Equipment for Homebrewing
From Home Distiller
[Editor's note: The following is from an excellent home brew site from New Zealand. It pertains especially to producing "spirits," which is fussier than fuel alcohol, but the essentials are the same and the information and attitude exceptional. - CS]
"My recommendation: contact Rick at Brewhaus"
Here's a brief description of the basic equipment you will need for doing basic distillation. If you can't find it locally in a homebrew or winemaking shop, try contacting the commercial suppliers in New Zealand like Spirits Unlimited, or Brewhaus in the States. See my links page for more listings. International postage is quite cheap these days, and you should a good rate against the NZ dollar (approx NZ$2 = US$1 at present).
You will need several thermometers. One for the fermenter, and one for the still.
The one on the fermenter doesn't need to be too accurate; it's only a guideline. It should show between about 10 C and 40 C. I simply use one of those stick-on types as used on tropical fishtanks (about NZ$5). Using a thermometer with the fermenter means you can keep your yeast happy - keep it in its ideal range; without one you may get it too cold (yeast goes dormant and you'll be waiting forever), or too hot (yeast dies).
You want a reasonably good thermometer for the head of the still - say from 40 C to 105 C. Mine cost NZ$15. The longer the thermometer, with the more space between the markings, the more accurate it will be. You can always check its accuracy - an ice/water slurry should give 0 C, and boiling water 100 C (at sea-level). If it is out by more than a couple of degrees, adjust your reading accordingly, or get a replacement. Using a thermometer to track the vapour temperature at the head of the still will allow you to know how the purity of the run is going, and when the tails are starting to come over (when the temperature starts to increase at the end of the run).
I've just bought a cheap digital thermometer from "Dick Smith Electronics" (http://www.dse.co.nz) (sorta like RadioShack ?) for NZ$28. Really accurate (to within 0.1 °C), and battery life of 1500 hours. It has a 4 inch stem on it. Highly recommend it.
I just bought a new digital thermometer and it is great. It is a Taylor 9878 Digital Pocket Thermometer. It cost @$25 US, it is accurate to less then +/-1.5, reads in either C or F, has a wide -50 to 260 C (-58 to 500 F) temp. range, can be recalibrated, has a 5" stainless steel probe, easy to read face, and received an A+ mark from Cuisine Magazine at http://www.cuisinemagazine.com but don't take my word for it check it out yourself. I bought mine from http://www.knifemerchant.com but they don't have a picture. A picture can be found at http://www.benmeadows.com/ and it can be purchased there as well.
Again, you will need two of these; one for the wort, and one for the spirit. Each is about NZ$15. These work by measuring the density of the liquid. If the liquid is dense (eg water with sugar in it), they will float up high in the liquid; if the density is low (eg half the liquid is alcohol), they will float lower in the liquid. Its that prinicple of Archimedese' which got him running naked through the street, etc.
Why two of them ? The one for the wash is the standard hydrometer used by beer or wine-makers, good for specific gravities of 1.100 to about 0.970. You use this to work out how far the wash has fermented, and therefore how much alcohol you have in the wash. The one for the spirit is made for much lighter specific gravities. It is usually made with the scale reading between 0 and 100% alcohol, so it saves you having to do any maths. This is the one that is pretty important. It takes all the guesswork out of the distilling. Measure the % purity as you go, and you'll be fully confident that you've got a good product. None of this sniffing/shaking/holding a bead business.
Hydrometers are designed for use at a particular temperature. If the liquid is hotter (or colder) it will give a false reading. There is usually a conversion table supplied with them to help correct readings by. The instructions which came with my hydrometer advise the following corrections to the final specific gravity reading ...
This is just a clean bucket or tub or barrel. Just go to a homebrew-beer shop, and buy a ready made beer-fermentor kit (about NZ$50). See - two hobbies in one - you also get the opportunity to learn how to make decent beer for yourself, at about 50c a bottle.
The fermenter has to be able to be easily cleaned and sterilised. It should have a good lid on it to keep out dust and bugs, and also an airlock. The airlock is usually about NZ$2, and is a "S" shaped bit of tubing that holds some water in it - outgoing gases can bubble out through the liquid, but nothing tends to find its way in. A simple alternative is to just run a tube from the top of the fermentor, ending in a jar half filled with water. Why the airlock ? Once the yeast is off and running, you want there to be no oxygen in the system, or else the yeast will forget about making alcohol, and just make more yeast. So don't have it breezy. But you don't want it airtight, or else the carbon dioxide (CO2) made by the yeast will build up in pressure and blow the lid off. You also want a tap near the base of the fermentor, so that you can easily run off the wash once it has finished fermenting. Mine has a wee do-hiky on the inside of the tap, which is basically a wee bit of slotted tube. This causes it to suck from the top side, and not draw in any of the yeast which has settled down below the tap.
