Making moonshine is a fun hobby that delivers an extremely rewarding bonus — delicious moonshine that you can enjoy with friends and family. However, before you begin your journey as a moonshiner, you need to purchase yourself a decent still. In this guide, I’ll be sharing some tips for choosing a still before listing 5 of the best moonshine stills for beginners.
- Beginners should focus on finding a still that is simple to use, safe, and affordable
- Stills with copper components are the better option because they remove sulfides, which improves the flavor of your moonshine.
- Pot stills are usually cheaper than column stills which makes them a great option if your budget is tight. However, they can be more time-consuming to operate.
- Column stills are a very efficient way to produce moonshine as they perform several distillations in a single run. The moonshine they produce is consistent in quality and clean tasting.
Tips For Choosing A Moonshine Still
Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind when choosing your first still.
Copper Or Stainless Steel?
Traditionally, stills were made from copper, because it is an excellent conductor of heat. This means it will reach the heat needed for distillation very quickly, reducing the amount of fuel required.
Copper is also an easy metal to work with, so you can modify your copper still relatively easily. This is why the early backwoods moonshiners would preferred to use copper (if they could find some).
Another reason to use copper is how it interacts with the molecules produced during the moonshining process. When you place a mash into a boiler and heat it, the yeast will release sulfur as a by-product. Unfortunately, sulfur can cause your moonshine to have a bitter taste.
If you have a copper still, the sulfur interacts with the copper walls of the still, making hydrogen sulphide, which turns into copper sulfate which lines the boiler. This layer of copper sulfate can be removed later on when you wash your still. The benefit of this molecular interaction is that your moonshine will taste better.
Of course there are also a couple of downsides to using a copper still. Copper stills can be very expensive, particularly if you buy a high-quality one. They can also be very difficult to clean properly, which makes running a batch of moonshine time consuming.
The main advantage of stainless steel stills is that they more affordable. This is great if you are new to making moonshine, as you probably don’t have a huge budget. The downsides are that the sulfur compounds will stay in your moonshine and it doesn’t conduct heat as well.
You can also buy copper/stainless steel hybrids, which combine a stainless steel boiler with a copper Bubble Plates/Lyne Arm and Condenser coil. The boiler is easy to clean and the copper components reduce the amount of sulfur compounds making their way into your hooch.
Some hybrid stills use copper mesh inside a stainless steel column, which also works well. Hybrid stills won’t be as expensive as pure copper still but are easier to clean and can remove sulfur compounds effectively.
Related: How to Proof Homemade Moonshine
Pot Still Vs Column Still
The next major consideration to keep in mind is the design of the still. The two most popular types of moonshine stills are the Pot Still and the Continuous Column Still. Some moonshiners will also use hybrids which are a mixture of the two technologies.
The simplest version of the still is the pot still. It consists of a large boiler (often round) which boils the mash. As the mash reaches a high temperature, alcohol vapors are generated. These vapors contain congeners, esters, and other compounds which contain flavor.
The vapors are collected by a cap at the head of the still then funneled into a swan neck which narrows into the lyne arm. The Lyne Arm sends the vapors into the Condenser, where they are cooled and transformed back into liquid. Repeated distillations are required to create high-proof moonshine.
A Thumper Keg can be added between the Lyne Arm and the Condenser to give the moonshine a second distillation on a single run. This is a time saver which can also be used to add flavors and potency to a run.
As the name suggests, a column still is a large column shaped device. It is designed to distill a mash several times in one run, producing high-proof moonshine more quickly than a pot still.
The column still has a boiler at its base, just like a pot still. However, as the vapors are generated, they rise into the column instead of a Lyne Arm. Throughout the column is a series of plates, which have cool water on them.
As the alcohol vapors hit each plate they are cooled, causing them to liquify and fall into the pot again, where it heats up once more to form alcohol vapors. This process strips some congeners and unwanted compounds while simultaneously increasing alcohol content.
It eventually reaches the point where the alcohol, congeners, esters, and other components are so light and pure, that they move all the way through the column. The vapors flow into a condenser, where they liquify before being collected. A column still is essentially a series of pot stills in a row.
Reasons to use a pot still
- More control over the process, as you can time cuts precisely (foreshots, heads, hearts and tails), change the angle of the lyne arm and so on.
