When distilling moonshine, you have two primary options to use as your mash pot still: copper still and a stainless steel still. One of the most common questions among new moonshine distillers is which still is better and what are the differences between them.
Some people prefer copper stills, and others swear by stainless steel. Both options have their benefits and drawbacks, so, at the end of the day, it really comes down to a matter of personal preference. Before you invest in a still, get to know the two major types of moonshine still and their differences.
Copper is the traditional metal used in moonshine stills. The reason it is so popular is because of all the food-safe materials you can use, copper is the best conductor of heat, so you can precisely control the temperature while you distill. It’s not wonder traditional French cooks prefer to cook with copper pots and pans.
Even and radiant heating is necessary in the fermentation process, because you want to keep your mash at a certain temperature to generate the alcohol steam. If you’re struggling with temperature fluctuations, there’s a chance you can burn your mash or spend a long time heating it up.
But specific to spirit distilling, using copper also removes sulfur compounds in the alcohol, which improves the taste and quality of the moonshine.
The major drawback of utilizing a copper still is that it tarnishes easily and can be somewhat difficult to clean, so you may spend more time doing maintenance on a copper still than on a more durable material like stainless steel. Last but not least, most copper stills are more expensive than stainless steel, which can be a drawback for people who want to distill on a tight budget.
Stainless Steel Stills
Stainless steel is typically cheaper than copper, so it’s a great option for beginners who don’t want to break the bank on their equipment. It’s also very durable and easy to clean. If you want a low-maintenance still that can withstand tarnishing, stainless steel is a good choice.
The main disadvantage of a stainless steel still is that it doesn’t always conduct heat evenly. It can take a long time to heat up the still and cool down the water, so you may not be able to distill with as much precision as you can with a something like a copper still. Stainless steel also doesn’t break down or remove sulfur compounds, which is important for the production of high-quality moonshine. However, you can add copper mesh to your stainless steel still to remove the sulfur compounds and improve the taste and aroma of the alcohol.
Ultimately, the best still for you depends on your experience, your budget, and your priorities. While many experienced distillers agree that copper produces the best moonshine, you can also make a great product with tough and durable stainless steel.
In the old days, things could get downright hot for moonshiners when the “revenuer” came calling. For home distillers today, that same heat isn’t an issue, at least as long as they abide by their local ordinances (for more information on distillation laws, click here). But that doesn’t mean heat isn’t a part of the distillation process.
In fact, if there’s no heat, there’s no ‘shine. Distillation requires careful heating of the fermented sour mash held in the pot (also called the vat or boiler). Different boiling points of each component of the sour mash (water, methanol, propanol and our friend, ethanol) allow for the separation of those components, and ultimately, the collection of nearly pure grain alcohol. Proper boil temperature is critical. You want to heat the mash to approximately 173 degrees Fahrenheit, the boiling point of alcohol. Get it much hotter than that and you risk scorching the mash or “belching” mash into the column.
An experienced distiller learns to manage temperature by feel, but for most of us, a good distillation thermometer is an invaluable piece of still equipment. The Hillbilly Stills 3″ Premium Dial Thermometer fits the bill. A precise instrument, it has a 1/2″ threaded connector designed to work with many of our copper still heads. This durable unit allows you to monitor vapor temperature to within +/- 1 degree and will dramatically improve your results. Simply thread the connector into the head and you will know exactly when to dial back the heat to the boiler.
A bi-metal thermometer with a full stainless steel exterior, the Hillbilly is built to last. Double-strength glass crystal and a simple, clean design on the easy-to-read 3″ face makes monitoring a snap. The 2.5” stainless steel stem yields accurate temperature readings all the way from 0 to 250° Fahrenheit. The body and face are hermetically sealed for years of trouble free performance. A finely crafted instrument, the Hillbilly Stills dial thermometer is designed to deliver excellent shock protection.
