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  • Podcast

    Timo Marshall: How To Make Alcohol

    The science of distilling spirits
    by Adam Taggart

    Wednesday, February 14, 2018, 4:46 AM

Alcohol has been a part of the human experience for nearly as long as fire.

For millennia, people have used alcohol to find "pleasure in their cups", defend against infection, fuel machinery — among a long list of other uses.

In a barter environment, it's a high-demand and easily tradable currency. Should we ever experience a time when our current supply chains are out of commission, those with the knowledge and ability to distill alcohol from local inputs will have a highly valued role in their community.

But how does one do this, exactly?

The process of distilling alcohol to produce common spirits — like vodka, gin, whiskey, bourbon, brandy, rum, tequila, and vermouth — is not widely known. (FYI: we're not talking about brewing beer; that will be the topic of a future podcast).

On this podcast, we're joined by Timo Marshall, co-founder of Spirit Works Distillery. In today's discussion, Timo walks through the basic science underlying the distillation process, what differentiates the most common spirits from one another, and what resources are available to those interested in taking up the practice.

Click the play button below to listen to my interview with Timo Marshall (45m:29s).

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11 Comments

  • Wed, Feb 14, 2018 - 12:07am

    #1

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 691

    Be Careful

    As Timo pointed out, methanol’s boiling point (64.7°C, 145.8°F) is lower than ethanol’s boiling point (78.2°C, 172.8°F). Since methanol can cause serious damage to animals (including humans) at very low levels, it needs to be eliminated from the final product. As Timo pointed out, a double distilling can remove the methanol (if done correctly.) That makes home distilling very difficult and potentially dangerous for human consumption. For this reason, be very aware of homemade “moonshine” now … or in a post business-as-usual environment. Of course, if you are using it to power machinery, it isn’t an issue.

    I homebrewed beer for about 7 years and was considering becoming a distiller. When I started checking into all the regulatory requirements to become a distiller, I lost interest. A friend told me there were 14 State agencies that needed to approve the process (going off memory here. Things may have changed, and your State may have different requirements.)

    My hat’s off to Timo for pursuing this avocation! Although the following graphic applies to beer, it really applies to distilled spirits as well. Cheers,

    Grover

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  • Wed, Feb 14, 2018 - 8:55am

    #2

    dcm

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Apr 14 2009

    Posts: 106

    Currency with a kick

    I used to home brew as well. Real beer is more complex than wine and brewer’s yeast is one of the best sources of B complex vitamins. The Irish feed good dark beer to their jumping horses because they’re convinced it  strengthens their jumping ability. When the Romans beat their way up to the Scots, they discovered heather ale (heather instead of hops as a bittering agent). They fell in love with it and offered a deal – we’ll leave you alone if you give us the recipe. The Scots pondered, said hell no, then beat them back.  A man has his priorities

    They think beer may be older than bread but best of all it was used as currency by the Egyptians – which is brilliant when you think about it. That way if your currency goes bad, you can still use it to drown your sorrows.

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  • Wed, Feb 14, 2018 - 9:29am

    #3

    blackeagle

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 16 2013

    Posts: 221

    Unfortunately...

    Unfortunately, prohibition is still in force in Canada. The average Joe can ferment, but not distill. Owning a still is illegal and is punishable by up to 10 years of jail. Too high a risk…

     

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  • Wed, Feb 14, 2018 - 9:42am

    #4
    DennisC

    DennisC

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Mar 19 2011

    Posts: 101

    Hard Cider

    I’ve been making my own hard cider and mead and have had fairly decent luck quality-wise.  As with most home food endeavors, cleanliness is key to a successful batch of whatever you are making.  I did the beer thing for a period but the prep, the process and the cleanup wore me out eventually.  I use 500ml PET (plastic) bottles.  I prefer cider with some carbonation so additional sugar is added prior to bottling.  The plastic bottles are ideal, IMO, because it’s easy to judge if there is a good positive pressure.  A bottle that sounds like a drum when you thwack it with a finger indicates a good fizzy brew in process.  How it tastes in the end, it’s sometimes a surprise!

