glass tower section
–Hose pipe connector for reflux stills
Howdy folks, I’m Jeff at Moonshine Distiller, and we’re back for one final Heads episode. Now that you’ve figured out what kind of still you want (which I am sure is a Moonshine Distiller reflux still, like this 3″ tower here), we’re going to show you how to run it. First thing we’ve done is set up our water hoses and done a quick test to make sure there is no leaks around the fittings here. If there is a leak, all you need to do is tighten the hose clamps down just a little bit farther. We’ve set up our parrot here so it’s at the right height, so that the collection cup is right below the end spout on the condenser, and we’ve put in a little sight glass here so later on we can see the reflux action and show you what’s going on inside the still. You can see that there are some vapors forming on the inside of the tower here, and that’s a good indication that we are just about ready to start our run. So, we’ll be back in a few minutes once we get things going.
Alright folks, the vapors just made their way up the column, you could feel it getting hot as the vapors made their way farther and farther up the column. And as soon as they hit the sight glass here, all the fog disappeared. So at this point, we are going to turn our cooling water on, just to make sure we don’t get any ethanol vapors out of the end of the still.
So, for the beginning here, we are going to turn the heat up a little bit more and turn the cooling water up a little bit so that we get a lot of reflux moving up and down the column. You can start to see the reflux dripping down the sight glass here. We are going to spend about 5 minutes running the reflux really high so that we make sure our column is stacked properly, and our most volatile stuff ends up here at the top where it is hottest and our least volatile stuff ends up at the bottom here where it’s coolest.
As we mentioned before, the reflux column is all about balancing the reflux traveling down the column with the hot vapors traveling up. As the reflux is cooled and condensed up here by the reflux condenser, they’ll slowly trickle down the column, meeting the hot vapors as they work their way up the column. As the hot vapors come in contact with the cool liquid, the less volatile stuff like water will condense down and become liquid, and as it does so, it will heat up that liquid so the more volatile stuff in the liquid, like ethanol, will re-vaporize. And this process basically super-enriches your vapors as they travel up the column. So, we’ll give it about 5 minutes to run reflux very heavily here, and then we’ll release the reflux a little bit and start getting some product coming out the end here. We’ll get back to you in just a couple minutes.
And that looks like it’s just about right, we’re starting to get a slow drip into the collection cup here and in just a matter of minutes we’ll probably see the alcoholmeter start to pop up here in the distiller’s parrot.
So, it has been just a couple minutes here and you can see that the meter has popped up and we’ve just started getting a flow at the end of our parrot. We’re running right around 190 proof, which means that the alcohol is coming out at about 95% alcohol, which is pretty good. We probably could do a little bit further balancing to get it out at about 95% here, just a little bit more reflux. And this begins our heads.
So, this first 100 ml or so here is going to be mostly methanol. We’re just going to get rid of the completely. After that, we are going to begin our heads cut. We’re going to collect the moonshine in jars until it starts tasting alright and then begin our hearts cut. Typically what I look for is the acetone. The acetone is the compound right before the ethanol. Acetone is basically nail polish remover. So, what I typically do is, if you have a little teaspoon, I use a 1/4 teaspoon measuring cup. Take a 1/4 teaspoon straight off the still, mix it with a 1/4 teaspoon of water, because some compounds are more soluble in alcohol, and they won’t break out until you mix it with water and they become less soluble. So, we’ll take the mixture of half of my distillate and half tap water, and just taste it and smell it. And once I can no longer taste that acetone, I know we’re good to start the hearts.
Alright, so we’re part way through the heads here, but you can see that we’ve got the reflux balanced just about perfectly with the vapors traveling up the still. There’s just a little bit of liquid on top of that perforated plate on top of the raschig rings, which is just kind of bubbling away, and it’s staying at about the same level which is just perfect. If it keeps rising up, then you know you’ve got too much vapor traveling up the column, and it’s keeping that liquid from traveling back down the column. Eventually, if that happens, you could end up filling the column until it gets to this spout, at which point the liquid will just pour down the condenser and you really won’t get the full enrichment of the gasses as they travel up the column, because you’re not getting enough reflux traveling down the column.
So, if we’re looking to start making our cuts, we’ve got our 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon here, I would just take a 1/4 teaspoon, put it in the glass, and then mix it with a 1/4 teaspoon of tap water as well. Give it a stir, make sure it’s mixed up well, and then you smell it and taste it and see what kind of compounds you can get out of that. Like I said, what I am looking for is the acetone. Once the acetone is done, you know you’re into your hearts. Unfortunately, we can’t actually taste it here, because we only have our ethanol fuel permit. We don’t have a Distilled Spirits Plant Permit.
Alright, so, assuming we had our Distiller Spirits Plant Permit and we were actually able to taste this, and we can actually smell it. It smells pretty good, there’s definitely not any acetone left in there. So, at this point, we are going to switch out our jars. Our methanol is in the first jar here (we’re just going to get rid of that). The second jar would be our heads. We’re going to save that for our next run, which we’re going to back into the wash and re-distill. And now we’re going to start collecting our hearts.
So, we’re in the middle of our hearts run here. We’re going to keep running hearts until we can start tasting and smelling byproducts that come out towards the end of the run. The first things you’ll really smell and taste are the isopropyl alcohols and those are kind of hard to pick up as a beginning distiller. But, eventually, you’ll be able to pick those up. More than the smell, they kind of give a burning flavor. After that will come the fusel oils. The fusel oils kind of smell a little bit like wet cardboard. And you can really tell, because as you mix it with water (as you mix half and half) your distillate will get cloudy because those fusel oils which are soluble in the alcohol become insoluble once the water content has increased.
Alright, so we’re back again. Right before we replaced this mason jar here, the temperature started increasing and the percentage alcohol started decreasing, which means we are probably getting into our tails here. So, we got about 2 good jars of heads, sorry, two good jars of hearts, one 2/3 jar of heads, and we are working on our tails here. At this point, we’ll collect our tails for probably another half hour to 45 minutes here. We’re going to be looking for the alcohol content to decrease rapidly and the temperature to increase rapidly. That’s a good indication that we are getting out of our alcohol and into our fusel oils and water. At that point, we will turn off the still, save this jar and whatever other jars we collect after this as tails. They’ll go into our next batch with the heads (basically, to be recycled and re-distilled). And then we’ll keep these two and run them through the carbon filter in just a minute here.
Alright, so we’re back one final time. In the last couple minutes, as you can see, the alcohol content has dropped rapidly by the amount of alcoholmeter sticking out of the water. And, as well, our temperature has increased rapidly. But, the alcohol content should still be the same, and once you get used to your still at your elevation you should start to learn the nuances of the temperature and figure out where the temperature spikes are and what the means during the run.
Hopefully this helps, we’ll see you next time!.