You also need to be able to keep the fermentor warm. You can use immersion heaters, or have heating elements or pads on the outside of it (warp around, or sit it on them). You may also want to have some form of stirring in there too.
See the pages Purchasing a Still and Making a Still. The bought ones range from about NZ$100 second hand / NZ$300 new to NZ$700 ??
That's really about all you need. You should be able to set up for around NZ$400-500. Now that you're making your liquor for about $1 alcohol + $5 flavour, you are saving about $20 a bottle. This means you'll have it paid off after about your 25th bottle. How long is that going to take you ?
There are a number of further gadgets you can also buy ... wall mounted carbon filtering systems, water purifiers, measuring spoons, oaks, essences, casks, etc, but you only do these as you feel inclined .
(note that the comments aren't mine, but those of their customers)
Brewhaus (America) Inc..
Fort Worth, TX Telephone: 817-271-8041
North American importer and distributor for Gert Strand. Manufacturer of the Essential Extractor (our stainless reflux still). Sell to wholesalers, retailers, and at a mail order level.
Stills, yeasts, distilling supplies, carbons, essences
Mile High Distilling
web: http://www.milehidistilling.com Mike builds and sells high quality stainless steel distillers, and also sell all the Distilling supplies such as yeast, essences, activated carbons, etc.
Web : http://brewsupplies.com
I have used this one for many things. They are quick and courteous. They ship UPS or USPS if the rate is cheaper. They accept credit card and other online payment methods. They are informative as to your order. You get a confirmation by email when it is recieved, when it is filled by warehouse people, when it is shipped, and also the UPS shipping confirmation and tracking service. I am happy with them. I have bought malted grains, regular grains, (they grind and crack for free) gypsum, acids, PH papers, enzymes, glass test equipment, fermenting buckets (from 5 to 50 gallon), corks, rubber stoppers, airlocks ..... ect ect they also have a large selection of downloadable brewing and fermenting software. much more there than I can list here in a few words. They have a "specials" section. You can search the site for what you need if you cant locate it thru their drop down menus... I just bought a refractometer from them. $114. What a cool instrument!
Brewing supplies & equipment.
Web : http://www.indigo.com/glass/glass.html
They give volume discounts. If you buy a box or case of the item, then the price is roughly half. They ship more than the ordered count to make sure broken in shipment is replaced. **** Buy quality, no frills science educational supplies on- line 100% Uncompromised Privacy, Secure On-Line Ordering™ **** This is printed on top of the page.
Lab glassware & equipment
Web : http://www.brooklynthermometer.com
Digital & glass thermometers
McMaster-Carr Supply Company
Web : http://www.mcmaster.com/
These people sell just about any fitting and pipe or hardware item that you can think of. If you type "copper fittings" or "copper pipe" in the "Find Products" box, you will find them. The prices are sky high. I have not bought anything from them. I use the site to plan out modifications as to what fittings are available. Then I locate a local supplier and buy it in copper.
Fittings, pipe & hardware
http://www.omega.com/ North America
This place has some high end computer interface equipment. They also have electrical immersion heaters and temperature sensors and controllers. They make the senders and indicators for temps at various places in a still head. These are even internet communication capable. Say you want to control still head temps by computer. They also have hand test equipment. They accept most major brands of cards.
Controllers and sensors
Ph meters, thermometers etc
Eagle Stainless Containers
Web : http://www.eaglestainless.com/ Expensive ($US350) but good quality.
Stainless steel boilers etc
Web : http://yankeecontainers.com/buckets/#ssteel
Stainless steel buckets
American Science and Surplus
All kinds of cheap labware
The Original Homebrew Outlet
They ship all orders in 24 hours via UPS. They accept Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Discover. Ordering online is a tax free order. They carry about every grain (milled for free) and hop you can name, along with premade beer kits, Whitelabs liquid yeast, wine concentrate kits, refractometers, proof hydrometers, as well as the standard tubing, airlocks, stoppers, buckets, carboys, demijohns as well as all chemicals needed for homebrewing/winemaking. They also now carry the Top Shelf and Classic Flavors brands of flavor essences by Still Spirits. The malt syrup they carry is the Alexander's brand (no watered down/ half sugar syrup stuff) and they carry the pale, amber, dark, wheat, and Munich syrups, along with local wildflower honey, all at $1.65US per pound. The staff has a combined total of about 27 years of brewing/wine- mead, and sake- making experience- along with a few college degrees related to food science and fermentation- so any questions can be answered
Brewing supplies and distilling essences
Vendome Copper & Brass Works, Inc
Custom fabricator and manufacture stills of all sizes and shapes in all different price ranges in addition to this 100 gallon still. There are stills from 5 gallon up to 5000 gallon in our picture gallery.
Factory-Direct Supplier of pH, ORP, Conductivity, CO2, Dissolved Oxygen, Ion Selective and Titration Electrodes, Meters, and Monitors for the laboratory, process, and biotechnology industries.