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  • Wed, Feb 14, 2018 - 3:29pm

    #5
    Uncletommy

    Uncletommy

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 03 2014

    Posts: 521

    However, there is one thing. . .

    . . .you can be sure of:

    It is a signal advantage of taxes on articles of consumption, that they contain in their own nature a security against excess. . . . If duties are too high they lessen the consumption—the collection is eluded; and the product to the treasury is not so great as when they are confined within proper and moderate bounds. This forms a complete barrier against any material oppression of the citizens, by taxes of this class, and is itself a natural limitation of the power of imposing them. (Alexander Hamilton)

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  • Wed, Feb 14, 2018 - 4:02pm

    Reply to #5
    DennisC

    DennisC

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Mar 19 2011

    Posts: 101

    Stick it to the Man, Man

    Bad week to give up…well, pick one.

    Hey, it’s only 49 seconds, and it’s a classic (depending on your definition of classic).

    Got milk? Got gas? Got diarrhea? Too bad, get a diaper.  We’re from the government and we’re here to help (protect you from yourself).

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/01/30/fda-wan

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  • Wed, Feb 14, 2018 - 5:45pm

    #6

    lambertad

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Aug 31 2013

    Posts: 178

    Not legal advice

    I’m not a lawyer, so not advice. But, I think you can use stills to make essential oils. In fact, you could probably make quite a bit of money at it as it’s all the rage in some areas of the country. Utah specifically. 

    So, acquiring a still could be justified if you plan to make essential oils. Diversifying income streams and such. Always a good idea to be careful as others have said, though. 

    There are lots of great videos on running stills for those interested. Barley and Hops on YouTube comes to mind. Milehi Distilling out of CO has some very nice stainless steel stills. Pack the column with copper mesh and it may be similar to a full copper still (?). I’ve had my eye on one for quite a while and this interview has me thinking about it again.

    You know, for making essential oils.

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  • Thu, Feb 15, 2018 - 5:24am

    #7
    robie robinson

    robie robinson

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Aug 25 2009

    Posts: 864

    H20

    I use my still for water distillation.

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  • Thu, Feb 15, 2018 - 4:56pm

    #8
    Dlumb77

    Dlumb77

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 25 2014

    Posts: 40

    Very Enjoyable and Informative episode.

    Thank-you Adam and TImo!

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  • Fri, Feb 16, 2018 - 7:57am

    Reply to #6
    grandefille

    grandefille

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Oct 11 2010

    Posts: 10

    distilling essential oils, column packing

    Distillation of essential oils is quite different than distilling alcohols like methanol and ethanol.  That’s because most essential oils do not mix with water, either as liquids or vapors.  That changes the fundamental principles involved and requires much less column packing.  Use a lot of water to “sweep” the higher boiling oil overhead, and separate the two liquid phases after condensation.  Packing a column with an inert material makes the distillation more efficient.  Stainless steel, ceramics, and glass are often used to pack distillation columns.

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  • Tue, Feb 20, 2018 - 6:13am

    Reply to #1
    Digger

    Digger

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 03 2017

    Posts: 1

    The boiling points of

    The boiling points of Methanol and Ethanol was my question from listening to the podcast.  I’m not sure but as a scientist with a logical mind I expect that it must be a two stage process… first to separate the water.. and then to separate the Meth. and Eth.  I will do more research. 

    But people… be careful.  In my wife’s hometown of Prague a few years ago there was a spate of people that went blind from dodgy moonshine. 

    Note: I listened to the podcast on my morning walk along the corniche in Abu Dhabi this morning.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Timo sounds like a sterling chap.  I’d love to share a wee dram of Led Zepplin tipple or two with the man! 

    And Adam, of course, is a gentleman I could listen to all day long. 

    Peace & love to all.  

    Digger 
    (I like to dig holes in the garden… no, I LOVE to dig holes… anywhere really) 

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