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Distillation – The Four Runs

As you know, the basic principle of distillation is boiling a mixture to separate the more volatile fluid (cheers!) from the less volatile fluid. If alcohol is redistilled several times to 170 proof or better, it will result in a pure spirit, free from the pesky hangover inducing components produced by fermentation (volatile acids, fusel oils, ethers, aldehydes and esters).

Distilling in a regular whiskey still requires three or four consecutive distillations – or runs. Here’s a step-by-step run through the process.

Tip: Run low and slow, for a distillate with as few impurities as possible. Too high heat will cause the mash to boil over through the tubing, clouding the distillate and possibly clogging the tubing.

Caution: The distillate is highly flammable, throughout the process. (No smoking, barbequing, flame throwing practice or such.)

First Run: 170º F – 205º F

Gradually heat your mash in the pot and expect the first condensate to begin dripping in the receiver in about an hour, when it reaches 170º F – 180º F. Stop collecting when the mash reaches 205º F, about two hours later. If you started with say 5 gallons of mash, you should have about 1.25 gallons of distillate, about 40% to 60% and by-products. Throw away the residue in the pot, rinse it out and flush out any solid residues that may have boiled over into your tubing.

Second Run: 160º F – 204º F

Gradually heat the first run distillate in the pot and begin collecting the condensate in the receiver when it reaches 160º F – 180º F. Stop collecting in about an hour, when it reaches 204º F. you should have about 1 gallon of 70% alcohol, plus by-products. Discard the residue in the pot as before.

Third Run: 170º F – 184º F

Gradually heat the distillate from the second run – the temperature rises rapidly, it will quickly reach 170º F. Discard whatever distillate drips before reaching 170º F or before the trickle steadies into a solid stream. Stop collecting at about 184º F – it should take about 45 minutes. You should be left with about 0.5 gallon of around 85% alcohol. Throw away any residue in the pot.

Fourth Run: 170º F – 180º F

Gradually heat the third-run stock, until it reaches 170º F. As before, discard any drippings produced at lower temperatures, and collect until it reaches 180º F. It should take about half an hour, and you’ll have about 0.5 gallon of 90%-95% almost pure ethyl alcohol.

Posted by Jason Stone on


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