How to Distill Alcohol, Part 2: How to Make Ethanol

[error]DISCLAIMER: The following is highly dangerous or illegal and it is not recommended to be used under any circumstances, except zombies.[/error]

In Part 1 of this article series, I showed you how to make your still.  In this part, we go over the specfics of how to make actual ethanol, or ethyl alcohol.

Ethanol is most commonly known for being the ingestable alcohol in liquor, but there are plenty of uses for it aside from drinking.  First and foremost, everybody likes alcohol, so if you can make your own, you have a valuable commodity to trade with other people.  Beyond that, it is a disinfectant, an antiseptic, a solvent, it is flammable so it can be used as a fire source or a fuel source, and interestingly enough – it can be used to treat alcohol poisoning from other, more toxic, types of alcohol.

Fermentation

Fundamentally, all that distillation does is seperate the alcohol from everything else.  So in order to distill ethanol, we need to create something that contains ethanol.  You need to create a mash using some sort of starchy substance.  Pretty much any type of grain will do, corn is a good starch source and is probably the most prolific option.  Rice will also work, but may be in short supply.  The fermentation process for distilling alcohol is very similar to that of making beer but has more leeway, since you don’t really care about the flavor that the mash itself develops.

Your first step is to heat up a volume of water at a ratio of 3 liters of water to 1 kilogram of starch source to around 65-70C.  Add your starch source to the water and maintain temperature for around an hour or so.  Larger quantities will take longer to get to temperature and longer to drop temperature, it’s not unheard of for home distillers to let the mash sit for days before proceeding.  What this does is convert the starches in your starch source into fermentable sugars (mono- and disaccharides).  Let it cool to a temperature no greater than 27C (the maximum tolerable temperature for most yeast) then add 0.5kg of yeast per 200 liters of mash.  You can also add table sugar at this time to aid in fermentation, but it isn’t terribly necessary.  Let the mash sit for around 10 days to ferment.  A rough indicator that fermentation is done is when the mash stops bubbling.  Fermentation continues passed this point, but unless you have equipment like a hydrometer available to test the specific gravity of the mash, no bubbles is a good enough indicator.

Distillation

First, let me clue you in on how dangerous this part of the procedure is.  You are playing with alcohol, a highly flammable substance, over an open flame.  If there is a leak anywhere in your system, it will literally go up in flames.  Which means you could just as easily go up in flames.  Add the fact that you are working with a closed system, you are essentially pressure cooking a flammable substance.  If your system isn’t balanced properly, pressure will build up inside your cooking vessel and eventually cause it to explode.  You are basically standing next to a bomb for several hours, if not days.  Be vigilant or your still could rain fiery death on you at incredible rates of speed.

If you didn’t ferment your mash in your cooking vessel, place it there now.  Bring your mash up to a temperature of around 79C and maintain tht temperature for the remainder of the process.  As described in part 1, you are keeping a temperature that allows the ethanol to vaporize without any of the rest of the mash vaporizing as well (for the most part).  The alcohol vapor then escapes through the condenser and is cooled down to liquid form before exiting into your storage container.  If you intend any of this to be drank, you’ll want to seperate the first few ounces from the rest of it because this first bit generally contains all kinds of impurities and all-around nastiness.

That’s it!  That’s how to make ethanol.  It’s a ridiculously simple method, but incredibly dangerous if you aren’t paying attention.