by Jason Stone on November 07, 2013
I have been asked by some of our customers why we only manufacture copper stills. Of course, most ‘shiners have heard of the advantages of copper but it seems not all of its properties are as well-known. So I thought I’ll research this in detail so you’ll understand why I personally prefer using a copper whiskey still.
Stills can be made from a wide variety of materials, including aluminum, brass, iron, glass, steel or clay. However, the majority of alcohol stills today is made out of either stainless steel or copper. Although more expensive, copper is still preferred over steel, not only to keep the tradition but also because of its unique characteristics. Copper has been used for centuries. Old time moonshiners in the Appalachian hills used copper and modern commercial distilleries use it too. Here are some of its main properties, which explain how copper helps turn your mash into tasty moonshine.
The distinctive and most important property of copper is the fact that it reacts with alcohol on a molecular level. It produces a chemical reaction which removes the sulfur compounds that result naturally from yeast while fermenting. As you probably know, sulfur is quite a foul tasting element and having it develop in your distilled spirit or essential oil can give it quite an off taste and smell.
Copper has a very high thermal and electrical conductivity which helps distribute the heat evenly and cool the vapors.
Copper is a resilient but malleable material, it can last you a very long time but is also easily cut, pounded and stretched into the desired shape, which comes in handy especially in the case of the distinctive ‘onion’ shaped alembic.
Copper is very resistant to corrosion, especially under extreme temperatures and humidity. This explains why copper artifacts in great condition have been found in various archaeological sites, some dating back to ancient Egypt and Rome.
Another impressive property of copper is its scientifically proven antimicrobial effects. Copper destroys a wide range of bacteria and viruses. Copper doorknobs are used by hospitals to reduce the transfer of disease. Also bacteria are kept away from our drinking water through copper tubing in plumbing systems - the Romans were the first to discover this and used copper to improve public health. Copper also prevents the production of ethyl carbonate, which is a toxic substance formed from cyanides.
And finally, copper improves the quality of the final product when the mash is not biologically perfect, as well as its aroma, making your moonshine sweeter.
So even though stills made out of stainless steel may be cheaper and more durable, the advantages of using a copper still for your moonshine can’t be overlooked. And, to be honest, I wouldn't give that bright red-orange shine for any silver glow!