Food & Beverage Science
Hobby Micro Distilling

Writing publicly about one’s still is a lot like writing about one’s bong. You must be careful, since having one and using one could be on different sides of the bounds of legality. Distillation of alcohol for drinking, like growing weed, is strictly illegal.

I don’t know anything about bongs, but I must say, I really enjoy using my still. (Note to Feds: I use it strictly for distilling legal, natural essences.) The still set-up is basically a boiling flask connected via a long glass arm to a water-filled condenser unit. Although the micro-still is very small, having a boiling capacity of about a quart, I find using it to be a lot of fun. It’s amazing how proficient one can get in a short time. Making ethanol from grain and sugar is a fairly simple process, and reasonable success comes quickly, but getting really good at it can take years.

Producing high-proof alcohol is possible because of two wonderful scientific truths. The first is that yeast ferments sugar; that is, the tiny yeast fungi feed on sugar and convert it carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol. The second is that alcohol and water boil at two different temperatures.

It’s the second item, separating liquids based on differing boiling points, for which a still is useful. United Nuclear sells an excellent micro-still set up. The components are all glass (no lead poisoning worries) and the connections are 24/40 ground glass joints. (That means the connections between glass components fit tightly.)


Bio: Bill Gurstelle is a contributing editor for MAKE. He has a new book, The Practical Pyromaniac. Visit him at


William Gurstelle is a contributing editor of Make: magazine. His new book, ReMaking History: Early Makers is now available.

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