Editor’s note: A previous version of this article failed to make clear that home distilling is illegal in the United States and that it can be dangerous..
Moonshine stills can be found on sale for online in a number of places. But you should be careful because home-distilling of spirits is questionable legally and can lead to physical harm.
Home distilling of alcohol is illegal everywhere in the United States, whether for sale or for personal use. The Department of the Treasury sets out stiff penalties for violating the law, with up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each offense.
Laws vary on the state level. Eight states — Alaska, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Rhode Island — have made moonshining legal, but since federal law overrides state law, that will only apply if the federal government someday changes its tune. On the other hand, in Florida, even possessing distilling equipment without a license is a felony.
Moonshining is also illegal in most other countries, though New Zealand and Russia allow home distilling for personal consumption.
Some retailers, though, do sell home-distilling products. Consult the laws of the country where you’re planning to use the equipment.
The alcohol vapors emitted when distilling are highly flammable and create an explosion if your still is incorrectly setup and in a poorly ventilated area.
Even for professional distillers, extreme caution is necessary to ensure safety. Amateur distilling in unregistered and unregulated environments is unsafe and illegal.
While distilling is a fun hobby, it’s extremely time-consuming. It involves hours of experimenting with various ingredients and messing with the still to get it set up perfectly.
If you’re limited on time, using a column still might be best. It allows you to focus more on distilling and formulation rather than wasting time tinkering with your still.
Size and space
Before purchasing the largest still on the market, consider how you’ll be using it. They come in various sizes, ranging from 3-8 gallons. For the average home brewer, 3 gallons of moonshine is typically more than enough.
You must also consider where you’ll be distilling your moonshine. Regardless of size, you’ll need ample space with adequate room for ventilation.
What to look for in a quality moonshine still
The majority of home moonshine distillers use either a pot or column still. However, some prefer using hybrids which are a combination of the two.
- Pot: A pot still has a large, round boiler, Lyne arm, cap, swan neck, condenser and an optional thumper keg. Mash is boiled in the pot until it generates vapors, which are collected at the cap and sent through the neck, Lyne arm and into the condenser.
From the condenser, the vapors cool and form into a liquid you know as moonshine. Repeating the process creates the higher-proof moonshine behind legendary stories.
- Column: On the other hand, a column still is taller and shaped like a column rather than a pot. Its unique design allows it to distill the mash a number of times at once, removing the need to repeat the process to create higher-proof moonshine.
It’s able to distill the mash multiple times at once because the vapors rise toward cooled plates at the top of the column and fall down in liquid form to get distilled once more. Once the desired components reach a certain level of purity, they move on their own into the condenser to liquefy, cool and collect.
Moonshine stills are made with stainless steel, copper or a combination of both. Copper is an excellent choice for home distillers because it heats up rather quickly, is easier to work with and produces a higher-quality product.
A big drawback of copper stills is that they’re not ready-made and require some time and assembly work before you can get to the fun part — distilling.
On the other hand, stainless steel is much cheaper, easier to clean and much more durable.
The issue that many home distillers have with stainless steel is that it can leave residual compounds that may compromise the flavor and quality of the final product.
While it may not seem like much, putting a moonshine still together takes time and precision work. Depending on the still, it’ll likely require some soldering on top of other general assemblies. If the idea of spending a few hours a week putting your still together puts you off, consider getting a ready-made one.
How much you can expect to spend on a moonshine still
Depending on the size, style and material, you can expect to spend $90-$700 on a high-quality moonshine still.
These are widely available at Amazon.
Moonshine still FAQ
Can moonshine expire?
A. The only certain answer is that the only moonshine with an indefinite shelf life is plain, unflavored bottled moonshine. When it’s mixed with other flavors like fruit and sugar, its shelf life shortens a considerable amount.
How much alcohol will a 5-gallon still yield?
A. A 5-gallon still typically yields 1-2 gallons of alcohol, but the final amount depends on the starting alcohol, fermentable sugar and yeast quality.
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Christopher Lee writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.