- Can deliver a moonshine with a more complex flavor as a mixture of the different types of alcohols, congeners, and esters is created
- You can manually choose to do a single, double, or triple distillation, whereas a column still might force you to do a certain number of distillations
- Works well with a thumper keg
Reasons to use column still
- Faster way to obtain a drinkable moonshine compared to pot stills
- Less work is involved
- More consistency
- Easier to use
- Less expensive because less fuel is used compared to a pot still
- Can be run 24/7
- Separates the poor alcohols out for you, no need to manually remove foreshots, heads and tails
Both still types can be used by beginners. If you prefer a hands-on approach as you customize your moonshine, a pot still may be the best option. If you prefer to make your moonshine more easily and like a cleaner, lighter taste, perhaps a column still is the best option. Pot stills tend to be cheaper than column stills, so your budget may play a role in determining which option you go for.
Related: Fun Facts About Moonshine
What Additional Features Does It Come With?
If you are buying a still kit, it will include everything you need to get started. However, some kits have a couple more components which make distilling easier for the beginning.
The standard components which should be included are a:
The container in which your mash will be cooked.
- Cone, cap, or arm
To capture the alcohol vapors that rise up from the cooking mash.
- A Lyne Arm (Pot Still) or Column (Column Still)
A lyne arm or column connects the head of the still to the condenser.
The turns the alcohol vapors back into a liquid.
However, some kits will also come with:
- Thumper keg
A thumper keg lets you distill your moonshine again in a single run and/or add additional flavors to your moonshine. It is a small contain metal or timber container which is located between the column/lyne arm and the condenser. Thumper kegs can be filled with fruit, herbs, or spices for flavor.
- Temperature gauges
Handy for checking the temperature of the mash in the boiler.
- Pressure gauge
A pressure gauge will tell you if there has been a blockage which is preventing alcohol vapors successfully exiting the boiler. Some pressure gauges come with relief safety valves as an additional safety measure.
- Column packing add-ons
Copper scrubbers, raschig rings, and glass distilling beads can be inserted into the column to improve the flavor and proof of your moonshine. They work by causing a natural reflux action in the column. Some of the more expensive kits may come with these add-ons.
- Sight glasses
A sight glass lets you visually inspect the plates in your still’s column ensuring they are working correctly.
- Other accessories
Some kits will also come with various accessories like collection buckets, thread tape, an alcohol hydrometer, cooling pipes and so on.
It’s important to make sure the kit has all of the standard components, as you will need them to make moonshine. If you want any of the additional accessories, check that the kit contains them.
Before you rush out to buy your still, have a think about where you will be keeping it. Stills do take up a fair amount of space and need to be run in an area with good ventilation. It’s a good idea to measure the location where you might keep your still and check the measurements of the stills you are interested in.
How Much Time Do You Have?
Distilling is a fun past time. Experimenting with different ingredients and still settings is very enjoyable. However, it is also time consuming. Think about the amount of time you really have to play around with your still. If you will only have a few hours a week, consider getting a column still instead of a pot still. It will help you create a drinkable moonshine in less time.
What Size Moonshine Still Do You Need?
Stills come in a wide variety of sizes. However, most craft stills will be between 3 gallons and 8 gallons. Have a think about how much moonshine you really need.
In most cases, a 3 gallon still is all that a hobbyist needs. However, if you expect a lot of friends and family members to come by asking for a taste, perhaps an 8 gallon option might be better. Just remember that larger stills can take longer to heat up and will take up more space.
It’s worth noting that some states may also restrictions on the size of still you can use for making moonshine under a ‘craft distiller’ license. Check the rules and regulations in your state before making a decision on still size.
Using a still is very safe, as long as you follow instructions and use some common sense. However, the build quality of a still also plays a role. Check that the still is well made and that its seals are tight. Reading the reviews left by other buyers is often a good way to determine the safety and build quality of a still.
The final consideration to keep in mind is price. How much can you afford? If you are going to use your still a lot, its usually worth spending a little more, as you will be getting a lot of benefit from it.
Related: Moonshine and Prohibition History
5 Best Moonshine Still For Beginners
In the list below, we’ve shared the 5 best moonshine stills for beginners. They are all relatively affordable, easy-to-use, well made, and ideal for beginners to moonshining.
1. Seeutek Moonshine Still 3 Gallon (12 Liter)
This is a well made pot still kit which offers excellent value. It’s ideal for anyone who wants to ‘dip their toe’ into moonshining just to see what it is all about, without outlaying a huge amount of money.
