Distillation Safety – Things to know before you start distilling

If you want to know how to make safe moonshine, we have two previous articles that you should read first:
Can moonshine make you blind? – Truth vs. Myth
Will I blow my house up distilling? – Truth vs. Myth

The rest of this article will cover a few last distillation safety issues that you should know before you begin home distilling.

Lead Poisoning

If you dig back into the lore of moonshining, you will surely find stories about lead poisoning that resulted from folks drinking moonshine that was tainted with lead. This was primarily a result of using cheap materials and homemade alcohol distillers, particularly cheaper soldering with lead. First, traditional solder was made of tin and lead in varying ratios, and sometimes this solder was then used to construct a still instead of a food-grade lead-free solder. Second, a lot of folks would use old car radiators as condensers so that they could avoid needing a water source. However, these car radiators were meant to have coolant (not anything for consumption) flowing through them, so they were also covered in the cheaper lead solder. When a high-proof alcohol then came in contact with this solder, the lead would leach into the alcohol, and then into anyone who drank it.

Luckily, however, this is not nearly as common a problem today, but it is still something you should watch out for. All of our distillation equipment is welded stainless steel, but if you are going to be using a copper tower, make sure that you (or who makes it) is using a lead-free solder!

One last side note regarding distillation safety is that you should avoid using any plastics or rubbers in your still. The only things on our stills that come in contact with anything inside are the gaskets, which are made from platinum cured, food-grade silicone. Sure, it may be slightly more expensive, but it is the best material we have been able to find. It is highly temperature and alcohol resistant, and will not impart any nasty rubber flavors into your final product. There are other compounds out there that are appropriately temperature and high-proof alcohol resistant, but make sure you know what compound it is and make sure you do the research on it.

Use a glass collection container

This is very closely related to the plastics comment just above. A young gentleman once told me a story about trying to test the proof of his final product. Using the beaker that he frequently used for brewing, he had filled it, but it was still too warm to take an accurate reading. He had put the beaker in the freezer for a couple minutes to cool it off, and when he came back, all the plastic that had been in contact with the distillate had turned white. Oops!

I don’t know what kind of plastic it was, but it was clearly dissolving with the contact to high-proof alcohol. And I sure don’t want to be drinking dissolved plastic with my moonshine. The bottom line: always make sure any plastic that comes into contact with your distillate is glass or at the very least is alcohol resistant. We offer a glass hydrometer jar that’s perfect for testing your spirits.

Distilling laws vary greatly by state, make sure you have the correct permits!

There are some very outdated laws regulating the distillation of alcohol, but it is the law and we do have to abide by it. Until we can get the law changed (without going through the complication and cost of getting the appropriate federal and state permits so that you can distil alcohol for consumption), the only way to legally distil alcohol is by obtaining an alcohol fuel producer permit. It is easy to do and doesn’t cost a cent.

There are a wide variety of local laws that regulate distilling alcohol, so you should look up and be familiar with the laws in your area before you start distilling. A good way to start would be a Google search containing phrases like “distilled spirits,” “ethanol fuel,” and whatever state you reside in. Whether you get the appropriate permits or not is entirely your decision, but we certainly recommend that you do.

For more information on the legal aspects of distilling read my post on “Is making moonshine illegal?”

Never sell your moonshine, even to friends

While the permit mentioned above does allow you to distil alcohol, it does not allow you to sell alcohol meant for consumption! I keep my ear to the ground for news stories relating to distilling and every once in a while one does come up, but it is not the TTB knocking on doors just for fun. It is always someone who decided selling their illegally made hooch was a good idea. So, even if you do end up distilling illegally (which we don’t recommend), please don’t sell it! It seems to be the fastest way to get the TTB knocking on your door.

So, I’ll leave you with those tips on distillation safety, and as usual, please leave any questions or comments about this home distilling information below!

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1 thought on “Distillation Safety – Things to know before you start distilling

  1. Very interesting and informative. A few statements left me (a beginner) a little confused. I will continue reading and watching videos until it is very clear what I’m doing.
    Thank you for the inforation
    Pete

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