You may already know that the XXX you see on those old-fashioned jugs of moonshine, each X stands for another run through the pot still. The first run is what’s called a “stripping run” because its purpose is to strip the water, yeast, and sediment out of your mash before your “spirit run(s)” or primary distillation(s). Distilling this way will ultimately give you a smoother product. Note that you don’t actually make any cuts when doing a stripping run, and it’s generally a fast run.

Pot Distillation Vs Reflux Distillation

For a quick refresher, we are talking about using pot distillation when doing a stripping run. Our reflux moonshine stills are all capable of performing both reflux and pot distillation, so if you have say an Essential Extractor Pro Series II, you would just run it in pot still mode. This is important because pot distillation allows you to keep all the flavors and characteristics that you generated during fermenting, while reflux distillation strips out those flavors and gives you a more neutral and flavorless spirit.

Some distillers choose to perform multiple stripping runs before their spirit run, whereas others may prefer one stripping run and then a couple of spirit runs. This is entirely up the distiller depending on what he’s looking for in his end product. However, it is very important to note that you only want to run alcohol that is 40%abv maximum (80 proof) in your still because of alcohol’s flash point. Product that is 40% abv (80 proof) can catch fire if heated to 79°F (26°C) and an ignition source is applied to it. The higher the % abv = the lower temperature at which flash point can occur. It is important to take safety concerns seriously when operating a moonshine still.

How To Do a Stripping Run Step-By-Step

  • First, heat up your still.

  • Start running your cooling water to the condenser before any vapor is produced.

  • Once the vapor starts and the temperature spikes, start collecting your distillate.

  • You will not make any cuts at the different temperatures like you would with a typical pot distillation.

  • Collect until the temperature reaches about 207°F/208°F (97°C/98°C).

  • Turn off your heat source, but continue to run the cooling water until there is no vapor left in the moonshine still.

How To Do a Spirit Run

  • Take the product that you collected from your stripping run and use water to proof it down to 40% abv max before you start.

  • You will have less to distill this time than what you first had at the beginning of your stripping run. You don’t want run your moonshine still with your kettle filled to less than 35% - 40% capacity in order to reduce the risk of running the kettle dry. You can add more water in order to get it to the minimum fill level that correlates with your kettle size. 

  • Heat up your still.

  • Start running the cooling water to the condenser before vapor production starts.

  • You will now run your still more slowly than you did with the stripping run, making your cuts as you would for traditional pot distillation, as per your own tastes and preferences. Here is a “cheat sheet” on where to make your cuts if you’re new to this. Just remember that the temperatures listed here are guidelines for beginners, but as you become more experienced, you’ll be able to decide when to make your cuts based on your own preferences.

Pot Distilling Cheat Sheet

  • Turn off your heat source, with the cooling water continuing to run until you’re sure there’s no vapor left in the moonshine still.