The 3 Gallon Seeutek Moonshine Still is a two component system with a stainless steel boiler and enclosed condenser. Many of the internal components are copper, which helps you remove sulfur compounds from your hooch.
Despite being an affordable option, it is well constructed and very durable. It also comes with a built in thermometer, which is useful for beginners who are unsure about timing their run.
All metals used to construct this still are food-grade and non-toxic, which is critical for making spirits you intend on drinking. The bottom of the boiler is thickened, so it can be placed directly on strong heat sources like a kitchen gas stove, ceramic heating element, induction cooker, or open fire.
- Two piece setup (boiler chamber and enclosed condenser)
- 304 stainless steel
- Copper condenser
- High quality stainless steel
- Very affordable
- Includes one way air vale, so it can used for brewing
- Multipurpose, can be used for moonshine, fruit wine, essential oils, distilled water etc
2. ECO-WORTHY Alcohol Distiller 5 Gallon
If you are looking for a slightly larger setup with a thumper leg, this 5 gallon ECO-WORTHY Alcohol Distiller is a great option. It is a three piece setup with a Boiler Barrel, Condenser Keg, and Thumper Keg.
The addition of the thumper keg speeds up the moonshine making process, by providing a second distillation on one run. It also gives you the option of adding fruit, herbs, and spices to the thumper to achieve different flavors and aromas in your moonshine.
This setup is made from food-grade stainless steel with copper pipes. The boiler is multi-purpose, so it can also be used as a fermentation tank for your mash. It features excellent stainless steel latches and a food-grade silicon sealing ring to make it airtight.
This still is compatible with several heating methods including gas, electric, coal and wood fire stoves and hot plates. It is a very affordable option especially considering it comes with a thumper.
- Also available in 8 Gallon size
- Thumper keg
- Food grade stainless steel with copper internals
- Built in thermometer
- All hoses included
- Multi-purpose still which can also be used for wine, brandy, essential oils etc.
3. YUEWO Moonshine Column Still 5.8 Gallon
This YUEWO still is the perfect option for a beginner with a slightly large budget and an interest in column stills. It is a high-quality still made from thick 304 stainless steel, borosilicate glass and pure copper. All parts are lead-free, food grade and suitable for making consumable liquor.
The column is mostly made from glass, which makes it simple to monitor the progress of your distillation. The workmanship is impressive, particularly for a still that is reasonably priced. The column itself has four layers, with 100% pure copper bubblers at each layer.
It is a simple-to-use still, which makes it ideal for beginners. It features a large thermometer, so keeping track of temperate is simple. All fittings are included. The only additional item you may need is a proofing parrot. The boiler can be placed on any heat source including an induction hotplate.
- Extremely high-quality, durable column still
- Made from food-grade materials including 100% pure copper
- Glass column construction makes it easy to monitor the distillation process
- Column still ideal for beginners who don’t have the time to perform multiple pot still runs
4. Copper Pot Moonshine Still 1.5 Gallon
This is a simple setup which includes an all-copper boiler and copper condenser which sits in a stainless steel vessel. It comes with all of the attachments you need to get started, including copper piping and plastic water inlet/outlet hoses.
The boiler is quite compact, measuring just 7.9 inches x 7.9 inches. This is useful if you are a casual moonshiner who doesn’t want bulky equipment taking up a large amount of space. You can store this in your kitchen cupboard and pull it out whenever you want to distill a couple of bottles of moonshine.
- Very affordable and a great place to start
- Extremely compact still which can be stored in a cupboard
- All copper boiler
- Simple design which is easy to modify
- Comes with all hoses and copper pipes
5. Artisans Village Copper Moonshine Still 5 Gallon
If you want a stylish all-copper still which will impress your visitors, check out this Artisans Village still. It is a 100% copper still with a copper boiler, pipes, and condenser. It has a beautiful design which is reminiscent of the old Portuguese alembic stills which were used for essential oils.
The boiler is hand-hammered to produced dimples on the exterior. This gives it a strong surface compared to flat sheets of copper, as the dents disperse the weight of any impact. It is a food-safe still ideal for moonshine, making essential oils, or wine making. It comes with a detachable thermometer.
- All copper design for better thermal conductivity
- Attractive design means it can be displayed as an ornament
- Comes with detachable thermometer