You take distilling seriously, and you demand top-quality equipment. You shouldn’t ask any less of a thermometer. The careful craftsmanship of the Hillbilly 3″ Premium Dial Thermometer is the perfect addition to your Hillbilly Still.
Stainless Steel Vs. Copper Moonshine Stills
One of the first issues many people who are new to home distilling struggle with is what type of material should their still be constructed with. Moonshine stills are only safely constructed with one of two materials, copper or stainless steel, both of which have their advantages and disadvantages.Stainless steel has the advantage of being extremely strong and durable as well as being relatively easy to clean (especially when polished). It is less expensive than copper and because it’s considerably stronger, a thinner gauge can be used thereby resulting in a significantly lower overall cost.
The problem with stainless is that it’s a poor conductor of heat. This is not so much of a problem when heat is applied directly to the distillation boiler, but presents problems in any still where you are looking for naturally generated reflux as the steam vapors rise through the distillation column. Stainless also contributes nothing to the breakdown of esters and sulfuric compounds which is essential when producing high quality spirits.
There are several manufacturers who build all stainless steel small scale stills, but they typically concentrate their efforts on forced reflux designs that produce high proof tasteless alcohol. This is the only way they can avoid most of the foul tastes resulting from the absence of any chemical catalysis during the distillation process.
Copper is the traditional material used in both commercial and home stills and for good reason:
Copper catalyses the breakdown of esters and sulfuric compounds in the steam vapors. These volatile compounds are produced during the fermentation process and are highly undesirable in the distilled spirit.
Copper avoids the production of ethyl carbamate which is a toxic substance formed from cyanides. These are nasty chemicals you don’t want in your homemade spirits.
Copper improves the quality of the final product when the mash is not biologically perfect.
Copper improves the aroma of the final product.
Copper is a great conductor of heat. This allows for good natural reflux production in a still column as well as very efficient condensers.
It would seem that copper would be the ideal material for the entire still and that would be true if cost were not a concern. The problem with copper is that it must be rather thick and therefore costs are driven up beyond the budgets of most hobby distillers. We would not use a copper dome less than 16 gauge or a copper pot less than 12 gauge on home stills up to 15 gallons (60 quarts) in useable capacity. Larger stills would require even thicker copper.
There are a couple of manufacturers who produce small scale all copper stills. One down in Arkansas literally builds artwork but his prices are very high and the gauge of material is thinner than we would use on comparable sized stills. There is another in Indiana who builds stills of material so thin we wonder how they can even get them shipped to a destination without damage. Material costs simply prevent a good option for an all copper hobby sized still.
We therefore have combined the use of these two materials to produce moonshine stills that are the best combination of functionality, durability and cost. Our stainless pots are durable, easy to clean and economical. Our still designs incorporate an all copper construction to maximize steam vapor contact in order to achieve the full chemical reaction that copper provides. We think you will agree that our moonshine stills for sale are the best option available for the home distiller.
If you would like to learn more about our copper stills for sale or making moonshine at home, visit us at hillbillystills.com.
Finding the right moonshine still manufacturer can be a difficult decision. When deciding to purchase a moonshine still be sure to take note of these particular items
- Quality and craftsmanship of milk can boiler
- Shipping and Delivery times
- History of company and possible testimonials of work done
- Do a search for the company name for reviews
- Guarantee and lifetime quality of products
- Customer service and products produced
- Environmentally conscious
We recommend visiting HillBilly Stills view products and services along with complete moonshine kits to get started. Be sure and check out the “Amazing Hillbilly Flute” you wont believe what this baby can do.
Have you every thought about distilling at home but you’re not sure where to start or how to learn? You need to head on over to the homedistiller.org website and click forums. You will find more information there than you ever dreamed possible and it is all free.
There are more and more people interested in owning their own moonshine stills. However. it’s important to know and understand your state laws.
My ole buddy Mulekicker is about ready to let us check out his new digital controller. I think it will be pretty sweet. Keep watching — he is working on it now and getting it perfected. We are hoping it will be available to the public very soon. Stay tuned folks..