How To Distill Ethanol With a Moonshine Still

How To Distill Ethanol With a Moonshine Still

Posted by Mary on Apr 10th 2018

Producing your own ethanol for fuel is a big step towards becoming self-sufficient. Ethanol can be used in many vehicles with gas engines, such as tractors, tillers, and more, although some modifications may be required. For those that live on a farm, distilling alcohol for fuel is an inexpensive way to practice local self-reliance. However, if you are in the United States, you need to have a permit in order to legally produce ethanol for fuel. You can find this form here on the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB’s) website.


You can technically produce your own alcohol from virtually anything with sugar, so you would use this sugar wash recipe for simplicity’s sake. However, in the true spirit of DIY, this blog will look at how to use corn, which is hopefully readily available to you if you need to go off the grid.

  • It’s important to note that if you’re purchasing feed corn, make sure that it contains no antibiotics. First, boil the corn for 20-30 minutes to get the starches to disperse in the water. 
  • After boiling, let the corn cool and add alpha amylase enzyme per package instructions
  • Let the corn and alpha amylase mash rest for about one hour to allow the enzymes to break down the starches. 
  • You can check on if the starches have been completely broken down by performing an iodine test. (link to mini-blog on iodine test here). 
  • Now you are ready to actually ferment, so get your yeast and sugar. 
  • Add boiling water to the corn and pitch your yeast following the instructions on the package. Most fermentations take between 3 and 7 days. 
  • Then you are ready to distill.

Distilling Directions

  • Time to get out the reflux still! The instructions below are a general guide based on using a 7-section Complete Flute Moonshine Still with Copper Bubble Plates with a 15-gallon kettle and 3 band heaters. 
  • You don’t need to pack this still will any column packing because it has built-in copper bubbles plates.
  • Heat up your still. 
  • Start running your cooling water to the condenser and dephlegmator before any vapor is produced. 
  • Remove and discard your foreshots (around 4-8 ounces), which contain contaminants that you don’t want in alcohol of ANY kid, regardless if it is beverage-grade or for fuel. 
  • Because ethanol vaporizes at about 173°F, you want to start collecting your distillate at around this temperature. Just keep in mind that the exact temperature could vary slightly, depending on factors such as your elevation and the calibration of your thermometer. Note that with reflux distillation, you don’t always need to separate the head and heart like you do with pot distilling.
  • You are moving into the tails when the flow of distillation from the condenser starts to slow down and/or the temperature starts to increase after a long time. 
  • Turn off the heat, but keep the cooling water circulating until there’s no more vapor left in the still.
  • The ethanol that you have produced will still have some minor impurities, including water. Ethanol that ranges from 186 proof (93% ethanol, 7% water) to 192 proof (96% enthanol, 4% water) is known as hydrous ethanol, and this purity can be produced from distilling alone. However, ethanol has a purity of at least 99% is known as anhydrous ethanol, and this requires an extra step, called “drying”, to remove excess water from the alcohol, which can only be completed by using a molecular sieve.
  • Many motors require the ethanol to be combined with gasoline, and the most common fuel is known as E85, which contains 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline (petrol). It is up for debate on whether using hydrous ethanol is acceptable or if you must use anhydrous ethanol when blending with gasoline. Some sources claim that this small amount of water does not hinder engine performance, whereas others say that the remaining 4% of water can still separate and prevent the engine from turning over. You can learn more about hydrous and anhydrous alcohol here.
  •  If the motor is set up to run on alcohol and does not require gasoline to be added, you can use an 80% alcohol 20% water blend. Always check the specifications of your vehicle before choosing what fuel type to add.